Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Free Shipping and the Rights of States: The Right of all States (Not Just Israel) to Wage War in its Own Self Interest
By now I assume that all of my readers have heard the news about the Israeli raid on the flotilla of aid ships in which numerous civilians were killed. This has sparked the usual internet back and forth between Israel's supporters and opponents. Several students of mine got into the thick of one such conflict on Facebook. I am very proud of them; I would like to think that this reflects positively on my teaching, at least a little bit. I am not here to defend Israel, or at least I am not here to defend just Israel. I recognize that this issue ultimately is one of legitimacy and casts a wider net than just the interception of some ships. If Israel has the right to blockade Gaza as part of its war against Hamas than it has the right to not allow ships in. If Israel has the right to not allow ships in then it has the right to intercept them. If Israel has the right to intercept ships than it has the right to use force if there is a plausible concern of being met with violence. I would even go so far as to say that Israel would be justified in firing the first shot. I am not going to sit here from behind my computer and second guess the decisions of soldiers out in the field in danger for their lives. Obviously, if Israel does not have the right to blockade Gaza than this whole discourse collapses and Israel is the aggressor no matter who fired the first shot. I am certainly on the side of the former even as I recognize that the execution of this mission was a disaster.
I would like to take a step back from Israel to consider a larger picture. When Israel comes under attack by the Leftist-Islamic alliance the gut reaction of most is to claim anti-Semitism. I agree with Mark Lilla in viewing the Leftist part of the alliance, as having more to do with an opposition to Nation-States. I would go so far as to see this as an opposition to States as a whole. There are nearly two hundred countries in the world today so it is very easy to take, for granted, what a State is. Modern liberalism likes to mumble something about States ruling over people and having the responsibility to cater to an ever-expanding list of inalienable rights and to provide services. Whatever inalienable right existing out there in some theoretical state of nature, the State is an instrument of violence to which we sacrifice many, if not most, of our theoretical rights in the hopes of being able to enjoy some of them in practice. All laws are implicitly backed by the threat of force (disobey the law and we will physically coerce you into prison or even execute you) and all relations between nations are explicitly so (if we cannot reach an agreement then we will make war upon you and force you to give us what we want). This is not to say that the State and its instruments of violence are good things. There is a reason why I am a libertarian and support very minimal government, even as I will back that minimal government all the way. I do not seek out violence but believe in pursuing all legitimate avenues to peace.
The United States had the moral right to wage war against Imperial Japan during World War II. As Japan was a State that systematically violated every standard of human rights known to nations almost as egregiously as Germany, the traditional rules of warfare no longer applied. Therefore the mass bombing of Japanese cities and eventually the atomic bomb was justified. One of the alternatives to using the atomic bomb on Japan was to place a blockade. This would, of course, have likely lasted for months, if not years, and cost hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Japanese lives. Again considering what Japan did and the threat it presented to the world, the United States would have been justified in such actions and would have been under no obligation to allow any humanitarian aid in as all such aid would by definition be aid to the enemy. Now imagine if some humanitarian aid mission had attempted to run this blockade. Such people, despite their proclamations of being human rights activists, would be nothing less than out of uniform Japanese combatants (even if they were not actually Japanese). As such the United States Navy would have been justified in shooting them on sight.
This incident of the flotilla reminds me of Rachel Corrie, a "human rights activist" apparently run over by accident by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza. As with the flotilla, it is important to keep the political ethics of the situation. This young woman, who may have been a wonderful kind hearted person and meant well, put herself in the way of a military mission. This made her an out of uniform enemy combatant and, as such, she forfeited all legal rights, allowing for her to be shot on sight or even tortured. If she believed that Israel was a Nazi regime than she was free to take up arms and fight, with the expectation that armed force would be used in return. One way or another, no blame can be placed on Israel. I do not have anything personal against the people on the ships, but they put themselves in a military situation and thus made themselves out of uniform enemy combatants to be shot on sight. (One does not have to think that one's enemies are bad people even as you kill them.) If they wished to fight let them fight as long as they accept the consequences.
For all the talk of a clash of civilizations between the Western and Islamic worlds, I see the real conflict as within the heart of the Western world. On one hand, there are the classical liberals, who believe in Nation-States as instruments of justified violence to be kept in check by laws and treaties, and modern liberalism, which rejects such States. While modern liberalism seeks the moral high ground with its claims of pacifist peace-making, in truth its actions are de-facto apologies for the likes of Hamas and all those who seek to make war without the restraint of the systems of checks and balances built up by the West over the past centuries. It is either real war, with real causalities, but with real checks and balances, or unchecked Hobbesian war.