This introductory chapter opens with two conversations, one imaginary and one historical, which illustrate that value questions are at centre stage in world politics. It then recapitulates the political conversation of humankind by focusing on the discourses of diplomacy and international law. It goes on to outline the basic norms of international society: procedural norms of international law which are part of a larger ethics of political principle, and prudential norms of statecraft which are part of a larger ethics of political virtue. The chapter ends by stating a central thesis of the book: namely that a normative dialogue of world politics is possible to the extent that it is divorced from the values of particular civilizations—such as that of the West or that of East Asia or that of the Muslim world.
Let us begin with a brief imaginary conversation between a senior career diplomat in the United States Department of State, and a respected public television journalist. The interview takes place several years after the end of the cold war. It concerns the US foreign policy response to a military intervention by Russia the previous day in a small Islamic state located in Central Asia which was formerly part of the Soviet Union but is now a member of the United Nations. That new state is the site of a bitter civil war that poses a threat to its Russian minority population.
Journalist: What is the latest news on the Russian intervention?
Diplomat: Our ambassador indicates that their army have occupied the capital. They are currently patrolling the city which is calm. Our own people are safe. The Islamic government have fled the city and they appear to be operating from a mountainous region in the south of the country. Their ambassador has called upon us for assistance. They have requested a meeting of the UN Security Council as soon as possible.
Journalist: What is our policy?
Diplomat: We are using our good offices to help bring the parties into a dialogue which hopefully will lay the basis for a peaceful settlement of their dispute.