Monday, January 26, 2009

When nations should intervene in other nations' internal affairs

My spouse and I spent 10 days on a boat on the equation far from any large land masses a few years ago. The boat held four American divers, four German/Austrian divers, and an Indonsian crew. One of the Germans was quick to point out that America was at fault for pretty much everything bad these days, and the others seemed to concur.

I asked her what America should do if Communist China invaded Taiwan. She said absolutely nothing. It was none of our business.

She was invoking the doctrine of national soverignty--that no nation has the moral right to interfere with other nations' actions regarding their own citizens. Of course in this case many would argue that all mutual defense treaties were also immoral and should be abrogated, since many of us believe that Taiwan is a country, not a part of China.

One way or another, it's not surprising to hear Germans espousing MYOB. After all, they interfered in other nations affairs not all that long ago, and they set a standard of immorality few can match.

And our fortunately former president did his best to give war a bad name, not through being evil like Hitler, but certainly venal.

Nevertheless. the world's nations are slowly coming to recognize that no nation has a right to murder its own people or anyone else for that matter. I said murder, not "kill." They're different, despite the mistranslation of the relevant commendment in the King James Bible.

In a better world an intelligently run and empowered United Nations would intervene in Somalia, Haiti, the Darfur, Zimbabwe, Burma, and China (at the very least over its military invasion of and slo-mo ethnicide in Tibet).

I consider myself a patriotic American, and I don't want America subsumed in a world government. But the community of civilized nations, to be moral, needs to come up with a way to deal with rogue and failed states.

Even on a purely selfish basis, such states are sources of infection for the rest of the world. Look at Somali piracy and Mexico's virtual conversion into a narco-state. Both affect many other nations. At the same time a bunch of nations are quickly destroying the ocean floor in Somalia's territorial waters, preventing their fishermen from earning a living, with no functioning government able to stop the foreign trawlers. We must intervene in both the piracy from Somalia and the trawler incursions into Somali territory.

Isolationism is impossible unless a nation withdraws into itself and imports and exports nothing. We'd have to go back to an 18th century agrarian economy to do that.

And American exceptionalism is also impossible, as Bush proved. The stronger a nation is, the more polite it needs to be to its allies. Otherwise they gang up on you. Again, it's both the right thing to do and the self-interested thing to do.

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