November 18, 2004

Sovereignty and the War on Terror

Marc Comtois
Since Justin hasn't brought this up, I will. Over at his Dust in the Light blog he has made note of the Catholic Church making motions to join the "good" side in the War on Terror. In the post, Justin wrote that the problem the Church may have is in "its view that the authority that such regimes have forfeited can only be arrogated by a superseding bureaucracy specifically, the United Nations." How true. The slow coming-around of the Vatican is due to many factors, one of which is that of clinging to a misconception, or anachronistic definition, of the concept sovereignty.

In general, those in the Vatican, the UN, "Old Europe" and the Democrat Party suffer from applying old concepts to our post-9/11 world. The best and most concise explanation I have seen that describes this mindset was in a Tech Central Station article by Lee Harris in March of 2003. Without getting into the weeds too much, the basic crux of the problem, as framed by Harris, is this
All previous threats in the history of mankind have had one element in common. They were posed by historical groups that had created by their own activity and with their own hands the weapons - both physical and cultural - that they used to threaten their enemies. In each case, the power that the historical group had at its disposal had been "earned" by them the hard way: they had invented and forged their instruments; they had disciplined and trained their own armies; they had created the social and economic structures that allowed the construction of their armies and navies; they had paid their own way.
In the case of much of the Arab world, this has not occurred.
If we look at the source of the Arab wealth we find it is nothing they created for themselves. It has come to them by magic, much like a story of the Arabian nights, and it allows them to live in a feudal fantasyland.
The magic elixir, if you will, is oil. Ironically, the nations in the Middle East have been allowed to thrive because the Western world, the same that they encourage the mullahs and sheiks to demonize, has allowed them to take ownership of the natural resources within their borders, which has enabled them to form sovereign nations. In the past, "Empires" would have never allowed such a situation, they would have simply used armed force, if necessary, to take a coveted natural resource out from under the people who lived in a region. This changed after World War II because of many factors (detailed by Harris).

The result has been that an Arabic/Islamic culture of "fantasists" has arisen in the Middle East led by those who have never had to really risk anything to acquire their great wealth. They simply lucked into it. The countries they rule are not the sort set up under what Harris previously described as "classical" sovereignty but instead exist under a sort of "honorific" sovereignty. According to Harris
A world has been virtually achieved where each nation state is an inviolable entity, its borders protected by an international consensus, and the benefits of such a system are so obvious that there is no need to enumerate them....

If the existence of a nation state is guaranteed by some external authority - whether by the United Nations or the United States - then it means that one of the chief incentives to a realistic policy, both domestic and foreign, has been removed from play.
Because these nations didn't form in the way that most previous nations had formed, they have not adhered to, nor have they been forced to adhere to, the rules of the West, much less cope with other nations in the Western realm of "reality." As such, attempts by European countries, the UN and the Vatican to apply a "Western ruleset" to these nations, or extra-national groups like Al-Queda, are doomed to fail. (For more on this contrast of "rule sets," and a heckuva lot more, see Thomas Barnett's "The Core and The Gap"). Thus, attempts such as that by the Vatican and others to apply classic Just War Theory to the War on Terror are nearly impossible. Seeing this, it seems as if the Vatican is taking its blinders off, or at least peaking from beneath them by justifying preemptive action in the name of humanitarian relief. Unfortunately, the UN, Old Europe, and too many Democrats, are still operating blind in a 9/10 world.