Douglas Feith Explains the "Rules of the Road"

Douglas Feith Explains the "Rules of the Road"

Card-carrying “neocon” Douglas Feith, the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy (a position in some ways analogous to Stephen Krasner’s position), delivered an important address to the Council on Foreign Relations last week. In it, he offers a re-definition of sovereignty subordinated to liberal values that Krasner may or may not agree with. He stated:

As the enormities of genocide and other acts of gross inhumanity perturbed established ideas about international law, weapons of mass destruction now challenge statesmen of the civilized world. Even a small and poor state may now be in a position to produce the means to cause devastation to other people — damage far beyond the ability of such a state ever to remedy or recompense.

The world has decided that sovereignty shouldn’t protect a government perpetrating large-scale crimes against humanity within its own borders. Before us all now hangs the question of how long-standing ideas about sovereignty can be squared with the dangers of biological or nuclear weapons. Should governments with troubling records of aggression, support for terrorism, human rights abuses and the like be allowed to invoke sovereign rights to protect their development of catastrophic weapons that threaten the sovereign rights of others in the world? This is a question for which there is no simple, objective answer.

He then goes on:

To contemplate that question is to come to understand why the United States cannot possibly win the war on terrorism by military means alone — or by itself alone. The United States can win the war — it can defeat terrorist extremism as a threat to our way of life as a free and open society — only through cooperation with allies and partners around the world.

Finally, he sums up:

Our nation’s most basic interest is to protect the freedom of the American people–our ability to govern ourselves under the constitution. The sovereignty of the United States is another way of referring to this freedom. The United States strengthens its national security when it promotes a well-ordered world of sovereign states: a world in which states respect one another’s rights to choose how they want to live; a world in which states do not commit aggression and have governments that can and do control their own territory; a world in which states have governments that are responsible and obey, as it were, the rules of the road.

If you substitute “human rights” for “weapons of mass destruction” and “international law” for “the rules of the road”, I think you have a vision of global order not all that far from mainstream internationalists. Perhaps the biggest difference, which isn’t addressed in this speech, is that Feith does not see international institutions as the central or even basic mechanism for promoting this liberal vision. Rather, it will be the U.S. working as “partners” with other like-minded sovereign states. Still, as a matter of basic principles, this vision shares more with the Bush Administration’s critics in the international law / human rights community that those folks probably want to admit.

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