Global Ethics Corner: Top Risks and Ethical Decisions

January 23, 2009

There is a difference between the top risks facing the world in 2009 and the underlying ethical dilemmas, but articulating that difference is difficult.

Eurasia Group's list of ten top 2009 political risks begins: 1) the U.S. Congress, 2) South Asia Security, and 3) Iran/Israel. This is geopolitics, not ethics.

However, developing or deploying nuclear weapons in South Asia or Iran involves ethical issues at four levels, i.e.: Does adding a nuclear state make the system more likely to implode? Is Iranian leadership more secure with nuclear weapons? What is Islam’s interpretation? As a technician do I participate in the nuclear program?

International relations theory distinguishes these as "levels of analysis." What is true for the individual may not be true for the group, the state, or the international system, and vice versa.

Art Kleiner, editor of Strategy+Business, suggests that risks have to be approached by the individual leader. Making ethical choices regarding risks require each person to exhibit a combination of empathy, conscience, and discipline.

Does this suggest that ethics is personal, not institutional or governmental? For you, at what levels does ethical choice live?

Adapted by William Vocke from a Workshops for Ethics in Business panel discussion

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