|Man Without Qualities|
Wednesday, July 10, 2002
Matt Yglesias posts some well considered thoughts on international law and the illegitimacy of non-democratic governments (although at least one of his commenters may want to consider reading beyond Hobbes and Locke, maybe starting with the self evident truths of the Declaration of Independence).
I agree with Matt that merely because a government is not legitimate does not mean one should have no dealings with it, or refuse to join organizations of which it is a member, or gratuitously alienate it.
What a lack of legitimacy does do, among other things, is deprive an illegitimate government of the benefits of certain arguments and legal principles. For example, the rights of a legitimate government to defend itself, its territory and its interests are well established - although not absolute. One hears a false version of these principles from the UN and its apologists in the form of: "Every nation has the right to defend itself." No. Every democratic nation has a right to defend itself and be free of unwarranted outside force on the basis of its own legitimacy.
Practically, this means, for example, that the government of Israel has a clear right to defend itself and Israel generally, and, correspondingly, to be free of outside applications of force. The same cannot be said of Iraq or other non-democratic states, including most of the membership of the United Nations. This asymmetry is not recognized at the United Nations, which is wrong but inevitable.
It does not follow from the mere illegitimacy of a government that it is an "outlaw" in the sense that another country is automatically free to invade and destroy an illegitimate government. There may be other reasons why an invasion is improper: unacceptable loss of life and destruction of property, for example. But if those considerations can be balanced by, for example, the prospect that the illegitimate government may be engaged in terrorist or other activities that might themselves result in loss of life or property, then the right of such a nation to be free of foreign assault should pose no barrier to an attack. With respect to some non-democratic countries - such as most Arab countries, some African countries and Haiti - a foreign invasion might take a toll even less severe than the cumulative daily toll taken on the local populace by the sitting illegitimate government. In such cases, the right of any foreign power to destroy such governments may essentially be within the discretion of the prospective invader. With respect to a democratic state, the calculus becomes vastly more difficult and complex. It's not surprising that the United Nations doesn't cotton much to such principles.
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