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4GW and Legitimacy at SWJ

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

Fourth Generation Warfare and William Lind was the topic of a critical essay by Major Lincoln Farish at Small Wars Journal. The article was interesting, despite my disagreement with the author on most points, because he was wrestling with important questions related to insurgency and COIN at a time when FM 3-24 is undergoing revision and the role of COIN itself in US Army operational culture is being questioned. Tight defense budgets= Musical chairs at the Pentagon. 🙂

Unfortunately, the article contained, in my view, significant problems in terms of understanding 4GW or strategy in general.Here is the article. It isn’t overly long. I am going to be commenting on passages that caught my attention and I invite readers to do the same and check out those made by Ken White and Slapout in the comments section at SWJ:

The Quest for Legitimacy 

According to The U.S. Army Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual an insurgency is “an organized movement aimed at the overthrow of a constituted government.” FM 3-24 continues with, “political power is the central issue in insurgencies and counterinsurgencies: each side aims to get the people to accept its governance or authority as legitimate.” Fourth Generation Warfare (4GW) advocates propose fighting insurgents with small cadres of highly-trained infantry, avoiding the large footprint of earlier generations of war created by command and control echelons above the company. Even if the 4GW proponents are correct on the tactical level, their proposed methods will not be successful in defeating an insurgency strategically as 4GW does not offer a legitimate alternative to the insurgents at the strategic or national level.

Premises here are incorrect.

First, while I do not speak for Mr. Lind, any fair reading of his many columns, articles and posts of the past decade (!) would demonstrate that he was, as Ken White and Slapout indicated, strongly opposed to expeditionary COIN adventures unless they were absolutely unavoidable.  His 4GW grand strategy was for the US to scrupulously avoid “centers of disorder” and view all states, even ideologically hateful misfits, as potential allies against 4GW forces. Where required, the US would instead rely on “punitive raiding” against such 4GW entities but not hunker down in the mud with them on a permanent basis.

William S. Lind, the architect of the 4GW concept, argues for units to become “true light infantry.”  He writes, “virtually all Fourth Generation forces are free of the First Generation culture of order; they focus outward, they prize initiative and, because they are highly decentralized, they rely on self-discipline.” Discipline is a key issue here; a company commander only has the authority to punish soldiers up to the (U. S. Army) rank of Sergeant (E-5). This is to protect not only the soldiers, but to give the commander the ability to maintain order and discipline commensurate with his position and abilities. A company is usually composed of only three to four officers, and they have little ability to conduct an investigation without disrupting combat operations….

…. Clear, codified, equitable discipline is one of the features that separate a military from a street gang or an insurgent movement…..

….It [4GW forces] should be trained and equipped to use cash to draw on the local infrastructure for most of its needs.”  Lind expects a company to handle most of its logistical needs with a minimum of support from a higher echelon, in other words, Lind is advocating an autonomous company.

One of the assertions of 4GW theory is that a large military with a  2GW culture organization based on hierarchy, micromanagement. limited or no autonomy of subordinates will go down to defeat ( or at least protracted stalemate) with a smaller, but more agile, adaptive 4GW force. Secondly, that counter-4GW units should be retooled to “mirror” these advantages in initiative and flexibility because the disciplined firepower of conventional military trumps those of irregulars (who of course, lack tanks, attack helicopters, cruise missiles, FOBs with food courts that include Pizza Hut and other hyperexpensive brontosaurian logistical tails). This combat advantage of light infantry over guerrillas is the reason for Lind’s advocacy of “Jaegers“.

H. John Poole, another disciple of 4GW, goes even further. Poole advocates using fire teams (a 3-4 man team) to perform deep interdiction to deny an enemy maneuver room, destroy minor camps, supply areas, and staying in place for up to three months at a time. In this scenario, how is it possible that the team effects the capture of prisoners? Would the team have to allow surrendering personnel to escape? How would enemy causalities be treated? Would the team leave enemy wounded, and how would that be portrayed to the media and world-wide? Whatever flaws there may be with 4GW, the biggest one is with legitimacy.

Poole is a tactical expert, which I certainly am not, even in terms of historical study. As I am not qualified to debate the utility of fire-teams vs. platoons or companies, I will simply note that in a different strategic context, both the Soviets and NATO contemplated and prepared for very deep, behind the lines, operations, by small, pre-positioned, sleeper cells. We also have scouts and a variety of special forces units and CIA clandestine operatives running around AfPak and the Horn of Africa – how do they currently handle these problems? Does SEAL Team 6 usually return home from a raid with 50+ prisoners?

A Western democratic government is considered legitimate if its rule is primarily derived from the consent of the populace. An illegitimate government would be one that ruled by coercion. Legitimate governments are inherently stable. They engender the popular support required to manage internal problems, change, and conflict. A lack of legitimacy in a constituted government results in a lack of popular support, and an end to the government’s actions.

Well, while I understand the point of contrast the author is making, and I’m deeply in sympathy with the inherent Lockeanism, the idea that liberal governments who have the consent of the governed do not regularly exercise coercion is fundamentally and empirically incorrect. This is easily demonstrated by refusing to pay one’s taxes, or attempting to sell unpasteurized milk, engage in sedition, build a house at variance with local zoning or in a myriad of ways. States enforce law where they do not have voluntary compliance and that enforcement, or threat thereof, constitutes coercion in a very real sense. If a state cannot make use of coercion in time of need, then it has failed as a state.

What states with consent of the governed have is a comparative advantage. Their greater legitimacy permits their actions of coercion- unlike that of a a hated, mad, tyrant – to take place less frequently and then with with less friction when they do. Enjoying greater voluntary compliance, more legitimate states have moral leeway and the political benefit of the doubt of the populace, when confronting lawbreakers and applying coercion to other challengers to the state’s authority. It is this very moral authority possessed by the state that 4GW forces seek to erode.

 Conrad Crane proposes six possible indicators of legitimacy:

– The ability to provide security for the populace.

– Selection of leaders at a frequency and in a manner considered just and fair by a substantial majority of the populace.

– A high level of popular participation in or support for political processes.

– A culturally acceptable level of corruption.

– A culturally acceptable level and rate of political, economic, and social development.

– A high level of regime acceptance by major social institutions.

While this is a good guide from a western view of what constitutes a “legitimate” government, not every group in the world would agree, and legitimacy is in the eyes of the beholder. What was legitimate in earlier times may now be unacceptable, what is legitimate in one area of the world is not in another.

Crane’s indicators are usefully pragmatic in a heuristic sense, but probably not sufficient in themselves – “legitimacy” is a huge subject and has many aspects or facets in terms of internal politics, external diplomacy, cultural identity and both positive and international law.  While “legitimacy” is difficult to define to the mutual satisfaction of military leaders, lawyers, statesmen or academics, populations seem to “know it when they see it” (and more importantly, when they don’t). The rub with pop-centric COIN theory, from a 4GW perspective, is that it is extremely difficult (though not always impossible) for armed outsiders to bestow or shore up legitimacy of a state.

I suspect that gambit works most effectively with new or emergent states also seeking acceptance or peace with neighboring states and aid from the international community and less well in cases of purely civil strife.

Insurgencies that are trying to develop legitimacy have integrated themselves locally into the social and political fabric of societies worldwide. They establish a “shadow government,” first addressing the needs of the local populace. Insurgents establish themselves as organizations capable of addressing the everyday problems of the local population. Insurgent groups have set up schools, medical clinics, sports clubs, and programs for free meals. Hamas and Hezbollah have also become powerful political parties within their respective governments. The key difference is that to be seen as legitimate, the insurgent only needs to appear legitimate in the area they are operating in and in accordance with the mores of the local populace.

Much of this passage is actually in concordance with classic 4GW thinking. I would hedge in that many 4GW entities, for example, criminal-insurgencies or loyalist paramilitaries (4GW entities acting in support of the state) have no interest in becoming a “shadow government”. Some, like Hezbollah and HAMAS do, but an across the board assumption is an effort to intellectually shoehorn all insurgencies everywhere into the Maoist model – that they seek to replace regime as the state’s new rulers- and that is one of the major flaws of pop-centric COIN assumptions.

Atrocities committed by insurgents, even if they were reported could be easily ignored.  International opinion matters little to an insurgent organization that is local, and is not subject to, or concerned with, international laws.


Atrocities by irregulars may or may not be ignored. Largely that is the fault of policy, our elite’s decided lack of will in consistently pursuing their publicity, condemnation and where possible, exemplary punishment. That said, whether atrocities by irregulars are ignored or not and whether leaders of non-state forces hold international opinion in contempt, as parties to an armed conflict they are indeed subject to the laws of war and international law. Breaking laws does not mean that therefore, you are somehow above them.

The national government, on the other hand, has to appear legitimate at the international level, the national level, and at the local level. At each level there may be different beliefs as to what does or does not constitute “legitimate” governance. The counter insurgent has an even more difficult time, as they must be seen as “legitimate” in their home country, the host country, internationally, and at the local level. There is a difference in what actions and processes are seen as legitimate by these successive levels and the counter insurgent must not only be cognizant of these expectations and restrictions, but abide by them as well.

Generally correct, but all levels of legitimacy are not equally important all of the time.

The context of situations matter a great deal – first of all, the shooting part of war does count even in 4GW or COIN. It does not help to be scrupulously legitimate in all OF your actions if you lose the war to insurgents and are captured, tortured lavishly and displayed in a cage before being executed on live television.  Appealing to the sense of legitimacy of generally adversarial and distantly located foreign elites may or may not matter vs. appealing to the primary loyalty of villagers in guerrilla country. Or it might.

It is important to remember that in terms of legitimacy, the counterinsurgent  has an audience of overlapping political communities, but communities of unequal importance to the outcome. All actions in counterinsurgency warfare have political trade-offs. The bias is to ruthlessly accept those trade-offs that methodically and irrevocably advance the COIN side to victory and eschew ones where the costs greatly exceed any potential gain. To quote John Boyd, when considering conflict and threats, we should only undertake operations and policies that:

  • Support our national goal, which at the highest level involves improving our fitness, as an organic whole, to shape and cope with an ever-changing environment
  • Pump-up our resolve, drain-away our adversary’s resolve, and attract the uncommitted
  • End the conflict on favorable terms
  • Ensure that the conflict and peace terms do not provide seeds for (unfavorable) future conflict.

To continue:

The 4GW method of COIN does not properly account for legitimacy. Following the 4GW method, insurgent groups will be able to use the need for legitimacy by the counter insurgents to disrupt operations. If a charge is made that the 4GW forces have committed an atrocity, there will be a lot of interest in that story by outside groups. The media will want information, and human rights groups will bring political pressure for a full and complete investigation to be conducted, something a company commander will not have the resources to do.

I find this passage to simply be strange, given the emphasis that various writers of the 4GW school placed upon the mental and moral levels of war. Whether you agree with 4GW and William Lind or think that both = horseshit, it remains a fact that concern with legitimacy is one of 4GW’s central tenets as a theory or school of strategic thought. See, there’s this guy, an Israeli military historian, named Martin van Creveld and……

The problem, I suspect, is with how the author approaches legitimacy and the division of responsibility for questions of tactics, operations, strategy and policy. Bill Lind’s advocacy of of jaegers never seemed to me to imply that a master sergeant or captain out in the backcountry would be running an international level IO on his own. In his area of responsibility, with locals, sure – just not when Lara Logan or Dr. Jakob Kellenberger of the Red Cross shows up.

If the alleged atrocity is not investigated properly, regardless of the veracity, legitimacy for the operation and popular support at all levels will be at risk. The insurgents will be able to use the incident as a rallying cry against the counter insurgent forces. The lack of a full and complete investigation will give credence to their claims, and there will be allegations of “cover ups” and “obfuscation,” by those sympathetic to the insurgent cause. Outside neutral groups, like NGOs and the media, will not be able to quickly and easily refute these allegations, further reinforcing the insurgent’s claims. These claims harm the legitimacy of the counter insurgent operations and degrade popular support. Without popular support the U.S. Army would be forced to leave, allowing the insurgents to reoccupy the area. Tactically the insurgents may have been beaten at every turn, but strategically they have won. Given the proposed structure of 4GW forces, small 3-4 man teams, out of direct contact with higher headquarters for extended periods of time, with a minimum of command oversight- how would an investigation occur? How would media requests be handled, or investigations by human rights NGOs? How would the team or the company even be able to demonstrate that they were not responsible for the alleged crime? Do 4GW adherents believe that the US Army would be given the benefit of the doubt by the international press?


First of all, all of what the passage describes occurs now, under the present system, beloved by Big Army, of top down micromanagement of company and platoon leaders by senior field grade or, remarkably, general officers. Any incarnation of 4GW COIN operations have not failed in the way Farish described but every major media failure that has happened in the war can be attributed in part, to the current institutional culture, climate and structure that produced such slick American IO moments as Abu Ghraib and “the Runaway General“.

Admittedly, as it is untried, a 4GW style COIN operation might not do any better than this, but really, it could hardly do worse.

The current mass of command and control, while cumbersome and at times inefficient, exists to protect the soldier and to allow him to conduct his mission with minimal disruption. To try and strip that away to a “lean fighting force” is to invite tactical success, but strategic failure. 

Top-heavy, slow moving, risk-averse, military bureaucracies ensure strategic victory?  Administrative process defines or formulates strategy? WTF?

With the loss of a robust command structure and the protection it brings from outside agencies, it will be easy for the insurgents to portray soldiers as cold-blooded killers, rampaging throughout the land with no oversight and no regard for international law, the UCMJ, or legitimacy. Without the appearance of legitimacy popular support will erode, without popular support counter- insurgent forces will be forced to cede the battlefield to the insurgents.

Move….out…of….your….comfort zone.

In general, military history and strategic thinking need to be taught earlier in the career arc of professional officers than the War College level as a counter to the habits of mind inculcated by organizational culture. The relationship between tactics, strategy and policy is always holistic, not distributed between “tactical leaders”, “operational planners” and civilian “policy wonks”. Strategy does not live way up at HQ or in the White House but should be a ladder or chain of implications that reach down to guide tactical decisions and upwards to a national or grand strategy.

Justice, Coercion, Legitimacy, State-Building and Afghanistan

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

Discussion has been emerging in the foreign policy blogosphere of   late  regarding sovereignty and the other day, Afghanistan scholar Antonio Giustozzi opined on coercion, a necessary tool of a state seeking to wield a monopoly of force.

Theory is good and the discussion is an important one with implications for US foreign policy, but it helps when debate is informed by empirical examples from practitioners.  Quesopaper, a blog by  someone out in the field  in Afghanistan has been dormant for a while, but sprang alive again with a timely post:

Rule of Law, The Afghan Springer Show 

….Rule of Law is one of the key aspects to “fixing” Afghanistan. When the Taliban dominated the country, they controlled the “courts.” As Taliban influence waned, the US and partner nations have sought to create a more traditional court system. I can’t speak intelligently on why “WE” decided to create a more western form of law in Afghanistan, but I can say, it’s not the correct approach.

I work in a remote district. It’s over an hour to the main provincial (think state) government center. The difference between the two places is about as extreme as possible. The villages, even the district center (think country govt) lack ANY essential services. There are no plumbing systems, no electricity, no garbage service…nothing. Yet, the people here survive; and dare I say? Thrive.

Like most farming folks, the people here like to be left alone. The people appreciate the Govt–Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan aka “GIRoA”–but they only want so much help. Rule of Law doesn’t fit into their needs.

So, how do rural locals settle disputes?

I just recently worked with a local governor as he negotiated the resolution of a 25 year dispute. Dispute doesn’t really describe what happened…feud is more appropriate. Each side had multiple murders, one family had 1300 fig trees destroyed. Decades of money in dispute. The feud was complicated enough that the Taliban failed to resolve the issue in nearly seven years of negotiations. Negotiations require buy-in from many parties…I could go on about this, but I doubt I can make it any clearer…

Land disputes are among the thorniest local civil society issues in Afghanistan, and one where the generally corrupt and inept Karzai regime draws a particularly poor comparison with the Taliban insurgency’s ability to provide “rough justice” where the richer, more influential party to the dispute does not automatically win through bribery. Land claims are blood issues in peasant-agrarian societies in general and all the worse in honor cultures that tolerate vendettas – that the brutal Taliban could not force a settlement in this case, or did not dare to try – speaks volumes.

….Finally, our district (county govt) governor is called upon to start the process of reconciliation. This BTW is MAJOR progress for the legitimacy of GIRoA. It means the people trust this man to handle this dispute. It might become national news (for Afghanistan) though you will never hear this story on any US network or .com site (except quesopaper.com). After weeks of massaging each side, pulling out their story, commitments (commitment to settle is vital in these things) and “evidence.”

An aside about evidence…in a society that is mostly verbal and illiterate, nearly anything written can become something that it is not…WTF are you talking about Pietro? What I mean is, give someone who can’t read a document. That paper is written in a foreign language, with foreign letters. Tell him its a deed to a piece of land…wait 35 years. Now, tell that man’s grandson that the land he’s been farming for 10 years; that his family has worked for generations, isn’t actually his.

Now he has nothing; he can’t provide for his family. Tell him, his paper is a receipt for a Persian rug, not a deed…explain that he owes the real land owner for the use of that property and revenues generated. Let me know how that goes…if you smell cordite it probably didn’t go to well.

For very poor people who live at the margins of subsistence, the stakes could not be higher, which can make rolling the dice on private violence attractive (this is also why land reform programs are only a short term stopgap in economic development and reform. Agrarian population almost always exceeds arable land and as the plots get smaller, they are less productive).  Dying on your feet with a weapon in hand looks a lot more honorable to a hard-pressed farmer than watching your children waste away from starvation as the other villagers gossip about your plight.

A state with legitimate authority can preempt or suppress such private violence, but is also expected to solve the problem.

….Back to our story…The governor calls in Sharia/Islamic law experts and elders from both tribes and other community elders. Mix that group into a bunch of small rooms and start shifting groups from room to room…hours of discussions (which looks like arguing to me). Don’t forget, this thing hasn’t been settled before, it’s serious business, and here serious business is settled with an AK. At anytime the whole ordeal can melt into violence.

Success is fleeting. I have a gun, no fooling…I’m armed….

Go to quesopaper to find out what happened next. 🙂

Part of the problem is, as quesopaper indicates, our Western framework. We began experimenting with rule of law to settle property claims and commons rights starting, oh, in 14th century England with land enclosures and we did not really finish for good until after Reconstruction in the very late 19th century. That’s 500 years for the “Rule of Law” as we understand it to become the standard for 100 % of the population, 100% of the time.

And along the way, there was blood. Rivers of it. From the Highlands of Scotland, to the piney woods upcountry of Appalachia to the Black Hills and the great Western Range Wars. The gavel of the judge had to be preceded by the soldier’s rifle, the settler’s six shooter, the rebel’s musket and knives used in the dead of night.

Are Afghans in far rural villages closer to a Manhattan attorney or an English tenant whose access to the pasture has been closed off by his noble lord against all custom and ancient right? What quesopaer is seeing is “state building” from scratch, from the bottom up. Slow, painful, difficult to be certain, but more likely to be durable than imported abstractions imposed from the top down.

We are leaving Afghanistan, it is clear. Any state that we leave behind that can resist the Taliban must be able to stand behind and enforce a rule of law as Afghans understand and accept it.



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.

R2P is a Doctrine Designed to Strike Down the Hand that Wields It

Saturday, September 3rd, 2011

There has been much ado about Dr. Anne-Marie Slaughter’s ennunciation of “Responsibility to Protect” as a justification for the Obama administration’s unusually executed intervention (or assistance to primarily British and French intervention) in Libya in support of rebels seeking to oust their lunatic dictator, Colonel Moammar Gaddafi. In “R2P” the Obama administration, intentionally or not, has found it’s own Bush Doctrine, and unsurprisingly, the magnitude of such claims – essentially a declaration of jihad against what is left of the Westphalian state system by progressive elite intellectuals – are beginning to draw fire for implications that stretch far beyond Libya.

People in the strategic studies, IR and national security communities have a parlor game of wistfully reminiscing about the moral clarity of Containment and the wisdom of George Kennan. They have been issuing tendentiously self-important “Mr. Z” papers for so long that they failed to notice that if anyone has really written the 21st Century’s answer to Kennan’s X article, it was Anne-Marie Slaughter’s battle cry in the pages of The Atlantic.

George Kennan did not become the “Father of Containment” because he thought strategically about foreign policy in terms of brutal realism. Nor because he was a stern anti-Communist. Or because he had a deep and reflective understanding of Russian history and Leninism, whose nuances were the sources of Soviet conduct. No, Kennan became the Father of Containment because he encapsulated all of those things precisely at the moment when America’s key decision makers, facing the Soviet threat, were willing to embrace a persuasive explanatory narrative, a grand strategy that could harmonize policy with domestic politics.

Slaughter’s idea is not powerful because it is philosophically or legally airtight – it isn’t – but because R2P resonates deeply both with immediate state interests and emotionally with the generational worldview of what Milovan Djilas might have termed a Western “New Class”.

While it is easy to read R2P simply as a useful political cover for Obama administration policy in Libya, as it functioned as such in the short term, that is a mistaken view, and one that I think badly underestimates Anne-Marie Slaughter. Here is Slaughter’s core assertion, where she turns most of modern diplomatic history and international law as it is understood and practiced bilaterally and multilaterally by sovereign states in the real world (vice academics and IGO/NGO bureaucrats) on it’s head:

If we really do look at the world in terms of governments and societies and the relationship between them, and do recognize that both governments and their citizens have rights as subjects of international law and have agency as actors in international politics, then what exactly is the international community “intervening” in?

…For the first time, international law and the great powers of international politics have recognized both the rights of citizens and a specific relationship between the government and its citizens: a relationship of protection. The nature of sovereignty itself is thus changed: legitimate governments are defined not only by their control of a territory and a population but also by how they exercise that control. If they fail in that obligation, the international community has the responsibility to protect those citizens.

Slaughter is a revolutionary who aspires to a world that would functionally resemble the Holy Roman Empire, writ large, with a diffusion of power away from legal process of  state institutions to the networking informalities of the larger social class from whom a majority of state and IGO officials are drawn, as a global community. In terms of policy advocacy, this is a brilliantly adept move to marry state and class interests with stark moral justifications, regardless of how the argument might be nibbled to death in an arcane academic debate.

As with Kennan’s X Article, which faced a sustained critique from Walter Lippmann who realized that Containment implied irrevocable changes in the American system, R2P has attracted criticism. Some examples:

Joshua Foust –Why sovereignty matters

Much as advocates of the “Responsibility to Protect,” or R2P, like to say that sovereignty is irrelevant to the relationship of a society to its government (which Slaughter explicitly argues), it is that very sovereignty which also creates the moral and legal justification to intervene. For example, the societies of the United States and NATO did not vote to intervene in Libya – their governments did.

Foreign Affairs – The Folly of Protection

….RtoP, responding to the sense that these domestic harms warranted international response, solidified the Security Council’s claims to wider discretion. Yet it also restricted its ability to sanction intervention to the four situations listed in the RtoP document — genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity — and thus precluded, for example, intervention in cases of civil disorder and coups. Although the resolution authorizing force against Libya will certainly further entrench the principle of RtoP, it will not completely resolve the tension between RtoP — in itself only a General Assembly recommendation — and the UN Charter itself, which, according to the letter of the law, limits action to “international” threats.

Dan Trombly –The upending of sovereignty and Responsibility to Protect Ya Neck

Beauchamp, along with Slaughter, have revealed R2P for what it actually is: a doctrine based on regime change and the destruction of the foundations of international order wherever practically possible. After all, are intervening powers really fulfilling their responsibility if they fail to effect regime change after intervening? This is exactly why I believe R2P is far more insidious than many of its advocates would have us believe or intend in practice. It is essentially mandating a responsibility, wherever possible, to seek the sanction, coercion, or overthrow of regimes which fail to meet a liberal conception of acceptable state behavior. Even if R2P is never applied against a major power, it is hard to see why such behavior would not be met with just as much suspicion as humanitarian intervention and previous Western regime change operations were. Indeed, a full treatment will reveal there is immense pressure for R2P to initiate the more fundamental, and more universal, impulse to revert to the potential ruthlessness inherent in international anarchy.

Understandably, such critiques of R2P are primarily concerned with sovereignty as it relates to interstate relations and the historical predisposition for great powers to meddle in the affairs of weaker countries, usually with far less forthrightness than the Athenians displayed at Melos. It must be said, that small countries often  are their own worst enemies in terms of frequently providing pretexts for foreign intervention due to epic incompetence in self-governance and a maniacal delight in atavistic bloodshed. Slaughter is not offering up a staw man in relation to democide and genocide being critical problems with which the international community is poorly equipped and politically unwilling to counter.

But R2P is a two edged sword – the sovereignty of all states diminished universally, in legal principle, to the authority of international rule-making about the domestic use of force is likewise diminished in it’s ability to legislate it’s own internal affairs, laws being  nothing but sovereign  promises of state enforcement. Once the camel’s nose is legitimated by being formally accepted as having a place in the tent, the rest of the camel is merely a question of degree.

And time.

As Containment required an NSC-68 to put policy flesh on the bones of doctrine, R2P will require the imposition of policy mechanisms that will change the political community of the United States, moving it away from democratic accountability to the electorate toward “legal”, administrative, accountability under international law; a process of harmonizing US policies to an amorphous, transnational, elite consensus, manifested in supranational and international bodies. Or decided privately and quietly, ratifying decisions later as a mere formality in a rubber-stamping process that is opaque to everyone outside of the ruling group.

Who is to say that there is not, somewhere in the intellectual ether, an R2P for the the environment, to protect the life of the unborn, to mandate strict control of small arms, or safeguard the political rights of minorities by strictly regulating speech? Or whatever might be invented to suit the needs of the moment?

When we arrest a bank robber, we do not feel a need to put law enforcement and the judiciary on a different systemic basis in order to try them. Finding legal pretexts for intervention to stop genocide does not require a substantial revision of international law, merely political will. R2P could become an excellent tool for elites to institute their policy preferences without securing democratic consent and that aspect, to oligarchical elites is a feature, not a bug.

R2P will come back to haunt us sooner than we think.


Doug Mataconis at Outside the Beltway links here in a round-up and commentary about R2P posts popping up in the wake of the Slaughter piece:

The “Responsibility To Protect” Doctrine After Libya

….It’s understandable that the advocates of R2P don’t necessarily want to have Libya held up as an example of their doctrine in action. Leaving aside the obvious contrasts with the situation in Syria and other places in the world, it is by no means clear that post-Gaddafi Libya will be that much better than what preceded it. The rebels themselves are hardly united around anything other than wanting to get rid of Gaddafi and, now that they’ve done that, the possibility of the nation sliding into civil and tribal warfare is readily apparent. Moreover, the links between the rebels and elements of al Qaeda that originated in both Afghanistan and post-Saddam Iraq are well-known. If bringing down Gaddafi means the creation of a safe haven for al Qaeda inspired terrorism on the doorstep of Europe, then we will all surely come to regret the events of the past five months. Finally, with the rebels themselves now engaging in atrocities, one wonders what has happened to the United Nations mission to protect civilians, which didn’t distinguish between attacks by Gaddafi forces or attacks by rebels.

….Finally, there’s the danger that the doctrine poses to American domestic institutions. If Libya is any guide, then R2P interventions, of whatever kind, would likely be decided by international bodies of “experts” rather than the democratically elected representatives of the American people. American sailors and soldiers will be sent off into danger without the American people being consulted. That’s not what the Constitution contemplates, and if we allow it to happen it will be yet another nail in the coffin of liberty.

Read the rest here.

Enter Stage Right

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

Good friend and co-author Michael Lotus, a.k.a. “Lexington Green has a feature article as he debuts at The RIGHTNETWORK. Congrats Mike!

The Insurgency

Mass political movements often begin with a single, striking event. The Insurgency began in the fall of 2008, when President Bush, Senator Obama, and Senator McCain appeared together to endorse the TARP bailout.  At that moment the lights came on for many Americans. It was glaringly obvious that both political parties jointly operated the system, and the system existed to protect the well connected at the expense of everyone else. The public opposed the TARP bailouts; the banks got their money anyway. The Insurgency, long brewing, began.

The Insurgency is a movement of citizens directed against unsustainable government taxation and regulation, and spending, both of which benefit insiders rather than ordinary people. The target of the Insurgency is a leviathan in Washington, D.C. that will ruin us all if it is not dismantled. 

The Insurgency is part of a long tradition of mass political movements in our history. It has the potential to make a fundamental change in American life-for the better.

….2.  What is the Insurgency? Why now?

For now the Tea Party movement, ignited by Rick Santelli’s “Rant Heard Round the World,” is the dominant component of the Insurgency; Glenn Beck‘s gathering of hundreds of thousands of people in Washington, D.C. is another, overlapping one. The people who have gathered around Governor Sarah Palin form yet another part of the Insurgency, as do the libertarian-minded citizens who read blogs like Instapundit. Many of Rush Limbaugh‘s, Sean Hannity‘s, and Mark Levin‘s listeners are part of it. Various long-established conservative groups that have always opposed big government are now parts of the Insurgency.

There are appear to be three factors that have caused the rise of the Insurgency now, and the particular form it is taking: 1) technology, 2) a new, heightened awareness of the problem, and 3) the shock of the current crisis.

First, new technology allows massive, decentralized and horizontal organizations to form quickly. The Tea Party is the best current example: There is coordination, but no central direction. There is no one in charge, giving orders, but rather many people and groups cooperating. This is only possible due to current technology. 

“[Technology] enabled the Insurgency,

but it did not cause it.”

Technology, however, cannot by itself explain the rise of the Insurgency. After all, the political Left actually pioneered in this area: MoveOn was a highly effective internet-based organization, for example. It does seem odd, in retrospect, that a tech-savvy Left would cast its lot with a top-down, government-centric political culture. And there may be some overarching affinity between libertarian-style thinking and the new technology. But that technology is ultimately neutral. It enabled the Insurgency, but it did not cause it.

Read the rest here.


Michael has published the second part of his essay: 

The Insurgency, Part II

….Mass political movements have come along several times in American history.  Some have transformed the country, and others have fizzled out. 

The movement that elected Andrew Jackson, against the vicious opposition of the existing establishment, swept through all levels of American government, rewriting state constitutions and extending the franchise to all adult White males. Jacksonian democracy caused a permanent and irreversible change in American life.  

The Populist movement looked like it would have a similar impact.  Led by the charismatic outsider William Jennings Bryan, this movement held gigantic rallies and seemed like a revolution in the making. It provoked fear and a hostile response from the establishment of its day, in both political parties. Yet the Populists ultimately failed to make a significant impact on national policy, and were absorbed into the Democratic Party. 

Today’s Insurgency could go either way. Success is not inevitable. 

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