Brad Roth '84: Coming to Terms with Ruthlessness

Brad Roth '84 teaches political theory and international law at Wayne State University. His book, Sovereign Equality and Moral Disagreement (Oxford University Press, 2011), applies principles of political morality to the relationship between international and domestic legal authority. Roth believes that the norm of non-intervention is often ignored when the U.S. and other world powers claim that respect for sovereignty should not be a shield to protect governments that are massacring their people. There is, however, a danger when the norm of non-intervention that has undergirded international law is put aside: an erosion of this norm licenses the strong to pursue justice as they unilaterally understand it. An over-emphasis on international criminal justice similarly undermines the non-intervention presumption. A potential result is a "ruthlessness to end all ruthlessness," with moralistic outrage against wrongdoers being invoked to rationalize the infliction of what can turn out to be even greater human costs.