Bono Made Jesse Helms Cry: Jubilee 2000, Debt Relief, and Moral Action in International Politics

Do states and decision-makers ever act for moral reasons? And if they do, is it only when it is convenient or relatively costless for them to do so? A number of advocacy movements—on developing country debt relief, climate change, landmines, and other issues—emerged in the 1990s to ask decision-makers to make foreign policy decisions on that basis. The primary advocates were motivated not by their own material interests but broader notions of right and wrong. What contributes to the domestic acceptance of these moral commitments? Why do some advocacy efforts succeed where others fail? Through a case study of the Jubilee 2000 campaign for developing country debt relief, this article offers an account of persuasion based on strategic framing by advocates to get the attention of decision-makers. Such strategic but not narrowly self-interested activity allows weak actors to leverage existing value and/or ideational traditions to build broader political coalitions. This article, through case studies of debt relief in the United States and Japan, also links the emerging literature on strategic framing to the domestic institutional context and the ways veto players or “policy gatekeepers” evaluate trade-offs between costs and values.