Conventional analyses of contemporary conflicts – such as those in Afghanistan, Georgia, Iraq, Somalia, Sri Lanka and Sudan – are often deficient. They focus more or less exclusively on the causes, understood in political terms. These explanations use narrow realist theories which focus more or less exclusively on national interests, defined as power.

In place of these it will be argued that contemporary conflicts are better understood in ethical terms. Indeed, it is almost impossible to understand them in any other way. In these conflicts, what we see are belligerents struggling for the ethical high ground. This, of course, raises the question: what ethical standards are relevant in this struggle? It is sometimes suggested that there is no clear answer to this question. This talk will argue that in the practices of modern world politics certain core values are embedded. These give us a position from which we can find quite specific answers to questions about the relevant ethical standards for determining who has the high ground.