February 16, 2012


Sovereignty, Syria, and the Arab Spring (Mario Loyola, February 16, 2012, National Review)

Article 2(7) of the Charter enshrines the principle of non-interference "in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state." If the text of the Charter is strictly followed, there are only two exceptions for this rule: (1) enforcement action by the Council under Chapter VII, on threats to the peace, and (2) collective or individual self-defense under Article 51, if an armed attack occurs.

That rule is silly in practice, and wrong in principle. Among other things, it implies that diplomatic recognition for the representatives of a given regime -- which requires only that the regime control its territory -- automatically triggers the full rights of sovereignty. It can't, and it shouldn't.

Our founding documents had a lot to say on this topic. The Declaration of Independence argued that the British King and Parliament had lost their claim to sovereignty over the American colonies because in the place of self-government, they had orchestrated a tyranny. The Declaration of Independence in particular was obviously and self-consciously derived from John Locke's Two Treatises on Government, written a century before, following England's own Glorious Revolution.

Locke's Second Treatise argued that only institutions of self-government could constitute a government properly so-called. Most explosively, Locke argued that where there was foreign occupation or tyranny (the two were equivalent in his thinking), there was no government properly so-called, and the people then had the right to establish a government, by force of arms if necessary. The right of rebellion claimed in the Declaration of Independence was straight out of John Locke.

So is the right of humanitarian intervention. The sovereignty of a tyrant is no greater than that of a foreign occupier. If that tyrant also happens to be an enemy of ours, and has already given us casus belli, our right of intervention should be asserted forcefully and explicitly.  

In Syria, even more than in Libya, Tunisia, or Egypt, the intrinsic illegitimacy and criminality of the regime has been manifest for decades. Despite his touching friendship with Senator John Kerry, Syrian dictator Basher Assad is a sponsor of international terrorism, facilitates the extension of Iranian military support for terrorists in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, facilitated the transit of thousands and perhaps tens of thousands of Arab insurgents into Iraq to kill Americans, and is up to his neck in clandestine WMD, including nuclear-weapons technologies. The justifications for ending that regime, to make no mention of stopping a massive humanitarian disaster, have been present for years.

The other side of the coin is this: What if the regime falls tomorrow? How do we know that the regime which replaces it is any more legitimate? Should we try to be "on the right side of history" by recognizing the new regime simply because it is acclaimed by a mob in the street and has some diplomatic support among non-democratic governments? That's how we got into this whole situation to begin with.

U.S. diplomacy needs to become much more focused on basic constitutional issues. The full rights of sovereignty should be recognized only when a government constitutes "self-government" in the Lockean sense. 

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Posted by at February 16, 2012 7:00 AM

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