Sunday, December 05, 2010

Comment on Telegraph Blogs, Daniel Hannan:
Blogging from the second worst place in the world

Blogging from the second worst place in the world – Telegraph Blogs

The first thing that comes to mind to me is that we need to return to a very 19th century idea of levels of sovereignty. Begin with the attributes of sovereignty. These include;
1. defined borders and the means to control them,
2. a monopoly on the judicial use of violence by the State,
3. the ability to control the conduct of persons and property,
4. the ability to collect taxes,
5. the capacity to defend itself by resort to arms,
6. The capacity to enter into binding agreements.

In addition to the above traditional criteria we also have to consider more recent standards of evaluating a nations role in international decision making based upon their record on Human Rights. Some countries espouse high ideals but lack the ability to enforce the rule of law. Others can bring an abundance of coercive power to bare but offend the values of decent civilization. A hundred or more years ago what we call minimal standards of Human Rights was called by diplomats Christian civilization. While it may have often been honored in the breach the ideals of conduct were recognized. We still struggle with how to express a standard that can be universally recognized and not exploited by the most cynical and oppressive.

Now I will pass over how the United States fails to satisfy the first condition. Indeed it is possible after the Wikileaks scandal that the US may not meet the last condition either. We can also discuss at some other time whether the UK and other members of the EU are no longer sovereign and if they qualify for accrediting diplomatic personnel in their own names and claiming the privileges of the Vienna Convention for their Embassies and Staff.

Let me stipulate that there is a class of nations that have the ability, even if they choose not to fully demonstrate it under current political and social arrangements, to function as fully independent and sovereign nations in the traditional sense. The UN was itself founded on the presumption that members of the Security Council could function that way. Further the UN's Charter provisions for securing and enforcing the peace, in chapters IV and V, depend on all members having the ability to both defend themselves, under article 51, and enter into agreements to assist the UNSC in projecting power. These are attribute 5 and 6 functions.

The reality is that while some countries are fully sovereign and act so others are not. Israel may meet that standard and for our purposes I would say that the US, Australia, New Zealand, India, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Russia and China do too. The last two have some internal cohesion and rule of law problems and the three before them in that list have some residual legal constraints but they can function as they choose and their domestic institutions are not subject to external control.

The major nations of the EU are largely capable of acting as sovereigns if they so choose but have placed their domestic institutions voluntarily under the supervision of an apparatus, the European regulatory and judicial review system, that is external to and not meaningfully subject to any domestic source of sovereignty. In this discussion I am not considering the impact of the current financial crisis on the status of the nations of Europe. It is not that I deny the real impact of these events but I see them as more a result of the self imposed restraints I referred to than a real diminution of the parties capacity to act as independent nations if they so choose. At this time I would place Canada in this second category of a country that has been and could be fully free but currently subjects itself to artificial restraint. It is debatable as to whether Greece meets that standard but for the 20 or more nations of Northern and Central Europe my perspective seems fair.

This leaves over 150 more places that currently claim to be sovereign countries with all the same rights and privileges as were exercised by all but the Big Five when the UN was established. Most of these countries, except for those in Latin America, were under some form of colonial administration 60 years ago. After half a century of nominal Independence and theoretical equality with everyone else in the UN General Assembly how are they doing? Indisputably most of them are less capable of exhibiting the attributes of sovereignty today than they did when the European administrators and military bands departed two to three generations ago.

What is to be done? My suggestion is that we acknowledge that a seat at the head of the table must be earned based on meeting objective criteria. For those who do not fully qualify we should define broad categories. A few may need to be quarantined and honestly treated as not being "Peace loving nations" fit to be in the UN. Many nations may be able to function under their own institutions without having demonstrated the level of achievement or the capacity for effective action, needed to serve as a full member of the international community. Others frankly need to be reorganized and placed under close supervision. Finally some simply need to be dissolved and given to a willing country able to operate it properly.

What should be done with the Congo? As Mr Hannan implies its amalgamation into a single vast polity was an irrational historical accident. The West opposed the secession of the most viable section, Katanga 50 years ago for two reasons. First because it was backed by both the Soviets and some shady business interests. Second because it would have set a precedent for dissolving more of the post colonial arbitrary borders. Those conditions no longer apply and the cost of propping up the failed nations and their fraudulent borders has proven excessive. Divide the Congo into 5 units and lace each under a Trusteeship. Perhaps the Belgians can have another go at it. The certainly have gotten more experience through the EU in producing administrators willing to tell everyone else what to do.

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