Sunday, February 16, 2003
The Sovereignty Con - 16th February 2003, 19.46

Ralph Peters in the New York Post, wrote an op-ed on national sovereignty on the 3rd February 2003, and argued that this was an outmoded concept which allowed unsavoury regimes to maintain their existence and brutalise their populations. Peters considers sovereignty to be an obstacle in waging the 'war on terror', one that allows certain states to remain centres of lawlessness and terrorism. His answer is to introduce 'tiered sovereignties' where countries earn their right to remain fully respected members of the international community through a programme of national self-improvement:

Level One: Every government, from Mexico to India, that respects the will of its people through democratic institutions, works for the betterment of its citizens, demonstrates progress toward respect for human rights and strives toward the rule of law deserves continued recognition of its full, legal sovereignty.

Level Two: States that cannot control their own territory, that lack the ability to protect their own citizens or to prevent international terrorists and other criminals from using their territory as a refuge, would be able to claim only partial sovereignty. More capable, rule-of-law states would have the right to intervene for limited purposes to bring killers and other criminals to justice. In every other respect, these weak, but well-intentioned states would enjoy the traditional privileges and protections of sovereignty.

Level Three: Regimes that refuse to enforce the rule of law inside their borders, that knowingly harbor terrorists and criminals, that behave aggressively toward their neighbors or that abuse their own citizens would forfeit their territorial sovereignty and their right to govern. Period.

This raises a number of questions: who would decide which countries deserve to remain members of the international community and which countries deserve to be downgraded? Which nation or group of nations would gain the privilege of invading their less-governed counterparts? What are the reasons for invading: the 'war on terror', the 'war on drugs', and so on?

Such a systematised form of international relations, based upon the morality of the Helsinki Final Act, can be viewed as a laudable objective, given its moral underpinnings. Yet its weakness lies in the concept of the rule of law, since one suspects that the laws to be upheld are those that fit the needs and fears of those who establish the system in the first place. Libertarians should part company from neo-conservatives in extending their 'liberation ideology' to the entire field of international relations. Peters recognises his constituency:

To the left's horror, today's international revolutionaries are on the political right. The left wing represents the ancien regime: old slogans, old prejudices and badly failed approaches to security and human rights. American "conservatives" are the driving force behind overdue global reforms.

However, he fails to link this movement for change with possible allies on the Left. Blair shares his view that the human rights of individuals override the existence of any tyranny and places such a moral ideal above the actions of the United Nations. If the United Nations were to veto or vote against a war upon Iraq, Blair would understand that the higher calling of his convictions provides justification for the war. Such convictions would also prove a dynamo in casting about for a replacement. An alliance between this wing of the neo-conservatives and the moral hawks of New Labour may be a distinct possibility.


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