With the international intervention in Libya, there has been a renewed debate over what constitutes a necessary and moral intervention into a state’s affairs within the chattering political classes and individuals interested in this concept of international society and the moral complications related to state sovereignty. What is often missing from the debates surrounding foreign interference is a discussion on the way the conception of international responsibility has evolved since WWII from a pluralist conception of state citizenship to a solidarist one generally advanced by human rights proponents. The following is a chapter from a working paper I wrote a year ago providing a brief history of this change in norms related to foreign involvement in a local’s affairs. Since the focus of the paper was on UN and US state-building in the last decade, the chapter needs some additional content related to the way colonialism and anti-imperialist criticisms of solidarist arguments relate to sovereignty. Additionally, the portions related to the US 2002 National Security Strategy fail to address the lingering realist and national-interest model embedded in American foreign policy and paint an overly optimistic outlook on US strategy, so take it as you will.
Before these state-building cases can be examined, a brief history of the normative changes surrounding international society, sovereignty, and state-building is essential in comprehending the normative dimension of these projects. An international society exists “when a group of states, conscious of certain common interests and common values, form a society in the sense that they conceive themselves to be bound by a common set of rules in their relations with one another” (Bull, 1977, p.13). Within this conception of international society, there are two divergent standards. Firstly, the Pluralist tradition allows for various classifications of “good” governance and modes of social operation (Wheeler, 2000, p.27). In principle, the international society should be governed by a respect for state sovereignty (Clark, 2007, p.153). Secondly, solidarists argue that individuals are the beneficiaries of rights, not states (Wheeler, 2000, p.11). States in this international society have a “moral responsibility to protect their citizens,” and a state may lose the right to govern in this society if it infringes on the rights of its citizens, resulting in the “use of force to stop the oppression” (Wheeler, 2000, p.12-13). Intervention on behalf of an endangered people is thus a “moral duty” of members of the international society (Wheeler, 2000, p.13). These competing conceptions of society are at the heart of the debate surrounding international society and state-building.
Following the Rwandan genocide and the war in Bosnia, then UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali released a supplement to his paper titled “Agenda for Peace.” The supplement recognized that a new breed of interstate conflicts had arisen, as these conflicts were “accompanied by the collapse of state institutions, especially the police and judiciary,” requiring international intervention to expand beyond traditional military and humanitarian tasks to include the “promotion of national reconciliation and the re-establishment of effective government” (Chesterman, 2007, p.5; UN, 1995, p.5). In light of this, the Secretary-General continued to maintain that the UN should approach nation building projects that impose state institutions on foreign peoples with caution (UN, 1995, p.13-14). Despite Boutros-Ghali’s warning, the UN engaged in a slew of state-building exercises in subsequent years, taking significant control over the construction of institutions in the host state, culminating in the UN missions in Kosovo and East Timor, where the transitional administrations where given effective sovereignty (Chesterman, 2007, p.5).
The prevailing thoughts on sovereignty following the end of European colonialism were that equality between states and people in the international system was necessary in order to bring about a more just international system than preceding one. The equality established in this new system demanded “that persons be treated equally insofar as they [were] regarded as equals” (Bain, 2003, p.61), and this understanding of impartiality provided the norms and general framework for the relations between states in the post-colonial era. This conception of liberty entails the right of an entity to be treated as an equal by others, regardless of their capacity. Stuart Mill’s position that an individual “cannot rightfully be compelled” to act in a certain manner, even if it is supposed to make them happier and more secure, was the outlook employed on the international level, granting all states the right to govern their societies as they saw fit (Mill, 1859, p.13).
This was a major shift in norms away from the previous colonial era. Colonialism was not simply a push for resources; it was conceived as “a divine plan for the salvation of the pagans, as a secular mandate to ‘civilize’ the ‘barbarians’ or ‘savages,’ as a ‘white man’s burden’ that he is privileged to carry” (Osterhammel, 1995, p.16). These influential states believed that they were responsible for civilizing “less advanced” people and were moreover “convinced of their own superiority and their ordained mandate to rule” (Osterhammel, 1995, p.17). This perceived superiority of advanced Western states was not regulated to proponents of overt colonial endeavours. Karl Marx argued that Great Britain had a responsibility to its Indian subjects to bestow upon them the foundations of Western society while annihilating “old Asiatic society” (Marx, 1853, p.132). P.H. Kerr held that superior civilizations had a duty to administer those who did not possess the personal ability to govern themselves effectively “until they are able to take their place alongside more advanced peoples” (Kerr, 1916, p.149; Bain, 2003, p.61). While Marx, Kerr, and the colonizers before them were informed by separate ideologies and political objectives, they shared a common conception of an international society: advanced nations had a duty to civilize and modernize “less advanced” civilizations.
It was not until the post-colonial era that the principles of unconditional equality extended to all people and states. The era was articulated in the United Nations Assembly Resolutions 421 (V) and 545 (VI), affirming the importance of self determination for all people and nations, bestowing upon them the right to “freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social, and cultural development” (UN General Assembly, 1950). Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples (Resolution 1514 (XV) further illustrates the governing principles that would direct international society through the pos-colonial years. This declaration stated that the “denial of independence precluded the full enjoyment of fundamental human rights and that colonialism itself, no matter how Enlightened” (Bain, 2003, p.66). An international hierarchy based on a state’s level of development was no longer applicable to the relations between states, and thus trusteeship was no longer considered a viable policy alternative. As Kwame Nkrumah argued, trusteeship was nothing more than a policy of “deception, hypocrisy, oppression, and exploitation” with a more acceptable moniker (Nkrumah, 1962, p.35). Since this society stressed coexistence as its governing principle, this period can accurately be described as Pluralist (Buzan, 2004, p.142).
With the end of the Cold War, rhetoric and norms concerning governance began to visibly change. At the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) in 1990, a host of states passed the ‘Charter of Paris on Europe,’ which unequivocally affirmed that democracy was the only form of acceptable government in modern society (CSCE, 1990, p.3). State failure in Somalia and genocide in Rwanda demonstrated a significant quandary with an international system that bestowed the same rights on all states, and an “alternative ethics to independence” began to develop (Bain, 2003, p.68). Kofi Annan, then Secretary-General of the UN, attempted to reinterpret and challenge non-interference in a sovereign state’s affairs as a guiding principle of the UN. He wrote, “The Charter protects the sovereignty of peoples. It was never meant as a licence for governments to trample on human rights and human dignity. Sovereignty implies responsibility, not just power” (Annan, 1999, p.3). While the UN Charter defended the right of states to govern without fear of foreign intervention into their domestic politics, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights bestowed upon each individual the right to liberty and freedom, and the freedom from slavery and the right to “an effective remedy” to a violation of said individual’s fundamental rights (UN UDHR, 1948, Art.3,8). Even though the UN was not given explicit provisions to enforce these rights (Bull, 1977, p.83-84), scholars like Hersch Lauterpacht alleged that the inclusion of individual rights into an international governing body was a major step in the solidarist’s direction, with the potential for the enforcement of these norms possible through extended interpretation (Lauterpacht, 1975, p.166-167). Martin Wright would later argue that it was individual men, not states, that were members of the international society, justifying intervention into the affairs of others as a “duty of fellow-feeling and cooperation” (Wright, 1991, p.215,116). While many scholars and statesmen continued to adhere to the pluralist conception of international society, there was a significant shift towards solidarist norms. Morton Halperin stated that constitutional, democratic government upholding the basic standards of human rights had become the norm that now governed the society of states (Halperin, 1993, p.105). As these new norms took root, they established new ways in which states could intervene into foreign state affairs “to modify the content of other norms” (Flynn and Farrell, 1999, p.523).
In President George W. Bush’s 2002 National Security Strategy, it unequivocally asserted that “freedom is the non-negotiable demand of human dignity” (NSS, 2002, p.vi) and that the United States must use its power to advance a global policy that “favours freedom” (Ibif, p.25). The document exemplified a move in American foreign policy towards conditional relations between states, arguing that “accountability must be expected and required” (Ibid, p.vi). These arguments, coming both from academics, theorists, and policymakers, reflect a change in U.S. perceptions towards an outlook closer to Solidarism than Pluralism (Press-Barnathan, 2004, p.208). By placing an emphasis on the rights of individuals over states, it allows the U.S. to “exercise power in such a way that it remedies the imperfect moral and material state in which a portion of the human family subsists” (Bain, 2003, p.65). Interference with a state’s domestic affairs was thus justified on the grounds that it will improve the lives of citizens in the troubled state while furthering U.S. interests in maintaining international stability (Dworkin, 1971, p.108; Krauthammer, 2004, p.15).
The UN carried out two of the most ambitious state-building projects in 1999, first in Kosovo (UNMIK) and then in East Timor (UNTAET), with both projects appearing to signal the “demise of the ethics of post-colonial international society and along with it the principle of universal equality” (Bain, 2003, p.69) These nation-building projects, often described as neo-trusteeships, placed a large degree of authority in the hands of UN officials, providing them with a mandate to implement the mission’s agenda that far exceeded previous UN state-building missions after the Cold War (Caplan, 2005, p.19). In both cases, the UN created transitional authorities that were autonomous from local control, granting itself the “powers of the state on a temporary basis” (Chesterman, 2004, pg. 5). Conditional support and recognition made their way into formal policies on aid and reconstruction efforts as well. In recent years, the international development community began to see aid as a tool to transforming conflict dynamics by withholding support and resources until improved governance was demonstrated by the recipient (UNDG, 2004, p.16). The establishment of “good government” in the state-building process became the norm (Grindle, 2002, p.28).
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