Ethical traditions are useful in helping to understand the complex situations found in international relations that occur in an anarchical international system. One way to participate in the international system is through trade with other states. At first glance, trade does not seem unethical, for it benefits those involved. However, trade amongst the world’s various states comes with some dilemmas. This paper will focus on how the World Trade Organization (WTO) acts in a utilitarian manner, producing the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people and causes the least amount of harm to the fewest people as possible.
To begin, it is important to understand utilitarianism is and its basic components. As stated in Nardin and Maple’s Traditions of International Ethics, utilitarianism is a consequentialist tradition meaning the outcomes of an action are the focus of ethical judgment, rather than the act itself. The other premise of utilitarianism is its ability to maximize the utility (satisfaction) of the largest number of individuals while minimizing the amount of harm done. Additionally, there are two types of Utilitarianism that need to be considered when applying the tradition to a real world situation. The first type is act utilitarianism. Here, an act is judged to be utilitarian in nature if it produces the most amount of satisfaction at the time (such as equal division of a pie among friends). The other type of utilitarianism is rule utilitarianism. In rule utilitarianism, the rules that are utilitarian in nature – designed with the intention to maximize satisfaction – are ultimately what are desired. It is important to note that in rule utilitarianism, an action guided by utilitarian principles that does not produce the greatest amount of satisfaction among individuals is still considered utilitarian. An example of rule utilitarianism might be the duty to serve others (intent to do the most good for the most amount of people), but providing poor service to those individuals (failure to provide maximum satisfaction to them). Here, the rule that others be served is utilitarian.
The next item to be addressed is the World Trade Organization, mainly its purpose, its structure, the process states go through to join it, and the overarching principles of the WTO. The WTO’s main purpose is to facilitate trade between states and, as stated in its mission statement, “encourage and contribute to sustainable development, raise people's welfare, reduce poverty, and foster peace and stability”*(WTO site).
Structurally, the WTO is governed by the negotiations that created it. It is divided into various committees and groups, but for the purposes of this paper, the committees and groups will not be specified as they do cannot be singled out for the overall effect the WTO has on member nations’ trade policies. The WTO is composed of its member states and they determine who is granted access to the WTO and who is not. ...