Continuing from Part I

Ethical inter-group dynamics warrant some departures from interpersonal morality. But that's only half the story. The situation is much more grave: an effective system of "international ethics" is a concoction altogether separate from morality.

Notwithstanding a nation's lack of personhood, there is undeniably something that differentiates those acts that are committed by people in their nation's name. For example:

Suppose a group of ten activists from a radical antiwar organization were to walk into a munitions factory during 'peacetime' and shoot thirty unarmed strangers who posed no immediate danger to anyone. The activists hold that they were saving others' lives in the long-run, since munitions are used to kill people. They also gave a public warning two days earlier, saying that they would be attacking an unspecified munitions plant. Despite these rationalizations, their behavior would be considered morally condemnable, and criminal.

Now suppose that ten Chinese soldiers donning battledress were to bomb an enemy's munitions factory during wartime, killing similar unarmed strangers, of whose presence they were aware in advance. Although the soldiers (or their commanders) would justify their actions for reasons very similar to those of the activists, only the soldiers’ behavior might be considered (by some) to be "moral".

When individuals act in the name of a national affiliation, they clearly play by the rules of a unique "morality." National affiliation brings a subtle but consequential equivocation surrounding the concept, (and word), "morality," to which we will momentarily return.

The tendency to anthropomorphize nations seems to contribute to the notion that while interpersonal/international relations are fit for an approximate comparison,

person : nation nation : world
(A person is to a nation roughly as a nation is to the world)
the 'moral' system that governs them is not only identical, but furthermore, precise:
person : morality : nation = nation: morality: world
(A person uses morality within a nation precisely as a nation uses morality within the world)

But it isn't so. The moralistic emotions-—the only evident substance of "morality"-—allow for cooperation, mutual threat-reduction, and ultimately, survival for the individual within a group. But applying personal morality to inter-group matters leads to some untenable conclusions. The following reductio argument demonstrates one:

  1. PRESUMING: Moral rules apply to inter-group dynamics in the same way that they apply to interpersonal dynamics.
  2. Morality forbids killing, except when in the prevention of imminent, grave harm.
  3. Killing unarmed munitions workers is wrong because any harm they might cause is not imminent.
  4. THEREFORE: It is wrong to kill an unarmed munitions worker.
Since morality imbues every human with equal worth, distinguishing between individuals because of their social affiliation, (i.e., nationality, uniform, allegiance, etc.), is not morally permissible. A nation guided by morality in international matters would quickly find itself in shambles. Morality would make wars un-winnable, by forbidding espionage (deceit), seizures of foreign property (stealing), and most instances of deadly force against the enemy.1 A counterargument might claim that if morality is correctly adapted for the special circumstances of international matters, it needn't cause a strategic disadvantage.

But an adapted morality would cause a strategic disadvantage because it would have to be applied universally. Making it morally acceptable to plant spies within other nations would make it morally acceptable to have them plant spies in ours.

The world's nations are, and ought to be—-insofar as they ought to exist as nations at all—governed by a de facto code pertaining to 'national actions,' but this code is not and could not ever be called "moral." In a way precisely analogous to natural selection, the maxims of national selection require nations to be self-interested to survive, and this means prioritizing the worth of the nation over the worth of persons.

Importing morality into international relations is futile; national identity is itself an obstacle to morality.

1. Occasional use of deadly force might conform to moral norms, depending on the circumstances, but not enough to fight a war effectively.

[Node your homework]