Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Power, Morality, and Foreign Policy

Power, Morality, and Foreign Policy


Despite the vast amounts of rhetoric one hears in the United States on the role of morality in international politics, the nation lacks a coherent position on the appropriate application of morality to foreign policy. History reflects two prominent and contrasting views on the subject. The first is that morality is irrelevant to national foreign policy; the second applies common principles of individual morality—compassion, generosity, forgiveness, benevolence, and tolerance—to interactions between states. Though elements of each are evident in the Bush administration’s foreign policy, the limits on them restrict the efficacy of either. As the application of morality to foreign policy becomes both more necessary and more difficult, prudence and decency—more than self-righteousness or power—should provide the primary inspiration for American foreign policy.

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