International Cosmopolitan Political Obligations

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Over the last few years, there has been intense political debate concerning the rightful use of coercion in the international sphere. Strong political forces have maintained that in addition to being inefficient, the current international authority, the United Nations (UN), is neither necessary nor desirable for the realization of international justice. This is seen not only in how recent efforts to improve and strengthen the UN are met with considerable resistance from powerful nations, but also by the fact that individual nations claim it rightful unilaterally to use coercion to solve conflicts in the international sphere. Though many other voices have argued that we need the UN, especially to enforce human rights internationally, there is little explanation why justice necessarily requires an international authority, rather than merely one or more just, strong nations. Therefore, current sentiment in favour of maintaining the UN is rarely supported by cogent justification that the UN is in principle necessary for international justice. From a philosophical point of view, the state of the contemporary debate is good evidence that we need to rethink the status of a distinctly international authority.

In this paper, I take a first stab at this task by arguing with Kant that international justice is in principle impossible without an international and cosmopolitan authority. The proposed account can explain why due respect for human rights and mutual respect of sovereignty among internally just states is possible only through the establishment of a transnational authority. The implication of this argument is that the liberal ideal of international political obligations is non-voluntarist in nature, meaning that states do not in principle have the right to resist the establishment of an international authority to regulate their international interactions. Moreover, the justification for an international authority is not linked to the typical aggressiveness of states. Even if all states are non-aggressive, I argue, they are still obligated to establish an international authority, since its establishment is a precondition for international justice. Only an international authority can enable rightful relations among states, because only it can put the interacting parties under universal laws and therefore also have standing to rightfully solve conflicts and use coercion with regard to states’ interactions. In addition, I explore Kant’s arguments that justice requires international trade as well as interactions between just states and visiting, alien private individuals to be regulated by a cosmopolitan authority. Both arguments strengthen the conclusion that the liberal ideal of transnational political obligations must be non-voluntarist, even if, as Kant argues, it is prudent to pursue the establishment of this authority voluntarily. A particular advantage of the position is its promise for solving several recalcitrant problems in current international politics, such as issues concerning rightful borders, trade—including the operation of multinationals in illegitimate and aggressive states, and the rights of stateless persons. The argument defends the conclusion that coercion in the international sphere is rightful only if authorised by an international and cosmopolitan authority.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationCoercion and the State
EditorsDavid A. Reidy, Walter J. Riker
Place of PublicationDordrecht
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)9781402068799
ISBN (Print)9781402068782
StatePublished - 2008

Publication series

NameThe Philosophical Foundations of Law and Justice


  • United Nations
  • Liberal Ideal
  • Rightful Border
  • International Justice
  • international authority


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