Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Jeff Medcalf at Caerdroia had an excellent post "Towards a New Understanding of National Sovereignty, and the Utility of the UN "- on the impact that the traditions of diplomatic make-believe regarding sovereignty and legitimacy now have as an increasing number of states slide into dysfunction and state failure. An excerpt:

"Pakistan does not control its northwestern provinces. Mexico does not control Nuevo Laredo or most of the rest of the US border area, nor does Mexico control Chiapas. In what sense can Pakistan or Mexico be said to be sovereign over these areas? Well, in a legal sense, but that only. The modern definition of sovereignty dates from after the Renaissance, and was more or less formalized in the Treaty of Westphalia. I don’t believe that the issue has been addressed in formal international law since the Montivideo Convention in the 1930’s.

...While most of the challenges to sovereignty come in the form of transnationalism - that is, most of the challenges have been attempts to tear down nation-state structures and replace them with broader and generally less representative structures. The ultimate end goal of this would be a single government encompassing the entirety of humanity - there is no requirement that sovereignty be understood in that light. It is equally plausible (and far more sane in view of the various horrors visited upon humans throughout history in the name of centralization of power) to devolve sovereignty onto each individual person, and have governments obtain their sovereignty explicitly from the individuals who form them."

As usual, Jeff nails a large number of salient points with a very economical use of words. There's more to his post and you should read all of it.

Transnational Progressivism, in theory aspires to erecting an international supragovernment - not the " one world government " once feared by the John Birch Society, that would be far too accountable and easily blamed - but a diffuse mosaic of transnational entities with ill-defined but very broad, overlapping, jurisdictions and vaguely articulated but far-reaching powers. All of course, that would claim to legitimately supercede the rights and powers of nation-state governments. That is theory.

As a matter of practical application, most of these trans-prog NGO activists content themselves withad hoc legalistic gambits to hamstring the execution of legitimate, democratically-elected and accountable state authority. The documents they do manage to produce at a diplomatic level - Kyoto, The ICC agreement, the EU Constitution - are all noteworthy for their convoluted and excessively complicated structures and avoidance of responsibility in terms of the purpose for which they were created. Their spirit is not democratic but oligarchical, giving shadowy groups of unelected activists on the NGO circuit the power to gum up the works.

Take for example, the ICC; a great moral idea, one consistent with the spirit of Natural Law and the Genocide Convention. Unfortunately, the ICC as it stands today adds nothing because any signatory to the Genocide Convention already has the legal jurisdiction to punish genocidaires. Secondly, the ICC is dominated by states whose jurists would refuse on principle to mete out death sentences - giving defendents convicted of crimes against humanity 10-15 years in jail isn't much punishment for herding thousands of people to their deaths. Or a deterrent against future acts of genocide.

What the ICC does well is constrain great powers from intervening to stop acts of genocide by hanging the prospect of politically-motivated prosecution over their heads. Or failing that, force the intervening power to adopt so restrictive a set of rules-of-engagement for their troops that they are rendered militarily impotent in the field. The howls of European outrage over the bilateral agreements negotiated by the United States and countries in the Gap indicate that the Europeans viewed the ICC at least partly as a wedge to get more of a say on how the Pentagon uses the American military.(If the Europeans were sincere about genocide rather than leverage, they'd have put 500,000 troops in Dar Fur).

The old Westphalian Rule-set is dying. Sovereignty is being challenged by forces of transnationalism, subnationalism and state failure. There is of yet, no agreement on the Rule-Set to replace the current standards of international diplomacy that rely increasingly on polite fictions that are at ever greater variance with reality. There is in fact, much dispute over whether the cognitive dissonance of treating geographic expressions like Somalia as nation-states is even a problem.

We need a Rule-set reset to move international law into better alignment with reality but before that can happen a cognitive reset must occur to force global elites to acknowledge that reality.
I'm afraid this is merely old wine in new bottles, despite the fancy language you are collectively dressing it up in. To assert increasing numbers of States are failing is silly and afactual, rather the benchmarks for effective control are changing, and further to that, the interests of others in that effective control.

Nor is the thinking particularly compelling I have to say, indeed it's the sort of sloppy only think of the good case thinking. Flimsy pretexts for intervention based on charges of "no effective sovereignty" are not a real recipe for a stable set of relations, despite the pie in the sky wishful thinking otherwise.

I find your personal mixing of such disperate items as the EU consitution, Kyoto, NGOs and the ICC to be bordering on delusional. Kyoto and ICC perhaps, but EU, you're smoking cheap crack to try to shoe horn that into your analysis - such as it is.
Hi Col-

Ha ! It's not often I get accused of being both fancy and sloppy in a single post. Possibly a little sloppier than usual as I was tired and the Mrs. was yammering on about various subjects while I was trying to write.

Well, its not just me meandering on about failing states - here's a source with a methodological yardstick:


and here's a scholarly treatment of the issue:


The EU constitution I put in because of the " democratic deficit" aspect which is also a theme among trans-progs generally. Greater explanation was probably required to illustrate the tie. I'll plead sloppiness to that point.

The U.S. cannot intervene everywhere - basically in only a handful of places where doing so will actually produce some long-term good and regional stability. Out of necessity intervention is triage and that kind of decision ( where/when) has to be driven by a hardheaded assessment of the possible.
following up....

I'll also add that in many cases, tendencies toward state failure are aggravated by the legacy of colonialism that irrationally divided ethnicities that might have been the core group of a functioning state. Not always but often enough.

Jeff mentioned Pakistan's loose control over its NW provinces. The Durand line bisected historic Pushtunistan because the rulers of British India wanted some control over outlier Pushtun clans who made free with their raiding without regard to Kabul.

Subsequently, the border region has always been a security issue for Pakistan and a thorn in Afghan- Pakistani relations.

I wonder if you aren't missing an equally important challenge to sovereignty, one led by the United States and Britain: democratic legitimacy. If you look at not just the military actions in the Middle East but things like forcing the Palestinians to hold elections and forcing Syria out of Lebanon, etc., it seems apparent that a nation's right to be treated as sovereign increasingly depends on its conforming to our own view of liberal democratic norms. It's not that the states are literally failing but that they fail to measure up to what we require of them.

This then sets up a contest in the coming years between transnationalists, who want to get rid of national sovereignty in order to bring everyone under the control of bureaucratic elites (EU, Kyoto, ICC, NGOs), and liberal democrats, who are focussed on making sure that governments represent and serve their own citizens.
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