February 25th, 2005

International law, and order?

Belmont Club, by way of The American Future, offers the following Guardian quote. :

The [Iraq] war was a reckless, provocative, dangerous, lawless piece of unilateral arrogance. But it has nevertheless brought forth a desirable outcome which would not have been achieved at all, or so quickly, by the means that the critics advocated, right though they were in most respects.

Poor old Europe–how to reconcile its worship of international law (and its idee fixee that the US flouted it) with the slowly dawning recognition that Iraq may be turning into some sort of success story?

International law is a beautiful idea, but it can work only with the consent of the governed. Ideally, all nations would hold hands and sing “Kumbaya,” and then international law would function seamlessly. Short of that, the “law” has to have the “order” part as well–the teeth, as it were. And that requires force.

Ideally again, that force would be multilateral–even by old Europe’s definition, which means: they would be included in it. But, short of that sort of overwhelming consensus, a consensus unlikely to appear in the real world of real nations (and we’ll leave aside for the moment that the Guardian article conveniently ignores that most of the involved nations were on the take from Saddam, and would never have acted against him)–what to do?

The Guardian, along with much of Europe, doesn’t seem to know what to do with outlaws. Saddam was an outlaw from international law. It’s as though Europe thinks of the world as a sort of tea party, and that anyone knocking on the door and wanting to come in would quite naturally play by tea-party rules: pick up a cuppa, grab a cucumber sandwich, sit down and chat a while.

But it’s no tea party, it’s an armed world of high-stakes power struggles, with vicious and tyrannical killers such as Saddam holding the reins of an entire country and flouting international law. Then the European tea party breaks down, and the lawmen have to be armed. And sometimes outlaws have to be taken out, especially if they are holding an entire nation hostage, and have designs on others.

And if those efforts are successful in freeing the hostages and putting the tyrant behind bars, then one needs to reconsider whether the means used to accomplish that task may not have been right, after all. Acts need to be evaluated by ethical standards that take into account some sort of notion of the real world and how it operates.

Watch “High Noon” sometime. In the end, even Will Kane’s pacifist Quaker bride learns the bitter and terrible lesson that force is sometimes necesssary for the enforcement of the law–and that it can’t always be multilateral, if the townspeople just won’t cooperate.

3 Responses to “International law, and order?”

  1. SteveR Says:

    The Geneva Convention will be a very convenient thing to have if we ever get into a war with Norway.

  2. Sammler Says:

    Good examples. I have added a similar elaboration on the Belmont Club thread here.

  3. ShrinkWrapped Says:

    I first watched High Noon as a teenager and have seen it many times since; it is the perfect movie for our times.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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