There are two major facets in international relations and intervention theory which run counter to each other, namely the pursuit of upholding human rights vs the respect of state sovereignty. To remain intellectually honest, one cannot in reality hold both positions at the same time. 

The first position is to hold that of the virtue of upholding human rights extraterritorially and by force is more valid than to respect state sovereignty. Essentially, this implies green lighting invasion of countries which found to be breaking fundamental human rights, most notably those laid down by the UN and generally adhered to by the Western powers. This line of argumentation quickly leads to a clear justifications of the Kosovo and Iraq wars, and the current bombing campaign in Libya. It would also imply a clear condemnation of the non-intervention in Somalia, Rwanda, Syria, Pol-Pots Cambodia, Darfur, etc. The major powers sat on their hands and let gruesome abuses of human rights occur. It would also lend itself to criticize Israel's treatment of the Palestinian Arabs.

The second position, that of state supremacy being paramount, is a direct counter to the human rights approach. In this view, the non-sanctioned incursions into Serbian and Iraqi territory would be utterly condemned. The current intervention in Libya, which has clearly outstripped it's initial mandate, would likewise be unacceptable. Darfur, Srebrenica, Somalia, and Rwanda would be seen as successes in letting sovereign states follow the agenda of their leaders. As would the current situation in Syria be deemed acceptable.


This is the rough outline of the debate and having a Winni the Pooh approach of "Yes please, both" is unrealistic. Which side do you fall on and why? Are you willing to see your argument the whole way through, even if it implies either massive occupational forces or letting history be carved in rivers of blood?

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@Kasu: That is not immediately a true assumption. State actors govern, which may or may not be the morally legitimate representation of all the people. There are a number of examples of dictatorships which have enjoyed a high degree of popular support, i.e. Castro and Tito, and soft authoritarian states are often very popular in the electorate, i.e. Singapore and Russia.

If 'the goal is democracy', then you must subscribe to cultural universalism, and is essentially to impose a Western idea of governance on the world. Why not socialism or corporatism? The choice of governance tends to tell more about the cultural background of the proposer than the proposition. :)

As for the human rights, there certainly is no guarantee that elected governments will uphold them, especially if there are radical elements which pose real threats (think South Caucasus). State actors main focus is security and survival, preferably by not eliminating the whole population in the process, but that possibility remains an open option.

Taking one position or another does not suggest that the position can or should be unlimited. A pragmatic approach would be to value one position or another while taking action (or not) based on capabilities, resources, willingness, severity and so on. War weariness effects even the die hard human rights groups who desire intervention into sovereign nation activities and have often asked the all too familiar question in regards to such action; "At what cost?" Clearly this cannot be an either or scenario from the aspect of practicality although it may work from an ideological perspective. Add to this the societal complexity of potential targets of such intervention and ask if the outcome will be a lasting improvement? It's difficult to imagine things getting much worse in some places you mentioned but it's certainly (not to mention historically) possible.

People supremacy, to be fair sounds a bit like marshmallow fluff, looking and tasting good but with little substance, unless I misunderstand your position Kasu, which is quite possible. We have always (with good reason) chosen officials, leaders etc. who appear to have the best approach to governance or a least do not have the worst approach. As such, "the people" have only an individual say so as to hopefully limit the capacity for those, within a voting population, whose views are irrational, foolish or too Glenn Beckish to be taken seriously.

As we delegate authority to other we do so with the hope that the power they are given will be used wisely, were they to opt for an either or position such as is suggested, it would to me, seem to run contrary to wisdom.

"A pragmatic approach would be to value one position or another while taking action (or not) based on capabilities, resources, willingness, severity and so on."

Unfortunately, pragmatism would be considered a weakness. Revolutionaries would have an incentive to call for international intervention instead of effectively organizing the resistance and ensuring critical mass (usually around 10% active popular support). The government would have an incentive to quickly and harshly put down any opposition, to ensure that the pragmatists would prefer not to intervene. Essentially, it is the worst of both options and the one that almost guarantees rivers of blood.


It's a very tricky question since it has some fairly profound effects on some of the highly politicized conflicts. I tend to prefer the state supremacy argument since brutal dictatorships would have less incentive to acquire large offensive weaponry to defend against humanitarian intervention.

As an example, without an external threat to it's security, Iran is much less likely to proceed with their nuclear program as nukes are ineffective domestically. However, you also have to take the ethical hit of turning a blind eye to government massacres and force yourself to sit on your hands. Usually it's a waiting game to see when these massive police states crack under their own weight, but it's an uncomfortable wait...

Regardless of how the pragmatic approach would be viewed, it seems to me a proper one. Is this an either or only scenario? If so I can't see sustainability being achieved with the available options.

It depends on what your aim is. If you want a system which ensures the most predictable world system you will have to pick one. If you essentially want to green light whatever the major world governments feel like doing, then a pragmatic view is acceptable. The middle position is essentially Chamberlainian in nature, "Yes please, both".

(Or to be facetious, a bit like current US politics, having an ineffectual democratic leader running republican policies. Pragmatism isn't always optimal..)

What part is unfounded? That the voting majority is routinely misled often willfully so by the various shady or outright loony offerings backed by special interest groups etc etc? My original statement was (I hope) the intended model not the system we presently live with. I apologize if I didn't make that clear.

Same response I guess with the second.

People supremacy. While I would agree on this aspect, I do so with the understanding that the "people" are aware that not everyone thinks as they do. The "us" is not a universal voice but a fluctuating and drama susceptible brood of individuals. The flaw is not in the model so much as in the underestimation of things like greed, corruption and propaganda. Those we elect are no longer the actual governing body but mere figure heads masking a financially dominant lobby run by only a few little known but extremely wealthy individuals. This was (again not a historian) not the intended aspect of the model although elitism or cronyism was expected to a degree based on some of my reading. I agree it isn't happening but was it the model which from the outset that was flawed or the injection of wealth, and greed over time that tipped the tables? I don't know for certain but suspect the latter as more culpable.

Well, I'll concede  that the model was slightly flawed if you concede that given the infancy of a nation some things were not foreseen and the fact that the model compared to what we currently live with (having been altered numerous times some for better or worse) are not the same. I think we are on the same page or at least a similar one so if we can accept these concessions we can work toward a solution phase. I really like that Arcus started this interesting thread but if he feels we would be moving too far off thread to continue please feel free to add me and offer your opinions privately or we can begin a new thread, either way sounds good to me.

I'm simply trying to understand your position and hopefully open the discussion to potential solutions. To say things like the model is flawed or questioning the sacred nature of the founders implies what, imperfection? It must be more than simply that and why should we not discuss it outside that of the experts, who's to say we would not come up with a good idea amidst all the possible bad ones? How would you solve the problem of financial inequality for instance?


The "bottom up rebuild" you refer to is something preached in almost every society history has had the opportunity to discover and investigate, but what is always missing from the puzzle? What you speak of could be, and surely would be referred to as a "revolution" a word obviously demonized by numerous media sources, so much so, to many, it rings of communism or socialism. There can be no doubt, many would make this leap of characterization. There can also be no doubt that despite the effect of such a rebuild may in fact be positive, there will always be those looking for methods to exploit, undermine, sidestep, or reverse it's effects for their own ends. Again, what is missing? Greed cannot be so easily shelved, nor will the populace as a whole be able to clearly identify it's pervasive tactics. They will certainly rely upon those trusted individuals supposedly or hopefully elected to serve the best interests of their constituents. The credulity of the masses will always be the Achilles heal of any seemingly democratic society. A society that only regard facts as that which coincides with what they desire to be so. I apologize for being a bit negative and I share your desire for a genuine change as opposed to a new coat of paint, but without education, and a lot of it, things cannot be changed without the cyclical response of doing it again in fifty or a hundred years. Education of the masses is extremely important, it's the only thing which returns the power back to them and gives them a keen insight to the tactics which can, and inevitably will be employed in an attempt to exploit them. At the end of the day, a bottom up rebuild without extensive education can have no positive effect, it only replaces one leader for another once the chips finally stop spinning, within a system crafted by those we are supposed to trust but have no means of investigating.

Idealism always reminded me of an old, humorously anecdotal plaque my mother had, which said "I'd like to be an optimist, but I don't think it would work out". Idealism is fine but these problems are considerably deeper and more evasively intertwined than any of us really know, so any idealism I have is bracketed by a large dose of realism, or at least I hope it is. Anywho.. I do not think humanity is "doomed" though I may have unintentionally gave that impression. I suspect that as people dislike change, even if the proposed change is superior to what they currently have accepted as "normal", change will not come easy. That which inhibits knowledge, free inquiry, curiosity, human expression, should be as time goes on, increasingly marginalized so as to provide a broader view of the problems before us and "hopefully" an insight into a resolution. There can be no perfect or complete fix, there will always be flaws and it should be our duty to those who come after us old farts, to move in the direction of the unattainable goal of the perfect society. A major hurdle as I see it, are those of faith who see no benefit to improving society for future generations since for them, Jesus will be returning in their lifetime to rapture them to heaven. This is but one hindrance but it is still a substantial one.

I don't favor revolution either, since historically it does not seem statistically beneficial and the revolutionary is generally more concerned with vengeance or his own desire for power, or both, to be at all trustworthy. Again, it is my opinion that the best solution is the slow and somewhat daunting task of "getting smarter" thereby setting aside the apathy which grips so tightly the hand of the fool.

Just one fools remarks.


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