Global Ethics Corner: Morgenthau and the New Administration

January 2, 2009

The great political-philosopher, Hans Morgenthau, defined a set of principles for diplomatic engagement. The basic rule is that diplomacy should serve national interests.

But, he qualified this with two principles: first, diplomacy should avoid the crusading spirit, and second, we should pay attention to the perspective of others.

Whether the national interest has been well served by American foreign policy recently is open to debate. But, since the end of the Cold War, in an overshadowed region, we have perhaps fallen short on the other two principles?

To many the rush to promote U.S.-style democracy in the space of the former Soviet Union smacks of a crusade.

Similarly, critics say that post-Cold War policies toward Russia have taken little account of the view from Moscow on NATO expansion or missile deployment.

What do you think? Should we heed Morgenthau's two principles or is promoting democracy and taking a forceful stand necessary for a genuinely American foreign policy?

Would a foreign policy implementing Morgenthau be more ethical than the past decades? Should the new administration define its foreign policy by pursuing national interest, avoiding the crusading spirit, and appreciating other's opinions?

By David C. Speedie

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