January 29, 2005


Overcoming the Constraints of Sovereignty (Sidney Goldberg, 01/21/2005, Tech Central Station)

A chief complaint against the Bush inaugural speech is that he seems to ignore the constraints of sovereignty, which prevent the United States from encroaching on the legitimacy of even the most evil of regimes and proclaims their borders sacrosanct.

But sovereignty often has nothing to do with ethics and one can respect sovereignty and commit ethical crimes in doing so. Was it ethical to abide by the sovereignty of Sudan while it was committing genocide? Is it ethical for us to sit on our hands while millions of Africans are maimed or slaughtered? [...]

[W]here the United States finds a people who are suffering under the yoke of a tyrant, and it is a tyrant that we can eliminate and thereby ease the suffering, we should go ahead and do it. This would violate the laws of sovereignty in favor of the obligations of ethics. This action should be taken unless it causes even more deaths and suffering than the existing tyranny. In that case we have to put it on a back burner until a better opportunity for change occurs.

What we have to do, and I'm sure the President has thought this through, is go after the horrible but easy cases first, just as a good salesman makes the easy sales first and works his way up to the most difficult for last. He sells refrigerators first to people who have none and only at the very end of his campaign will he attempt to sell refrigerators to people who already have them. Therefore, China and Russia shouldn't be at the top of our list for "regime change." As the easier tyrannies open up to greater freedom, China and Russia will become more vulnerable and therefore subject to our pressure and influence.

President Bush understands that "sovereignty" can be the greatest cover for evil and that respect for sovereignty is a minor if sometimes necessary virtue compared to ignoring it in the interest of doing what is right and easing human suffering. We do this in our personal life and we should do it as a nation. What the President has chosen to do is accept the challenge of doing the right thing. Sometimes you can get away with it. If he achieves only 25% of his immensely difficult goals during his tenure, he should be enshrined on Mt. Rushmore.

The U.S. has never much given a fig for the sovereignty of others -- though we've jealously guarded our own -- but the practice of more consistently ignoring sovereignty questions in order to intervene abroad for humanitarian reasons has definitely quickened under Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, both working with Tony Blair.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 29, 2005 9:23 AM

"Sovereignity" was a legal-political fiction set up as a rationale for enforcing balance-of-power systems. When the reason for the rule changes, the rules changes.

Posted by: Lou Gots at January 29, 2005 11:29 AM

The Left didn't care much for "sovereignty" when one of its main causes was over changes to South Africa's internal politcal system. And it's respect for Chile's "sovereignty" in its resolution of its past internal political problems hasn't been that great, either.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at January 29, 2005 12:42 PM

When Allied troops came upon concentration camps in the spring of 1945, did they actually have a right to enter, if the gates were properly shut?

Posted by: LarryH at January 30, 2005 7:56 AM