Toward a norm of humanitarian intervention

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  1. Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist
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    I agree that we should do something, but why is the US expected to take this on? There are other military’s that could engage this threat. France, Germany, England, etc.

    If you live in a city, and the fire company that is stationed just down the street is busy fighting a a fire, and your house catches, they don’t send a truck to your place. They call up the next closest company and have them deal with it.

    The US is not the closest fire company to this fire, and we are busy. Someone else has to step up to the plate.Report

    • Given the US position amongst the world’s militaries, the US is close to every fire. You do have a good point, and perhaps it is being taken onboard, the Post is reporting that the UN Security Council is to discuss a resolution authorizing force today and also that, “France and Britain, with cooperation from one or two unspecified Arab countries, would be ready to start carrying out such a resolution within hours of its approval.” The US may not be carrying most of the responsibility. On a more abstract level I’d argue it is our duty to contribute as an expression of our values (both American and international-system wide), to deter others, and hopefully to prevent others from contemplating such grave violations in the hopes that they world will stand by, yet again, sending strongly worded statements every so often.Report

  2. Avatar BlaiseP
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    says:

    Kudos on a truly well-written article.

    If humanity is to create a normative approach to humanitarian intervention, it will start with this fundamental assertion: the nation state has failed. I would further extend the assertion to state the model of the nation state is already showing signs of collapse, as surely as the Divine Right of Kings failed in the face of interminable European wars. The United Nations cannot work: it is a contradiction in terms. One sovereign state cannot be united to another: its proclamations will always be the least common denominator of all, never presenting guiding principles to which all may be held.

    Recently, a CIA operator was bought out of a Pakistani prison on the principles of diyya after shooting two Pakistanis, whereby murder can be atoned via the payment of a blood price. Ancient Europe under the Saxons had the Wergild, the same principle of justice. Much has been made of the injustices of sharia law, but in this case, we got our CIA operator back and justice was apparently satisfied, if the whole messy situation has only gotten worse.

    You raise the issues of neocolonialism and sovereignty. We could turn these issues inside out and examine the justice of intervention on the basis of the opinions of those thus “liberated”. As the Third Infantry Division entered Baghdad, a squad came on a crowd in front of a store, everyone yelling, one man brandishing a Kalashnikov rifle. The Americans helpfully disarmed the man. The others rushed into the store and looted it. The man with the rifle turned out to be the store owner.

    If Jus Cogens is a slippery pig: Erga Omnes, the obligations of one state to all the others is an even slipperier piggy. It seems to me the best argument for intervention is via erga omnes, that one state is liable to invasion, having failed in its obligations to the others. Zimbabwe, Somalia, North Korea, the Palestinian State under Hamas, the failed state of Iraq under its Shiite kleptocracy, Burma under the military junta, all these seem to meet the criteria for invasion.

    These are not failed states: they are states that have failed the others. Even Israel, with its de-facto apartheid for the Palestinians, might meet these high-minded criteria. Well, all such thinking is quixotic crazy talk: the powers-that-be will protect their autistic client states from the slings and arrows of outrage, under any circumstances.

    The sovereign states have never been much concerned about the people maltreated by other sovereign states: children smearing toxic glue onto the soles of our fancy sneakers, the systematic oppression of the Shiites in KSA, they’ll never impose a penalty on the regimes which do the dirty work their own laws no longer permit. It might well be said the UN has served as a big blue fig leaf wherein these sovereign states are granted some measure of legitimacy where none ever existed.

    The lasting legacies of the World of Empire are the procrustean borders they left behind. Until the world finally addresses this issue, the madness will continue apace, each lunatic hiding behind his little placard at the UN Assembly.Report

    • Avatar Creon Critic in reply to BlaiseP
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      BlaiseP, your erga omnes is a point well taken, and has definitely been part of the mix of attempting to codify where the boundaries of sovereignty lay – Definition of gross and large-scale violations Working Paper. But also, the Responsibility to Protect adds a valuable component as to who matters in the international system – states failing their duties to each other is important, as well as states failing in their duties to their own citizens.

      Has the nation state failed? I’m not sure I’d use the word failed, the nation state is evolving from coping with the pressures of a 17th century world to coping with the challenges of our era, disease, climate change, poverty… From the arguments I’ve advanced, I’m definitely on the pro-global governance / cosmopolitan side of things. I’m particularly interested in Alexander Wendt’s work, Why a World State is Inevitable: Teleology and the Logic of Anarchy pdf.

      The sovereign states have never been much concerned about the people maltreated by other sovereign states

      Post WWII we’ve constructed an entire system identifying this intra-state maltreatment as a concern for the international system. We’re also woefully inconsistent in applying these strictures to actual circumstances. But sometimes it does happen, sometimes states that systematically abuse their populations harshly enough for long enough become isolated.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Creon Critic
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        says:

        And, with the exception of South Africa* in the post ’45** era, those countries thus isolated just keep on doing it.

        *maybe Burma is finally coming around. Maybe.

        **to be fair, the real measure is the post ’91 era. Cold war superpower politics had both thumbs on the scale too much to measure anything reliably before the Berlin Wall came down.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Kolohe
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          South Africa ended its vile policies because of one decent man, Pik Botha, whose name should be engraved a spear’s length deep in the granite of the hall of the righteous. Nelson Mandela got the fame, and I begrudge him none, but if it takes a great man to stand up to evil, it takes an even greater man, so confronted, to repent and end that evil.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Creon Critic
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        says:

        Do you really think the nation-state is evolving? I just don’t see it. Consider the EU: despite its seeming unity, the paradigm of the autonomous nation-state has continued to hobble it.

        Greece and Ireland went crazy, Greece with its failure to collect taxes and Ireland with the madness of building more houses than families to live in them. Who could stop them? The great banks of Ireland would lend money to my cat when times were good. Neither had much capital before the EU, neither could cope with success. The Duckworth-Lewis Method summed it up in their new National Anthem of Ireland

        Ireland, Ireland, once we were poor,
        Then we were wealthy; now we are poor again.
        Cows and horses, donkeys and sheep,
        Munster and Leinster, Connacht and ******.

        Chinese, Polish, Africans too,
        Doing the jobs we don’t want to do.
        An Irish stew, a nation of nations,
        Working for peanuts in petrol stations.

        In summary: even where nations have agreed to unify in such unions, while those nations retain their sovereign rights to behave like idiots, we ought to treat their sovereignty as we treated the sovereignty of kings.Report

        • Avatar Creon Critic in reply to BlaiseP
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          Evolving, slowly, but evolving nonetheless. Take the European Court of Human Rights, there is the typical squealing about activist judges and judge-made law and some states are far more compliant with rulings than others, also that huge backlog of cases, but it still represents a marked difference with what came before. In the ever present historians’ argument, continuity or rupture, I’d say the ECtHR represents rupture. What army does it have to enforce its rulings? What power can it call upon to say to countries within its jurisdiction, “Obey!”

          Two cases offhand, forgive me if the particulars are inexact, England had a policy of retaining DNA of anyone accused of a crime. The European Court said this policy contravened the privacy provisions of the Convention. England is now adjusting its regime to resemble Scotland more closely, expunging data from the database after a period. Not perfect, but better than before. Another case, whether transsexuals (pre or post op) have the right to change their birth certificate to reflect the gender they say they are. This wended its way through the European Court, with rulings spanning 2 decades, slowly the majority that said the state (UK) could define transsexuals’ gender slipped away. Eventually, the ECtHR ruled against the UK. Again, not the biggest victory for human rights in the world, a rather small minority group trapped by the misunderstanding, indifference, or animus of the larger society, but a victory all the same.

          Perhaps its just wishful thinking, and I think we may be trapped within nationalistic tribes for some time to come, but what it means to be a sovereign state is shifting, the state itself is contending with new entities on the international scene like international courts, universal jurisdiction, transnational advocacy networks, and international organizations.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Creon Critic
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            But consider the problems inherent in the European Court of Human Rights. Case in point: Russia refused to ratify it unless Russian judges could hear Russian cases. All these fine supranational institutions, starting with the Field of the Cloth of God, Henry and Francis swearing eternal friendship, well until Francis threw Henry in a wrestling match, but it was all conducted with the highest motives. The League of Nations. The UN. All bosh. I call it Flowerpot Diplomacy. A bunch of clever people with degrees from LSE and Sciences Po in bespoke suits, sitting around a conference table with a bouquet in the middle and a multitude of bottles of Dasani water, the chauffeurs of their limousines idly smoking while the Great Men deliberate, all completely disconnected from reality except the chauffeurs.

            The supranational model is in many senses worse than the national model. All politics is local.

            More to come. I’m wrestling with my own essay, a troublesome thing, too, on what might replace the nation state. Again, my congratulations on a wonderful and well-researched piece of writing.Report

  3. Avatar Michael Drew
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    But the US has a lot on its geopolitical plate at the moment. Perpetrators of mass murder do not schedule their crimes to suit. Criminals rarely account for the convenience of the law abiding or law enforcement authorities; war criminals are particularly inconsiderate that way. The objection is like complaining that bank robbers chose an inopportune moment for the police.

    But how are we going to pay for intervention? This complaint echoes the first, perpetrators of crimes against humanity have not scheduled their murderous rampage at the right point in the business cycle. Yes there’s been a world financial crisis, but the Genocide Convention does not say prevent and punish genocide “as long as it’s convenient”. The responsibility to protect does not have the caveat “accountants permitting”.

    But what is left of the norm once we recognize that these constraints will govern whether and when intervention is undertaken. Bush I and Clinton extremely indecisively intervened in Somalia; then intervention was delayed in the Balkans and Rwanda until it was too late. Only once the economy was reestablished on track did Clinton launch major intervention in Serbia/Kosovo. Afghanistan was not a humanitarian intervention nor was Iraq II fully one, but neither was launched during times of major economic stress nor ongoing shooting wars for the U.S. elsewhere (apart from Iraq during Afghanistan, but they were couched as components of the same War).

    It is a question right now how the U.S. would marshall the resources to respond to a serious direct military challenge to its vital security interests, given our inability to conclude engagement in two conflicts from the previous decade. Major powers will always confront competing demands for military resources. A norm of humanitarian intervention simply can’t be presumed to be feasible in the carrying out under these circumstances, which are just the ongoing standard challenges faced by all countries at various intervals, and a norm of intervention that isn’t followed by actual normal interventions is an even more hollow doctrine than the one we follow today, whatever we might call it.

    I would perhaps sign on for some kind of standardization of the actual norm that we carry out when the question really is purely a matter of humanitarian concern. This would be something like a norm of close scrutiny to extraordinary internal events in sovereign nations, resulting very rarely in serious consideration of armed intervention by states (various types of other international actors and forces being a separate question), and extremely rarely in actual intervention. This is the only norm that I think actual constrained states will ever be able to carry out in a consistent manner. We could claim to have a norm of intervention, but it would in practice turn into a norm of intervention at nations’ convenience, and largely pursuant to their interests, not pursuant an honest assessment of real human rights concerns.

    You can, of course say, that the world ought to be better than that and that we ought to be able to carry out a consistent regime of humanitarian intervention (after all, outrages that shock the conscience of mankind are frequent). But that is not a norm; that is a moral dictum. A norm is what actors actually tend to do because they feel a moral duty to do so. And a norm of humanitarian intervention by the militaries of states into the internal affairs of other states wouldn’t end up looking anything like its name in practice.Report

    • Avatar Creon Critic in reply to Michael Drew
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      But what is left of the norm once we recognize that these constraints will govern whether and when intervention is undertaken.

      Honestly, muddling through. But I’d advocate muddling through along a certain track, a track that has taken into consideration the set of principles the international system says it favors. Look, I recognize global governance is a messy, messy thing – deeply unsatisfying for those who seek consistent application of certain standards of human dignity. It takes a certain mix of willingness to see constant disappointment and hopefulness for better behavior by states to advocate the case for realizing the goals of the international human rights regime. (Perhaps that’s a feature of political advocacy in general.)

      I don’t want to get into a dispute about the precise language, norm or moral dictum, particularly because I don’t think we’re all that far apart since you write,

      I would perhaps sign on for some kind of standardization of the actual norm that we carry out when the question really is purely a matter of humanitarian concern.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Michael Drew
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      says:

      More importantly, how the hell would we actually fight such a war? By every measure, our ground forces and their equipment are worn out and busted up. The tsunami of walking wounded, especially brain injuries and PTSD cases is just now washing over the seawalls we’ve erected. They’re DEROSing back here, reentering society and detonating.Report

  4. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    A handful of fun questions…

    In the 1920’s and 30’s, did Stalin’s treatment of his citizenry justify humanitarian intervention?
    In the 1940’s, did Roosevelt’s treatment of his citizenry justify humanitarian intervention?
    Does Kim Jong Il’s treatment of his citizenry justify humanitarian intervention?
    Does Castro’s treatment of his citizenry justify humanitarian intervention?
    Does Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz’s treatment of his citizenry justify humanitarian intervention?
    Does Obama’s treatment of his citizenry justify humanitarian intervention?Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird
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      Heh, heh. FDR was sooo sure he could trust Uncle Joe.

      And what do you ’bout regimes which outsource their secret prisons? There’s a new wrinkle for yez. Let’s be fair, here, Clinton started this business of Extraordinary Rendition and it’s been going on a good long while. Can we charge the government under the RICO Act and the client state as an accessory?Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird
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      says:

      in the 1830s, did Andrew Jackson’s treatment of his citizenry justify humanitarian intervention?Report

    • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Jaybird
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      says:

      I’m unclear on all of these questions. Are you (Jaybird and Mike) getting at specific historical points? Or the conglomeration of all the things going on at the time? Cause the latter might take a couple hours of experienced historians laying out all the important events. If either of you have specific things in mind that might lead to an answer more quickly, I’d love to cut to the chase.

      Otherwise my historical knowledge is to lacking to take part in this conversation.Report

      • Avatar dexter in reply to E.C. Gach
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        Think “trail of tears” for starters.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to E.C. Gach
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        says:

        There is a fairly large disconnect going on, here.

        Under what circumstances would we accept invasion of our country in order to rectify injustices overlooked (or even perpetuated) by our Government?Report

        • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Jaybird
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          Well if they were being perpetrated against me, I would accept it.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to E.C. Gach
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            So would you be cool with, oh, France invading us for the treatment of Bradley Manning? Perhaps to overthrow a government that has established for itself the right to assassinate its own citizens without a trial?Report

            • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Jaybird
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              No. I think you’d be hard pressed to argue that those two things are roughly equivalent. Maybe we’d meet at some point in the middle, as you give examples that are more serious than the imprisonment of one person (I do not agree with his imprisonment) and potential drone strikes against citizens abroad, and I provide examples less evil than the genocide of humans for land development.

              But for now I think we are a ways off from the grey area. If however, you feel that both of those things are as serious as mass murder, by all means make that case and I might agree with you.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to E.C. Gach
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                I should add that, again, if my family were targeted by drones, or were imprisoned on counts that I thought superficial and out of order, I can’t say that I would be against other nations challenging the sovereignty of the Washington “regime” in that case.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to E.C. Gach
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                I think you’d be hard pressed to argue that those two things are roughly equivalent.

                So we’re haggling.

                Are there rates of taxation that you think would justify an invasion? Rates of incarceration? Laws against certain things? Laws mandating certain things?

                Is mass murder your price and beyond that it’s none of your business?Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Are there rates of taxation that you think would justify an invasion?

                Well, if the teabaggers manged to lower them much further…Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                You’re going to unusual lengths to read me uncharitably Jaybird.

                I’ll ask you first if you believe moral duties exist, at all, anywhere, at anytime.

                If you do, then I agree that it is a difficult and ambiguous problem. But it is one that we can solve, at least to some reasonable degree. We may not agree 100%, but I’m fairly confident that we could zero in one some situations where intervention is justified, and others where it is morally obligatory (morally does not have to mean “in our best interest”).

                You brought up genocide. Do we think that requires intervention? Probably. Taxes? Well maybe if it gets to the point where it some how seems comparable to the horrifying consequences of genocide (i.e. taking taxing some amount of people toward some form of destitution).

                You continuing questions seem to be aiming at the idea that, yes, these kinds of moral calculation are difficult, but simply taking a long time to figure out and not having 100% certainty or consensus does not mean they are not real.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to E.C. Gach
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                Not unusual at all. Reading people uncharitably is something that comes naturally to me.

                I’ll ask you first if you believe moral duties exist, at all, anywhere, at anytime.

                There are 15 or 16 essays in this question.

                I am pretty sure that I have at least one moral intuition that goes almost entirely counter to a moral intuition that you have. This alone gives me a great deal of pause.

                The world is full of examples of devout, inspired people who were absolutely certain of their moral rectitude.

                So when you ask about moral duties in theory, there are a lot of questions there with answers that go from “Russell’s Teapot?” to “And that’s why you need to watch Reverend X on youtube.”

                And, what the hell, I’ll point you to that essay I wrote about Vector Morality:
                https://ordinary-times.com/blog/2009/07/07/the-vector-a-post-theist-moral-framework/

                We may not agree 100%, but I’m fairly confident that we could zero in one some situations where intervention is justified, and others where it is morally obligatory (morally does not have to mean “in our best interest”).

                Would it be uncharitable to read this as justification coming from two dudes agreeing? Probably. How about if I reframed this as “I am a fairly intelligent person who has reached consensus with another fairly intelligent person from my same culture and we’ve come to agreement on moral issues pertaining to our responsibility to intervene when it comes to the following folks doing the following things.”

                I mean, seriously, there are a lot of assumptions here.

                How many things are you doing right now that not only *COULD* but *DO* qualify as something worth intervention according to a handful of cultures that have actually, for real, existed (and may even exist today)?

                I am willing to bet that the answer is *NOT* “none”.

                The answer is *NOT* none for me.

                This also gives me pause.

                You continuing questions seem to be aiming at the idea that, yes, these kinds of moral calculation are difficult, but simply taking a long time to figure out and not having 100% certainty or consensus does not mean they are not real.

                I don’t know. I have intuitions… but I don’t know how much weight I ought to give them. Certainly not as I look back with how much certainty I had when it came to our invasion of Iraq.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Jaybird
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                Then don’t give your intuitions any weight, because they usually do nothing but help us to rationalize what we be more comfortable or the least discomforting course of action.

                I’ll just say, that if “moral” is to mean anything important, it has to do with our obligations to others. If you can think of a meaningful concept outside of that, I’m all ears, but for the most part, it seems like that is the only conception not covered by other phrases and that gets at something shared by the large number of instances in which morality is invoked, which all seem to do with our social interaction with others.

                I ask, do you agree, because I’d like to short circuit any talk of moral relativism or anti-realism from the start, but if you want to hold anyone of those positions, that’s fine, in which case people’s calls for acting morally shouldn’t just be unpersuasive to you, but completely uninteresting.

                But for those of us concerned with morality, meant loosely as, how we are socially obliged to interact with others, we can move on from there. Yes some have different conceptions of what IS moral, but not what it means for that “is” to be moral. You might think killing babies is immoral, and I might think killing babies is just fine, but in order for us to even disagree we must know what the other means by saying that is immoral.

                So you might say that so and so won the race, but I might say they did not, but that’s because we both know what it means to have won the race (even if we disagree as to what qualifies as winning).

                So that said, I will agree and say our intuitions and public opinion have little role in deciding these questions (but that can be useful shortcuts for circumventing unnecessary disagreements).

                So I only put out the assumptions for hope that we could go beyond them, but if you have serious reservations, then by all means let’s delve in.Report

            • Avatar dexter in reply to Jaybird
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              I would not go with France because they can’t fight, but I would be happy if the Duchy of Grandfenwick came and took out a few hedge fund operators.Report

    • Avatar Creon Critic in reply to Jaybird
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      Jaybird, I’ll admit when thinking through this topic the warning “there’s nothing so dangerous as a virtuous man” definitely rings in my ears. There are so many (sometimes ad hominem) accusations that’d been leveled at those supporting a case for swifter action in Libya – supposedly I support American greatness and aggrandizement, have narcissistically shifted events in Libya to be about America, and am in favor of imprudent and injudicious action, and so forth. Part of my aim was to say there some important principles to wrestle with that aren’t about attacking the bona fides of those advocating intervention.

      The way I put it elsewhere was that action to stop mass murder must be more swift and more diligent than those seeking to perpetrate mass murder. In response to the specific instances you raise, some cases are more challenging than others, “I would highlight the point that there is a sliding scale of options, not simply a dyad of all-out military invasion and do-nothing approaches.” There is space in between the two poles depending on the scope and nature of the human rights abuses confronted.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Creon Critic
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        Part of my aim was to say there some important principles to wrestle with that aren’t about attacking the bona fides of those advocating intervention.

        Oh, absolutely.

        It’s like saying that, sure, the South was wrong but that didn’t give the North the right to invade! Why, look at Lincoln!

        If we had to wait for a white knight to save us, we’d be stuck until doomsday.

        The problem comes that pretty much any intervention will end up costing a huge amount and much, much more than is promised to those paying for the intervention… It seems crass to say that we should only intervene if the price for not doing so will, eventually, be higher than if we do. It also creates one hell of a perverse incentive.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Creon Critic
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        I would contend that this here actual world, the United States (and the ‘International Community’ however one wishes to define it is in fact using to the full extent all the *non-military* options at hand – and that results in the world we have. (I would also contend that the world we have is the least worst option of the proposed competing alternatives)

        Frex, we have sanctions http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Pages/Programs.aspx of one sort or another against Belarus, Burma, The Ivory Coast, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Syria, and Zimbabwe, all because they’ve behaved like total asswipes to their people in the very recent pastReport

  5. Avatar Pat Cahalan
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    says:

    I’m a lot more inclined to give credence to intervention requests when the locale is one we’ve screwed up in the past (particularly, selling weapons to countries that then use them on their populace). Although I’d rather we just not sell the fishing guns in the first place, really. Culpability should play a factor.

    Assuming you buy into the premise, of course.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Pat Cahalan
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      I’m a lot more inclined to give credence to intervention requests when the locale is one we’ve screwed up in the past (particularly, selling weapons to countries that then use them on their populace).

      Heh. That’s much of what gives me pause.

      I’ll reshuffle your words to give something much closer to my take:

      I’m a lot more inclined to give credence to intervention when the locale has requested it.Report

      • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Jaybird
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        That’s why I threw in the “assuming you buy into the premise, of course”. Add Blaise’s point above: you really want to help? Take the refugees in and give them a better place to be. If they want to go back and duke it out, more power to them. But don’t Bay of Pigs them, either. That seems the least morally ambiguous course.

        It’s tough to note when the “locale has requested it”. By definition, some people in the locale probably want us to butt the hell out (the ones doing whatever it is we think we need to stop, in the name of humanity). How do we know who is legitimate in their request for help?Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Pat Cahalan
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          Take the refugees in and give them a better place to be. If they want to go back and duke it out, more power to them.

          You won’t find a bigger fan of open borders than me.

          The problem comes when there’s noplace left to run to…

          But that’s another essay.Report

        • Avatar Heidegger in reply to Pat Cahalan
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          says:

          Hi Pat–a VERY Happy, Happy Saint Patrick’s Day to you and your family!
          You really have a GREAT Irish name there, Pat Cahalan!

          May all the best befall you and your family! HReport

  6. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    Hey, E.C. Down here.

    I’ll just say, that if “moral” is to mean anything important, it has to do with our obligations to others. If you can think of a meaningful concept outside of that, I’m all ears, but for the most part, it seems like that is the only conception not covered by other phrases and that gets at something shared by the large number of instances in which morality is invoked, which all seem to do with our social interaction with others.

    Dude! I wrote an essay!

    Anyway, I don’t understand how “I’ll just say, that if “moral” is to mean anything important, it has to do with our obligations to others” is not an intuition.

    I ask, do you agree, because I’d like to short circuit any talk of moral relativism or anti-realism from the start, but if you want to hold anyone of those positions, that’s fine, in which case people’s calls for acting morally shouldn’t just be unpersuasive to you, but completely uninteresting.

    Assuming I am a moral relativist or anti-realist, what else ought I find completely uninteresting?

    So I only put out the assumptions for hope that we could go beyond them, but if you have serious reservations, then by all means let’s delve in.

    My reservations have to do with the intuition that the majority, if not entirety, of my moral intuitions are culturally seated. That essay I wrote was an attempt to divorce morality from historical trivia (the inclination to do so is probably one of the shackles that I’m not even noticing that I’m wearing).

    What will my morality look like in 100 years?
    I tell you what, 100 years ago, I think it’s safe to say that I’d be considered, at the very least, unfit to be seated on a jury. Why? Because the Judge, Prosecution, and Defense know that they have obligations to society.Report

    • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Jaybird
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      “I wrote an essay!

      I know, I was hiding from it but will take some time and bury myself in your prose.Report

    • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to Jaybird
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      Mr. Jaybird, I avoid the term “morality” whenever I can. I don’t know what it means except its etymological relation to the French “mores” meaning “customs” more than “ethics.”

      All morality is conventional, then, and conventions have no relation to absolute truth. Tipping your hat goes back to a knight raising his visor, iirc; it has no intrinsic meaning, it’s a convention.

      Good luck on this. Since ethics aim only as high as justice, obligation to your fellow man seems beyond its purview.

      We used to call such things “right and wrong” or even an obligation to “Christian charity,” but these concepts are obsolete.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to tom van dyke
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        says:

        I don’t know that all morality is based in convention either.

        It would make sense to me that it would be and that even the most successful organisms has some vestigial parts… but that’s deeply unsatisfying (and the downsides of being wrong include being wrong about the existence of morality).Report

    • Avatar Creon Critic in reply to Jaybird
      Ignored
      says:

      Jaybird, regarding shackles we don’t know we’re wearing & humanitarian intervention, do you think building an overlapping consensus is possible? Beyond Rawls’ notion of overlapping consensus, I have in mind the Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labor, countries couldn’t agree on child labor generally, so they started at the worst practices and perhaps in future will work their way to encompass more terrible practices that have not been included so far. Similarly, the laws of war and international human rights regime comprise a body of texts that point us in the direction of the intervention worthy. Perhaps a good deal of the negotiating and diplomatic heavy lifting has already been done.Report

    • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Jaybird
      Ignored
      says:

      Do I read you right in the one part as saying something like:

      The moral action is one that increases moral agency (and choice), and the moral government (i.e. aggregate action) is that which, “…step[s] in only when the decision making of another will be damaged”

      Now would you say that we have an obligation to increase moral agency? Or only an obligation not to allow it to be decreased? Or do neither of those formulations capture the sentiment of your essay?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to E.C. Gach
        Ignored
        says:

        Oh, I don’t think I ever got to government stuff. The limitation to the essay is that it’s stuck on the individual and never even moved up to the aggregate except to complain about the solutions that get provided by aggregate action. (I’d probably say that since the moral wrongs done by groups are socialized that the losses tend to be greater than if there were an individual who was responsible. See, for example: Corporations.)

        Now would you say that we have an obligation to increase moral agency? Or only an obligation not to allow it to be decreased?

        I’d say an obligation to not decrease it.

        “But what if someone else is decreasing it! Don’t we have an obligation to stop them?”

        Hoo boy. I dunno.

        “What about children? They can’t be responsible for themselves yet.”

        Yeah. I know. I don’t know how to deal with that either.Report

        • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Jaybird
          Ignored
          says:

          My quotes part was taken from your essay. You also touched on the prison system, which might address the question of what we do with others who would decrease moral agency.

          And helping the child to develop, that is, helping it to gain/increase it’s moral agency might address how we deal with kids.

          But I think the prison part, and the bit about criminals is a perfect analogy (well obviously not perfect, but helpful).

          The question I’ve been mulling around, and which I posed in a hypothetical if it ever makes it into the guest posts, is what we do with our police.

          I think it translates into the volunteer army question rather well. We have police, who hopefully chose their profession, and are expected to do certain things, even if it means endangering their life. Now we have a standing, presumably volunteer army (though I’m willing to debate that, given the socio-economic make up of it), expected to protect us. In the state, we expect the police to protect “us” and the “other” (I and everyone else in society who is not me). As a nation, we expect the army to protect “us” but NOT “the other.”

          There’s a lot to unpack there. But I think it approximates the bind of international intervention. And I think a lot of it comes down to power and costs. How much power do we have and what are the costs. If we had a guarantee that no one would die (completely false of course) in military intervention in Libya, would we still feel on the fence about it?

          The list in terms of charitable donation seems to go: You should definitely donate some money. It would be good if you donated your time. You’d be a hero if you endangered your own life to help someone else (say, by increasing their moral agency).Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to E.C. Gach
            Ignored
            says:

            My quotes part was taken from your essay.

            Yeah, but the aggregate action part wasn’t in the the quotes part.

            You also touched on the prison system, which might address the question of what we do with others who would decrease moral agency.

            Yeah, to say we ought to abolish it! To say that we needed to abandon this particular aggregate action because it was worse than doing nothing.

            The question I’ve been mulling around, and which I posed in a hypothetical if it ever makes it into the guest posts, is what we do with our police.

            Want my take? Here it is.

            If I do not feel that I would be justified to X, I don’t see how the police could be justified to X. So if I would not be justified to kick down your door and make you stop playing poker, I don’t see how the police can be justified to do that.

            This also works when I swap out “the government” for “the police”. “The army” works too.

            If we had a guarantee that no one would die (completely false of course) in military intervention in Libya, would we still feel on the fence about it?

            What if we knew that it would end up exactly like Iraq? We’d be there for a decade, people would hate us, and we’d lose soldiers to IEDs like clockwork. Would we still be on the fence about it?Report

            • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Jaybird
              Ignored
              says:

              I’m not on the fence about it. I say no to it all. But if the sacrifice were minimal, what would be the reason for not doing it?

              Needless to say the sacrifice will likely be far from little, but the point I’m trying to make is that whether we are morally obligated to do it has something to do with what we would have to sacrifice to do it.

              So for instance, as far police go, I’m not talking about what they have a right to do, as appendages of the state, what I’m getting at is what are they obligated to do. If they see a robbery take place, are they obligated to stop it? If they see a group of men raping a woman, are they obligated to confront them? Maybe wait for backup? What if backup will not be there in time?Report

    • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Jaybird
      Ignored
      says:

      “Assuming I am a moral relativist or anti-realist, what else ought I find completely uninteresting?”

      Do you disagree? If someone said what you are doing is unhealthy, and you said you don’t believe in health, why would you be interested in what health is or how one achieves it?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to E.C. Gach
        Ignored
        says:

        Morality as analogous to health?

        That’s an essay.

        But when I think about “golf”, I am uninterested.

        I suppose a better comparison might be to pre-natal chakra activation. If I were someone who did not believe in chakras, it does not necessarily follow that I would be uninterested in prenatal chakra activation.

        That’s one of those things when one hears about it, one wants to learn more even if one is skeptical (even if one does not believe at all).Report

    • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Jaybird
      Ignored
      says:

      urgh, I didn’t mean to press the submit key.

      As far as the cultural convention, that is an issue. But I think appeals to internal consistency and objective fact (empirical information) can help.

      But in order for those things to help, I think the definition of morality needs to be narrowed. If by morality, someone means, the one and only right action in every instance, I think we’re in for a hopeless task.

      As a communicative utterance, I think morality only works in the social context. Would it make sense to say that in a world of only one life being, problems of morality could arise? It seems to me that in that example, to ask what morality dictates would be to misuse the concept, like asking what color the number 6 is.

      Though I suppose someone could define morality in such a way that it is really dealing with all possible actions devoid of social outcome, as in, it is more moral to eat Captain Crunch than Cheerios (or in your example, to listen to person X rather than not listen to person X).

      But as soon as an action is divorced from social context the morality part seems to drop out. Maybe it is more moral to eat Captain Crunch if the company that makes Cheerios mistreats its workers and exploits local populations. But outside of such concerns it seems to me like conflating the “best” and “right.”

      I think we could probably blame this on Plato/Aristotle for talking of the “good life” as one thing, rather than speaking of the “moral life,” and the “good life.” I could be morally right (or at least C-) in all my interactions with people but still lead an uninteresting AND unhappy AND seemingly meaningless life. It might be a moral one, but I don’t know if any of us would think of it as the good life.

      This gets into other questions about how productive I’m morally obliged to be. But generally, I think simply trying to push morality out of the all inclusive realm, and into just social interaction might offer the best way to deal with the question of what is moral, and would be the most favorable toward bringing in principles of internal coherence and objective empiricism (as oppose to preference and custom).Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to E.C. Gach
        Ignored
        says:

        I don’t know… it seems obvious to me that there are matters of taste and matters of morality and the biggest problems come when one is mistaken for the other. Co-incidentally, it seems like the lion’s share of such mistakes are one way… that is, a matter of taste is mistaken for a matter of morality (though the other way has some doozies!).

        More than that, there are many notable attempts to rectify these matters of morality (we have a responsibility, after all) that have resulted in *HUGE* piles of bodies that are bigger than the ones created by the original problem in the first place. (See, for example, Iraq’s Liberation, the War on Drugs, Applied Communism, and so on.)

        When there are questions or blurry things going on, it seems to me like we’d be better off not barging in and making things better through application of force.

        It doesn’t always end up as nice and clean and neat as the Civil War did.Report

  7. Avatar tom van dyke
    Ignored
    says:

    If I may raise a few points of order:

    —Egypt’s was nonviolent. Libya’s is not.

    —We know nothing about the Libyan rebels, yet we take their side. Qaddafi is a Bad Guy, but there are always worse guys.

    —I liked BlaiseP’s observation that we can tell the Bad Guys from the Good by which direction the refugees head. This tells us what the folks on the ground think, anyway, which is as much as we can hope to know.

    —On the other hand, preferring “the devil you know versus the devil you don’t” doesn’t work in real life if it’s a real devil that you know. You’ll take your chances on the other guy.

    —And let’s note that nobody wants the Palestinians, Good or Bad guys, depending on your POV. Not Israel, not the surrounding Arab countries. The Palestinians are The Worst Guys. They suck.

    —As InstaP put it, this choice for intervention has neo-cons smiling. And I notice the smug “I toldja so” Iraq stuff, but despite this arrogation of history, the ink on Iraq is not yet dry, O Gentlepersons of the League…

    Iraq may still show the way, as was the admittedly cloudy intention at the first. [Surely there is no question which way the refugees went, who the Bad Guy was, eh?]

    Now then, it occurs to me that in Egypt, the two familiar dynamics are authoritarianism and Islam. In Iran’s case, they chose both!

    I think of the French Revolution and Yeltsin’s Russia, which were followed by Napoleon and Putin, since freedom is useless without order.

    It could turn out the the US forces in Iraq have transitioned Iraq from authoritarianism to liberty without the backslide. I repeat: The ink is not yet dry. Democratizing the Muslim World is in its infancy, and I cannot look to Indonesia or Malaysia or Pakistan or even Turkey lately with much confidence.

    As for Libya, I have no idea who the Worst Guys are. Qaddafi is nuts, but the Taliban types are nutser. When Reagan shoved some missiles up his ass, he quieted down. After Saddam’s head wound up separated from his body at the end of a rope, Qaddafi surrendered his Weapons of Mass Mischief.

    That’s a fellow you can do business with.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to tom van dyke
      Ignored
      says:

      —Egypt’s was nonviolent. Libya’s is not.

      False on the first count, misleading on the second. Egypt’s turned violent, though not “tanks and artillery violent,” pretty quickly. Libya’s turned violent when the pro-Qaddafi troops began firing on protesters with anti-aircraft guns, artillery, tanks, planes, and helicopters.Report

      • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to Chris
        Ignored
        says:

        Whatever, Chris. The resistance in Egypt was non-violent. I say white, you say black. To cite Ambassador Sarek, some argue for reasons; others simply argue. You have no point here and missed mine. Egypt never slipped into civil war; Libya has.Report

  8. Avatar Freddie
    Ignored
    says:

    Congratulations: you have written the wrongest thing ever published on the internet.Report

    • Avatar Creon Critic in reply to Freddie
      Ignored
      says:

      The Razzie of all Razzies, that’s a distinction indeed. If you’re going to fail, fail big, as they say. I’m up for the punishment, care to elaborate?Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Freddie
      Ignored
      says:

      And here I was thinking that the personality type description from the “You’re Scary Spice! Rrrrawr!” answer from the “Which Spice Girl Are You?” quiz was never going to be topped.Report

    • Avatar Creon Critic in reply to Freddie
      Ignored
      says:

      Ahem.

      I’d like to thank the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty and their work on the Responsibility to Protect, without which this essay would not be possible. I’d also like to thank Samantha Power whose work on past inadequate American responses to genocide also inspired this essay, most notably her Pulitzer Prize winning A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. Anne-Marie Slaughter also deserves mention, not only for her recent NYT’s op-ed piece on the subject, Fiddling While Libya Burns, but also because of her work with G. John Ikenberry on Forging a World of Liberty Under Law, U.S. National Security In The 21st Century.

      The “spheres of authority” section would not have been possible without the outstanding work of political science theoretician James N. Rosenau, I had the great good fortune to take two classes with him, but more important are two books that disrupt the typical positivist political science understandings, Turbulence in World Politics: A Theory of Change and Continuity and Distant Proximities: Dynamics Beyond Globalization.

      Not figuring directly here, but also influences, Mary Ann Glendon (A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) and Thomas Pogge. Their work on the origins and meanings of the international human rights regime contribute to the conclusions about working to design an international order that more closely reflects the statements of lofty documents in lofty halls. Or as Kofi Annan (speaking on UN reform) said to the General Assembly in 2005,

      This hall has heard enough high-sounding declarations to last us for some decades to come. We all know what the problems are and we all know what we have promised to achieve. What is needed now is not more declarations or promises, but action – action to fulfil the promises already made.

      Report

  9. Avatar Will
    Ignored
    says:

    A great post that I totally missed until now. Serves me right for not reading my own damn blog.Report

  10. Avatar rolanddodds
    Ignored
    says:

    A very fine post Creon Critic. I provide some of the history surrounding the changes in norms leading up to the Solidarist perspective often advanced by interventionists if you have an interest in such things.

    http://www.butiamaliberal.com/2011/03/evolving-norms-in-intervention-and.htmlReport

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