Forgiveness in International Politics

Forgiveness in International Politics

… an alternative road to peace

The whole notion of forgiveness—as a geopolitical prospect—can seem counterintuitive in an age when people crash planes into skyscrapers. And yet, forgiveness has shown itself to be real enough, and strategically useful in helping to repair relationships that have been long sundered in a number of fractious societies.

Based on a seven-year research and dialogue project conducted at Georgetown University, Forgiveness in International Politics presents case studies of conflict transformation in South Africa, Northern Ireland, Bosnia, and other nations. The book explains how political leaders such as South Africa’s Nelson Mandela and South Korea’s Kim Dae Jung helped heal political wounds by engaging in “transactions of forgiveness,” which include gestures of forbearance from revenge and public acknowledgements of wrongdoing.

Such acts and interventions have pointed the way toward a “politics of forgiveness,” according to the authors.

The book applies to its analysis a definition offered by social ethicist Donald W. Shriver, Jr., who describes forgiveness in politics as “an act that joins moral truth, forbearance, empathy, and commitment to repair a fractured human relation.” The authors add, “Forgiveness is not a denial of human responsibility; rather, it rests on the moral judgment that an act was wrong…. Forgiveness is compatible with justice, never with vengeance.”

The Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University sponsored the research initiative that gave rise to the book. The project brought together both theorists and practitioners of international conflict resolution, among them career foreign service officers, ethicists, and representatives of international organizations.

Published in 2004 by the U.S. Catholic Conference together with Woodstock, Forgiveness in International Politics was honored by the Catholic Press Association as the second best book of that year in the public issues category. In 2007, the U.S. State Department published a French-language edition of the book, Le Pardon en Politique Internationale: Un Autre Chemin Vers la Paix.

Reviews and Praise

“An extremely useful book”
Eric O. Hanson, author of Religion and Politics in the International System, writing in America magazine

“In taking the concept of forgiveness to a deeper level, this book opens new vistas in the practice of international politics. . . . The authors have done a masterful job in addressing the operational implications of this powerful tool.”
Douglas M. Johnston, retired nuclear submarine commander, president of the International Center for Religion & Diplomacy

“Timely and it is timeless, the message of Forgiveness in International Politics is more needed than ever at the dawn of the twenty-first century. The authors make such a convincing case that the surest path to peace is through forgiveness that one dares to hope their words will inspire many others to have the courage to set out upon that path.”
Mary Ann Glendon, Harvard University Law School

“For the healing of vast wrongs that we humans commit against each other, forgiveness is a journey from death to life. This clearly written, realistic, hopeful book will speed any reader on that journey.”
Donald W. Shriver, Jr., president emeritus, Union Theological Seminary in New York

Leave a Comment