Global Good Samaritans: Human Rights as Foreign Policy

By Alison Brysk | Go to book overview

2
Reconstructing the National Interest

Foreign policy is what states make of it.

—Steve Smith 2001

Why do the dozens of Global Good Samaritans sacrifice their national interests to help strangers? The quick answer is—they don’t. Global good citizen states see the blood, treasure, and political capital they contribute to the international human rights regime as an investment, not a loss. Like other states, global Good Samaritans are following their national interest; the difference is that they have a broader, longer-term vision of national interest. Global good citizens have reconstructed their national identity in accordance with universalist norms, roles, and expectations. Thus, they have learned to see themselves as interconnected members of a global community that works best for everyone when human rights are respected. Generations of globalization, democratization, and human rights campaigns have produced a niche, networks, and knowledge that support humanitarian foreign policy.

The study of foreign policy was historically dominated by the assumption that discrete state units strategically calculated their national interest and sought to maximize their relative power in an anarchic international system (Waltz 1979). Each element of this approach was challenged on analytic, normative, and empirical grounds. First, for several generations state power appeared to be increasingly subject to transnational actors and arenas (Keohane and Nye 1971). Second, foreign policy decision makers seemed to be subject to systematic cognitive, bureaucratic, ideological, and cultural influences that distorted or even replaced “national interest” (Jervis 1976, Snyder et al. 2002, Goldstein and Keohane 1993). Finally, the international system was seen to be ordered in some fashion by norms, which did, could, or should inform foreign policy choice (Falk 1977, Wendt 1999). Paraphrasing Alexander Wendt’s (1992) constructivist retort to realpolitik’s description of an ungovernable international arena—“Anarchy Is What States Make of It”—Steve Smith (2001) applies a similar dialectical sense of agency to statecraft: “foreign policy is what states make of it.”

A constructivist theory of foreign policy can help us to understand how cosmopolitan political cultures like human rights make values make sense—and how such cultures are learned. Constructivism analyzes world

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