Author: Rhodes, Edward
Date published: January 1, 2010
Graham, Gordon. Ethics and International Relations. 2nd ed. Malden, Mass.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2008. 223pp. $21.95
In today's world, citizens, statesmen, and men and women in uniform are faced almost daily with real questions about terrorism, torture, humanitarian intervention, and foreign assistance. They must return again and again to the problem of determining when the use of military force might be an appropriate response to the horrors of the day. For these individuals Gordon Graham's Ethics and International Relations is an invaluable work. It is stimulating, challenging, insightful, and, perhaps most unusually, helpful. Not by any stretch of the imagination is this a "how-to" book, with explicit guidance or facile answers. Rather, it represents an understanding of the contending logics that lead to competing conclusions about right or wrong action, or nonaction, on the global stage.
Graham, a distinguished philosopher now holding the Henry Luce III Chair at the Princeton Theological Seminary, updates and expands here his original 1997 publication, tackling issues that have emerged in the last decade. This revised work retains the extraordinary merits of the earlier. The author brings wonderful clarity of logic and presentation to what, in other hands, is often a confused mess of unconnected arguments, claims, counterarguments, and counterclaims. Graham offers his presentation without disparaging or giving short shrift to anyone, exploring realist, various moralist, and what he terms "Legalist" traditions of international ethics, the assumptions and reasoning built into them, the criticisms that have been leveled against them, and possible responses to these criticisms.
Graham himself is neither, on the one hand, utopian nor, on the other hand, dismissive of ethical concerns. In the "Legalist" tradition, Graham stresses the moral disanalogies between states and individuals (a difference that "Moralist" approaches often regard as unimportant), argues the need to consider both natural law and the law of nations in wrestling with international ethics, and uses the just-war theory as a logical starting place for consideration of other interventions. Graham is candid and thoughtful about the problems of such an approach, as well as about the strengths of alternatives.
While this volume is a tightly integrated whole, it is organized into what are essentially eight separate, carefully organized, and self-contained twenty-fivepage lectures. Beginning with the rise of the state system and of the nation-state, Graham investigates the ethical assumptions built into this political framework and the challenges inherent in such an organization of political life. He explores just-war theory and considers the ethical problems associated with weapons of mass destruction before turning to the issues that have increasingly dominated the international agenda of the post-Cold War period.
Among the joys of this wonderfully erudite but never overwhelming or condescending volume is Graham's capacity to explain, without going off on tangents, many of the concepts and distinctions- from the differences between power and authority and between force and violence to the logic of the principle of double effect-that, left unexplained, befuddle so many analyses and discussions.
Readers are likely to realize many "aha!"moments as all sorts of nonsensical arguments suddenly make sense. Surprisingly, given the weightiness of the topic, this is a book that is difficult to put down and an important book to pick up.