Looking Downward: Ethics, Foreign Policy and the Domestic Politics of Protection

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This article examines the increasing prevalence of foreign policy commitments to the protection of distant strangers and the interaction this has with domestic political contexts. Although we do not live in a post-state cosmopolitan order, civilian protection practices appear premised in part on cosmopolitan-minded ethical obligations to help non-citizens in dire need. However, this seemingly expanded moral concern sits uneasily with the inconsistency in the translations of such ethical commitments into policy and into practice. Using the lens of recent British foreign policy, the article argues that in order to better understand the inconsistency in cosmopolitan-minded protective action in Western foreign policy, a downward gaze must be directed towards domestic contexts, intra-societal foundations and the increasingly nebulous state-society connections upon which cosmopolitan-minded foreign policy comes to rest. ‘Disaggregated’ forms of citizenship and exceptionally high levels of technological interconnectedness, present a difficult intra-societal context within which to craft a unified ethical foreign policy narrative that resonates well with the diverse identity constituencies of which contemporary Western states are comprised.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Politics
Early online date19 Dec 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Global ethics
  • cosmopolitanism
  • ethical foreign policy
  • foreign policy narratives
  • civilian protection
  • British foreign policy
  • refugee protection
  • humanitarian intervention
  • domestic politics


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