Should the sheriff be above the law?

Daniel Drezner (supported by Megan McArdle and Glenn Reynolds, but not by Brad DeLong) has responded to my criticism of his claim that the US should be able to invade foreign countries whenever its “vital national interests” are threatened. Drezner narrows the gap between us a bit, saying that most members of the FPC are more skeptical about the effectiveness of military force than they used to be (though of course, plenty of members in good standing are pushing for a war with Iran that’s even more certain to fail than the war with Iraq), and saying

there is a big difference between not taking force off the table as a policy option and advocating its use in a particular situation. As Quiggin observes, force is a really messy option and carries horrendous costs.

Drezner dismisses concerns about international law, quoting James Joyner’s observation that the UN Charter prohibiting war has mostly been observed in the breach. Joyner only mentions the US, but Drezner goes on to claim that

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.

A couple of questions arise here. First, is Drezner’s claim that the international law prohibiting aggressive war is a dead letter factually correct? Second, would the US (more precisely, the people of the US) be better off if the option of unilateral resort to (non-defensive) war was taken off the table or at least put further out of reach?
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A perpetual declaration of war

In the course of a controversy with Glenn Greenwald, Dan Drezner offers the following rewording of Greenwald’s critical summary of the orthodoxy of the US “Foreign Policy Community”

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.

and states:

I suspect that anyone who accepts the concept of a “national interest” in the first place would accept that phrasing. As a paid-up member of the Foreign Policy Community (FPC), I certainly would.

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. It’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 Drezner’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.
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A Sterner Review from RFF

Via Joe Romm at Climate Progress this report by Thomas Sterner and Martin Persson from the leading US environmental thinktank, Resources for the Future*, endorsing the key conclusions of the Stern Review. (Given the apt surname of the first author, it’s called “An Even Sterner Review”).

As in my own assessment, Sterner and Persson argue that Stern underestimates nonmarket damages from climate change.

For a related comment on a piece by Ron Bailey, with lots of useful links, including an earlier version of this paper, here’s Tokyo Tom

Beaucoup de Beauchamp

A bunch of rightwing blogs are getting excited yet again about Scott Beauchamp. For those who haven’t followed the story, Beauchamp is a US soldier in Iraq who wrote some pieces for The New Republic which, among other things, described bad behaviour by US troops, such as deliberately running over stray dogs or taunting a woman disfigured by burns. The pro-war lobby has worn out dozens of keyboards seeking to discredit Beauchamp, his story and the very possibility of running over dogs in an armoured vehicle. Now it appears the US Army has denied Beauchamp’s claims. (To reiterate, I don’t care about or intend to debate, the details of this case).

Some might suggest that the truth or falsity of these stories doesn’t matter much in the light of this. or this or this or this, to list just a few of the disasters have taken place while the wingnutosphere has been defending the US Army’s commitment to animal welfare.

But that would miss the point. What matters, in the world of rightwing postmodernism, is not reality but the way the media reports it. One discredited memo is enough to turn George W. Bush from a scrimshank who used his family connections to line up a cushy billet to avoid war service, and then shirked even that, into a war hero.

So, lets stick to media criticism. Not long after Beauchamp’s piece ran in a single magazine of modest circulation, all the major MSM outlets ran a story by well known critics of the war, Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack whose intrepid journey through recently pacified parts of Iraq had convinced them that the surge was working. Here, for example, is their piece in the NY Times.
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How big a slump?

With the Oz stock market falling nearly 5 per cent on Thursday, and down nearly 15 per cent in the last few weeks, it’s a good time whether this will have real effects beyond the value of our superannuation. The immediate starting point of the current disruptions was evidence that defaults on US mortgage markets were worse than expected. An obvious question is whether this underlying shock is large enough to have substantial effects in itself, or whether the problem is mainly one of liquidity and confidence.
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Tipping point for teleconferencing ?

Matthew Warren[1] has an interesting piece on the possibility that teleconferencing will displace air travel as a result of pressure to reduce CO2 emissions. I’ve been enthusiastic about this possibility for a while, with the idea that easy access to video telephony through Skype, iChat and similar will lead naturally to the kinds of innovations, both technological and cultural, needed to make teleconferencing a viable alternative.

This is one of those tipping point things (BTW, this term has itself reached a tipping point, to the extent that it has been banned in our household along with “mantra”, “smoke and mirrors” and others) discussed by economists under the category “network externalities”. If we’re going to make use of these things we need to be connected to lots of other people. One of my projects for the next year or so is to establish a wide range of videolinks. This also includes videoblogging (vlogging). All I need is a bit of free time to get things going, which probably means nothing will happen much before 2020.

fn1. Not someone I’ve liked much, but this shows he can do good work if he wants to.