Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A Chance for the UN to Show Its Quality

Things are looking pretty bleak in Zimbabwe. In the wake of the March elections in which opposition parties won more votes than the ruling ZANU-PF party, President Robert Mugabe has sunk to new, depraved lows in his efforts to hold on to power. Opposition parties have been arrested and charged with treason, rallies have been attacked, supporters have been killed, and there are accusations that the ZANU-PF has set up "torture camps" to systematically terrorize any who dare oppose it. This week, just days before the run-off election forced on the country by Mugabe, opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai has taken refuge in the Dutch Embassy and, on Sunday, withdrew from the race, claiming he would not subject his supporters to violence and even death when their votes would not matter. The UN has disparaged the election, which ZANU-PF has announced will take place this Friday regardless of Tsvangirai's withdrawal, international accusations of electoral fraud and intimidation, and the mounting violence, saying that they will lack legitimacy.

However, though, ultimately, it doesn't look like there's much hope. As the Washington Post editorialized yesterday, "Only concerted and aggressive intervention by the United Nations and Zimbabwe's neighbors can now prevent this crime, brazenly carried out in front of the world, from going forward" and that doesn't seem likely to happen. As the Post notes: "While the United States and Britain have repeatedly condemned Mr. Mugabe's terror and have tried to inspire action by the UN Security Council or the Southern African Development Community, they have been blocked by Mr. Mugabe's allies -- foremost among them Thabo Mbeki , South Africa's lame-duck president."

This blog has already called for the US and the Europeans to sanction South Africa if it refuses to play a responsible role in forcing Mugabe to accept the results of a free election. But that doesn't seem likely to happen either. The situation calls for stronger measures.

I hereby call upon the UN to expel, or suspend, Zimbabwe from the General Assembly and the community of nations. A state whose leader openly says that he would go to war before accepting defeat at the polls cannot be considered a legitimate state. Zimbabwe's legal international sovereignty should be immediately suspended, and Zimbabwe's membership in every international organization should end. Until Mugabe and the ZANU-PF end the campaign of organized electoral intimidation and publicly pledge to accept the results of the election, until the election can be monitored by independent third-party observers, and until the people of Zimbabwe are given the opportunity to have their voices counted, Zimbabwe does not deserve to be a member of the community of nations.

There is little chance that the UN will take such a principled stance, wedded as it is to sovereign equality. But this is a real opportunity for the UN to move beyond its stultifying addiction to treating every state equally. Until the UN is ready to make judgments about countries, to criticize them for openly subverting the will of their peoples, there is no hope for the people of Zimbabwe, let alone those in Darfur or anywhere else people are tormented by their authoritarian rulers.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Danger of International Law

Recently, I was interviewed by a Danish journalist who is writing an article on the 10th anniversary of the founding of the International Criminal Court. She wanted some opinions that were more skeptical of the prospects of international law, so she turned to me (for an overview of my thoughts on the subject see this post or this one).

Answering her questions got me to thinking about the state of international law, and some of its more problematic aspects. In particular, I find it interesting that the conventional wisdom is that the US is some kind of outlier on international law. There seems to be a sense that the US is stuck in some kind of barbaric, conservative past, while Europe and our other allies move forward into some kind of post-modern, international-law-abiding future. One obvious example of this is in the death penalty, where the US remains one of the only western countries to continue its practice. In fact, the death penalty provides a critical moment in the development of international law domestically. In Roper v Simmons, the Supreme Court considered the question of whether someone under the age of 18 could be executed for a capital crime. In the majority opinion, Justice Kennedy wrote that "our determination that the death penalty is disproportionate punishment for offenders under 18 finds confirmation in the stark reality that the United States is the only country in the world that continues to give official sanction to the juvenile death penalty" and that "the Court has referred to the laws of other countries and to international authorities as instructive for its interpretation of the 8th Amendment's prohibition of 'cruel and unusual punishment'." Kennedy went on to point to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (which the US had not ratified), the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights, and the fact that of the seven other countries that had executed a minor since 1990 (Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and China), each had either abolished the practice or publicly disavowed it. The upshot was international law was used as a mechanism to interpret the meaning of US domestic law.

While I don't disagree with the outcome, the decision is particularly troubling. Justice Scalia's dissent is of particular interest here. He wrote that the United States has a unique approach to many different kinds of law than does the rest of the world, and that the US shouldn't abandon those approaches simply because the rest of the world does things differently. And lest we think that everything the US does differently is of a more conservative bent, Scalia notes that:

a categorical exclusionary rule has been 'universally rejected' by other countries, including those with rules prohibiting illegal searches and police misconduct, despite the fact that none of these countries "appears to have any alternative form of discipline for police that is effective in preventing search violations." England, for example, rarely excludes evidence found during an illegal search or seizure and has only recently begun excluding evidence from illegally obtained confessions. Canada rarely excludes evidence, and will only do so if admission will "bring the administration of justice into disrepute." The European Court of Human Rights has held that the introduction of illegally seized evidence does not violate the "fair trial" requirements in Article 6, Sec. 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights.


And let us not forget the Court's abortion jurisprudence, which makes us one of only six countries that allow abortion on demand until the point of viability. Though the Government and amici in cases following Roe v Wade urged the Court to follow the international community's lead, these arguments fell on deaf ears.
This argument is made even more clear by an article in yesterday's New York Times about a lawsuit in Canada against a magazine that published an article by Mark Steyn claiming that "the rise of Islam threatened Western values (the article can be found here)." While this would undoubtedly be protected speech under the First Amendment here in the US, in Canada the laws are quite different:

Two members of the Canadian Islamic Congress say the magazine, Maclean’s, Canada’s leading newsweekly, violated a provincial hate speech law by stirring up hatred against Muslims. They say the magazine should be forbidden from saying similar things, forced to publish a rebuttal and made to compensate Muslims for injuring their “dignity, feelings and self-respect.” The British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal, which held five days of hearings on those questions here last week, will soon rule on whether Maclean’s violated the law.

As the Times notes, Canada isn't alone in its more restrictive stance towards freedom of speech:

Canada, England, France, Germany, the Netherlands, South Africa, Australia and India all have laws or have signed international conventions banning hate speech. Israel and France forbid the sale of Nazi items like swastikas and flags. It is a crime to deny the Holocaust in Canada, Germany and France.

Earlier this month, the actress Brigitte Bardot, an animal rights activist, was fined $23,000 in France for provoking racial hatred by criticizing a Muslim ceremony involving the slaughter of sheep.

Of course, there are those in America who think that the Europeans have it right:

“It is not clear to me that the Europeans are mistaken,” Jeremy Waldron, a legal philosopher, wrote in The New York Review of Books last month, “when they say that a liberal democracy must take affirmative responsibility for protecting the atmosphere of mutual respect against certain forms of vicious attack.”

Professor Waldron was reviewing “Freedom for the Thought That We Hate: A Biography of the First Amendment” by Anthony Lewis, the former New York Times columnist. Mr. Lewis has been critical of efforts to use the law to limit hate speech.

But even Mr. Lewis, a liberal, wrote in his book that he was inclined to relax some of the most stringent First Amendment protections “in an age when words have inspired acts of mass murder and terrorism.” In particular, he called for a re-examination of the Supreme Court’s insistence that there is only one justification for making incitement a criminal offense: the likelihood of imminent violence.

The imminence requirement sets a high hurdle. Mere advocacy of violence, terrorism or the overthrow of the government is not enough; the words must be meant to and be likely to produce violence or lawlessness right away. A fiery speech urging an angry mob to immediately assault a black man in its midst probably qualifies as incitement under the First Amendment. A magazine article — or any publication — intended to stir up racial hatred surely does not.

Mr. Lewis wrote that there was “genuinely dangerous” speech that did not meet the imminence requirement.

“I think we should be able to punish speech that urges terrorist violence to an audience, some of whose members are ready to act on the urging,” Mr. Lewis wrote. “That is imminence enough.”

This kind of thinking should be seen as the dangerous twaddle that it is. First, if we begin to relax the imminence requirement, how would we do that? Short of a direct incitement to immediate violence, what other kind of standard could we set? And who would judge? It's hard to imagine giving that kind of power to the government, as it would then be in charge of determining which of its critics falls afoul of the law. One only need look at the history of the Alien and Sedition Act, not to mention the modern fears over executive power in the hands of Bush, to see where this all leads.

But back to the point. Law is not good simply because it is law, nor is international law good simply because it is international law. Law is good when it reflects the interests and norms of its community. Just because the international community does one thing does not mean the United States should as well. And we certainly shouldn't fall into the trap of believing that international law is always advancing liberal or progressive values. There are many issues on which the US is still the vanguard of freedom. And our laws should continue to do that, no matter whither the rest of the world.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Not-So-Wise Wisdom of Peanuts

I often tell my students that political science can be a dismally pessimistic field of study...war, poverty, injustice, genocide are but a few of the topics we consider.

And as today's Peanuts strip demonstrates, sometimes political science even makes it impossible for us to enjoy a simple comic strip. For as we all know, human nature has little to do in explaining international conflict. Poor old Charlie Brown.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Realism Kicks In

[First, let me apologize for the absence of posts lately. I am currently working on a book project, and I've been writing like a fiend lately. The book is entitled Restoring the Balance: War Powers in an Age of Terror, and is under contract with Praeger Press. The book presents the argument about presidential war powers that I have made multiple times on this blog: Namely, that the declare war power of Congress is not about the power to send troops into battle, but rather about control of legislative powers).

Now that Barack Obama has clinched the Democratic Party nomination to run for president of the United States, it may come as a surprise to some that he already seems to be moving away from some of his foreign policy statements made during the campaign. Following the hubbub over Obama's statement that he would negotiate with Iran without preconditions comes this report that he has "no interest in sitting down with our adversaries just for the sake of talking." Obama went on to say that while he "would be willing to lead tough and principled diplomacy with the appropriate Iranian leader at a time and place of my choosing if and only if it can advance the interests of the United States," he deemed the danger posed by Iran as "grave" and that he will do "everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon -- everything."

But this tough talk shouldn't be surprising for two reasons. First, Obama's foreign policy statements don't necessarily match up with the liberal image he has a domestic lawmaker. His essay in Foreign Affairs had very much a neo-con ring to it, as he wrote of expanding the military and "using military force in circumstances beyond self-defense in order to provide for the common security that underpins global stability -- to support friends, participate in stability and reconstruction operations, or confront mass atrocities."

The second reason we shouldn't be surprised is that, as realism predicts, domestic politics is a poor driver of international politics. Presidents tend to behave in international politics as presidents, not as Republicans or Democrats. While one's political affiliation has some impact on how national interest is perceived, international politics is a very macro level phenomenon that forces states to behave in certain ways. Thus, looking at their foreign policies, many of the most interventionist presidents during the Cold War were Democrats.

What this means is the job of being president is very different than the job of running for president, and if Obama wins, he will realize that many of the campaign promises he made are very unwise. As I have predicted in my classes, for example, it is hard to imagine that Obama will, as he has promised, "remove one to two combat brigades each month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months." Doing so would not only undermine all of the recent progress that has been made in Iraq, but could also lead to genocidal bloodbath. Indeed, Obama seems much more realistic in Foreign Affairs where he writes that the withdrawal of US combat troops "could be temporarily suspended if the Iraqi government meets the security, political, and economic benchmarks to which it has committed." It is also difficult to imagine him reopening NAFTA, as he has pledged to do. Doing so would undermine the credibility of every international agreement that US has created and will seek to forge in the future. The damage it would do to US interests is inconceivable.

As a theory of international politics, realism has its many, many flaws. But one thing it does get right is that the person running a country matters less than the country itself. The US will behave as a state in its position should and does behave. And it won't matter if the president is Obama or McCain.