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Human Rights Quarterly 23.1 (2001) 213-227

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Book Review

Human Rights in International Relations

Realism and International Relations

Human Rights in International Relations, by David P. Forsythe, Cambridge University Press: New York, 2000, pp. 237 plus index.

Realism and International Relations, by Jack Donnelly, Cambridge University Press, New York, 2000, pp. 227 plus index.

The search for a sustainable protection and promotion of human rights has often been complicated in a world where a state-centric and realism framework has underpinned much of global politics. Whereas the bipolar balance of the Cold War held everything somewhat stable, the post-Cold War era removed any sort of manageable or measurable balance. Now everything is in flux, from power to security, from sovereignty to economic balance. Further confounding the situation in the post-Cold War era have been the collapse of order in the so called "zones of turmoil," the widening inequality in the Global South, and the increasing polarization between the rich and the poor countries. In the case of failed states, social chaos and forced eviction, perpetrated largely within the context of ethnic cleansing and ethno-nationalist strife, have bred violence and civil wars, resulting in a perplexing descent into barbarism.

With regard to the moral problems of destitution and inequality, the issue of economic justice has permeated the current polemics over international human rights in an age of globalization. These new issues, along with the traumatic events of the 1990s (particularly in Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Kosovo, and East Timor) have intensified the preoccupation with and commitment to the internationalization of human rights in academic circles. Increasingly, however, analysts have admonished against the compliance gap, arguing that approval of international human rights instruments is not the same as endorsement.

Although the rising consensus on global standards has yet to render the enforcement of human rights any easier, no one denies the growing importance of human rights to an emerging international order. There are many questions about the future of human rights and traditional power politics in international relations. Those questions that specifically relate to this review include: what is the most effective way to protect human rights in the face of rampant violence, poverty, inequality, and disease? How will international norms affect state behavior? How has the clash of realism and liberalism influenced the discipline of international relations? And, finally, what are the contributions and limitations of the realist tradition?

In approaching a discussion of these issues, David P. Forsythe and Jack Donnelly, two of the Western world's most accomplished, forceful, and influential human rights scholars, explore factors shaping the contours of a new moral and political discourse in the [End Page 213] international community. Describing his approach as politically neoliberal, Forsythe regards "international human rights as good and proper, but whose application must be matched to contextual realities thus leading to difficult policy choices." 1 His book, Human Rights in International Relations, proceeds on the central assumption that making the progress toward human rights is most viable through non-judicial action. That is to say, one can make advances on human rights apart from courts and hard law.

To tackle one of the most contentious ethical issues of the past half-century--that is, peace versus justice--Forsythe opts for de-emphasizing criminal justice. He argues that there is no doubt that the pursuit of legal justice in Somalia led to a hell of good intentions, but that it would have been better, for Somalia and for the entire Great Lakes region of Africa, if the United States and other actors had defined their objectives in less criminal terms. 2 Forsythe presents Operation Desert Storm as another example of how peace prevailed over legal justice. 3 Given such a rationale, geopolitical considerations clearly prevailed over chasing war criminals such as Saddam Hussein. (The Kurds' enticement to rebellion in the course of the Gulf War would have been another appropriate example.)

A recurring theme of the book is the clash of liberalism and realism. Such a clash, Forsythe observes, is inevitable in a...


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