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Wednesday, April 16, 2003

How did we get stuck with this job?

Although it seems the big question these days is what we are going to do in post-war Iraq, I instead find myself increasingly concerned with how we got saddled with the responsibility of being the police force for the entire world. Its a thankless job, and I'm starting to think its not in our best interest.

That said, I do think the world needs some sort of policing agency, and we should be a large part of it...its clearly in our national interest to enforce the rule of law. However, general experience tells me that, even in the United States, the police themselves need policing. Its the nature of that sort of power. And for the simple reason that absolute power corrupts absolutely, I don't think we should be the sole police force for the world. Even on our best behavior, the fact that we could engage in shenanigans and get away with it (or that we have in the past) is bound to sour our foreign relations. In America, we recognize that checks and balances are necessary for democracy, justice, and freedom. Its not difficult to see that this also applies to international law.

I must confess that I have been functioning for quite a few years under the blissfully ignorant assumption that the United Nations had this all under control. Wasn't policing supposed to be part of their job? Much to my surprise, when I took a quick look at the UN charter, it became immediately obvious why the UN cannot possibly be a police force. Mediators, advisors, coercers: yes. Enforcers: no.

Purpose #1, Article.

To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace;.

And, Principle #3, Article 2.

All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.

The entire focus of the UN charter is to maintain the peace at ANY cost. So, in the most legalistic sense then, it seems that France and Germany were right: war is indeed a breach of the peace, and is thus verboten. However, common sense tells us that force, and not mere pressure, is sometimes necessary to deal with nasty happenings like carjackings, rapes, muggings, and murders at home, and is necessary to deal with base criminality on an international level as well.

My point here is not "sometimes ya just gotta fight". My point is that without the scaffold of a constitution, a system of checks and balances, and the separation of judge, jury, and executioner, we will be continually forced to conflate the application of global justice with that of our national interests, and we will become more corrupt in the process.

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