Archive for February, 2011

As part of a larger post on accountability and international organizations,* Kenneth Anderson writes,

The message for liberals, and particularly the liberal internationalists who principally make up the field of international law, is that the UN … is not going anywhere. It is what it is. It is not evolving into something new or different, at least not in any good sense. It is like the energizer bunny, marching away in a cul-de-sac, in stasis and equilibrium – although, as I argue in the book, a peculiarly happy equilibrium. Historically ’stranded capital’, in the ireprressible language of utility regulation. Anyway, to the extent that it might manage reach beyond rent-seeking behaviors, and become more efficient, that efficiency mostly means more efficient anti-Americanism. But mostly the organization, at 60, at 70, at 100, has achieved adulthood, such as it is, and it’s not going to evolve or emerge or pupate or larvate or anything else into the glorious global governance of liberal internationalist dreams. The UN is not a child gradually growing up, it is grownup and dysfunctional.

Anderson’s assessment reminds me of a quote attributed to 19th century US patent office commissioner, Charles Duell, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” Be wary of predictions of stasis.

The UN is a relatively youthful member of the international system. Westphalia was 1648, the UN was founded in 1945. Even counting from the founding of its predecessor, the League of Nations (established 1919), the UN is less than 100 years old.

The trajectory of other international institutions demonstrates they are malleable. The European Coal and Steel Community becomes the European Economic Community which becomes the European Union, along the way gaining membership and competences, or domains of responsibility. Who could have predicted the size, shape, and scope of the present-day EU from its forebears? Euro-federalists were disappointed by the timidity of the preceding organizations’ outlook, envisaging a constitutional moment like the US. Far from following a coherent track laid out by euro-federalists, the EU evolved over time as successive generations of politicians muddled through their eras’ difficulties. When asked what challenges his government would face, British PM Harold Macmillan said, “Events, dear boy, events.” US author Elbert Hubbard put the sentiment in less statesmanlike fashion, “Life is just one damned thing after another.”

Even in its present, limited form, the EU is without peer in the liberal internationalist imagination: states consistently cooperating, pooling sovereignty to achieve their ends, and states surrendering their veto, risking being outvoted, in certain domains. The EU has the advantage of a Franco-German engine capable of driving its predecessors apace when necessary. The UN does not have all these advantages, but the possibility of a more efficient and effective UN remains; the EU serves as an exemplar in the international system of what else is possible.

ICC in the Hague

Anderson claims the UN has reached “adulthood”, but even looking at recent decades of UN system history one finds there has been room for development. Like euro-federalists disappointed by the speed of European integration, those seeking a speedily more effective, globally capable UN have been disappointed. UN reform is a slow process, liberal internationalists UN watchers with high aspirations are bound to be concerned about the UN’s limited dexterity. But less adaptable than the EU does not mean not adaptable, or static. For instance, the International Criminal Court was established in 2002, the UN’s new associate in tackling gross human rights abuses is yet to turn ten.

Anderson mentions the UN “at 60, at 70, at 100” without taking due notice of the Cold War. The UN has existed for most of its history in the bipolar, Cold War world. The present uni/multi-polar post-Cold War world is less than 25. The entire international system is still getting used to a world not defined by US-USSR relations. In addition, a number of power transitions are underway, US-China, West-East, global North-global South, all serve as potential engines to drive evolutionary change in the UN. Security Council reform is an example; sure to be a time-consuming, diplomatic labor intensive process that will end in “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” stalemates. Then one day, a bargain will be struck and Security Council reform will be complete –in part due to diplomats’ producing ingenious, face-saving compromises.

Overall, I come to the subject of international organizations as a student of social sciences, not as a student of law. My overall perspective on the open-endedness of the future for the UN is informed by the constructivist account of international relations (particularly the work of Alexander Wendt and Martha Finnemore). I’ll close with an adaptation of the title of Wendt’s seminal piece, Anarchy is What States Make of It:

The United Nations is what states make of it.

* I write this critique with the proviso that Anderson’s assessment here is part of a introductory remarks to a blog post on accountability and international institutions; his position may be further qualified and refined in his forthcoming book Living with the UN.


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The kindest characterization of the Economist’s Bagehot post dividing British nationals stranded in Libya into those deserving help and those undeserving help evacuating: not a productive exercise. There had been a British media outcry over the Foreign Ministry’s slow action resulting in a prime ministerial apology. Bagehot sees status anxiety over the recent Strategic Defense Review and the privileged cry of, “I am citizen of Britain” (Civis Britannicus sum),

Call me heartless, but there is something odd going on here. I hope that the oil engineers are rescued soon, and I feel for the people stranded at Tripoli airport and the docks in Benghazi. The British evacuation effort clearly has not been smooth: some scheduled flights were cancelled at the last minute, and a chartered plane was delayed at Gatwick by technical problems.

But Libya is not the Isle of Wight, and oil engineers sent to work there knew that when they took the job. I assume they are paid handsomely for working in the middle of the desert in a country run by a mercurial and ruthless dictator. Big oil companies pay huge insurance premiums for just this kind of crisis. They are used to working in tough places. Yet to hear all the hyperventilation back in Britain, it is shameful that a BP plane should be used to evacuate British citizens from Libya. Why? Why should it not be the responsibility of their wealthy, resourceful and experienced employers to get them out? Or does holding a British passport entitle you to be plucked from any spot on earth by an aircraft of the Queen’s Flight, loaded with fresh cucumber sandwiches?

In the midst of an emergency you don’t play the blame game with distressed victims. A breakdown in civil authority deserves state backed assistance in evacuating – whether you are a tourist or an oil company employee. How you came to be in Libya is far less important than the fact that you need help urgently. That help should be provided freely and generously. Perhaps this position creates a moral hazard problem, but the bean counting can occur after the immediate danger has passed. Don’t stand outside the emergency room with a questionnaire to assign fault.

Bagehot’s undeserving category could contain more people than he proposes, it could extend well beyond oil engineers. Journalists too are professionals who can find themselves in difficult circumstances, in “countries run by mercurial and ruthless dictator[s]”. Journalists may be exposed to the risk of arrest or even kidnapping. Like oil companies, journalists’ media company employers often have “pay huge insurance premiums for just this kind of crisis”. Should a government limit or decline to provide aid because a journalist should have known the risks? According to Bagehot we should confront media companies with the question: “Why should it not be the responsibility of their wealthy, resourceful and experienced employers to get them out?”

I prefer universality of certain benefits like consular assistance, whatever the background circumstances, wherever the “fault” may rest. Certain crises are so grave it is our duty to provide assistance. Individuals are correct in expecting prompt, effective aid from their home government.

Bagehot’s position is far worse than heartless, it is unwise.

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When IBM’s Jeopardy champion Watson makes this declaration, I’ll sit up and take notice. As for vanquishing two Jeopardy stars, congratulations to IBM’s programmers.

You’ve been acting awful tough lately
Smoking a lot of cigarettes lately
But inside, you’re just a little baby
It’s okay to say you’ve got a weak spot
You don’t always have to be on top
Better to be hated than love, love, loved for what you’re not

You’re vulnerable, you’re vulnerable
You are not a robot
You’re loveable, so loveable
But you’re just troubled

Guess what? I’m not a robot, a robot
Guess what? I’m not a robot, a robot

You’ve been hanging with the unloved kids
Who you never really liked and you never trusted
But you are so magnetic, you pick up all the pins
Never committing to anything
You don’t pick up the phone when it ring, ring, rings
Don’t be so pathetic, just open up and sing

I’m vulnerable, I’m vulnerable
I am not a robot
You’re loveable, so loveable
But you’re just troubled

Guess what? I’m not a robot, a robot
Guess what? I’m not a robot, a robot

Can you teach me how to feel real?
Can you turn my power on?
Well, let the drum beat drop

Guess what? I’m not a robot
Guess what? I’m not a robot

Guess what? I’m not a robot, a robot
Guess what? I’m not a robot, a robot
Guess what? I’m not a robot, a robot
Guess what? I’m not a robot, a robot

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Several senior diplomats warn of genocide and, at minimum, crimes against humanity. Their concerns are corroborated by defecting military personnel, pilots and naval officers, who tell of orders to target civilians. The government institutes a communications lockdown, blocking internet connections and cell phones. The government also targets foreign journalists calling them “terrorist outlaws”. Foreigners Scramble To Leave [the country] and [nations] Mobilize To Rescue [their]Citizens From […] Violence. The most senior figures in the government warn of “rivers of blood”, label opponents “cockroaches… greasy rats and cats” and call upon supporters to “cleanse” the country “home by home, village by village”. Other senior government officials, responsible for security-relevant ministries, resign to protest the government’s recent actions.

The names of the individuals and the state in question do not matter. What matters is conduct that violates international law, both longstanding and emergent norms. Jus cogens, preemptory norms, fall into the longstanding category. They prohibit genocide. The laws of war, jus in bello, pertaining to targeting civilians also fall in the longstanding norm category. In terms of emergent norms, the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) articulated as such is a relative newcomer. R2P further hems in state sovereignty by putting states under an obligation to prevent and stop gross human rights violations. Sovereignty cannot shield a state from intervention.

The international community needs to act urgently against gross human rights abuses.

But the US has a lot on its geopolitical plate at the moment. I’m sorry that perpetrators of mass murder did not schedule their crimes to suit. Criminals rarely account for the convenience of the law abiding or law enforcement authorities; criminals are inconsiderate that way. It is like complaining that bank robbers chose an inopportune moment for the police.

But how are we going to pay for intervention? Again, I’m sorry that perpetrators of crimes against humanity have not chosen the right point in the business cycle to go on their murderous rampage. Yes there’s been a world financial crisis, but the Genocide Convention does not say prevent and punish genocide “as long as it’s convenient”. The responsibility to protect does not have the caveat “accountants permitting”.

But a more limited intervention could lead to a larger intervention; some argue this could be a slippery slope. I’m sorry that the future is uncertain. Maybe imposing a no-fly zone over Libya will lead to further intervention, like bombing Libyan tanks, as some warn. This consideration deserves careful thought, but does not excuse inaction or purely rhetorical action. Condemnations are a good first step, but we must be willing to go much further than a strongly worded statement. The situation requires the credible (early) consideration of the use of force, we should prepare for that.

But past interventions have not all gone splendidly some contend, pointing to the cases of Bosnia and Kosovo. I’m sorry that the past is not a humanitarian interventionist’s paradise. Some interventions are more successful than others; the overall picture is rather complex, see RAND’s the UN’s Role in Nation-Building: From the Congo to Iraq. Past history shows that when a state threatens citizens, dehumanizes opponents, shuts down communications, and orders mass murder, we end up profoundly regretting the Triumph of Evil. Witness Bill Clinton’s speech in Kigali, Rwanda from March 1998,

The international community, together with nations in Africa, must bear its share of responsibility for this tragedy as well. We did not act quickly enough after the killing began…. We did not immediately call these crimes by their rightful name: genocide. We cannot change the past. But we can and must do everything in our power to help you build a future without fear and full of hope….

…It may seem strange to you here, especially the many of you who lost members of your family, but all over the world there were people like me sitting in offices, day after day after day, who did not fully appreciate the depth and the speed with which you were being engulfed by this unimaginable terror.

We have seen, too, and I want to say again, that genocide can occur anywhere. It is not an African phenomenon and must never be viewed as such. We have seen it in industrialized Europe We have seen it in Asia We must have global vigilance. And never again must we be shy in the face of the evidence….

We have the capacity to halt, or at least arrest, gross human rights violations. Morally and legally, it is our obligation to do so.

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Nevada State Capitol (via Wikipedia)


Not only should Nevada legislators reject Senator Harry Reid’s call to outlaw prostitution, but other states ought to legalize and regulate prostitution. Public health pragmatists and feminist contextualizers have the stronger arguments. In short, government can positively contribute to ensuring the safety of sex workers and clients. Also, the government should recognize that prostitution is not a unitary concept independent of context.

In Nevada ten counties permit prostitution and seven do not (LVS). Reid argued prostitution is bad for Nevada’s image,

Nevada needs to be known as the first place for innovation and investment, not as the last place where prostitution is still legal. When the nation thinks about Nevada, it should think about the world’s newest ideas and newest careers, not about its oldest profession….I’ve talked to families who feel the same way — parents who don’t want their children to look out of a school bus and see a brothel. Or to live in a state with the wrong kind of red lights. (Full text via LVRJ)

With regard to prostitution allegedly harming Nevada’s brand, Reid should more carefully observe the countervailing evidence. Numerous jurisdictions around the world have legal or decriminalized prostitution and yet succeed as business destinations. For instance, the Netherlands, Germany, and Australia all take liberal positions on prostitution. They can hardly be called pariahs of the business world.

The more common traditional feminist critique of prostitution argues that sex work is inherently misogynistic, symptomatic of the broader objectification and oppression of women. Andrea Dworkin argues prostitution is gang rape mediated by money (Prostitution and Male Supremacy). In an Economist debate Melissa Farley writes,

In prostitution, men remove women’s humanity. Buying a woman in prostitution gives men the power to turn women into a living, breathing masturbation fantasy. He removes her self and those qualities that define her as an individual, and for him she becomes tits, mouth, ass, c**t. She acts the part of the thing he wants her to be.

Sunrise with the Chariot of Apollo, Charles de la Fosse (c. 1672)

Just as a (long-ish) aside, the libertarian argument in favor of legal, regulated prostitution comes to the correct conclusion but suffers from the typical flaws of libertarian conceptualizing; for example the Economist‘s Sex is their business. Libertarians argue prostitution should be viewed as a free exchange between adults, thus the state should stay out. Like other libertarian arguments, this conceptualization takes little account of male privilege.

Sunrise this morning did not herald the beginning of the world anew, unfettered from the past. Society grapples with the legacy of past (and ongoing) forms of oppression. Libertarian analysis tends towards an ahistorical perspective. Furthermore, there is a universe beyond the individual libertarians posit, an atomized and isolated being. As long as humans live in communities “private” decisions have consequences for the broader society. The feminist critique makes an important point, urging us to examine who ends up in sex work, what circumstances brought them to the industry, and what choices were open to them. The libertarian vision fails to press for this level of social-structural scrutiny.

Feminist contextualizers take onboard parts of the feminist critique, centering their analysis of prostitution on “desperate exchange”. They pose the question, is this an exchange an “individual would never partake in given any reasonable alternative”? Compare a high school dropout and heroin addict to a college-educated Park Avenue call girl, context and choice makes all the difference.

Feminist contextualizers also present a more nuanced vision of human sexuality. The feminist critique envisaged male dominance imposing its degrading, dehumanizing will on the female. Feminist contextualizers argue,

[T]he relationship people have with their sexual capacities is far more diverse than the relationship they have with their body parts. For some people, sexuality is a realm of ecstatic communion with another, for others it is little more than a sport or distraction. Some people will find consenting to be sexually used by another person enjoyable or adequately compensated by a wage. Even for the same person, sex can be the source of a range of experiences.

Feminist contextualizers’ core argument that “people vary” is deceptively simple. Their insight is providing tools to accommodate this variance and locate the potentially harmful kinds of prostitution. They pinpoint particularly troubling scenarios rather than judging prostitution as a unitary, undifferentiated phenomenon. Libertarians highlight agency and miss the context while the feminist critique highlights context but misses agency. Feminist contextualizing attempts to incorporate both context and agency into its analysis. (This section on feminist contextualizers draws on Elizabeth Bernstein’s What’s Wrong with Prostitution? What’s Right with Sex Work? Comparing Markets in Female Sexual Labor and also the work of Laurie Shrage and Debra Satz that Bernstein cites.)

The pragmatist-public health perspective holds prostitution is a social fact whose dimensions are not amenable to government intervention via criminalization. Additionally, given the social context, criminalization has the added drawback of discriminatory enforcement. Sex workers rather than clients are often targeted, that is, women rather than men; also the class targeted are the poorer rather than the wealthy. Arrests, prosecutions, and punishments are meted out asymmetrically with gender, class, and race playing roles. Only 10-20% of prostitutes solicit on the streets yet they comprise 90% of those arrested for prostitution; these women are likely to be poor and women of color. Women of color represent 40% of street prostitutes, yet they are 55% of those arrested for prostitution and 85% of those sentenced to jail. (Here I draw on Anne Lucas’ Race, Class, Gender, and Deviancy: The Criminalization of Prostitution, though from 1995 the figures are still illustrative.)

The pragmatist-public health viewpoint also addresses itself to the safety of sex worker and client. Promoting safe sex and testing for STDs are examples of the considerations this view highlights. The traditional feminist critique warns that the prostitute is no one, Dworkin writes,

…who needs her in particular when there are so many others? When she dies, who misses her? Who mourns her? She’s missing, does anybody go look for her? I mean, who is she? She is no one. Not metaphorically no one. Literally, no one. (Dworkin’s Prostitution and Male Supremacy)

Legally regulated prostitution prevents this nullification of the personhood of the sex worker. With state licensure and surveillance, the sex worker becomes a rights bearer.

In concluding his remarks on prostitution (a segment of a larger speech on the future of Nevada), Reid called for, “an adult conversation about an adult subject.” That conversation is sorely needed. But contrary to Reid’s contention, reviewing the states’ stance on sex workers ought result in legalized, regulated prostitution.

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Conservatives and libertarians who normally sneer at the wisdom of government management suddenly become very trusting when it comes to aggressively busting up public sector unions. Those touting the unconstitutionality of state mandated insurance for tens of millions suddenly ignore freedom of association and the right to petition the government when the rights bearer is a public sector worker. Also, don’t mind the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.” Article 23(4), and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 22).

Glorious reception rooms, clock tower included!

Tax cuts for the rich, a-okay, massive inequality, not a problem – but stop those pesky public sector workers borne on satin sedan chairs. Because they were the cause of the Great Recession. Obviously their greed, their fecklessness, their complex financial instruments of dubious provenance led to our fiscal position. If you believe that then I have a great neo-gothic palace to sell you on the banks of the Thames.

Like private sector unions, public sector unions advocate for the terms and conditions of their members. Some have identified this advocacy as nefarious, unions as little cartels scheming against the taxpaying public at large. Though public sector unions don’t seem to be doing such a good job in conspiring to capture the government, Don’t join the government to get rich, I’ll concede this rent-seeking point for the sake of argument.

This demerit must be weighed against unions’ promotion of the public interest. It is in the public interest to have qualified teachers. It is in the public interest to oppose ambassadorships as presidential patronage to the detriment of the professional diplomatic corps. I’d argue further it is in the public interest to have same-sex partner benefits for employees. I don’t trust the magnanimity of government as employer. Politicians have all sorts of hobbyhorses that can interfere with government employees rights (not only the right to unionize). Unions can object to blanket drug testing, restricting health insurance coverage of abortions, and invidious discrimination. I hope conservatives and libertarians would grant public sector workers some privacy rights, or does working for the government mean you jettison those too? Does public sector employment mean you open yourself to objectification and exploitation by every politician seeking to grandstand? When government acts as employer it is subject to the same blindspots and biases as private sector employers and some pathologies all its own.

Employers have imperfect information. Regular negotiations with workers acting collectively is one mechanism whereby an employer can gain a more complete understanding of their workplace. Unions offer a safe space for employees to voice their concerns without fear of reprisals; employees gain the opportunity to constructively contribute to workplace management. Want to tackle government waste, fraud, and abuse? Then unions are an important partner, not an adversary to be alienated.

Overall, I favor consociational democracy’s neo-corporatist approach. We should endeavor to take the adversarial sting out of government-union-industry relations, including where government is acting as employer. Imagining this consensual process in America may be pie in the sky as Will Wilkinson claims, but dismantling workers’ rights, à la Wisconsin, is easily a step in the wrong direction deserving fierce opposition.

In undergrad, there was an unsuccessful Teaching Assistant’s unionization effort; unsuccessful because the Republican dominated National Labor Relations Board decided TAs were more like students than employees. I came to two conclusions from watching the battle and the resulting TA strike. First, given power unchecked, even nice people like professors can abuse it – stories of TAs picking up a professor’s dry cleaning for instance. Second, if the university was so thoughtful and caring, the TAs wouldn’t have grievances to mobilize around for unionization in the first place. Looking for a catalyst for unionization efforts an employer need only look in the mirror. The same two points inform my perspective on public sector unions.

A British trade unionist remarked that without unions kids would still be up chimneys. This shorthand for the complex history of unionization sums up my stance towards unions, public and private sector alike. A whole host of benefits we take for granted result from unions’ long labors. One bumper sticker says, “Unions, the folks that brought you the weekend”. Safer, more humane, family friendly workplaces, those are the devious ends of unions. Until I see the evidence of the voluminous riches being captured by public sector workers’ unions, I’ll remain suspicious of those calling for them to be gutted at per Wisconsin Republican’s proposals.

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The last argument of kings
Ultima Ratio Regum inscribed on a cannon in Vienna, Austria. (via Wikipedia)

[In 2001], after the Atlantic Monthly excerpted [Samantha] Power’s chapter on Rwanda, a National Security Council aide sent a memo to President Bush summarizing her argument and detailing the Clinton administration’s reluctance to act. President Bush’s four-word response to this failure to stop genocide, which he jotted in the memo’s margins, could not have been clearer: “NOT ON MY WATCH.”
The Age of Genocide, Derek Chollet

Bush’s marginalia is the only conscientious response to mass slaughter taking place anywhere at anytime. Not only is intervention the right thing to do, it is our duty to intervene to stop mass murders.

Thus Libya requires intervention along the lines of plans floated by a number of analysts, diplomats, and human rights groups. Essentially the United Nations Security Council needs to be convened in emergency session to condemn the violence, implement sanctions against the regime, and establish a (NATO-enforced) no-fly zone over Libya to prevent warplanes from massacring protestors and prevent Qaddafi from importing mercenaries; Libya should also be removed from the UN Human Rights Council.

The Genocide Convention’s full name is the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide; the word “prevention” is there for a reason. The international community ought not dither. We need not linger on the question precisely how many dead protesters constitute a crime against humanity. I take Seif Qaddafi at his word when he vowed to “fight till the last man, the last woman, the last bullet.” Libyan diplomats and military personnel have already described the situation in terms to warrant international action.

Action to stop mass murder must be more swift, more diligent than those seeking to perpetrate mass murder.

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