Wednesday, June 16, 2004

A New Sovereignty

Liberals often remark that President Bush's 'unilateral' (i.e., without unified socialist Western European support) policy of preemptive defense has disrupted the international system's framework for maintaining order. They lament the affront the Bush Doctrine makes to the United Nations and to the idea that international institutions foster peace amongst nation-states with equal right to be at the table where decisions are made. As usual, their utopian dreams delude them, make them miss some of the cruder realities of the world.

If ever that ideal liberals strive to maintain did exist or made sense, it does no longer. With the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the conflict between capitalist democracy and communism, Islamism has re-entered the scene. Weapons technology and WMDs, loosed from the controlling bonds of the cold war, seem to the terrorists a more attainable means. At the same time, global telecommunications, the internet, mass media, and air travel have all developed to make the world a much smaller place. What does all of this mean for sovereignty and the international system? First, it means that the role of nation-states in the world and consequently of their leaders is changing. Communications, the internet, travel technology and cross border migrations have all served to dilute distinct cultures and threaten nations' distinctness and shared cultural values. In response, leaders must more vocally and forcefully champion their nations' identities and purposes, couching their policy pronouncements in terms of their countries' telos or ends. Given the rise of Islamism and terrorism, it is also clear that not all nations can claim their particular motives, ends, and animating principles to take an equal measure of goodness and justice as do others'. As we saw with the dysfunctionality of the United Nations with the cold war, it makes little sense to hope that bargaining and discussion with an enemy ideology will lead to peace. It therefore also makes no sense to accord each nation-state moral equivalence in terms of its right to act with sovereignty within its borders, and its right to interact with other sovereigns on the world stage. Couple this insight with the awesome power and reality of WMDs, and we see that it is very dangerous to so assume.

Given a world where values and justice must be championed so as not to be drowned out by the tempting relativism made attractive by cross-cultural communication, given a world where evil is readily apparent in the form of an ideology vying to attract fighters to its cause, and given the reality of WMDs, the old, utopian-liberal ideal of nations sitting down around a table to bring peace to the world by judging the legality of international acts is unworkable. Instead, international acts must become legal in common law fashion: We have set wonderful precedent in this new arena of international common law by getting together a group of like-minded nations to combat and preempt the dangers of a rogue, evil regime bent on obtaining WMDs and willing to harbor terrorists. We have with decisive action delimited the sphere of proper motives for sovereigns acting on the world stage. We have sent a message which, over time, may come to have the force of law -- not that might makes right, but rather that might can and should make right when called to do so. Given the dual reality of evil in the world and man's ability to discern it from that which is just, this is a good compromise.

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