John Quiggin asks some valid questions about my rephrasing of Glenn Greenwald’s take of how foreign policy analysts think about the use of force (“The number one rule of the bi-partisan foreign policy community is that America can invade and attack other countries when vital American interests are threatened. Paying homage to that orthodoxy is a non-negotiable pre-requisite to maintaining good standing within the foreign policy community.”)
Unless “vital national interest” is construed so narrowly as to be equivalent to “self-defence”, this is a direct repudiation of the central founding principle of international law, prohibiting aggressive war as a crime against peace, indeed, the supreme international crime. Itâ€™s more extreme than the avowed position of any recent US Administration – even the invasion of Iraq was purportedly justified on the basis of UN resolutions, rather than US self-interest. Yet, reading this and other debates, it seems pretty clear that Dreznerâ€™s position is not only generally held in the Foreign Policy Community but is regarded, as he says, as a precondition for serious participation in foreign policy debates in the US.
Drezner then replies:
Quiggin is clearly bothered by the idea that this conception of the use of force is a violation of international law — nay, “the supreme international crime.” Without making a normative comment one way or the other, most positive analyses of world politics would conclude that there hasn’t been a whole lot of adherence to that tenet of international law. As James Joyner observes:
The UN Charterâ€™s outlawing of war has, from its outset, been observed only in the breach. It has stopped the United States from declaring war but not from going to war.
This applies to every other state in the international system as well. Quiggin wants international law to be a powerfully binding constraint on state action. That’s nice, but what Quiggin wants and what actually happens are two very different animals.
Another way to look at it is this:
When I started grad school at U.C. Berkeley, one of my core professors was Stephen S. Cohen (he’s still there, teaching with Brad DeLong). I met him at the first session of his class; there was an overflow of students, and Professor Cohen walked in, smoking a cigarette. This was 1974 or so, and smoking had just been banned in classrooms.
As he stood there and started explaining the class, an aggrieved student interrupted. “Professor Cohen, Professor Cohen…there are rules against smoking in class you know…”
Cohen looked cooly at the student and took a big drag on his cigarette.
“There are also rules against cheating on exams and screwing students. None of those seem to be very closely enforced either.”
I was a fan for life.
Quiggin and other fans of international law want to wish into existence an international polity in which law has or can be given adequate legitimacy to check the ambitions of the actors contained.
Personally, I’m less than thrilled with the idea that I am supposed to be subject to a set of laws crafted with the approval of Robert Mugabe or Hugo Chavez. I do appreciate the restraint that the concept of international legitimacy ought to bring to the table. But when so many of those who are granting it are themselves despots or otherwise legitimate only through the most brutal application of force of arms, what – exactly – does that legitimacy rest on?
I have my own take on the “Foreign Policy Experts” issue, but I want to dig out my copy of Gaddis and find a quote first.