Podium: Our Obligation to Care and Share Hilde Johnson; Norwegian Minister of International Development to the Oslo Meeting on Ethical Values in International Relations
Johnson, Hilde, The Independent (London, England)
GRUB FIRST, then ethics", is a much quoted aphorism of Bertolt Brecht. Ethics may be felt to be a luxury when a man is starving, when the only thing on his mind is the struggle to survive, to feed his family, to keep alive. But this division is artificial, for the provision of food is a core issue in social ethics, since all other functions of human life depend on the ability to find enough to eat.
The freedom to lead a decent life, including freedom from hunger, from avoidable illness, from premature mortality, is dependent on having enough to eat. Hunger is caused by poverty, and poverty is one of the most urgent global ethical challenges facing the world today.
My concern is related to the fact that, in addition to causing hunger, poverty is in many cases one of the main causes of violent conflicts. In other words, poverty may lead to war. And war is the result of lack of ethical values in international relations. Thus any discussion of ethical values must take account of the most urgent challenge for us all: poverty.
Poverty affects a quarter of the world's population. Most of those who are affected are women and children. Poverty constitutes a massive violation of human rights. Poverty threatens the lives of individuals. Enjoying one's human rights does not mean begging for crumbs, but being at the table, taking part, participating, contributing, deciding, and feeling secure.
We must take issue with another factor that is preventing people from being at the table, from feeling secure: corruption. Corruption is stealing from the poorest, and it makes the rich even richer.
We have a moral duty to ensure that fewer of our fellow human beings live under degrading conditions. This is not only a question of our own interests. It is a matter of common interest.
Ethical values can be regarded as something abstract and utopian, and perhaps difficult to grasp. But ethical values also have their place in a debate on international relations. They are essential to all aspects of politics. Ethical values are part of politics. They shape the choices we make, and they constitute the basis for our decisions. Ethics are politics - in principle and in practice - in the field.
Fortunately, there is growing international awareness of the role of ethical values in politics. …