Elshtain presents a case for the primacy of politics if one would argue persuasively about international justice. Without political stability, all attempts to assist developing states, or to sustain persons caught in the chaos of “failed states,” must fail. A concept of justice lies at the heart of this discussion and revolves around the fundamental questions of to whom justice is owed and in what justice consists.
Have we any obligations beyond our own borders? If so, what form do these take? These questions are addressed by developing a concept of comparative justice indebted to the just war tradition and tying it to the equal moral regard of persons. This leads, in turn, to two further difficulties. First, what does it mean to make a claim under the equal regard norm? Just war criteria posit certain universal claims in a political universe in which particular bodies politic either respond, or do not, to such claims in light of their own principles and interests. The article develops a citizenship model for cases of humanitarian intervention, rejecting any and all approaches that involve an asymmetrical valuing of human life.
Second, who can be called upon to use coercive force in behalf of justice? Elshtain argues that all states have a stake in creating and sustaining an international system of equal regard. But, at present, there is no universal body that can be turned to with any confidence in situations of catastrophic violence, like ethnic cleansing. UN Peacekeepers are effective only after a measure of order is restored. As a result the state, or states, with the greatest capability to project power bears the lion's sharer of responsibility for enforcing an equal regard norm. Elshtain acknowledges the difficulties of articulating a strong universal justice claim while assigning a particular state, or states, and their people a disproportionate enforcement burden. But that best describes the present moment and it is better by far that those with power deploy that power within a framework of principles and constraints rather than solely along the lines of classic realpolitik.