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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Fantasy Foreign Policy

Some people think my ideas about foreign policy are too hawkish, so I thought I should explain myself.  This little essay is not about every aspect of foreign policy, it's just about the question of intervention in small dysfunctional nations, or nations with oppressive regimes.  Current examples would be Libya, Somalia, Zimbabwe, Syria, Burma, Uganda and many others around the world.

I would like to see regime change in those countries, but I realize that this is very difficult to accomplish successfully, and at reasonable cost in blood and treasure. What I would like to see is a general policy adopted by the U.N. or NATO or some association of modern and democratic countries.  Following are the general outlines of such a policy, as I envision it:

First, I don't want to see the U.S. attempt to do this on it's own. I want to see a genuine coalition of several nations, with no one of them shouldering more than about 40% of the burden.

Secondly, the choice of the nation targeted for regime change should be considered and debated very carefully, based on various criteria, including:

a) How difficult will it be?  We want to start with the easiest projects.
b) How serious is the situation?  We want to intervene only in the most serious situations, where many people are suffering, or the international community is being harmed.
c) Are we already busy with such a project?  I think these projects should be handled serially rather than two or more at a time. Exceptions could be made for emergency cases.
d) Do we have a feasible plan for nation building after the present regime is overthrown?  As part of this, I would like to see an international team of appropriate experts draft a model constitution which could be used as a starting point.
e) The nations which agree to this intervention must negotiate a treaty among themselves spelling out what each of them will do, and what happens if they don't.
f) The regime to be overthrown must be given a reasonable, but not lengthy, period of time to step down voluntarily.

The policy that I advocate would have a long term goal of reducing the number of despotic regimes, one at a time.  The same policy would apply to countries, such as Somalia, which currently have no effective government.

Some will say “Why should I care what happens over there?”  One thing I can say to them is that it bothers me to hear about people suffering, either suffering from extreme poverty, lack of freedom or cruel treatment.  Human society has improved quite a bit since the time of the Roman empire, although this is not true everywhere.  A typical citizen of Zimbabwe, for example, may have a worse life than a typical citizen of the Roman empire.  Furthermore, they have little hope of improvement as long as their present dictator is in power, and he is determined to hold onto power for the rest of his life.  He is old, but he is likely to be replaced by a person or group that will continue the same totalitarian policies.  The only hope for improvement in the lives of those people is a forcible intervention by an outside power.  There are several dozen nations around the world for which this statement is true.

In addition to oppressing and/or impoverishing their people, these nations often harm the international community.  In the case of Somalia, for example, serious international piracy is able to flourish by having safe bases there.  In other cases, rogue nations sometimes either support or engage in international terrorism.  The Lockerbie airliner bombing is one example of that.