Publication Type: Conference Paper/Unpublished ManuscriptAbstract: In the age of the war on terror, a key question for scholarship on ethical foreign policy is whether multilateral norms associated with international law and the UN system actually provide the only kind of legitimate normative justifications for international state acts (beyond those in self defence). Can contemporary IR theory ground judgements over legitimate moral justifications for foreign policy? This paper will argue that it cannot, as existing theories cannot explain why state actors choose certain normative international strategies over others in world politics. Moreover, existing approaches are problematic in at least two important ways: 1) they give excessively idealist and rather unconstrained accounts of states as normative actors and 2) have rejected causal analysis of normative issues in IR thus rending their explanations incapable of explaining change in international normative state action. The paper examines the existing accounts in detail in the light of the explanations they give for why state actors chose unexpected normative strategies at the end of the Cold War and during the war on terror. To address the shortcomings in existing analysis, a new research programme on normative state agency in IR is put forward in conclusion.