By David A. Welch

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In this book I argue that the behavior of states in international politics does not merely reflect a concern for power and interest, but often a concern for the perceived demands of justice. This is not a novel claim; it may be found, for example, in the works of writers as diverse as Hugo Grotius and Alfred Thayer Mahan. Yet its significance has been utterly lost on contemporary international relations theory.

Students of international politics readily acknowledge that states use the language of justice and injustice in their relations with one another, but are generally skeptical that this fact could be analytically useful. Some dismiss the use of such language as rationalization, deliberate misrepresentation, or propaganda, and assume that it masks a more basic opportunism or pursuit of self-interest. They therefore question the sincerity of states' claims to justice. Others credit the sincerity of these claims, but tend to deny that the justice motive can be useful in explaining state behavior on the ground that what states perceive to be just is materially indistinguishable from what serves their interest, or on the ground that, since states always use the language of justice and injustice, the justice motive is a constant and cannot explain variations in state behavior or help identify the conditions under which states are more or less likely to act in particular ways. The net result of both forms of skepticism is that the justice motive plays no significant role in international relations theory today.