If you count a tail as a leg, how many legs does a dog have? Four. No matter what you call it a tail is not a leg.
Attributed to Abraham Lincoln
I have a few quibbles with blog-father Joe Katzman’s post this morning at Winds of Change, “Covert Ops and Assassinations: Why It’s the Future and What It Takes”. The first and most important quibble has to do with the value of and future prospects for the Westphalian system. Following the legal scholar Grotius, the principles of international relations upon which the system for which the term “Westphalian system” is a shorthand is based are the sovereignty of the state, the sovereign equality of states, the right of non-interference in the domestic affairs of sovereign states, the obligation to abide by international agreements. a predisposition to the peaceable settlement of disagreements between states, and the obligation to cooperate with other states (consistent with national interests).
Contra Joe, I believe that the system continues to have substantial utility and is likely to endure for the foreseeable future.
I believe that we have made a number of errors over the period of the last sixty or so years that have worked to undermine this system which has functioned as well as might be expected over a period of roughly 400 years. The first such error has to do with the United Nations. As constituted the United Nations has admitted a large number of non-states as members and accorded to those non-states the rights of states.
The original Peace of Westphalia included a number of city-states so a state consisting solely of a city and its exurbs is no impediment to consideration as a state. But the requirement for that consideration is that any state must have the culture, means, and inclination to maintain its monopoly on the use of force.
There are any number of Latin American, African, and Asian countries which don’t meet that requirement and some which don’t even try. They shouldn’t be considered to be states period.
Families are not states; tribes are not states; NGO’s and corporations are not states. No matter what you call it a tail is not a leg.
What’s missing is the will to notice that and unless that will is summoned very soon Joe is 100% correct: the Westphalian system will collapse.
I mark the second major error as the failure of the rest of the world to come to the support of the United States when our diplomats were held hostage in Iran in 1979. This was a violation of the fundamental inviolability of diplomats and the entire diplomatic regime is incapable of tolerating that violation. That failure painted a very clear picture: it’s acceptable to the rest of the world for the United States not to receive the benefit of the status of a sovereign state. There is an unfortunate concommitant to that view: the United States need not restrain itself to the limitations of a state.
There have been any number of mistakes since then and in my view these mistakes in aggregate have undermined the system. I believe that the system is salvageable and that it would be useful to do so. But, as I noted, that will take a certain amount of spine and I question whether we or the world have it.
The other quibble I have is that even if the best and most straightforward solutions to our problems are via covert operations and assassinations I believe that it’s going to become decreasingly possible for us to engage in such activities. The trend in our society has been towards greater and greater openness. Paradoxically, that’s why privacy has been such a concern in the law over the forty years or so—it’s closing the barn door after the horse is already out. We have very little privacy.
That extends to governments as well and I believe that trend will increase. Consider the insurgency being waged against the White House by (apparently) elements within the Departments of Justice and State. I don’t see any way that the secrecy required to mount such operations can be maintained concurrently with such insurgencies within departments essential to carrying them out.
The only way I can imagine that happening is if we become a one-party system and, if that happens, our society as it has been will have already collapsed.
At any rate, read Joe’s article, think very closely about the issues he raises, and make up your own mind.