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Citizens of One State - Dissertation Sample

17 Mar 2017Dissertation Samples

Do citizens of one state have moral duties to those beyond

The notion that citizens of one state have moral duties to the citizens of other states has been the cause of many debates in International Relations and further afield. The following will discuss whether moral duties are binding for citizens of one states should citizens of other countries need their help or support. There have also been occasions arguably when citizens of other states have used the pretence of moral duties to interfere in the affairs of other states.

On the other hand there have been many occasions when citizens of other states have failed to act upon their moral duties when citizens of other states could have done with help urgently. Some moral duties have been given legal status in international laws and conventions yet the majority of moral duties not legally binding. The bases and character of moral duties will be examined and discussed below. The influence of bodies such as the International Red Cross, Amnesty International, the United Nations or The Hague and Geneva Conventions will also be discussed.

Ideas that citizens of other states have moral duties to citizens of other states especially during time of hardship or danger are not new concepts. Some of the bases and character of these moral duties could be regarded as being centuries old. Some of the foundations of moral duties from citizens of other states towards citizens of other states are related to religious beliefs. The moral duties may even be seen to have a greater impact or significance when the citizens of the states involved share a common religion or set of moral values leading to the same or similar concepts of their moral duties towards other people.  For instance, Christians especially in the Middle Ages held the belief that they all belonged to a single Christendom, an international Christian community in which languages and culture might differ yet the sense of morality and duty would be consistent throughout all the differing states.

A Christendom in which everybody knew they had moral duties and understood the moral worth of helping your neighbour whenever they needed it with the hope that the favour would be returned if or when needed. Christianity in many respects provided a sense of religious, social and cultural unity in the face of the disintegration of the Roman Empire in the West only partly broken by the Reformation. However throughout much of the Middle Ages states were not necessarily constructed on the basis of ethnicity or nationality and people could have close affinities with other states that shared the same language or were closely linked together (Roberts, 1996 p.71).

Christianity had a strong tradition of extending charity when it was needed especially via the monastic foundations. Islam has a similar tradition of establishing moral duties between citizens of different states particularly other Islamic communities. Islam especially in its earliest phase was a unified religion, certainly with fewer divisions than Christianity and other religions. Despite the splitting of Islam into Sunni and Shiite factions it seeks to embrace all Muslims into one universal community (Eatwell & Wright, 2003 p. 2003).   Other religions have fostered a sense of international communities in which citizens and states should help each other.

Of course that is the ideal that most citizens and states have found difficult to live up to through out the ages.  A more noticeable development of the last two or three decades has been the emergence of a greater number of people that hold militant religious views which has had an impact on how people understand their moral duties to other people in other states.  Militancy has meant on the one hand that people are more willing to help people that share their faith yet on the other hand are less willing to help people with different faiths.   Militancy is often linked with Islamic groups such as Al-Qaeda that regard themselves as being at war with non-Muslims and Muslims that do not share their views. However the impact of radical Hindu, Jewish and Christian groups should not be ignored. All share intolerance of those different from them, by definition they only feel a moral duty to help those who have similar views to themselves (Brown with Ainley, 2005 p. 192).

Moral duties governing the ways in which citizens of other states could help citizens of other states not only include religious origins they often have or had a religious character. Moral duties reflect the moral and social values of the states in which the helping citizens come from yet may or may not have the same moral and social values as the citizens and states that they are aiding whilst carrying out their moral duties. The most fundamental moral duties would include keeping citizens of other states alive if famine, drought or other natural disasters as well as the consequences of war or other human induced disasters endanger their lives.

The pretext for carrying out moral duties towards citizens of other states is that life is precious and should be preserved and protected where possible. Religions teach the value of life and the virtues of charity, which has been reflected in the development of moral duties for citizens towards other citizens from other states. These agencies can be helped when the media sends people to film and report on events in far flung places yet media companies can be reluctant to risk the lives of their crews or the cost of sending them there. It does not seem worth it for the sake of short news articles that many people will not watch or read (Hurd, 1997 p. 230).

Not all moral duties relating to the way citizens from differing states will act towards citizens of other countries is drawn from religion or motivated by religious beliefs.  Citizens of one state can be motivated by humanitarian desires to help other people. Charities and humanitarian aid agencies were developed by citizens that wished to ensure that their moral duties towards citizens in other states could be carried out more effectively and could allow more citizens to face responsibility for their moral duties. Acts of charity have formed an important basis for citizens to carry out their moral duties for many centuries and seem set to remain crucial for the provision of humanitarian aid for a long time to come. Groups such as Oxfam attempt to instil a sense of moral duty in citizens to help those in need yet also aim for making people in need self-sufficient in the long term (Crystal, 2003 p. 685). 

The emergence of humanitarian agencies has changed to some extent the bases and character of moral duties which citizens of one state have towards citizens of other states. These humanitarian agencies and charities appeal to citizens to give their time or their money to help people in other states less fortunate than themselves.  Whilst humanitarian agencies have gained most publicity, support and recognition for saving lives during natural and human made disasters they have also aimed to develop infrastructure and improve the standard of lives in the Third World (a term that persists despite the end of the communist Second World).  Humanitarian agencies have intervened or helped the in other states as the governments in these states have not always being capable or willing of providing for and helping their own citizens (Hobsbawm, 1994 p.407).

Agencies also lobby governments of developed First World states to get them to help other states, believing that moral duties are not just limited to individual or groups of citizens and should also to extend to states as well. Poverty and underdevelopment raise the issue more should be done by citizens and states to reduce inequality and suffering when starvation and curable epidemics that kill millions should be a thing of the past.  Citizens in one state believing that they have a moral duty to protect or serve the citizens in other states by campaigning against human rights abuses and political corruption in some states most notably Amnesty International (Brown with Ainley, 2005 p. 209). 

How effective such campaigns are can depend as much on which state is being campaigned against and whether much international pressure can be placed upon those states.  Stronger or richer states such as the United States, Russia and China are in a better position to resist such campaigns. Conversely though the United States is the only country that has the means to police any other country’s actions (Kagan, 2005 p. 93). 

The growth of media coverage has also affected the bases and character of citizens from one state believing that they have moral duties in relation to citizens from other states.   In the past it was easier to avoid finding out about humanitarian crisis and emergencies and feeling obliged to help people.  The ability to film and broadcast from across the globe means that people can have a greater understanding and awareness of the sufferings of others. That greater understanding of others means that people can develop a greater inclination to do their bit to help improve situations and avert disasters. 

For instance the media coverage of the Ethiopian famine in 1984 which prompted Band-Aid and led to the Live Aid concert a year later (Hobsbawm, 1994 p. 406).  Despite high hopes that Live Aid would give individuals and governments the inclination to tackle Africa’s if not the entire Third World’s problems, those problems have probably got worse instead of better.  Africa’s continued poverty and deprivations brought about the Live 8 in 2005 to raise funds and awareness of poverty and the need of citizens in developed states to help those in poverty. Coverage of the civil war in Bosnia and the Serbian actions in Kosovo eventually brought intervention from Nato and the United Nations with the former been shown as more effective in providing humanitarian relief and stopping the fighting (Evans & Newnham, 1998 p. 587).

Often other governments would rather spend money on defence, education and health services rather than send aid to other states (Kagan, 2005, p.92). There is nobody that can force citizens of other states to have moral duties towards citizens of other states even if the media, non-governmental organisations and humanitarian aid agencies or the United Nations wish to have more people involved in helping those that cannot help themselves. Sometimes the urge to keep money and resources in their own state to help their own fellow citizens can have a greater influence on people not helping citizens of other states rather than any lack of a sense of moral duty to help them.

It is a case of helping your own before you help anyone else. Another factor that can prevent the development of moral duty towards citizens of other states is that they believe that they do not have or are unwilling to share their resources or wealth with those that have a lot less than they do. Others may resent having to intervene to aid citizens of other states when they had nothing to do with causing the problems of other states, put more bluntly some people just do not care.  The citizens that often need the most help live in developing or Third World states that have suffered from centuries of exploitation at the hands of the developed nations and their ruling elite.  Citizens of these states seem to be more prone to suffer from the result of wars and natural disasters Evans & Newnham, 1998 p. 533).

In some areas citizens of one state’s behaviour or attitudes towards the citizens of other states can be based on different formats as to a sense of moral duties. Refugees and prisoners of war amongst others are supposed to have their human rights protected by The Hague and Geneva conventions plus the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. Citizens are not supposed to break those conventions although states can find ways of ignoring them if they wish to. For instance the Hague Convention was often broken throughout the First and Second World War plus more recently in the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980’s.

Both the First and Second World Wars produced millions of refugees and prisoners of war that needed to be returned to their homes or found other states to live in. To their credit the International Red Cross, the League of Nations and its successor the United Nations did help millions of displaced people (Hobsbawm, 1994 p. 51).  The conflicts in Somalia, Bosnia and Kosovo alongside the genocide in Rwanda showed the limitations of the United Nations and other non-governmental organisations in tackling genocide, civil wars, relief operations and providing for the refugees fleeing from the carnage (Hurd, 1997, p.220).

Yet such events have increased debate as to whether citizens should act on their moral duty to  protect citizens of other states as that are the right if not always the easiest thing to do. Even when there are international organisations such as the United Nations laying down rules or conventions with regard to the treatment of prisoners of war and refugees the treatment they receive may vary from each citizen or state that they come into contact with. Citizens can view such conventions as only being binding upon states instead of individual citizen, however that would not be the case as the states involved should ensure that their citizens fully comply with those conventions.

Citizens of one state are more likely to develop a sense of moral duty towards citizens of other states if they have strong links to any of those other states. Strong links between citizens of different states can be formed due to differing factors such as shared histories, immigration, trading links and tourism. Citizens are more likely to have a close affinity to the citizens of other states which they have visited or where they have friends and relatives living. Immigrants will have the strongest political, economic and social links to their homelands. Remittances from migrants to their families form a sizeable percentage of some state income and can keep many families from destitution. Family ties can be just as powerful a motivation as moral duty in helping out citizens of other states blood ties overcoming the barriers caused by international borders or the length of distance separating people (Evans & Newnham, 1998 p.324).

A recent example of citizens of some states helping citizens of other states was the Asian communities of Britain helping India and Pakistan after the earthquake in Kashmir. Links are strong due to immigration and family ties with people that have settled in Britain visiting their families whenever they can. As the former colonial power Britain has also maintained links with India and Pakistan (Hurd, 1997, p. 83). The Kashmir Earthquake has proved devastating to people in Britain and other countries with Asian communities because of all those that lost family and friends, coupled with the difficulty of getting help to the region quickly.  People that have no connections with states afflicted by natural disasters or wars often feel the need to help others through a strong sense of compassion and humanity. Compassion can compel people to help others even there are no existing moral duties or legal requirements to do so (Perry, October 10 2005).

Therefore citizens of one state may be considered to have moral duties towards citizens of other states although how far such moral duty extends is open to debate. Individual citizens will have a different sense of how many moral duties they have towards citizens of other states. Moral duty or a sense of individual moral duty stems from various sources that have varying amounts of influence over different people. Citizens having moral, religious, political, social and economic beliefs or values can form a sense of moral duty. Religion can be particularly effective in giving people a set of moral duties in relation to citizens in their and other states.

Religion can also give citizens across states a shared set of values and a sense of belonging to a global community of believers. Religions can promote charitable donations and working towards good causes. However the religious influence upon people’s sense of moral duty does not always make the whole world a better place, as help can be restricted to those that share beliefs.  People though have shown that they can be very generous in helping the citizens of other states out of a shared sense of humanity. Such humanitarianism can be fostered by the campaigns of charities and aid agencies as well as media coverage.  The media could not cover all the places that need help all of the time yet they can play a useful part in prompting individuals and indeed governments to intervene to improve or solve problems in other states.


  • Brown C with Ainley K (2005) Understanding International Relations 3rd edition, Palgrave, Basingstoke
  • Crystal, D (2003) The Penguin Concise Encyclopedia, Penguin, London 
  • Eatwell, R. & Wright, A (2003) Contemporary Political Ideologies 2nd Edition, Continuum, London
  • Evans G & Newnham J (1998) Penguin Dictionary of International Relations, Penguin, London
  • Hobsbawm, E (1994) Age of Extremes, the Short Twentieth Century 1914-1991, Michael Joseph, London
  • Kagan R (2003) Paradise & Power – America and Europe in the New World Order, Atlantic Books, London
  • Perry A, The Kashmir Earthquake, A Father’s Grief, Time Magazine October 10 2005
  • Roberts, J.M (1996)- A History of Europe, Penguin, London

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