Brian C. Rathbun, Rachel Stein | Journal of Conflict Resolution
Recent research into the public’s attitude toward the use of nuclear weapons repeats long-standing mistakes in how international relations theorists think about morality. Falsely equating consequentialism with state egoism and normative obligations with restrictions on the use of weapons of mass destruction implies that ethically motivated beliefs about foreign affairs must be other-regarding and that other-regarding behavior is not utilitarian in character. Drawing on empirical research into moral psychology, we argue that liberal, other-regarding morality is only one kind of ethical foundation. Alternative moral concerns such as retribution, deference to authority, and in-group loyalty also help to determine foreign policy beliefs. We find that all three are associated with support for the use of nuclear weapons in the American public. Our survey respondents act as moral utilitarians who weigh different ethical considerations in forming their judgments.