The Quincy Institute was founded to amplify our belief that a foreign policy of restraint would serve U.S. interests better than one of unilateral American global primacy or hegemony through coercive power, which is the approach favored by a majority of the U.S. foreign policy establishment. On the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the 1948 U.N. Declaration of Human Rights and the Genocide Convention, we are reflecting on the relationship between our work and contemporary human rights considerations. 

The origins of the restraint movement lie not in altruism or in human rights advocacy, but in a considered belief that a more restrained foreign policy better serves U.S. national interests. In “The Humanitarian Paradox”, Yale law professor and Quincy Institute Non–Resident Fellow Asli Bali explained that human rights are an important component of our vision at QI. By viewing inter–state war and violent coercion as a last resort and emphasizing the possibilities of creative diplomacy even with states whose values we reject, a restraint approach can encourage movement away from strategies for human rights promotion that rely on armed intervention or broad–based economic sanctions that harm civilians.

Opponents of a restraint approach often claim that it involves turning a blind eye to oppression. That is not true. Realism about the costs and limits of a strategy of American global primacy does not require abandoning efforts to champion America’s values; however, it does reject attempts to spread those values through war and regime change.

That said, it is also true that a restraint approach to engaging with authoritarian regimes involves grappling with difficult and at times agonizing questions. To shine a better light on these questions, we have asked high–level Quincy Institute experts to reflect on how human rights and humanitarian challenges arise in their own work. Below, Elizabeth Beavers discusses the relationship between peace advocacy and human rights advocacy, Steve Simon discusses his work around Syria and the Assad regime, Adam Weinstein examines the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, and Jake Werner describes the challenge of human rights in our relationship with China.