2009 review

Ethics and Agency in International Organizations

[Review of ]. INTERNATIONAL STUDIES REVIEW, 11(4), 766–772.

By: M. Struett n

UN Sustainable Development Goal Categories
Source: Web Of Science
Added: August 6, 2018

The UN Secretary-General and Moral Authority: Ethics & Religion and International Leadership. By Kent J. Kille. Washington D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2007. 384 pp., $29.95 paperback (ISBN 978-1-58901-180-9). Political Ethics and the United Nations: Dag Hammarskjold as Secretary-General. By Manuel Frohlich. New York: Routledge, 2008. 272 pp., $170.00 hardcover (ISBN: 978-0-415-44532-0). Global Accountabilities: Participation, Pluralism, and Public Ethics. By Ebrahim Alnoor, Weisband Edward. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007. 366 pp., $39.99 paperback (ISBN-13: 978-0-521-70011-5). Religious views, ethical frameworks, and normative considerations certainly impact outcomes in world politics. Still, social scientists have tended to shy away from systematic examination of the question of the role of ethics in shaping political behavior. The same cannot be said of each of the three volumes under consideration here. All these books seek to analyze the relationship between ethics and the political processes of global governance. Kent Kille's edited volume, The UN Secretary General and Moral Authority, and Manuel Frohlich's book, Political Ethics and the United Nations, both focus on the ways that personal ethics impact leadership from the office of the UN Secretary-General, and the latter book focuses more specifically on the ethics and political life of Dag Hammarskjold. The third volume, Global Accountabilities edited by Alnoor Ebrahim and Edward Weisband, takes a broader view of ethics and accountability in global governance processes and argues that such ethical accountability cannot be grounded solely in rationalist prescriptions for principal–agent relationships. As Kille acknowledges, the approach to moral agency in his volume is decidedly focused on the Secretary-Generals as individuals, rather than on the moral agency of international institutions as such. The same is true of the Frohlich volume. Thus, these books do not directly address the question of whether or not institutions themselves can have ethical and moral consequences. Indeed, the relationship between the ethics of individuals and the ethics of institutions that themselves act as agents is an important one that has received increased scholarly attention in recent years (Frost 1996; Erskine 2003). Still, these books also make a contribution to our understanding of the ethical foundations of the UN institution itself. That is because there is a sense in which the United Nations Secretary-General acts as a personification of UN ideals and principles. Consequently, the personal …