Ethical traps in international relations

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3 Citations (Scopus)
255 Downloads (Pure)


We elaborate a little noticed strategy generally used by weaker actors both in domestic and international politics: the ethical trap. Actors who fall into such traps lose ethical standing and influence at home as well as abroad. We explore the concept of the trap and distinguish it from policy interventions and escalation in which there is no deliberate enticement. We document historical instances of successful ethical trapping both within states and between them. We also discuss traps that were not sprung. We contend that ethical traps have become an increasingly salient feature of contemporary asymmetrical warfare both within states and internationally. We conclude with some propositions about the global practice in which ethical traps are set and the conditions in which they are likely to succeed and some observations about the relative vulnerability of liberal and non-liberal regimes to these traps. This in turn says something important about the practical consequences of ethical violations in international affairs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-22
Number of pages20
JournalInternational Relations
Issue number1
Early online date4 Nov 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2019


  • asymmetric warfare
  • ethical traps
  • ethics
  • foreign policy
  • terrorism


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