Is to add a new dimension to the

Is the talk of ethics in UK Foreign
Policy mere rhetoric?

in Foreign Policy have been implemented in recent years to add a new dimension
to the setting of UK Foreign Policy, by the late 1990’s Labour Government. “Historically,
the obligations and moral responsibilities of nation States were confined to
their citizens and this was reflected in the process of foreign policy making.”1 These strategies were
chosen by the state to protect its own national interests by achieving its aims
in international relations. ‘Ethical Foreign Policy’ has been brought to
dispute by many theorists and academics alike, causing plentiful points for
debate whether foreign policy can actually be ethical, or whether it is still a
very self-centred interested policy.

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commitment to an ethical foreign policy allows a nation to rationalise their own
self-interests, through a commitment to ease human suffering through
understanding, cooperation and peacekeeping missions around the globe. The view
of an ethical foreign policy derives heavily on a morality based conception
view, taking into account our own nations interests and interests of others.
Therefore, “our foreign policy must have an ethical dimension and must support
the demands of other peoples for the democratic rights on which we insist for
ourselves”2. This statement has led to
key debate amongst academics as the ethical dimension has commonly been called
into question, whether the foreign policy has acted on a morality approach or
for need to satisfy purely its own nation’s interest.


the refugee crisis in Kosovo as an example, in which a British Military
intervention was actioned in spring 1999 to alleviate Serbian action against
ethnic Albanians. Tens of thousands of Kosovars fled across borders into
Macedonia, which provoked NATO to launch bombing missions against Serbian
installations and movements. The bombing campaign was successful and the
Kosovars were then returned back into Kosovo, avoiding a major refugee crisis
into Southeast Europe. The Government saw the military intervention as a great
success, however it was criticised by the “”proportionality” – the danger of
using a sledgehammer to crack a nut with the use of bombing Serbians.”3 Clearly action had to be
taken to protect the Kosovars from persecution, although it could be argued
that a resolution could have been used other than bombing raids.


a realistic approach to the nature of an ethical foreign policy you would to
have to base the interest on the other state as supposed to your own, which
could really weaken the strength of the nation’s policy. That alone is seriously
underestimating the realities of international politics. The realities of
intervention to protect others, for an ethical reason are not always viable,
nor are option foreign policy makers are willing to commit to prevent atrocities.
The Rwandan genocide is examples of unwillingness to intervene, the genocide
tried exterminate a people in 100 days, culminating in the killing of some 800,000
people. The West showed regret of not intervening admitting if they had
intervened they could of saved a vast amount of lives. “John Major defended his
decision not to send troops to Rwanda – he told MPs in July 1994 it was
“simply not practicable” for the UN Security Council to become the
“policeman of every part of the world”4.

            The UK has been renowned for having
an “empire mind-set” and using a Lord Palmerston who was quoted “national
interest above all else It used to be accepted wisdom that national
self-interest would always be the driving factor for any country’s foreign
policy. The distinguished nineteenth century politician Lord Palmerston once
said Britain had no permanent allies – only permanent interests.”5 This being particularly
true in the era this was spoken, due to the UK possessing a vast amount of
countries within the empire around the globe, a self-interest foreign policy
would be the only way to maintain such an empire.


would be hard to contest as a nation if our main influence of foreign policy is
purely self-interest, rather than having an unsustainable ethical foreign
policy. A policy to be purely ethical would see the nation acting in all
interventions across the globe becoming a huge strain on nation resources, man
power and financial factors. This would be an unfeasible task due to the nature
of global conflicts and happenings; however it would be an unfair claim to say
that a foreign policy was unethical due to not committing to interventions for
simply not having the resources to deal with such cases.


            The building of the ethical foreign
policy was created by Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, in the return of the ‘New
Labour’ government which had regained power after 18 years. The policy was
announced a few weeks after Labour took over as the party leaders; he broke the
policy down into four aims inclusive in the policy. Stating that the foreign
policy must have an “ethical dimension”, to “support the demands of other
peoples for the democratic rights on which we insist for ourselves”, to be
achieved by placing “human rights at the heart of the foreign policy”6 initially winning the
hearts of the nation this new foreign policy set out to be very popular among
the nation with the ‘ethical’ approach the new government set to abide by
around the world on the political stage.


            The new ethical foreign policy
initially received well soon took to an opposite effect with the policy
considered to be undermined by interventions that were less ‘ethical’ such as
the post 9/11 interventions and commitment by Blair’s government into the
Invasion of Iraq. These events brought into question the ethicality of the
Foreign Policy, from the ‘ethical’ intervention in Kosovo, to what was classed
as an ‘unethical’ invasion in Iraq, highlighting both spectrums of the ethical
foreign policy.

1 Barnett,
M. (2012) “Duties Beyond Borders” in Smith, S. Hadfield, A. & Dunne, T.
(eds.) Foreign Policy: Theories, Actors, Cases, 2nd Edition, Oxford, Oxford
University Press pg. 224





6 Little,Richard,Wickham-Jones,Mark,
“New Labour’s Foreign Policy”, Manchester University Press, p.63


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