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What Is International Ethics?

  • International ethics is an area of international relations theory which concerns the extent and scope of ethical obligations between states in an era of globalization. Schools of thought include cosmopolitanism and anti-cosmopolitanism. Realism, Liberalism, and Marxism are ethical traditions that conceptually address moral issues in international relations.
  • International ethics offers understandings into how nations and other entities treat other nations and its people. Good acquaintance of international ethics provides people with insights to assess the good and harms, the rights and wrongs, which can occur in the international space. For example, the UN has been encouraging various principles of friendly and cooperative and peace related humanitarian international actions by all the member countries.

Significance of International Ethics

  • Nations and multinational organizations expand their boundaries of national domestic arena to trade or interact with other nations and organizations. Every nation had its own focus, as nations accepted the production methods, technologies, political systems and legal systems from other nations, similar problems began to appear in almost every country. These were not regarded as shared problems that required joint action by all those affected by it. Each country was mainly responsible for problems occurring within it. But eventually, there is more interconnectedness between people and nations greater interdependence and greater shared responsibilities, which call on nations and other multinational organizations to act mutually. Joint action of international community becomes necessary. International ethics may be visualized as responding to this need for international action.
  • International ethics monitors international relations and tenacity of international conflicts. International ethics guides the international environmental effort to fight against ozone depletion, global warming which are collective problems and which require actions from numerous nations who are major contributors to forces generating such problems.


  • Ethics does its work in the world by granting and withdrawing legitimacy. History shows that the mitigation and cessation of unjust practices ultimately comes from the assertion of core values.
  • The end of slavery began with various revolutions and rebellions—yet the source of its ultimate demise was its loss of moral legitimacy.
  • Communism, for the most part, ended in similar fashion. The Soviet Union collapsed when the values that held it together were no longer credible and sustainable. Its legitimacy evaporated.

Rights And Responsibilities In International Relations

  • Rights are protections and entitlements in relation to corresponding duties and responsibilities.
  • There have been many attempts at forging general agreement on the composition of human rights—the best known being the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as the United Nations Charter, the Geneva Conventions, and additional international agreement such as the Refugee Convention.


  • Ideology presents a significant hurdle. Many political ideologies— “isms” and doctrines that are absolute and universal—result in what Hans Morgenthau called “the crusading spirit.”
  • Absolutes and moral abstractions in politics can be problematic for the ethicist. Ideologies like nationalism, Marxism, communism, religious fundamentalism and even Western liberalism in the wrong hands, have been great simplifiers, prone to excesses of political operators who use them to cloak their political interests in the guise of high-minded moral purpose.

Peace and Harmony

  • Ethics aim at “Peaceful World”, “Respect for All” & “Equality” while forming international organizations, declarations & forums. E.g.: The demand for equality in IMF & UNO shows the demand of adhering to ethics in a way.


  • Natural disasters and refugee crisis situations require a more compassionate view of the global community. These are not isolated events and rather, the duty of every global citizen to help in the times of crisis.
  • – Aid during natural disasters (Nepal earthquake)


  • Fairness addresses normative standards for appropriate contribution, equal regard and just desert.
  • Contemporary methods for thinking through these standards include John Rawls’s “difference principle,” Amartya Sen’s “capabilities approach,” Peter Singer’s “one world,” and Kwame Anthony Appiah’s “cosmopolitanism” just to name a few.

Constructivism and International Ethics

  • Constructivism focuses on the matters such as foreign policy, diplomatic initiatives to shape international relations and the international sphere where a country has trustworthy influence. In these matters, the focus is on domestic politics and how it forms foreign policy with goals. Every nation and every state create a sense of national identity in various ways and develop it through historical and cultural celebrations and means. Thus national identity is constructed and it in turn is said to influence the way the nations interact. Fundamentally, constructivism allows for influence of national identities and its constructions on the international sphere.
  • International sphere can also be a place where various identities can liquefy into more humane indulgent between people through the ‘give and take’ of identity respects and exchanges. Constructivism demonstrates that nations resist any danger to their identities, nationalism, national independence that are perceived. This works against attempts to make the world a better place or to change world systems. These efforts by other nations will be resisted if national identity is not valued. Constructivism gives more power to individual nations through its focus on national identity which is politically a more powerful tool to having less to do with other nations in the international sphere than with what furthers and promotes its own identity.
  • In present scenario, there is increase of identity politics and political power arising out of it harnessed by interested parties for their own advantage. National identities based on religious domains span across countries and define international relations. Religious baseless conflict may accelerate and cause problems not only in the international sphere but within a nation itself. It also leads to violence and anger instead of the spurs of peace and human relations. Identity tensions will be strongly felt and whatever feeds identity tensions and forms them is far from allowing people to be truly free and open in shaping the one world destiny of all of human kind. Cultural identities may not all be good, but they are to be respected even when critically evaluated for their role in determining international spaces, international sphere and international freedoms.


  • To summarize, there is vast literature that demonstrates ethics as an important determinant for good understanding of international relations. International relations must forestall serious and sometimes dangerous conflicts between nations or groups.
  • Ethnic and ideological differences can explode into major conflicts. The threatening complexity of competing narratives distinguishing national and non-state actors alike disrupts the relative tranquillity of formal dialogue on ideological differences.
  • Cycles of ethnic conflict, civil war shape clashes in ways where formal dialogue may never progress or deter.
  • Many professionals have stated that matters of equity and justice, of human dignity in the face of adversity and terror, are to be judged morally and not merely administratively (Bietz (1979). It is significant that moral issues in international relations must be shown.




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