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Risk assessment, policy-making and the limits of knowledge : the precautionary principle and international relations.

McLean, Craig and Patterson, Alan and Williams, John (2009) 'Risk assessment, policy-making and the limits of knowledge : the precautionary principle and international relations.', International relations., 23 (4). pp. 548-566.


This paper looks at the way in which the idea of the Precautionary Principle, increasingly influential in environmental and other policy areas, is being and might be used in foreign and security policy. It aims to contrast the relative precision with which the term is used in the environmental arena with the current usage in international relations. Contrasting the Precautionary Principle with ideas of precaution, prevention, pre-emption and similar terms in post-structuralist analyses of risk, humanitarian intervention and US foreign policy in the aftermath of 11 September 2001, the paper identifies costs and benefits in deploying a more carefully specified account of the Precautionary Principle. In particular, it highlights key issues of regulatory authority and the way in which policy-makers and analysts understand and respond to the limits of knowledge and knowledge systems as important challenges to which careful use of the Precautionary Principle can potentially contribute. The paper concludes by suggesting that both policy-making and policy analysis could potentially be improved by adapting and extending the idea of the Precautionary Principle as it is deployed in other policy arenas.

Item Type:Article
Additional Information:Published in Association with David Davies Memorial Institute.
Full text:(AM) Accepted Manuscript
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Publisher statement:The final definitive version of this article has been published in International relations 23/4, 2009 © SAGE Publications Ltd 2009 at the International relations page: on SAGE Journals Online:
Record Created:15 Jul 2010 11:20
Last Modified:06 Dec 2010 09:33

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