Changing definitions of ‘sovereignty’ help legitimize America’s Undeclared Wars

An article about the changing definition of sovereignty from a ‘right’ to a ‘responsibility’ based on a social contract, and the consequent use of ‘interventation’ when nation states no longer serve and protect the people. From Robin Phillips, Spokane Libertarian Examiner.

According to the War Powers Resolutionof 1973, all military actions must be authorized by congress. While the Resolution allows the President to initiate military action, such activity must be terminated in 60 days if it has not achieved congressional approval, or if the president has not been granted a 30-day extension by congress.

The 60-day limit for the war with Libyaexpired on May 20, and yet the bombing continued. When House Speaker, John A. Boehner, demanded that Mr Obama explain his legal justification for exceeding the deadline, the White House published a 38-page report claiming “US military operations are distinct from the kind of ‘hostilities’ contemplated by the resolution’s 60-day termination provision.” It also said, “U.S. operations do not involve sustained fighting or active exchanges of fire with hostile forces, nor do they involve U.S. ground troops.”

In other words, because the war was being conducted by remotely activated lethal drone plains rather than real people, it fell outside the definition of ‘hostilities’ and therefore did not need congressional approval. As Harold Koh, Legal Adviser of the State Department, said:

“We are acting lawfully…We are not saying the War Powers Resolution is unconstitutional or should be scrapped or that we can refuse to consult Congress. We are saying the limited nature of this particular mission is not the kind of ‘hostilities’ envisioned by the War Powers Resolution.”

What this essentially means is that because the war was being conducted by remote control bombs, it wasn’t really a war, and therefore it remained immune to the checks and balances of American law. The implications of this were not overlooked by the New York Times which reported the concerns raised by Jack L. Goldsmith, who led the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel during the Bush administration. Goldsmith, the NYT reported, “said the Obama theory would set a precedent expanding future presidents’ unauthorized war-making powers, especially given the rise of remote-controlled combat technology. ‘The administration’s theory implies that the president can wage war with drones and all manner of offshore missiles without having to bother with the War Powers Resolution’s time limits,’ Mr. Goldsmith said.”

If remote control drones provides the legal apparatus for the White House to wage any number of wars independent of congressional approval, it is the doctrine of “Responsibility to Protect” that gives such wars their ideological legitimacy.

“the people’s sovereignty”

“Responsibility to Protect” (also referred to as R2P) was outlined by Soros in a 2004 article titled ‘The People’s Responsibility.’ In it he argued that the international community of nations have a responsibility to protect the people within nations who are, or might be, in danger from their own leaders.

The notion of R2P is best understood by contrasting it with its opposite, namely national sovereignty. In his 2004 article, Mr Soros took explicit exception to the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, in which delegates to Europe’s first diplomatic conference declared that the internal affairs of a nation come under their own national sovereignty. As an alternative to national sovereignty, Mr Soros advanced the notion of popular sovereignty or “the people’s sovereignty”:

If governments abuse the authority entrusted to them and citizens have no opportunity to correct such abuses, outside interference is justified. By specifying that sovereignty is based on the people, the international community can penetrate nation-states’ borders to protect the rights of citizens. In particular, the principle of the people’s sovereignty can help solve two modern challenges: the obstacles to delivering aid effectively to sovereign states, and the obstacles to global collective action dealing with states experiencing internal conflict.

Soros’ view that “sovereignty is based on the people” is hardly a novel concept. It derives from the “social contract” theory pioneered by 17th century thinkers such as Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, and then popularized in the 18th century by Enlightenment thinkers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

According to the theory of social contract, in order for any authority to be legitimate, it has to operate with the consent of the governed. While this idea may not strike as particularly odd those of us who live in democratic systems, it was political dynamite within the monarchical systems of 18th century Europe. The theory acted as a catalyst in justifying populist uprisings such as the French Revolution, and the numerous civil wars that followed in its wake throughout Europe.

Soros has grasped the nature of the social contract when he writes that “true sovereignty belongs to the people, who in turn delegate it to their governments.” There is certainly some truth to this idea, seeing that even a despot normally requires a minimum of popular support to stay in power. However, in his masterful work Reflections on the Revolution in France, Edmund Burke showed the danger in seeing “the people” as the final custodians of true sovereignty. If carried to its logical conclusion, the social contract idea puts all the instruments of government at the disposal of the crowd. Is the legitimacy of the American constitution or the British monarchy to be suddenly thrown into question at the whim of 51% of the population?

In the end, the theory of the social contract, no less than its modern refurbishing in Soros’ “responsibility to protect” doctrine, undermines the integrity of sovereign governments. But whereas the theory of social contract was used to justify citizens overthrowing the governments of their own nation when answering the democratic impulse, R2P is being used to justify foreign governments overthrowing the governing structures of a nation when following the humanitarian impulse. It is difficult not to be at least somewhat sympathetic to this when, as in the case of the Rwandan genocide, the citizens of a nation are suffering mass destruction from their own leaders. However, it is important to understand that what is at stake is more than simply humanitarian intervention during times of crisis. Humanitarian intervention may be defensible under older political canons without necessarily questioning the framework of national sovereignty. What is at stake is the very concept that the leaders of a nation exercise sovereignty over their subjects. Soros himself has not hesitated to carry the idea of R2P to its logical extension. “Sovereignty,” he writes, “is an anachronistic concept originating in bygone times when society consisted of rulers and subjects.” Or again, “the principle of sovereignty stands in the way of outside intervention in the internal affairs of nation-states.”

Redefining State Sovereignty

George Soros has untiringly promoted R2P through the organizations that he chairs or funds, such as The Global Centre for Responsibility to Protect and the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. Awash in Soros’ money, these organizations have been pivotal in using R2P as a platform to redefine the concept of national sovereignty. Kofi Annan, board member for the Global Centre and former U.N. Secretary-General, has stated, “State sovereignty, in its most basic sense, is being redefined – not least by the forces of globalization and international co-operation.”

In September 2000, the Government of Canada responded to a challenge given by the UN’s Secretary-General by announcing the establishment of an independent International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS). The Commission’sreport referred to “evolving customary international law” in which the focus has shifted from thinking of national sovereignty as a privilege to thinking of it as a responsibility – a responsibility that is safeguarded by the international community of nations. TheICISS report pointed out that “Where a population is suffering serious harm, as a result of internal war, insurgency, repression or state failure, and the state in question is unwilling or unable to halt or avert it, the principle of non-intervention yields to the international responsibility to protect.”

The United Nations’ Security Council and General Assembly formally accepted R2P in 2005, determining that the primary purpose of the nation-state is not to rule but to protect civilians. The 2005 World Summit Outcome Document makesclear that where these ends are not being reached the UN has a responsibility to intervene.The unspoken assumption is that the UN is the body to save people from their own national governments.

The war with Libya was widely touted as a test of the R2P doctrine, as Aaron Klein recently showed in his article, ‘Brace for another U.S.-Mideast war.’ Nowhere was this more clearly demonstrated than in President Obama’s speech about the war on March 28, 2011. In his speech, the President invoked America’s role in protecting, not just its own citizens, but everybody in world: “Let us also remember that over generations we have done the hard work of protecting our own people as well as millions around the globe.” At the same time, however, the President seems to have realized that he needed to show that the war had relevance to America’s national interests: “There will be times, though, when our safety is not directly threatened, but our interests and our values are.” What exactly does it mean for America’s ‘values’ to be threatened by a foreign country? Unfortunately the president wasn’t specific, but at a minimum such ‘values’ would seem to include the new Rousseau-Soros hybrid of “the people’s sovereignty.” Thus, Obama declared that a legitimate Libyan government will be one that listens to its people. But does this mean that all governments which are not democratically elected (and therefore do not listen to their people) are illegitimate and therefore valid fields of foreign intervention? Does that mean that the British monarchy would lose legitimacy if 51% of the people no longer supported the institution?

Why Libya?

The question, “How far do you apply this principle?” is one that must be asked to President Obama as well as those who are now championing R2P. In his speech defending action in Libya, the President said, “To brush aside America’s responsibility as a leader and – more profoundly – our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are.” Echoing Soros, who has spoken of himself as “the conscience of the world,” Obama said that failure to intervene would have “stained the conscience of the world.”

But why did America’s very identity stand or fall on intervention in Libya? Is America betraying what it is by not intervening in North Korea, where the nightmare under Kim Jong-il made Qadhafi’s Libya seem like a utopia? Is it staining the conscience of America and the world not to intervene in the Ivory Coast, where the Muslim president that the UN forcibly installed earlier this year has proceeded to massacre the Christian population?

It is just possible that behind all the high sounding ideals that justified the war in Libya that America had more ambitious political goals. Consider that Libya was only one of five of Africa’s countries that refused to participate in U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), an ambitious project coordinating American military activities throughout all of the continent. Consider that Qadhafi’s also upset other NATO members by refusing to participate in NicolasSarkozy’s plans for a Mediterranean Union, as the Telegraph reported in 2010. One of the most astute foreign policy commentators, Rock Rozoff, has pointed out that, “the defeat and conquest, directly or by proxy, of Libya would secure a key outpost for the Pentagon and NATO on the Mediterranean Sea.”

Besides Libya, the only Mediterranean nation not subordinated to U.S. and NATO is Syria. Will Syria be next on America’s hit list?

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