03 November 1989 - 05 November 1989

Consensus and Conflict: Does International Cooperation Depend on Shared Values and Moral Norms Among Nations, and can such Norms Exist?

Chair: The Rt Hon the Lord Quinton FBA

Before the event, the subject of this conference seemed likely to prove too vast and too elusive to form the basis for a good discussion. In the event the talents of our participants, particularly of the chairman and the chairmen and rapporteurs of the two groups, ensured that discussion was both stimulating and targeted. I was surprised by the drive to reach practical conclusions to what looked likely to be a rather theoretical debate, in contrast with more down-to- earth occasions when participants sometimes seem to avoid practical recommendations.

The principal question round which the other issues addressed turned was: to what extent do moral factors influence the attitudes of voters in liberal or western-style democracies, and to what extent are such moral factors reflected in the positions adopted by governments? The conference accepted that the norm that promises should be kept was probably universally accepted. It concluded, further, that nationalism, tempered by perceived self-interest, was the prime, though dangerous, motivation of states, but, with some reservations, that the moral attitudes derived both from Judaeo-Christian traditions (not all of them at all times peaceable) and from Greece and Rome were so embedded in the natures of electorates that they had become a major factor in the judgement of self- interest In general governments tended to reflect the feelings of the public, though short-term self-interest might over-ride the longer term interest of the nation. Religion as such was not a major factor, except in the sense described; but in Islam, itself an off-shoot of the Judaeo- Christian tradition, politics and religion were bound up together, so that it was a notable exception to this generalisation. Fanaticism, it was remarked, in any form was the enemy of democracy.

While there were undoubtedly cases when governments might properly act in ways not acceptable in an individual citizen (e.g. imprisonment), such exceptions, domestically, were subject to “due process of law”; and where governments acted outside accepted standards without such justification, whether domestically or internationally, they tended to live to regret it. A useful distinction was made early in the discussion between substantive and procedural norms, although it became apparent that beyond a certain point procedure inevitably involved substance. Internationally, “due process” procedures had not been established except in certain areas. There was a case for strengthening such international procedures as existed, notably under the UN Charter, perhaps with a stronger role for the Security Council, but also, for example, in the International Court of Justice and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, with its mechanism for settling trade disputes, and for creating new ones as appropriate, with a view to managing conflicts of interest without resort to coercive force. It was noted that in the European Community and in the Helsinki machinery, with its accent on human rights in return for recognition of the post-war settlement in Europe, there were already institutions adapted, or potentially adapted, to such a role. It was also noted that “cooperation” in the title of the conference represented one end of a spectrum which stretched through co-existence and ostracism to sanctions, conflict and war.

It was suggested that the emphasis on the individual that characterised liberal democracy derived originally from Greek thought, but had been re-inforced by Judaeo- Christian teaching - “love thy neighbour” was a powerful injunction embracing the concepts both of equality and restraint. The concept of liberal democracy must consequently go wider than majority rule and must also embrace the idea of protecting minorities.

There was discussion whether liberal democracy was the product or creator of affluence, it being generally agreed that prosperity was in general a condition, but not a sufficient condition, for a liberal society.

It was further suggested that such democracies, with their habit of restraint, were increasingly averse to aggressive war, though they would defend themselves; and that war between liberal democracies was now unthinkable. Indeed it was stated that the moral justification for war was not likely to be strong (and did not exist for nuclear war though we did not discuss the morality of deterrence).

This led to discussion of the morality of intervention in foreign states. Here there was a clear division of opinion, some arguing that military intervention could never be justified, either morally or in pursuit of self-interest, and others that in extreme cases (e.g. the Holocaust, the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge, or government-induced starvation) intervention by force was not only justified but required - the doctrine of manifest (US) destiny was mentioned. We noted however that the argument that early military intervention, though it caused deaths, would save more lives in the end, was tricky; and the case for such intervention all too often arose from situations created by previous ill-judged interference. The consensus seemed to be that while military intervention was probably to be ruled out, both from prudence and because, increasingly, liberal governments and electorates were unwilling to expend blood and treasure in other people’s quarrels (cf. the inhibitions on UN peace-keeping forces), there were compelling arguments for using economic and political influence to right a manifest wrong that offended universally accepted norms, even though the decision in each case was likely to be controversial. Intervention, however, to substitute a democratic for another system of government, just because that system was alien to us, was not justified.

There was complete agreement that, on this basis, intervention was required to prevent the Khmer Rouge coming to power again in Cambodia, even if it meant supporting Hung Sen, and that current Western support for the Khmer Rouge was shameful.

Strong pleas were made for the maintenance of contact with regimes however distasteful and for not subjecting China to excessively harsh measures since, some argued, the tide was flowing inexorably there towards liberalisation.

One striking, unchallenged, conclusion was, in the words of one group report, “that equity is an important ingredient in international and social peace; and that looking after those who are falling behind is in the interest of those in front, and conducive to international cooperation”.

Consequently the conference saw the need for appropriate help, not only in cash aid, both to the poorer areas of the world and to the emerging democracies - if indeed they fulfilled their promise - in Eastern Europe. It was observed that democratic governments were inherently slow to react: while that was not always a bad thing, it could lead to missed opportunities. (The perception of the rapidly changing situation in Eastern Europe was a recurring theme, raising such questions as the future of NATO if the Warsaw Pact disintegrated - indeed a few argued that “we had won” and that the remaining troubles of the world were minor and could be ignored as long as they did not impinge on us -, but no recommendations beyond the general one of assistance were considered.)

Certain domestic social issues, some traceable to the emergence of multi-racial and multi-religious societies in Europe and North America, posed fundamental dilemmas for liberal nations (the drugs issue, the claim by some groups for special schools, imported religious practices which ran counter to traditional values, the question of affirmative action (or reverse discrimination), the fight against AIDS, terrorism etc. Each had to be addressed individually: there was no one answer.

A point that was made effectively was that international cooperation could not be seen only in terms of governmental relations: education (notably at the tertiary level), the arts (music for example), sport and tourism (though some doubted the contribution made by the package holiday) operated increasingly on an international or trans-national scale. All such activity contributed to the creation of an informed electorate to which elected governments must increasingly, and more effectively, be accountable. The media had an important role here, in informing and breaking down prejudice (though too often they were seen to build it up). Democracy had not reached perfection, but required further development. Meanwhile, in surveying the satisfactory development of the world scene, we should not be blind to the many failings in our societies: drugs, violence, illiteracy, poverty, unemployment. If the “city on the hill” ideal was to be realised, there was much to be done.

This Note reflects the Director’s personal impressions of the conference.  No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.

Conference Chairman: The Rt Hon the Lord Quinton FBA
Life Peer (Conservative); Chairman of the Board, British Library


Mr Geoffrey Jukes

Senior Fellow, Department of International Relations, Research School of Pacific Studies, The Australian National University (ANU)

Mr Richard Baker

Retired as Civilian Member, Senior Directing Staff, Royal College of Defence Studies (RCDS)(1986-9)
The Rt Rev & Rt Hon the Lord Blanch
Life Peer (Independent)
Mr Vernon Bogdanor
Fellow, Brasenose College, Oxford and University Lecturer in Politics, University of Oxford; Senior Visiting Fellow, European Centre for Political Studies, Policy Studies Institute, London
The Rt Hon the Lord Briggs FBA
Life Peer (Independent); Provost, Worcester College, Oxford; Chan­cellor, Open University
Mr Samuel Brittan
Principal Economic Commentator and Assistant Editor, Financial Times; author; Honorary Professor of Politics, Warwick University; a member of the Programme Committee, the Ditchley Foundation
Dr Anthony Kenny FRSE FBA
Warden, Rhodes House, Oxford; President, British Academy; Vice Chairman, Libraries Board
Mr Bryan Magee
Writer and Radio and TV Broadcaster; Hon Senior Research Fellow in History of Ideas, King’s College, London; a Governor and Member of the Council of Management, the Ditchley Foundation
Mr A R Moore CMG
Retired from HM Diplomatic Service (1968)
Mr John Simpson
Diplomatic Editor, BBC-TV
Sir Sigmund Sternberg OS J KCSG JP
Chairman, CRU Holdings (1983-); Lloyd’s Underwriter; Chairman, Isys Ltd; Hon Treasurer, Council of Christians and Jews; Chairman, International Council of Christians and Jews; Co- Chairman, Friends of Keston College; Member, Board of Deputies of British Jews; Governor, Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Chairman, Friends of Oxford Centre of Post-graduate Hebrew Studies; a judge, the Templeton Foundation; Founder, the Sternberg Centre for Judaism

Mr Hiroshi Hashimoto

Minister and Head of Chancery, Embassy of Japan, London

HE Osman Olcay

Diplomat; joined Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs (1945-)

Dr Michael J Brenner

Professor of International Affairs, University of Pittsburgh
Professor James Chase
Director, Program for International Affairs and the Media, School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University
The Hon Jeane J Kirkpatrick
Political scientist and government official; Resident scholar, American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
Dr Stanley Kober
Writer and specialist on East-West relations
Dr David Little
US Institute of Peace, Washington DC
Mr Charles William Maynes
Editor, Foreign Policy
Dr John Mueller
Professor of Political Science, University of Rochester; Professor of Film Studies; Founder/Director, Dance Film Archive; OP- Ed Columnist, Wall Street Journal; Member, Editorial Board, American Association for Public Policy and Management
Mr Scott Sullivan
European Editor, Newsweek International, Paris