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Political Science in Europe

International Trade in Natural Resources and Those Affected in Terms of Citizenship

Political Theory
Critical Theory
Normative Theory
Simon Laumann Jørgensen
Aalborg Universitet
Simon Laumann Jørgensen
Aalborg Universitet

Leif Wenar has revealed the paradoxical principles guiding international trade in natural resources (Wenar 2016; Wenar et al. 2018). Wenar frames the case as a classical situation of a bad practice with a better alternative. Additionally, the current practices paradoxically contradicts internal norms and the better alternative can be grounded in norms that are already immanent to international trade. Though the description of the consequences of this practice and its alternative is richly described in terms of both empirical matters and normative concerns, the basic normative work is done by our present commitments to a set of principles of international trade (i.e. that the natural resources of a country belongs to its people) as well as appeal to our commitments to logics of non-contradiction in normative affairs. This argumentative strategy appears to have strategic advantages to a more ambitious democraticmodel that would bring in those affected (or their representatives) from such trading partner countries to take part in practical discourses (Habermas 1990). However, though there are many practical reasons to set out with Wenar’s proposal, building on the distinction between immanent and integrative critique developed by Seyla Benhabib (Benhabib 1986), we might want to consider whether other norms ought to be integrated than those brought out immediately by Wenar as immanent to trade. After all, the reason why people should be able to control their natural resources relates to values that we normally express in terms of freedom: the freedom to take part in the self-determination of the political structures that shape one’s lives, the freedom to develop autonomy, or the freedom not to be dominated. This status of enjoying freedom is often coined in the term citizenship (Habermas 1996). From this perspective, it appears that the potential freedom and citizenship of people in the countries we are trading with can be fundamentally dependent on this trade. Is there now any realistic ways in which to integrate the voices of those affected in terms of potential freedom and citizenship that would also make a theoretical difference in terms of more directly integrating such central values? Recently, Rainer Bauböck has distinguished 1) the general interests people have from 2) their interests in non-domination and 3) their stakeholder interests concerning citizenship in a particular country (Bauböck 2018). Bauböck then links these distinctions between different types of interests with different arenas of politics and different types and degrees of democratic inclusion. Similar to others, I see a potential for bringing these two debates into closer union (see Jennifer C. Rubenstein in Bauböck et al. 2018). This could help frame a realistic model of discursive inclusion and could help strengthen our concern about the values of freedom and citizenship that are at stake in trading with natural resources such as oil. This, however, leads to a discussion about the inclusion of those who are affected in terms of their potential freedom and citizenship outside one’s country that might also bring us beyond Bauböck’s initial model.
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