Skip to main content

Joseph Nye

Do Morals Matter in Foreign Policy?

Looking at United States presidents from FDR to Donald Trump, political scientist Dr. Joseph S. Nye, Jr. judges their foreign policy on three ethical dimensions: their intentions, the means they used, and the consequences of their decisions. Since we so often apply moral reasoning to foreign policy, he suggests how to do it better. Crucially, presidents must factor in both the political context and the availability of resources when deciding how to implement an ethical policy. This is especially true in a future international system that presents not only great power competition from China and Russia, but transnational threats as borders become porous to everything from drugs, infectious diseases, terrorism, cyber crime, and climate change.

Nye is University Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus and former Dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. He received his bachelor's degree summa cum laude from Princeton University, won a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford, and earned a Ph.D. in political science from Harvard. He has served as Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs from 1994 to 1995, Chair of the National Intelligence Council from 1993 to 1994, and a Deputy Undersecretary of State from 1977 to 1979, and won distinguished service awards from all three agencies.

His books include The Power to Lead, Presidential Leadership and the Creation of the American Era, Is the American Century Over?, The Future of Power, The Power Game: A Washington Novel, and Do Morals Matter? He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the British Academy, and the American Academy of Diplomacy. In a recent survey of international relations scholars, he was ranked the most influential scholar on American foreign policy, and in 2011, Foreign Policy named him one of the top 100 Global Thinkers. In 2014, Japan awarded him the Order of the Rising Sun.

Moderator Robert “Bob” Beck

Robert Beck recently retired to Peterborough after a more than 30 year United States Government career overseas serving in United States Embassies in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. He currently teaches Foreign Policy for Keene State College’s Cheshire Academy of Lifelong Learning (CALL) program.


Sponsored by The Verney Foundation