15 Ratio Juris 1 (2002)

handle is hein.journals/raju15 and id is 1 raw text is: 

Ratio Juris. Vol. 15 No. 1 March 2002 (1-15)


Foreign Policy, Rationality

and Morality


FELIX E. OPPENHEIM


Abstract. To determine the relevance of judgments of rationality and of morality in
foreign policy decisions, it is necessary to provide a value-neutral definition of the
national interest. This makes it possible to ascertain, in principle, whether a given
governmental foreign policy decision is rational with respect to this goal, in turn a
necessary means to any government's ultimate purposes. While it is pointless to judge
the pursuit of the national interest itself morally right or wrong, moral judgments are
relevant to policies and goals compatible with the national interest. However, moral
principles are often invoked to justify the pursuit of this intermediate goal.

An empirical definition of the concept of the national interest (Section 1)
makes it possible to formulate judgments of rationality about a govern-
ment's national interest decisions (Section 2) and to determine the area of
relevance of moral judgments in this area (Section 3). Moral principles often
function as disguise for national interest policies (Section 4).
  The views I shall propose might be categorized as Realism (often capital-
ized),' still the most powerful theory of international politics (Grieco 1993,
118), but I shall indicate that they differ in important respects from the
theories which generally go under that name.


1. The Concept of the National Interest
Writers and politicians tend to use the national interest to characterize
whatever foreign policy they happen to favor, and special interests often
masquerade as national interest. It has been contended that the value-laden
character of the concept makes it difficult to employ it as a tool for rigorous
investigation (Rosenau 1968, 34) in the area of foreign policy. It seems to me
possible to provide a descriptive, value-free definition of this notion. To do


' The distinction between Realism and Neo-Realism is not relevant to this study.
 Blackwell Publishers Ltd 2002, 108 Cowley Road, Oxford OX4 lJF, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA.

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