Roundhouse Student Journal

Habermas, Kosovo and the Applied Turn in International Relations

Henry Palmer

This paper is an assessment of Naomi Head’s application of Habermas’ theory to the international deliberations that took place during the Kosovo crisis 1998-99. It will explore how a communicative ethics approach can provide a useful analysis of international justifications for military intervention. The success of the ‘applied turn’ in Habermasian discourse ethics will be questioned to explore the practical applicability of theory. By examining Habermas’ theoretical project it will argued there is more to be done to achieve this ‘applied turn’. Although the application has reflective critical power, international relations continue to undermine a communicative framework.

Since the end of the Cold War there have been changes in global order and the international economy. Yet dominant states have continued to conform to traditional customs of International Relations, employing technomilitary power and deterrence strategies to ensure stability. The reality of global relations among cultures and societies is not a reflection of international law among nations. The apparently enlightened and rational person, as Horkheimer and Adorno warned, ‘reduces the flux of existence to a strategic framework of unity and coherence’ (George 1994: 150). Challenging this mode of thought Walker and Ashley have argued that new intellectual possibilities become apparent as realist hegemony comes to an end (Linklater 1992). Expanding on this, Linklater has stressed the need for Critical Theory in a changing world. He points to three areas for consideration. First, the concepts of sovereignty and territoriality and the dialectic between citizens and aliens. Second, Eurocentric values of states bound by legal and moral norms: there is no longer any justification for excluding non- western states from analysis, or indeed international relations themselves on the basis of ideas of “civilisation”. The final area he highlights is emerging of cosmopolitan values, including the idea that states belong to a wider community of humankind (Linklater 1992).

Habermas, Kosovo and the Applied Turn in International Relations – A Critical Assessment of Applying Habermas - Henry Palmer [PDF file]

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