Question for Max

Max Sawicky sawicky at
Fri Apr 30 13:35:02 PDT 1999

> I wish I had used the argument put forth in the article Bill
Lear posted a couple of days ago. I'd never seen the argument made so lucidly before, although of course it makes perfect sense - namely that this principle of intervention should be rejected because:
> 1) of power asymmetry, i.e., only the powerful can intervene in
the affairs of the weak. The powerful will not tolerate the meddling of the weak (i.e., the US wouldn't stand for Cubans bombing Miami as a means to put an end to sweatshops, for example).
> 2) There is always some abuse you can point to in virtually ANY
country as a justification for intervention. So in practice this principle acts as a rationale for powerful states who want to intervene in the affairs of weaker nations, and can provide a cover for invervention for other reasons. >

In the abstract, this is a good argument for international law (IL). IL would be a good thing. But it does not necessarily follow that any violation of IL should be condemned, just as a cop breaking a law to protect an innocent person's life might be excused, depending on the particulars.

In this case, atrocities are happening in real time and can't wait for the machinery of IL to prevent them. Even worse, if we take the UN as the embodiment of IL, members of the Security Council have an inherent interest in vetoing certain acts in defense of innocent life. For instance, China and Russia have an interest in squelching any support for the self-determination of oppressed nationalities, in light of the situations of Tibet and Chechnya. On some matters, the U.S. is no saint either. Trying to improve this state of affairs is a worthy undertaking.

Meanwhile there will be situations that can't and should not wait for IL. I agree that usually might will not make for right in the absence of effective IL. In the specific case of Kosova, a serious effort to rescue Kosvars that entailed serious resistance from Serbia would still be right.


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