- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 5, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 5 (UPI) — Religious and moral issues are an inescapable part of contemporary foreign policy, according to scholars and analysts at a Washington think tank forum Wednesday.

They said that such beliefs both influence policymaking and raise issues to which policymakers must respond.

"I would say that religion has taken on increased salience in world politics," James Lindsay, a senior fellow in foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution, said during the panel discussion on the role of religion in American foreign policy. The event was co-sponsored by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life and the Brookings Foreign Policy and Governance Studies Program.

The Rev. Bryan Hehir, president of Catholic Charities U.S.A. and a professor of ethics and international affairs at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, said that although it is not purely a contemporary phenomenon, the interaction between religion and foreign policy is a relatively recent development in the modern world. He said that even as late as the 1980s, the major foreign policy textbooks did not regard religion as an influence on foreign policy.

"The instruments of government reflected that academic view," said Hehir.

But events over the last 20 to 30 years have changed the views of academics and policymakers on this. For example, many scholars and analysts consider it impossible to adequately interpret political events in Latin America over the last several decades without examining the role that the Roman Catholic Church has played in the region's politics.

Hehir said that the same can be said about the influence of Islam on the development of the Middle East. He added that the recognition of the role of religion in international politics is important for developing effective policy.

"To ignore the role of religion, not simply as a personal revelation but its role in policy, is to end up with bad briefings and bad analysis," he said.

Lindsay said that the influence of religion and morality on foreign policy in the United States crosses the ideological spectrum. He cited the problems that American liberals and conservatives both had with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's brand of, in Lindsay's words, "amoral politics."

Conservatives were highly critical of Kissinger's unwillingness to look upon the communist Soviet Union and China as evil. American liberals, on the other hand, were opposed to their government's involvement in the military-lead overthrow of Chile's elected socialist leader, Salvador Allende.

Michael Walzer, a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University and an expert in moral philosophy and political theory, said the development of "just war" theory in the later part of the 20th century demonstrates the impact of religion and morality on foreign policy. The belief that war can be morally acceptable, and is at times morally necessary, is central to "just war" theory and underlies U.N. doctrine and international law regarding military conflicts.

The complex tradition of "just war" philosophy is broadly based, with roots in secular moral traditions as well as Christian, Muslim and Jewish scholarship.

Walzer said that it is important to understand that the moral principles that underscore contemporary Western foreign policy are derived from the overlapping morality of a host of religious and secular traditions.

"Some of those (moral) traditions exist both in religious and secular traditions, and when this occurs the two traditions are not far apart," said Walzer. "The laws of morality are universally available to human reason."

According to Hehir, the rise of the influence of religion upon foreign policy has had little to do with the practice of a particular belief system.

"I think religion came in not on the strengths of the arguments (made by the religious on foreign policy issues) but on the power of events," said Hehir.

Louise Richardson, a terrorism expert and executive dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, said that religion has increasingly become driving force for terrorist groups around the world.

"The marriage of religion and political motives is not something that is entirely new, but is something that has always been particularly dangerous," she said.

For example, there were medieval groups in the 11th and 13th centuries grounded in religious thought who practiced terrorism. For the first 60 years of the 20th century, she said, terrorism was mostly a secular phenomenon. The religious-based terrorist groups that have increased over the last several decades are more dangerous in many ways, and typically more difficult to stop than their secular counterparts, she said.

For one, religious terrorists are thought to be attempting to impress their god, she said. Such groups also tend to operate across international boundaries, as al Qaida does.

She added that it is important to recognize that terrorists use religion in different ways.

Some groups, like the Irish Republican Army, use it as a badge of ethic identity to separate themselves from their enemies. Others use it as a recruiting tool. Some groups use religion as a means to claim legitimacy.

Richardson said that the Islamic terror group Hamas uses religious rhetoric to gain legitimacy but that its actions are clearly intended to position the group as a replacement for the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Lindsay said that one problem stemming from the entwining of religion with foreign policy is that religious issues are more difficult to deal with than traditional foreign policy problems because they are more volatile. For example, if the United States allied itself with the predominately Hindu nation of India against the neighboring Muslim state of Pakistan in a nuclear standoff between the two countries, it would have startling ramifications in the Islamic world.

Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer said at the forum that the United States has long been suffused with a sense of divine providence that guides its actions. He noted that Thomas Jefferson, the least theistic of the founding fathers, inserted the mention of God into the Declaration of Independence four times.

But Krauthammer said that religion and morality have their limits in terms of their impact on policy decisions.

"Religion as an institution will not tell you or inform you how to act either collectively or individually," he said.

Lindsay also cautioned that religion and morality can overwhelm policy debates by limiting the discourse on issues rather than advancing it.

"While I appreciate the American tendency to cast ideas in the realm of a moral debate, the effect of that is to (often) squelch debate," said Lindsay.

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