Academic journal article Brazilian Political Science Review

Emerging Powers and the Notion of International Responsibility: Moral Duty or Shifting Goalpost? *

Academic journal article Brazilian Political Science Review

Emerging Powers and the Notion of International Responsibility: Moral Duty or Shifting Goalpost? *

Article excerpt

The rise of new powers and attendant shifts in the global balance of power have led to calls for UN Security Council reform. Established powers have often responded by linking increased influence in the international system with the assumption of more international responsibility by aspirant powers. Based on ethical and philosophical approaches to the notion of responsibility, and their transposition to the state and thus international level, from IR theory, as well as a brief analysis of an emerging power -Brazil's - engagement with the concept, this article analyses the way in which the notion of responsibility is discursively constructed, demonstrating the manner in which it has been used as an ever-shifting goalpost to deny emerging powers participation at the highest levels of global strategic decision making. Most often, this is done by equating 'responsibility' with the ability and willingness to use robust military force. However, these practices are at odds with the traditions and capabilities of many important emerging powers, whose strengths in contributing to international order lie elsewhere. This article lays out a conceptual approach for delving into the ethical, moral and philosophical foundations of the notion of international responsibility, with emphasis on application to the case of Brazil.

The article begins with how philosophy and ethics have dealt with the notion of responsibility, from Nietzsche to Levinas and Sartre. These origins are then progressively brought to bear on the discourse on international moral responsibility of states - not to be confused with the principle of state legal responsibility. The second section looks at how the transition from an individually-based concept to one applying to states is made, by means of the individuation of states. The emphasis is on remedial responsibility for others and its linked to both material capacity and common belonging to a cosmopolitan community.

Once the analysis is situated at the level of the state, the discussion then approaches the difference between the often-enshrined great power special systemic responsibility and how the notion of responsibility relates to emerging powers' quest for more influence. In this sense, the objective is to illustrate how responsibility - once derived from capabilities - has become constitutive in its own right of a social role attached to privilege and influence in the international system. This is then illustrated through the extensive engagement of a prominent emerging power - Brazil - with intervention norms and their attendant focus on remedial responsibility.

The origins of responsibility

Responsibility, as an ethical concept, refers to an individual action that presents two main characteristics: 'attributive' and 'relational'. As a relational concept, responsibility refers to the fact that in every responsible action, one can identify the relationship between the 'self' (that performs the action) and an 'other' (that is the cause of the action). The attributive characteristic of responsibility is explained by the fact that to every human being can be assigned the capability of being responsible for someone or something. So, this person is inherently capable of performing (or not) an action morally significant to another human being. In performing or failing to perform such a moral action, the individual can be both praised and blamed; in this sense, responsibility is also a consequentialist concept.

These two main characteristics (attributive and relational) guide the following reflection about the philosophical origins of responsibility, and how moral solicitude to the other, as a human being, guides policies in international relations. The discussion will first touch upon responsibility as a moral condition, understood as a duty to the other's needs; and second, as an attributive concept, guiding individuals' behavior in society.

Responsibility, as an ethical concept, refers to human relations that seek to make a choice between what is considered good and evil. …

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