Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Follow up on Nation-State Paradigm

Here is a response to the Nation-State paradigm article that I want to highlight.

Grandma wrote in to say that this is a dangerous course of action because we have no business intervening in other people's business. It is a common sentiment, and I feel the need to address this sentiment here. I wrote:


It is true that, in practice, the US had done quite a bit of "bottom-up" intervention in the past century. However, you will notice that I mentioned "the CIA shenanigans" in my discussion.

There are two components to your arguments, which I will address separately:

1. "Who are we to intervene in other people's affairs"
That is an artifact of the Nation-State, Westphalian paradigm I discussed. I agree that we should not intervene in Sovereign States' internal affairs. For example, Spain effectively exercises its sovereignty over the Basque County, so the Basque question is a purely internal Spanish question and none of our business.

However, what about Somalia? Should we respect the "Ambassador" sent by the non-functioning Somalian Transitional Federal Government? Or should we accord more respect to the ambassador from Somaliland, which is actually a functioning government? If we start talking to Somaliland directly, wouldn't that disrespect the TFG? Does the TFG matter?

You can see where I'm going with this. Our respect for the international legal regime (aka UN) (which is based on the nation-state paradigm) is preventing us from recognizing reality. The reality is, Somalia does not exist. Rather, we have a bunch of principalities and fiefdoms, whose borders shift everyday. They sometimes band together in the TFG, but othertimes go to war. However, we have no legal way to deal with/engage these somewhat sovereign entities, because we have to honor our laws on nation-states.

So that is what I am saying here. If we stop looking through the Nation-State glasses like we are, and step back, we can see that Somalia is really not a disaster like the news make it out to be. Rather, there's only parts of it that's bad, where people are suffering. The other parts have law and order, but we can't give them foreign aid because we have to funnel the money through the TFG.

2. "Pawns of an Evil Empire"
Yes, CIA shenanigans, banana republics. The fact is, we have done a lot less of it for the past 40 years. Transparency is good. Conspiracy is bad.

Generally, the State Dept has not been involved in these shenanigans. However, DoS's embrace of the legalistic paradigm of international relations is preventing it from seeing the world as it really is. Theory is good only as far as it helps us understand reality, and in the post-Cold War world, the Nation-State theory is rapidly losing coherence with reality.

Just to give an example: the Montagnard people of south east Asia. They have generally been prosecuted by the plains people. In the Vietnam War, we allied ourselves with them. Yet when we withdrew from Vietnam, we cut them loose and left them on their own to the slaughter and cleansing. Was that morally right? Could we have carved out a small sanctuary in Vietnam for our allies there? To minimize bloodshed, nation-states be damned?

Part of this post is: How can we do the right thing, the moral thing, when international law on state sovereignty is keeping us from our morality [moral compass]. That is something we can probably agree on.

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