Sunday 29 September 2013

International Law of the Jungle (Episode 2)

My previous post on this subject ended with the conclusion that there is no “international law”; that there can’t be, because there is no legitimate international legislator, no legitimate international tribunal and no legitimate international enforcer; that politicians cynically exploit our naivety and respect for the concept of law and refer to "international law" in order to “sell” us positions and actions having nothing to do with justice and everything to do with interest.

I also implied, at the time, that we – those nations fortunate enough to have achieved freedom and democracy – shouldn't accept this situation as immutable; that, “something can be done about it” – and that something need not involve military operations.

So let us now see what that “something” might be.  But first, let us examine what has been tried already – and why it failed. I would suggest that everything that has been tried so far falls under one of two categories. First, there is the “participative approach” – this is what is being tried at the “United” Nations and other such fora.  This approach attempts to legislate, interpret/apply the law and enforce it in a “consensual” way – with every nation contributing in a sort of “bottom up” approach.  It sounds great, but it is deeply flawed, because most nations are not free and they do not have the opportunity to democratically express their collective will.  In practice, this approach gives dictators with horrible track records of immoral (if not outright criminal) behaviour considerable (and often decisive) say in establishing, applying and enforcing the law.  It elevates criminals to the position of legislators, judges and enforcers.  It also means that any “law” thus promulgated represents, by virtue of necessity, “the lowest common denominator”, in order to make it acceptable to those regimes for which freedom and democracy are but empty slogans.

The second approach may be called “coercive” or “top down”; it involves a state or group of states which takes upon itself to interpret and enforce the law (if not legislate, as well).  Think about the First Gulf War, the intervention in Libya or the almost-intervention in Syria, etc.  This approach has deficiencies that are too obvious to merit discussion. Is there a third way of managing such situation, other than “bottom up” or “top down”?  I believe there is: it is sometimes referred to, in management theory, as “leadership by example”.

As mentioned, a group of nations has already achieved freedom; they live in a system of government best described as “liberal democracy”.  (I object to the term “Western democracy”; its principles may have developed first in the West, but the system is just as suitable to such “un-Western” countries like Japan and South Korea).  Liberal democracy isn’t perfect, of course – what is?  But, contrary to some self-proclaimed “progressives”, I believe it is more important to expand it than to forever bash it for its real or imaginary warts.

So why don’t those nations get together (say in a League of Democratic Nations) and legislate first among themselves?  Let each democratic nation elect its representatives to an international legislative assembly and send them there to formulate laws governing relationships among their nations.  Such statutes (and the systems required to apply them) may not be enforceable at first outside the League.  But they would be endowed with moral standing and the legitimacy that only representative democracy can confer.  They would soon stand out there – as an example to be followed.

This may not solve all international problems by tomorrow morning; but it would start a process; it would create the necessary dynamic; it would sooner-or-later make an impact. It would eventually get us out of the Jungle.

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