Foreign Policy TTLB Style:
The Bear Doctrine

Henry Shieh declares my argument against national sovreignty to be “bunk” in the comments section of my previous Do It Now post on attacking Iraq, and says:
“If you want to use the terrorist argument to prove that Iraq IS a threat, then why not topple Iran? They’re certainly more linkable to major terrorism than Iraq, Mylroie notwithstanding, and are much closer to developing nukes. What about North Korea for weapons proliferation and terrorist connections? “
To answer Henry’s questions, I present to you The Bear Doctrine. (Colin, Rummy, Condi and Wolfie: Feel free to steal any or all of this & pass it on to George. I don’t mind). I think if you apply these rules, my answers for each scenario Henry poses should be clear.
The United States should consider military action to effect a change of regime against a foreign power when:
1) That power has demonstrated that they are hostile to the U.S. and its citizens, either by directly attacking us; by threatening or planning such an attack, or by supporting other actors who have executed or have threatened such an attack.
2) All of the following are true:
a) We have the means to decisively execute such a military operation without significant casualities, to our own forces or to innocent civilians.
b) Deposing the regime is clearly in the best interest of its citizens, and our intention is to establish a democratic government upon completion of the operation.
c) Such an operation is in the selfish best interest of the United States (economically; politically, etc.).
On national sovereignty: to me, the concept is meaningless except between nations in which the citizenry have the power to effectively change their own government; i.e., are functioning democracies. (Henry hints at this same point himself, but in my view, draws the exact wrong conclusions from it).
So: until all nations on the planet are functioning democracies, I don’t see much moral use for the concept. And frankly, once that grand day actually did come to pass, it would basically have become irrelevant anyway, because democracies don’t generally ever have a need or desire to attack one another. (Yes, I know that’s not absolutely true, but it is generally).
And let me emphasize one last point. Before folks start crying out “Your doctrine is absurd, it would lead us to conclude we should topple a huge number of regimes!” as if that was an argument against it, let me answer the complaint in advance: yes, I know. You’re catching on now.
The days when a nation such as ours could afford to leave hostile enemies alone, simply because they posed no immediate threat to us, are over. We cannot allow any government to remain in power that will harbor terrorists, because even one such nation is sufficient to provide a base of operations that can allow such a group to inflict mass casualties across the globe.
This problem is not going to get better. The depravity and sorrow of September 11th was prelude; it was the beginning, not the end.
It is going to get much, much worse. Imagine for a moment the weapons that will exist, and will be available to terrorists like al Qaeda, fifty years from now. I have no way of predicting precisely what they will be, but I will sadly stand by a prediction that they will be capable of inflicting horrors that are beyond our worst nightmares today.
I wish with all my heart that I turn out to be wrong about this. I would pray for my own foolishness to be revealed, if I knew how.
We have to fix this planet. Now. And it has to be us — America — because nobody else has the power, nor the will.
I am not kidding. It is a New World for America: what remains to be seen is if it is a Brave one.
I eagerly await your counter-proposals for alternative doctrines and cries of outrage at my blatant imperialism. Commence rock-throwing.
Update: What, are you all chicken? Six hours later and only three comments? Well, no new posts for any of you until I see some good discussion — so there.
Or perhaps I’ll hold my breath until I turn blue — which would work better?
Less Whiny Update: Matt Yglesias says: “I’m filled with desire to endorse NZ Bear’s foreign policy doctrine that would say national sovereignty is essentially irrelevant when the nation in question is a brutal undemocratic regime. I worry, though, that if the US were to adopt it we’d wind up on a collision course with China that wouldn’t do anyone any good.”
This raises a good point. It makes me uncomfortable, but while I genuinely think the doctrine I present is a valid one, and could form the basis for U.S. policy, that doesn’t necessarily mean it makes sense for it to be our publicly announced policy. I agree with Matt that it would indeed raise tension with China; to what end, we don’t know.
International relations requires a bit of grey; put another way, it’s foolish to tell your enemies exactly what you’re going to do. Announcing our intentions far in advance can be beneficial sometimes — regimes can be ‘scared straight’ — but other times, it just gives our enemies time to plan.
And also: I focused on military power as a force to change dangerous regimes into democratic ones. By no means does that mean I think it should be our preferred tool: certainly, if we genuinely believe we can effect change through other means (trade sanctions for true misbheavors; deepening trade ties for regimes we think we can gradually lure into capitalism; whatever) then we should do so. We simply have to be honest with ourselves and not shy away from military action when other methods truly have no real chance of working.