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Mains Practice Questions

  • Q. International laws and treaties act as the sources of ethical guidance in contemporary international relations. Critically examine. (250 words)

    14 Oct, 2021 GS Paper 4 Theoretical Questions


    • Introduce briefly by quoting facts that international laws and treaties act as the sources of ethical guidance.
    • Explain its importance and shortcomings in contemporary IR.
    • Give conclusion


    In this hyperconnected world that is now a global village, international laws and treaties act as the sources of ethical guidance to address the ethical issues involved in contemporary international relations.

    • The UN Charter articulated a commitment to uphold human rights of citizens and outlined a broad set of principles relating to achieving ‘higher standards of living’, addressing ‘economic, social, health, and related problems,’ and ‘universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.
    • Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) adopted by the UN General Assembly on 10th December, 1948 sets out, for the first time, fundamental human rights to be universally protected.
    • The Geneva Conventions comprise four treaties, and three additional protocols, that establish the standards of international law for humanitarian treatment in war.
    • 1951 Refugee Convention defines who a refugee is, and sets out the rights of individuals who are granted asylum and the responsibilities of nations that grant asylum.
    • Paris Climate Deal under UNFCCC ensures climate justice by adopting CBDR (Common but differentiated Responsibility) principle in climate resolve.
    • The World Trade Organization (WTO) and its TRIPS agreement address the ethical issues involved in global trade and Intellectual Property Rights.
    • There are multiple laws and treaties to address ethical issues regarding the four Global Commons- The High Sea (UNCLOS), the Atmosphere, Antarctica, Outer Space.

    However certain laws claiming to uphold international ethics have been criticised

    • Disarmament:- Countries like USA impose economic and other sanctions on countries like Iran to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons. Questions are raised that how it is ethical for a country to impose sanctions on others without discarding their own nuclear arsenals.
    • Humanitarian Intervention: Ethical question is raised whether it is right for a country to interfere in the internal affairs of another country.
    • Climate Change: Countries are still divided on the issue of CBDR.
    • Outer Space: Space debris due to satellite race in outer space are not properly addressed.
    • Intellectual Property Rights: Restrictive clauses of IPR deprive the poor and developing countries to access new technologies and life-saving medicines. Here ethical issue is between Commercial benefits vs Humane Causes.
    • Trade Negotiation/Doha Round: Whether developing countries are ethically and morally correct when they demand relatively higher concessions in international trade.
    • International Funding and Development Aids come with certain conditionalities that may be morally wrong. E.g- IMF funded to bailout India’s economic crisis in 1991 with the condition of Economic Liberalisation (LPG Reforms).


    There is a need to establish universal ethical behaviour in international diplomacy to address the global complex problems like terrorism, climate change, removal of poverty and inequality and to estabish global peace.

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