Throughout much of the 20th century, international political theory (IPT) focused on the debate between realists and moralists about whether normative principles could sensibly be applied to international relations, or whether international relations were ultimately a matter of realpolitik and “might makes right”. In his prescient 1992 book International Relations Theory, Chris Brown argued that IPT needed to move beyond that debate, to instead focus on what sorts of normative principles can illuminate international relations, and more specifically, on the choice between “cosmopolitan” and “communitarian” conceptions of international justice. This has indeed come to pass: the field of IPT today is dominated by debates between cosmopolitans and their statist critics.
The issue of minority rights, however, provides an exception to this trajectory. Minority rights are largely ignored by both cosmopolitans and statists. This is partly because international debates on minority rights remain driven by raison d’etat: even those who agree that international relations should generally be guided by normative principles tend to revert to a realist framework when discussing minority rights. But it is also partly because neither cosmopolitanism nor statism as currently theorized is well-equipped to evaluate the normative claims at stake in many minority rights issues. To incorporate minority rights within IPT may require overcoming blind spots within both frameworks. Or so I will argue.
I will begin by discussing how the “minority question” arose as an issue within international relations – that is, why minorities have been seen as a problem and a threat to international order - and how international actors have historically attempted to contain the problem, often in ways that were deeply unjust to minorities. I will then consider recent efforts to advance a pro-minority agenda at the international level, and how this agenda helps reveal some of the limits of both cosmopolitan and statist approaches to IPT.
 Critics of cosmopolitanism tend to avoid the label `communitarian’, in part because this term has become associated with a particular set of authors (Sandel, MacIntyre, Taylor), and their perfectionist critiques of Rawls’s theory of liberal egalitarian justice. Many who reject cosmopolitan conceptions of international justice do not endorse these communitarian critiques of Rawls, and indeed may self-identify as Rawlsian liberals (eg., Blake 2013; Nagel 2005). In that sense, the debate over cosmopolitanism is often a debate within liberalism – between liberal cosmopolitans and liberal statists or liberal nationalists – rather than a debate between liberals and communitarians. For that reason, I will use the term “statists” or “nationalists” to denote the non-cosmopolitan position.
Liberalism and Minority rights