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Thanks, Zwackus, for continuing a discussion that I tried to begin in my diary and hoped to develop further at some future stage. I think part of the problem is that people sometimes look for moral or political absolutes which can be applied rigorously and consistently across all situations and thus arrive at a coherent doctrine of world Governance. There may be a movement in that direction - and it is one I would support - but it is very far from the reality of where we are now.

First some historical context:  Medieval wars often involved battles between relatively small armies and left civil societies relatively unscathed  One Monarch/ruler might be replaced by another, and there could be great economic disruption as an army rampaged across a countryside seeking food and women to sustain a rapacious army, but it didn't necessarily involved a systematic attempt at genocide - the attempt to completely wipe out an indigenous population and replace it with an invading one. The officer class/nobility of different countries were often just engaged in a battle over who should own/rule what. Royal intermarriages, shifting diplomatic alliances, an emergent common interests in trade could mitigate the conflicts and even a war might only replace one ruling class with another.

Then a few things happened.  Populations rose exponentially.  Lebensraum became an issue for some. Technology hugely increased the scale of slaughter possible and also gradually blurred the distinctions between combatants and civilians. The twentieth century saw two world wars of unparalleled scale and systematic attempts at civilian genocide - by Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and a variety of smaller scale despots.  Institutions like the League of Nations, International Courts of Justice and UN emerged to try and put some order to international relations and limit the scope of repression and war.  An emerging body of international law, generated by Treaties, International Courts and International organisations began to emerge - and became, haltingly, and selectively, more enforceable.

All of these things limit the absolute right of a Sovereign or a state to do absolutely what it pleases.  The concept of "human rights" as distinct from the rights of citizenship that might or might not be conferred by individual states emerged.  Thus the right of "National Self-Determination" became ever more constrained.  The world might be made up of more or less independent Nation states but all were, to a greater or lesser extent subject to International Law - usually in inverse proportion to their military and economic strength.  And all of this implied - if it were to be more than just paperwork or window dressing - that there were ways of enforcing such laws.

Thus there emerged a range of measures - ranging from diplomatic pressures, economic sanctions, arms embargoes, clandestine actions, media/propaganda wars, threats of prosecution for "war crimes" etc. - which could place some limits of State Sovereignty short of the absolute sanction of military intervention and formal war.  However whilst these changed the nature of international relations, they didn't entirely replace the age old practices of wars of conquest or domination where the powerful states subjugated the weaker.  Whatever change there was, was gradual.

A few factors accelerated the trend:

  1. The threat of Mutually Assured Destruction if all out nuclear war broke out.

  2. Increased economic interdependencies as the world economy globalised

  3. The recognition that wars were an economically inefficient means of dominating a territory or natural resources

  4. Increased awareness of the limits of the biosphere and our increasing footprint which threatened to undermine the sustainability of the international system as a whole

  5. The gradual replacement of an international system of nation states with a system of global corporations which frequently have more power than several individual states put together and which increasingly determine the context within which all states must operate - hence no Tobin taxes, low corporate taxation, private armies of "contractors" not subject to the laws of war

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Moreover there isn't a clearly distinct Global Judiciary whose decisions are clearly and invariably enforceable. Decisions are enforced only is it is in the interests of major players with the power to do so.  The USA routinely flouts Treaty obligations with impunity. Military interventions as in Libya are the exception rather than the norm.  Many would argue that a law selectively enforced is no law at all.  Others argue that it is better than no law at all.  But clearly enforcement is costly and which Nation wants to put its soldiers at risk unless it is clearly its its self-defined national interest?  This inconsistency undermines the legitimacy of the international system, but is it not better than nothing, and a welcome sign of progress?

Countries such as Israel and Apartheid South Africa are/were particularly vociferous in their complaints of Double standards. Whatever their failings, weren't Idi Amin, Pol Pot, Rwanda etc. far more egregious violations of human rights? Objectively yes.  But if you claim to be a "western democracy" upholding "western" standards, you will also be judged by those standards.  So there is a value in setting international norms and standards for human rights and Governmental conduct which can gradually be applied more generally across a wider sphere.

It would be silly to deny that this movement for Greater global governance isn't also being used by major players to further their interests.   But perhaps even sillier to deny that a movement towards higher global governance standards isn't necessary and good - whatever its limitations at any one point in time. History hasn't ended. Wars will continue to be fought.  Military and Economic might rather than justice will still determine the outcome of conflicts in many cases. Self interest and Greed hasn't been abolished.  But a generalised movement towards higher standards of global governance together with a greater array of non-violent tools for enforcing them cannot but be welcomed - in my view - whatever the merits of a specific intervention in a specific conflict.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Apr 2nd, 2011 at 07:41:29 PM EST

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