Donnelly Chapter 9
Human Rights and Foreign Policy
1. Human Rights: A Legitimate Concern for Foreign Policy?
Three standard arguments connecting HR with foreign policy:
1) Realists reject a concern for international HR because foreign
policy (FP) ought to be about the national interests defined in
terms of power
2) Statists (or legalists) consider an active concern for the HR
practices of other states as inconsistent with the fundamental
principle of state sovereignty.
3) Relativists (or pluralists) views international HR policies as moral
A. The Realist Argument (Morgenthau)
• For Morgenthau, FP must be about “national interests defined in
terms of power.” Morality is appropriate to individual nations but
not the relation of the state
• Morgenthau, “the principle of the defense of HR cannot be
consistently applied in foreign policy because it can and must
come in conflict with other interests that may be more important
than the defense of human rights in a particular circumstance.”
• Interests are not reducible to power
• Donnelly- in certain circumstances it may be unwise to pursue
human rights, but that must be determined empirically, case by
case. Realists are not entitled to categorically exclude HR as a
legitimate goal of FP
B. The Statist (Legalist) Argument
• IR is structured around the principle of sovereignty. Sovereignty
in turn implies nonintervention in the internal affairs of other
states. The statist argues that HR must be excluded from FP
because what a state does with respect to its own nationals on
its own territory is a matter of sovereign national jurisdiction and
thus of no legitimate concern of other states. • Donnelly- International law can be seen as a body of restrictions
of the sovereignty that have been accepted by states through
the mechanism of custom and treaty. HR have become
legitimate subjects in IR because sovereign states have chosen
to make them so.
• The weakness of existing international implementation and
enforcement mechanisms (Ch. 8) might allow statists to argue
that incorporating HR into FP still contravenes the fundamental
principle of non intervention, but numerous instruments of FP
(eg, diplomatic representations and granting/ withdrawing
preferential trade agreements) do not involve intervention. Such
means may be used on behalf of HR as legitimately as they are
used on behalf of other goals of HR. Illegitimate intervention
involves strongly coercive, dictatorial means.
C. The Relativist (Pluralist) Argument
• A country’s social and political order should be, on its face,
entirely a matter of domestic jurisdiction.
• Within a certain range of freedom, the autonomous choices of a
free people should be restricted. This stresses the positive value
of cultural diversity and respect for the values of other peoples
• Kennan argues that “there are no internationally accepted
standards of morality to which the US government could appeal
if it wished to act in the name of moral principles”… Donnelly
argues that this is not true in the case of HR
• Donnelly- To act on behalf of internationally recognized HR is not
to impose one’s own values on other countries. It involves
bringing the practices of governments in line with their own
professed values (which we share)
• There are authoritative int. HR norms. As long as HR policy is
based on these norms, it does not reflect moral imperialism.
• Certain acts, practices, and customs do not deserve our respect
even if they are tradition.
2. International HR and National Identity
States pursue HR in their FP for many reasons, but a significant reason is the HR are important to national identity.
• If HR are paramount moral rights, they impose some sort of
obligation on all people and not just on fellow nationals.
• Legal realities of sovereignty may limit legitimate action of
foreigners on behalf of HR to short intervention. Political realities
of competing national self interests may further restrict
international HR policies, but the moral realities of the pervasive
violation of universal HR demands some active response.
• Countries without HR in their founding myths have in recent
decades increasingly incorporated HR into their national self
conceptions (eg HR as central to South African national self-
image after end of apartheid or emergence of HR in Britain in the
post colonial era)
• In a more evolutionary way, HR have been incorporated into
national self identities. Participation in international HR regimes
place national rights in a broader international perspective (Eg.
Britain’s 1997 decision to incorporate the European Convention
directly into British Law)
Human rights must sometimes be sacrificed to other interests and
values. HR typically (but not always) lose out in conflicts with most (but
not all) competing FP objectives.
Visualize a simple FP model with 4 interests: security, economic, HR,
• There are little to no examples where states would sacrifice
national security in the interest of human rights
• States occasionally give HR priority over economic interests, but
o Tiananmen Square 1989
Most states with substantial economic relations with
China adopted aid, trade, or investment sanctions
India and Russia, however remained largely silent
and supportive of China
Other examples: non intervention in Rwanda, t