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Reviewed by:
  • Global Good Samaritans: Human Rights as Foreign Policy
  • Mahmood Monshipouri (bio)
Alison Brysk , Global Good Samaritans: Human Rights as Foreign Policy (Oxford Univ. Press 2009), 267 pages plus Index, ISBN 9780195381573.

Several conceptions of international relations have clashed since the 9/11 era. The events of 11 September 2001, and the ensuing "war on terror" have had the effect of further securitization and the steady, almost inexorable, militarization of international politics. Security and geopolitical concerns have supplanted rights spaces, privileging the dynamics of hegemony over the emancipatory potential of the practice of human rights. Despite these recent trends, Global Good Samaritans deftly advances the proposition that indeed values do matter, by linking interests and values in a compelling historical comparative analysis. In this intriguing book, Brysk explores both the intellectual and practical relevance of liberal mores and human rights traditions, while providing a framework for analyzing how the respect for human rights, the rule of law, and democracy are inextricably intertwined with the struggle for international security. Many uncertainties notwithstanding, some states have chosen to support human rights in [End Page 1042] global institutions and project human rights into their foreign policy. Their influence could be critical for a wide variety of initiatives aimed at protecting and promoting human rights globally. The book begins with the metaphor of the "Global Good Samaritans" who have embarked on a colossal task in which "human rights foreign policy is more than guilt or charity—it is a constructive form of identity politics."1

Some states have demonstrated a principled commitment to build global governance by reshaping the meaning of sovereignty and instilling a slowly emerging legitimacy norm in their foreign policy. The question remains: what kinds of countries are equipped to become the so-called "humane internationalists"? Such states—referred to by the author as "global citizen states"—have not arisen out of sheer voluntarism; rather, they enjoy a structural base of threshold size, stability, development, and democratic regime type. Global citizen states are often small to medium sized and highly dependent on interaction in the international community, their identities are constructed by relationships to broader international society, as well as within the regional and cultural communities to which they belong. For global citizen states, given their history, evolving domestic structure, and relationship to others, such notions have converged in a specific package of human rights identity and promotion.2

While applying a constructivist theory of foreign policy to understanding the integration of human rights values into state's foreign policy makes logical sense, Brysk finds that candidate states are typically—on the input side—globalized, democratic, moderately developed, and secure middle or regional powers. Although many more countries could participate, it is the global middle states that are most likely to promote global democracy. The logic is persuasive: "Countries struggling for survival are not in a position to promote principles, and conversely the modal position of dominant powers is to provide only selective collective goods that reinforce their own positions."3 On the output side, however, the relevant domains of international human rights policy are multilateral diplomacy, bilateral relations, humanitarian or overseas development assistance, peace promotion, and refugee reception.

The interplay of moral and material interests can also help to explain the selectivity and targeting of principled foreign policy. Sometimes in bilateral relations, as in the case of Canadian trade or Dutch migration, a strong countervailing material concern will tend to swamp the normative agenda. Global values can flourish in areas in which material interests are obscure or ambiguous, for example when Sweden strengthens civil society organizations in Africa. At times, however, states will consciously choose norms at the expense of material concerns, such as when South Africa braved US aid cuts to support the International Criminal Court.4 The key to understanding what motivates such humanitarian foreign policy is that these global Samaritans have reconstructed their national identity and interests in "accordance with universalist norms, roles, and expectations."5 [End Page 1043] Operating on the cosmopolitan creed, such states have struck a balance between moral and strategic interdependence in constructing their foreign policies. These middle powers tend to favor peace, law, and trade each of which propels them toward...


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