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The Era of the Creepy-State is Here

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

George Orwell was more right than he knew….

Congress passed a law – by unanimous consent in the Senate and by a suspension of rules in the House – to permit the Federal government to arbitrarily arrest and imprison for up to ten years members of the serf class (formerly known as “American citizens”) whose presence annoys or offends specally designated members of the elite and foreign dignitaries. A list that will no doubt expand greatly in future legislation to include very “special” private citizens.

Think about that, future “Joe the Plumbers” or Cindy Sheehans, before you ask an impertinent question of your betters or wave your handmade cardboard sign. Is ten seconds of glory on your local ABC affiliate news at 5 o’clock worth that felony arrest record and federally funded anal exam?

No? Then kindly shut your mouth, sir. Learn your place.

Two nebbish Representatives, one Republican and one Democrat, distinguished only by their lack of legislative or political importance, sponsored the bill on behalf of the big boys who fast-tracked it under the radar (they learned from the SOPA debacle). Forget ideology or boasts about carrying a copy of the Constitution in the breast pocket of their suit, whether you are in an archconservative Congressional district or an ultraliberal one, almost every member of Congress voted “aye” to trash multiple amendments in the Bill of Rights.

Almost every one.

This is an accelerating trend in recent years and in particular, a bipartisan theme of the 112th Congress, which views Constitutional rights of nobodies as an anachronistic hindrance to the interests (or convenience) of their powerful and wealthy political supporters. Our elected officials and their backers increasingly share an oligarchic class interest that in important matters, trumps the Kabuki partisanship of  FOXnews and MSNBC and inculcates a technocratic admiration for the “efficiency” of select police states.

It is from this demographic-cultural root of incestuous corruption that our creeping – and increasingly creepy – manifestations of authoritarianism in American life springs. The SOPA/PIPA internet censorship bills, naked scanners at airports, Stasi-like expansion of expensively wasteful TSA security theater, proposed 24/7 monitoring of  every American’s online activities, migration of police powers to unaccountable private firms, replacement of elected municipal governments with “emergency managers” (favoring financiers over taxpayers), Federal agencies monitoring political critics , the Department of Justice retro-legalizing corporate racketeering, fraud, perjury and conspiracy on a national scale, plus other infringements of liberty or gross corruption that I could list, ad nauseum.

We have reached the point where we as Americans need to stop, step back from moment by moment fixation on nonsensical, “white noise” fake political issues like “contraception” ginned up to keep the partisans distracted and become seriously involved in determining the direction in which our nation is headed. Our elite are telegraphing their strong preference for a “soft dictatorship” but we still have time to check their ambitions and rein in their looting.

It is almost quaint these days to pick up Friedrich von Hayek’s classic,  The Road to Serfdom and thumb through it. The libertarian antistatists of the 20th century were so focused on the clear and present dangers of totalitarianism that the idea of a weak state that endangered liberty through a mixture of corruption and regulatory capture eluded them. The Westphalian state at it’s apex was so overweening that the enemy of free societies, after foreign monsters like Hitler and Stalin, could be ambitious intellectual pygmies like Harold Laski or Tom Hayden. The state was so omnipotent that even it’s efforts at benevolence, to build a “Great Society” of the Welfare State were injurious to individual freedom because the expanse of statism crowded and weakened civil society , the market and private life. The argument gained political traction because, to varying degrees, it was true and looked prophetic when the Welfare-state began to crash economically in the 1970’s on stagflation.

Give the Welfare-state liberals and Social Democrats of the past their due though, their intentions by their own lights were benign. They wanted to make a safer, more secure, more equal, more just life through a more powerful state (whether that was a good idea or a realistic endeavor was the central political question between right and left). The current elite in comparison is so inferior in moral character and overconfident in their abilities that they may soon make us yearn for the former’s return.

What have now in our ruling class,  are the  builders of a Creepy-state and their intentions are not benign, except toward themselves, for as long as the looting of the American economy can last.

Unlike the Welfare-state, the Creepy-state, shot through with corruption, is  not omnipotent  because it is to be the servant and gendarme of the emerging oligarchy and not their master – but it is to be omniscient and omnipresent, constantly watching, monitoring, investigating, recording, interrogating, coercing, sorting, muzzling, gatekeeping and shearing the sheep on behalf of the shepherds.

Or the wolves.

The Creepy-state is not there to protect you or give you a higher standard of living or ensure justice or democracy, but to maintain a hierarchical public order from “disruption” (formerly known as “politics” or “democracy”). If the classical liberal ideal was the night watchman state, this state is the shadowy and ill-disposed watcher in the night.

The American political elite, Democrat and Republican, Conservative and Liberal, are in are largely in consensus that the government should, in regard to the American people:

Read your email
Listen to your phone calls
Track your movements on GPS
Track your online activity
Track your spending
Track your political activity
Read your medical records
Read your financial records
Scan your body
Scan your house
Scan your DNA
Keep you under video surveillance in public
Detain you at random in public places for security checks
Close off public spaces for private use
Seize private property for private use
Censor your speech
Block your access to judicial relief
Determine your educational and career path
Regulate your diet, place of residence, lifestyle and living standards (ever downwards)
Charge you with secret crimes for breaking secret regulations
Share or leak information about you at will

Is this the America we wish for our children or grandchildren? One that epitomizes the values of our Constitution or Declaration of Independence, or is it some kind of tawdry and shameful dime store fascism of a small Latin American country? Perhaps life is finally imitating fiction?

Fortunately, it is not too late. Irrevocable changes in the constitutional order have yet to be engineered. Our politicians are followers, not leaders here. They are a small and cowardly lot for the most part and will recoil in fear from this authoritarian ethos if a sufficiently large number of elected officials are thrown out of office at once. We can still roll this back – at least the most egregiously anti-American aspects – if we get sufficiently angry come November.

Self-interest is their only lodestone.

Lex Talionis I: the matter of Subramaniam Swamy and Harvard

Friday, December 9th, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron — Harvard controversy, free speech vs hate speech, Hindutva, moral high ground & sanctions for and against violence ]

.

I am grateful to various members of the New Religious Movements list for pointing me to the recent events in Harvard, where a group of scholars led by the formidable Diana Eck (her book on Banaras is a masterpiece and greatly treasured) have persuaded the Faculty of Arts and Sciences to omit two courses in economics usually taught by Subramaniam Swamy from their Summer School offerings next year, on the ground that an op-ed he published in Daily News and Analysis titled “How to Wipe Out Islamic Terror” fell under the category of hate-speech (as opposed to free speech).

The article in question is no longer available on the DNA site, but can be found on Pamela Geller‘s Atlas Shrugged blog.  An account of the controversy can be found on Inside Higher Ed, and Harvard Faculty’s debate was reported in the Harvard Magazine.

Subramaniam Swamy is President of what remains of the once powerful Janata Party and former Union Cabinet Minister.

With that as background, I would like to address the issue of the varying principles and rule-sets invoked as offering a moral high ground – or a necessary safeguard – in various religious and other traditions.

*

I have read Dr Subramaniam Swamy’s article, and while the various quotes in it recommending specific actions — such as “Remove the masjid in Kashi Vishwanath temple complex, and 300 others in other sites as a tit-for-tat” and “Enact a national law prohibiting conversion from Hindu religion to any other religion” – give western readers a sense of Swamy’s overall mindset and intentions, it was another quote that held my attention:

This is Kaliyug, and hence there is no room for sattvic responses to evil people. Hindu religion has a concept of apat dharma and we should invoke it. This is the moment of truth for us.

I suspect the reason this quote has not been featured in the reports I’ve read of the debate have to do with the number of words in it that are unfamiliar to the western reader.

I’m acquainted with Kaliyug (the Age of Darkness) and with the concept of the sattvic (“Sattva is a state of mind in which the mind is steady, calm and peaceful” to quote the sacred Wiki), but had to dig a bit to discover that apat dharma is essentially “righteousness in emergencies”:

There are special Dharmas during critical and dangerous circumstances. They are called Apat-Dharma.

Swami Sivananda

Apat Dharma: They are duties that come to one under extraordinary circumstances, in crisis or in emergencies (apatmulakah). In such circumstances, even that which under normal circumstance is deemed wrong becomes dharma (tatra adharmo’pi dharmah). Here the righteous motives guide our actions (bhava-suddhimattvat). Normally a doctor gives anaesthesia before operating the patient but an emergency operation performed on the battlefield to save the life or limb of a soldier on the battlefield may be done without anaesthesia and with the instruments available, be they sterilized or not. When emergency is declared in the country, the elected parliament can be dismissed, the Constitution suspended and the ruler assumes extra-ordinary powers to deal with the situation. When peace prevails, the youth of a country should get education and work, but during war, the country may call upon its youth to sacrifice their education and fight in defence of the country, sometimes with hardly any training.

Sanjeev Nayyar

So that quote – “This is Kaliyug, and hence there is no room for sattvic responses to evil people. Hindu religion has a concept of apat dharma and we should invoke it. This is the moment of truth for us” – is essentially the abstract principle on which Swamy’s various proposals are based, and thus corresponds to the principles articulated by PM Netanyahu in his recent opening of the Knesset as underlying his government’s policies with regard to national security:

Our policy is guided by two main principles: the first is “if someone comes to kill you, rise up and kill him first,” and the second is “if anyone harms us, his blood is on his own hands.”

If you want a sense of how important that quote about apat dharma is to a Hindu (and a fortiori, a Hindutva) reader, see the way it is singled out and quoted with an illustration of Krishna driving Arjuna‘s chariot into battle by “Sanchithere (I’ve used the same illustration at the head of this post):

*

What am I after here?

It seems to me that we could use a brief yet definitive scholarly account of what the guiding principles of the various religions and secular worldviews allow their adherents, in terms of justice, forgiveness, pre-emption, retribution and retaliation.

This would need to include, compare and contrast such principles as:

  • The Judaic notions of pre-emptive killing (Netanyahu’s first principle, found in the Talmud and commonly quoted as ‘ha’Ba Lehorgecha, Hashkem Lehorgo, If someone tries to kill you, rise up and kill him first) and the injunction, in fighting the Amalekites, “Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass” (1 Samuel 15:3).
  • Christ’s “But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you.” (Luke 6.27)
  • Christian “just war” theology.
  • The western / UN “norm” that some actions are simply beyond the pale, unacceptable under any circumstances (essentially the basis for war crimes tribunals)
  • Game theory’s “tit for tat” strategy in an iterated Prisoners’ Dilemma as proposed by Anatol Rapaport and articulated by Robert Axelrod in his book, The Evolution of Cooperation.
  • The Islamic tradition’s notion of response in kind (Qur’an: 2.194, “and so for all things prohibited, — there is the Law of Equality. If then anyone transgresses the prohibition against you, transgress ye likewise against him but fear Allah, and know that Allah is with those who restrain themselves”) – which would appear to imply that actions that would not normally be acceptable may be appropriate in response to an enemy that has already “transgressed” in that specific manner
  • Gandhi’s ahimsa, together with his corollaries, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” (attributed) and “It is better to be violent, if there is violence in our hearts, than to put on the cloak of nonviolence to cover impotence.”
  • Swamy’s own “This is Kaliyug, and hence there is no room for sattvic responses to evil people” and “the nation must retaliate — not by measured and ‘sober’ responses but by massive retaliation.”
  • Buddha’s “Victory breeds hatred. The defeated live in pain. Happily the peaceful live giving up victory and defeat” (Dhammapada15,5)…

… and so forth.

*

I am grateful for further pointers and comments you may care to offer.

I hope to follow this post up with another, Lex Talionis II, which will address the use of private rewards for revenge killings in the Israeli / Palestinian matter.

Kesler on R2P Hypocrisy

Saturday, October 8th, 2011

Nice catch by Bruce Kesler who goes en fuego on the weirdly discordant note Anne-Marie Slaughter strikes in her latest New York Times op-ed:

Majority Rule Over Minorities: Ironic R2P Hypocrisy

The extremism of R2P’s leading proponent is exhibited in Anne-Marie Slaughter’s op-ed in today’s New York Times. Slaughter likens the Wall Street protesters to those demonstrating against oppressive regimes in the Middle East and recommends removal of the US system of checks and balances that protect minority views and avoid poorly developed political stampedes. (Slaughter doesn’t mention or give credence to the more numerous, mature citizenry participating in or supporting the Tea Parties more peaceful protests for more limited government intrusions into Americans’ private lives and earnings.)

R2P’s leading proponent, Anne-Marie Slaughter of Harvard, believes that US foreign policies and military interventions should prioritize the Right To Protect severely repressed peoples through US obeisance to liberal internationalist elites’ sentiments in favor of some they like regardless of the US Constitution or laws or national or security interests.

In today’s New York Times, Slaughter takes her R2P home to the US, advocating that majorities rule regardless of the formal and informal checks and balances of our political system and overriding the rights of political minorities. Again, it is the majorities that liberals like who should be given more powers.

Without any sense of proportionality or of core differences between the US and Middle East satrapies, Slaughter says, “Indeed, the twin drivers of America’s nascent protest movement against the financial sector are injustice and invisibility, the very grievances that drove the Arab Spring.” Slaughter then concludes, “The only effective response is a political response, of a nature and magnitude that convinces protesters on the streets that they can in fact secure the change they seek within, rather than outside, the system.”

Slaughter’s system, however, would reduce the ability of permanent or transitory political minorities to protect their interests. They would, also, further factionalize the US and make compromises more difficult as the power of centrists is reduced….

Read the rest here.

Good grief. Anne Marie Slaughter opining on the need for greater democracy and accountability to the people is somewhat akin to Ayn Rand calling for more welfare programs.

My suspicion here, since this rhetoric runs counter to Slaughter’s most influential ideas, is that Slaughter is just carrying water as part of the current Democratic political strategy of trying to co-opt the Occupy Wall Street movement. Perhaps the Axelrods and Podestas see that open-source protest movement to potentially be “their tea party”. Whatever. I will take her op-ed more seriously when she is marching against the Hedge fundies and Wall Streeters who are top donors to her Party, her administration and her university.

You can put a three corned hat on a Princeton theorist of global governance by transnational “governmental networks” but even if you adjust the hat at a suitably jaunty angle for maximum populist effect, the agenda underneath is still neither democratic nor popular.

More on R2P, Second Thoughts by Slaughter? Plus, Drezner on Networks

Friday, September 30th, 2011

R2P is in the news while I slowly and laboriously wind my way through writing the next edition of the R2P is the New COIN series.

LATimes R2P and the Libya mission:When does ‘responsibility to protect’ grant countries the right to intervene?

The Palestinian bid for statehood and traffic congestion weren’t the only things going on in New York last week as the 66th U.N. General Assembly convened. One of the issues privately discussed by foreign ministers at the United Nations was the “responsibility to protect,” or R2P. This concept was central to the U.N. mandate to protect civilians in Libya, which led to NATO‘s aerial involvement there. As the dust settles in Tripoli, it has become necessary to refute a powerful myth that has developed among some pundits and politicians. That myth is that R2P bestows “the right to intervene” in Libya.Even though R2P features in just two paragraphs of the 40-page “outcome document” of the 2005 U.N. World Summit, historian Martin Gilbert has suggested that it constituted “the most significant adjustment to national sovereignty in 360 years.”R2P’s core idea is that all governments have an obligation to protect their citizens from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. It is primarily a preventive doctrine. However, R2P also acknowledges that we live in an imperfect world and if a state is “manifestly failing” to meet its responsibilities, the international community is obligated to act. It is not a right to intervene but a responsibility to protect.

The distinction is not diplomatic artifice. After the 1994 Rwandan genocide and the 1995 massacre in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica, the international community resolved to never again be a passive spectator to mass murder. Still, it would not have been surprising if R2P had quietly expired after 2005. The United Nations, after all, can be a place where “good ideas go to die.” Instead, within the U.N. the debate now is about how R2P should be meaningfully implemented, rather than whether such a responsibility exists….

If I were the House Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee or the Senate Armed Services Committee, I sure would like to know what those foreign ministers and especially our SECSTATE or UN Ambassador were saying about R2P! I might even suggest that,  in televised hearings, that before the US endorse or adhere to any newly fashionable concepts of sovereignty, the elected representatives of the people of the United States should be informed and consulted.

Simon Adams, like most commenters in the R2P debate, is focused on the impact an R2P doctrine as part of international law would have on military intervention, especially the frequency of American military intervention. This is reasonable because, logically, R2P implies much larger burdens and more frequent interventions overseas. But the flip side, if you look at the implication of “new sovereignty” as articulated by Dr. Slaughter, are changes to how we as Americans govern ourselves, transfers of power and authority to unelected officials, private interests and even foreigners, as well as  limitations on democratic consent.

[Limitations on the democratic consent of the unwashed masses seems to be popular lately with the political elite]

Speaking of Anne Marie Slaughter, she recently penned a curious op-ed about Afghanistan that is not a retreat from R2P, but comes across as at least a step back from seeking maximalist policy objectives with military force, in the face of messy realities:

Where the Afghanistan effort broke down

….For a long time I was convinced that the NATO intervention in Afghanistan could be successful at building a functioning Afghan government that would provide basic services to its citizens. My views were largely shaped by my regular conversations with my long-time friend Sarah Chayes, who lived in Kandahar for much of past decade running first a dairy cooperative and then a soap and fragrance business with Afghans. We were failing, in her view, because of the high NATO tolerance for the cancerous corruption that was sucking the life out of the country, starting at the top. Her book Punishment of Virtue tells the tale, describing how Afghans genuinely committed to rebuilding their country have been systematically driven out or killed by their compatriots who are profiting from the enormous in-flux of money and opportunity that inevitably accompanies large-scale Western intervention in a poor country. She thought, and I agreed, that the U.S. had had an opportunity to help rebuild a very different Afghanistan immediately after the invasion, and that it was still possible to empower the good guys if we were really willing to take on the bad guys profiting at the local, regional, and national level.

Over the past two years, I have reluctantly changed my mind. I have come to believe that where the problem is a predatory state, which the very presence of massive Western resources tends to fuel, it is essentially impossible for outsiders to spur or even effectively support a process of reform from within when we are a big part of the problem by being there in the first place. Stewart makes the argument succinctly and effectively: “the international community necessarily [lacks] the knowledge, the power, and the legitimacy to engage with politics at a local provincial level.”

I would add a much more personal dimension, one that is consistent with a 21st century focus on social actors and social relations as well as on governments and inter-governmental relations. The “international community” does not engage with Afghans. Individual men and women (mostly men) do. Those individuals – diplomats, soldiers, development professionals – develop personal relationships with Afghan officials at the national, provincial, and local level. They have to work together on common programs; moreover, the Americans or Europeans are doing their best to cultivate personal relationship in part to garner exactly the knowledge they know they lack. But once those relationships are established, how exactly is a general or a captain, an ambassador or a political counselor, a USAID Mission Director or a field development expert supposed to turn to his or her Afghan counterparts and interlocutors and explain that they should really stop taking bribes and looting the funds intended for their fellow Afghans? And once the denial is issued, as of course it must be, then what?  Accuse him or her of lying? The problems that are most central cannot even be talked about honestly. They are always someone else’s fault. But if they cannot be acknowledged, they cannot be resolved.

It is at this micro-level that policies must actually be implemented. And it is at this level that I conclude state-building military interventions are much more likely to fail than to succeed.

Slaughter, in my view, is more insightful with her empirical analysis of the granular mechanics of international relations than the theoretical and especially legal constructs she builds from them. Military force is a blunt instrument; whether you approach it from a Clausewitzian perspective or one partial to Sun Tzu, the ability to extract desired political concessions with violence – to compel the enemy to do your will – becomes more difficult and costly as your ends are at once both expansive and “fine-tuned”. We transformed and fine-tuned the societies of defeated Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan, but only after waging the greatest  total war since the Mongols sacked Persia. Bismarckian strategic talent to accomplish major ( but not maximalist) strategic goals at reasonably affordable ( but not cheap) costs is an extreme historical rarity.

Finally, Dan Drezner has re-engaged Slaughter on the point of networks in international relations and politics:

Do networks transform the democratic political process?

….As a social scientist, I must acknowledge that this is a powerful prima facie data point in favor of Slaughter.

And yet, it’s worth pushing the NYT thesis a bit. What happens when the coalition of like-minded individuals stop being of like mind? These sorts of protests can be very powerful on single-issue questions where a single policy change is desired. Maintaining this level of activism to affect the ongoing quotidian grubbiness of politics, however, is a far more difficult undertaking. Even if people can be mobilized behind the concept of “Policy X is Stupid!” getting the same consensus on “Policy Y is the Answer!” is harder. Over time, these kind of mass movements have an excellent chance of withering away or fracturing from within. See, for example, the Tahrir Square movement in Egypt.

Another thing, and this is important: unless the people in these movements actually vote in elections, then their agenda will be thwarted in the long run. Even if these kinds of networked movements are new, the political imperative to get elected and re-elected is not. If they don’t vote, then officials have a pretty powerful incentive to curry favor with the people who do vote, don’t take to the streets and don’t like these young whippersnappers with their interwebs have different policy preferences.

On the transformative nature of networks, I think Slaughter is, in the big picture, correct that scale free networks are different from hierarchies in important behavioral and structural ways. RAND scholar David Ronfeldt, a friend of this blog, has a paper that I would strongly recommend that looks at the sociopolitical nature of  tribes, hierarchies, markets and networks that has great relevance to this discussion. Drezner’s counter-point to Slaughter has traction because although networks are powerful, it is a matter of comparative advantage over other social forms in certain environments, but not all environments.

Moreover, a lot of what Slaughter is calling “networks” – especially the “governmental networks” that occur in and within IGOs are really organizations with the characteristic of modularity and are not naturally emergent scale free social networks like your twitter follower list. Secondly, networks have weaknesses as well as strengths and history is replete with networks – like political and social protest movements, peasant rebellions and revolutionary conspiracies – that were unceremoniously and thoroughly crushed by the power of ruling hierarchies. Third, and most important, the de facto existence of  tacit, dynamically evolving, social networks as political movers to be taken seriously is not itself a good reason to grant them de jure status in international law as legitimate, authority-wielding, actors.

In fact, I can think of many good reasons not to do so.

[Belated hat tips to Cheryl Rofer, Bruce Kesler, David Ronfeldt]

R2P is the New COIN: Slaughter on Authority and International Law

Monday, September 26th, 2011

Part II.

This is the second part of  a series analyzing Anne-Marie Slaughter’s ideas about “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine, based on her Stanford Journal of International Law article, “Sovereignty and Power in a Networked World Order“, to better understand and critique the assumptions on which R2P rests. The topic will be Dr. Slaughter’s uses and conceptualization of “Authority” as it relates to international law and state sovereignty.

Slaughter is particularly concerned with sovereignty and redefining it in international law so that national sovereignty is in harmony with R2P and other au courant academic concepts of “global governance” that are outside the scope of this post. While much of Slaughter’s paper relates to description of empirical trends in the behavior of regulatory bodies in transnational and IGO networks or works of theory, for R2P or “new sovereignty” to be meaningful, it has to be expressed as a legal argument. Furthermore, that legal argument for R2P/new sovereignty must gain acceptance by being expressed by source(s) or forms that a majority of the international community regards as authoritative and binding.

To the unininitiated, international law as a field is something of an intellectual wonderland that bears little resemblance to how positive law functions judicially inside of a sovereign state. First, there is no Hobbesian global leviathan that can enforce international law. The UN is not the “parliament of man” and neither the World Court nor the International Criminal Court can directly compel sovereign states to do anything, and sovereigns retain considerable discretion of interpreting for themselves what international law means and requires them to do or not do. International law theory therefore bears greater resemblance, at times, to mediating theological disputes than it does to the kind of law cases people ordinarily encounter.

International law is most accurately described as a body of competing centers of legal authority that possess varying degrees of legitimacy and that attract voluntary compliance ftom state actors, including: binding international covenants, customary international law, precedent, rulings from internationally sanctioned institutions like the UNSC, the World Court, the WTO or the Red Cross and the consensus of government officials and experts in in international law. These do not all have equal authority or legitimacy – a clause in the Geneva Convention, a UNSC resolution or a concept like “diplomatic immunity” carries more legal weight in international law than an informal but common diplomatic practice or the opinion of a faction of law professors. The ambiguity and heterogeneous nature of international law leaves a lot of room for scholarly debate, litigation, for officials to “shop for opinions” and for ambitious ideologues to push novel theories as allegedly natural extensions of existing jurisprudence.

Slaughter’s legal justification for R2P and redefined sovereignty are in section II. where she leans primarily upon the authority of the ICISS ( International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty). As I am examining the ICISS section, I will break up the quoted text with comments:

….On the humanitarian side, Kofi Anana issued a challenge to all UN members at the opening of the General Assembly to “reach consensus – not only on the principle that massive and systematic violations of human rights must be checked, wherever they take place, but also on the ways of deciding what action is necessary, and when, and by whom.” In response to this challenge, the Canadian government, together with a group of major foundations, established the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS), headed by former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans and Special Adviser to the UN Secretary General Mohamed Sahoun, and composed of a distinguished group of global diplomats, politicians, scholars and nongovernmental activists….

The ICISS has genuine, but very trivial, legal stature, having been brought into being by a single (!) member state of the UN and some very powerful and wealthy left-liberal American philanthropic foundations including the  Carnegie Corporation of New York, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Simons Foundation. The governments of the UK and Switzerland also gave financial support to the ICISS.  Politically, while the commissioners were prominent center-left statesmen, the ICISS advisory board tilted further to the international Left and toward elite “neoliberal” politicians. The ICISS was approximately as politically and philosophically balanced as would be an international small arms control commission composed entirely of members of the NRA.

The ICISS by itself is thin gruel in terms of legal authority, but has just enough substance to be legitimately served up on the table.  Once the foot was in the door, advocates for R2P were, over time, able to get it into the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document (again, relatively minor in itself, but an additional precedent) and, more substantially, into UNSC Resolution 1674. Much like sediment, a new theoretical concept has to lay down legal particulates in order to become a durable and freely recognized part of international law by sovereigns. That kind of autonomous judgment by sovereigns is something R2P advocates would like to sharply curtail.

….In December 2001 the ICISS issued an important and influential report, “The Responsibility to Protect“, which essentially called for updating the UN Charter to incorporate a new understanding of sovereignty.

Dr. Slaughter has a gift for understatement. “Incorporating a new understanding of sovereignty” means irrevocably changing national sovereignty as the term has been traditionally defined and understood. This is not exactly a minor ambition in international relations, which is one reason why I tend to regard Anne-Marie Slaughter as a revolutionary or radical IR theorist and not as a “neoconservative”, as she is sometimes accused of being by left-wing ideologues. Slaughter expounds further:

….The ICISS seeks to change the core meaning of UN membership from “the final symbol of independent sivereign statehood and thus the seal of acceptance into the community of nations” to recognition of a state as a responsible member of the community of nations.” Nations are free to choose or not not to sign the Charter: if they do, however, they must accept “the responsibilities of membership” flowing from their signature. According to the ICISS, “There is no transfer or dilution of state sovereignty. But there is a re-characterization involved: from sovereignty as control to sovereignty as responsibility in both internal functions and external duties.

[emphasis in original] 

That’s the kind of “re-characterization” that George Orwell’s Winston Smith regularly undertook in his job at the Ministry of Truth. To where or to whom does the political locus of control then move? Cui bono?( Hint: read Slaughter’s fifth section).

“Sovereignty as responsibility” implies duties or obligations rather than decision making power and, indeed, earlier in section II, Slaughter uses the phrase “conditional social contract” in the introductory paragraph. Slaughter’s ICISS derived social contract however is not Lockean in nature, formed by and with the consent of the governed, but is instead drawn by the state from the collective authority of the community of nations and sovereignty is manifested to the degree with which the state is interactive and interdependent and has “the capacity to participate in international institutions of all types”. A community not just of nations, but one that is extended and buttressed by being interwoven by transnational, quasi-independent, “governmental networks” of former and current politicians and bureaucrats

If you are thinking that this formula shifts political authority and power away from a state and the popular sovereignty of it’s citizens and toward a vaguely defined, supranational community, you would be absolutely correct. Drawing on the theories of Abram and Antonia Chayes, Slaughter, argues that the connectivity and interaction of the modern international system is such that “sovereignty as autonomy makes no sense”.

Such a position requires a healthy contempt for the consent of the governed as well as a childlike faith in the wisdom, integrity and basic competence of a superempowered technocratic elite.

To continue:

….Internally, a government has the responsibility to respect the dignity and basic rights of it’s citizens; externally, it has a responsibility to respect the sovereignty of other states.

Further, the ICISS places the responsibility to protect on both the state and on the international community as a whole. The ICISS insists that an individual state has the primary responsibility to protect individuals within it. However, where the state fails in that responsibility, a secondary responsibility falls on the international community acting through the United Nations. Thus, where a population is suffering serious harm, as a result of internal war, insurgency, repression or state failure, and the state in question is unwilling or unable to halt or avert it, the principle of non-intervention yields to the international responsibility to protect.

As Slaughter is redefining sovereignty as the “new sovereignty” of interactive capacity championed by Chayes and Chayes, “respecting the sovereignty of other states” probably does not mean “non-interference in the internal affairs of other states”. Interference (albeit not necessarily military intervention) might be the natural default position from using the premise of “sovereignty as responsibility” or as a “capacity to participate”. Hey, we aren’t intefering in your elections, your economy or your social system – we’re just “harmonizing” (Slaughter’s term) your laws and regulations and increasing your capacity to participate!

One wonders what aspects of American life that R2P advocates see as being most in need of international harmonization?  That’s a subject we can take up in future posts, but in terms of military intervention and R2P, a few comments in regard to international law as well as “capacity to participate”:

First, under current international law, the legitimate pretexts for military intervention largely revolve around the right of self-defense or disturbance of international peace, as recognized by the UNSC.  While this is a fairly narrow set of pretexts, in practice they are sufficiently flexible to address most scenarios of violent conflict without also justifying military aggression bent on conquest. What was lacking in Rwanda and the Balkans during the 1990’s were not legal rationales for military intervention but political will among the great powers to do so.  I see little evidence that R2P would carry greater moral or legal weight with state decision makers to compel them to undertake major military interventions out of altruism than does the Genocide Convention (which unlike R2P, as an international covenant, is an inarguably solid part of international law). Or, for that matter, the emotional pull of horrifying media imagery of dying children.

Secondly, by greatly broadening the scenarios under which military intervention is allowed under international law, R2P incentivizes such conduct primarily where doing so is inexpensive and will further national interests rather than in the worst cases, like Rwanda, where they are expensive and risky while yielding no tangible benefits. The global military capacity to intervene is finite and instead of doing triage, statesmen will go for the low-hanging fruit in a now much larger set of cases for potential intervention. If R2P were taken seriously, North Korea, Burma, Congo, Somalia, Syria and perhaps Yemen would be ahead in line for intervention before Libya. 

Thirdly, in terms of “capacity to participate”, the net global capacity for military intervention is overwhelmingly American and the logistical ability to sustain a major military intervention for more than a few weeks is a complete American monopoly. On pragmatic grounds, R2P will never work orchestrated in so lopsided a fashion of “America and some of the West vs. the Rest”. Nor will not be politically tolerated by either the American public or most of the world’s population. Or by Beijing’s steely-eyed rulers, who would have to bankroll this catalogue of expeditions because America no longer can afford to do so. Perhaps we can put “R2P” on our tin cup and get a better interest rate.

Even acting as benignly-intended peacekeepers, the potential scale of R2P vastly exceeds our will, our wallet and our welcome.


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