Publisher web: Peter Lang Press

A significant characteristic of the postmodern period is the extension of roles played by middle and small states as well as non political actors, especially NGOs. With the end of the Cold War and with it a bipolar international system, such actors began to address a variety of political issues and participated more visibly and effectively in the international arena. Additionally, the private sector has become an inseparable part of international and domestic political expertise by providing critical inputs and developing reactive pressure on politicians; while a number of middle and smaller powers, that generally lack leverages to pursue high global political goals, opted for niche diplomacy through which they could partially influence other states as well as the IR system in general. Waisová and Cabada have shown their specific interest in the role of such postmodern states, which have altered their foreign and domestic policies by incorporating moral principles; those that have begun to act as international and global “norm entrepreneurs” primarily aspiring higher human security and respect for human rights.
Ethics in Foreign Policy: Postmodern States as the Entrepreneurs of Kantian Ethics is a book that relates to a current debate about global moral principles and values, taken from the perspective of a popular IR approach – social constructivism. Waisová and Cabada selected five states as case studies, namely: Canada, the Federal Republic of Germany, Norway, the Netherlands, and Slovenia. Despite that none of these states possesses a seat in the UN Security Council (UNSC) – which, ostensibly, maintains supreme power over international peace and security decision-making – they have proven their capability of making the international community (i.e. UN bodies among other states) reconsider certain security issues, such as human rights, human security, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and other conventional weapons, disarmament and the role of women and children in conflict (etc). Accordingly, these states do not strive to radically change the IR system rapidly or in a broad, comprehensive fashion; the book rather indicates that states with ‘principled foreign policy’ prefer to engage in domestic and foreign activities and become an inspiration for others – they select a particular area of their interest and ‘try to change the social meaning of certain facts’ (p. 24). The interests of states with a principled foreign policy differ from more traditional state’s self-centred way of thinking by partially overcoming ignorance towards global challenges. They seek support among other states and form ad hoc collaborations in order to effectively spread their principles and have them adopted. For example, Waisová demonstrates, through the cases of Norway and Canada, deep levels of cooperation in the attempt to prohibit certain conventional weapons. They not only propose initiatives, they also mutually support each other, like in the case of the Ottawa Treaty (Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention) and the Oslo Treaty (attempting to outlaw cluster bombs). Such sensitive issues are unable to be implemented within the UN since the permanent members of the UNSC are unwilling to cede their sovereign rights or even have them limited. Therefore, Canada and Norway – in a similar way to the other examined cases – often develop positions on issues that the UN is unable to deal with, and take actions independently.
Less vocal states with a relatively small territory and/or population base can also play key roles in international politics. Cabada shows reveals this with the case of Slovenia; that a post-communist South/Central European state can acquire a good reputation among other states for its morally defined foreign policy and for being able to utilise its full potential. Slovenia has accepted the role as mediator between EU and Western Balkan states. Foreign policy based on promoting peace and security in the Balkans has ensured Slovenia a positive image and an important role in Europe.
This book is ideally suited for students and researchers of international relations. Each chapter provides a brief contemporary history of the studied state, then interprets the state’s principled foreign policy, and concludes with a critical evaluation. In the latter portions, the authors provide an apt list of motives explaining why states’ words and deeds differ at times: in other words, why do states tend to place material interests over their moral principles. They name for instance: commitments resulting from memberships in different organisations and alliances, bonds towards important trading partners, geopolitical positions, historically problematic and yet unsolved questions, and limited national budgets. These factors are relevant and deserve to be further explored.
Additionally, certain points of the book are particularly thought-provoking. Firstly, Kantian ethics derives from an initial good will – in this case, of states – rather than the positive results of actions. The question which naturally arises is where the border rests between good will and pure pragmatic interests with under the cover of morality? Would states develop a principled foreign policy if they did not materially benefit from it?
Secondly, the authors demonstrate that even states with less effective political leverages can act confidently within the international community. Despite lacking certain resources, which could enable them to accomplish certain foreign policy projects, alternative techniques can partially compensate for such shortcomings. A state that wants to look confident on the international field and push through policies has to clearly and firmly define its position, including its principles and when unilateral action would not suffice, the formation of like-minded coalitions has proven effective.
Third and finally, this book could be added to the list of works which critically evaluate the UN’s numerous imperfections. The initiatives of the studied cases – which often occur outside of UN institutions – reveal that the UN is, at times, incapable of providing space for real cooperation which aims to resolve local, regional and international problems which demand both attention and resources.