Friday, May 20, 2011

Sovereignty and Modernity

I've been thinking a lot about sovereignty lately.

Like any good neoconservative, I believe that simultaneous exercise of freedom and equality is a natural human right and an imperative for sovereign nation-states with reference to their citizens. Violation of this human right by any nation-state is self-evidently against natural law.

However, I have strong aversion to internationalist notions of world government, even in weak form. For me, bureaucracies like the UN and International Criminal Court have always been problematic given their supranational and universal jurisdictions. I've also struggled with religious assertion of supranational legal authority independent of the secular jurisprudence of nation-states. These institutions are clearly violative of national sovereignty.

Ensuring that nation-states fulfill their sovereign obligations without a priori violation of their sovereignty is like trying to square a circle. You see the problem?

Now, I'm not lettered in political theory or philosophy of sovereignty. But I know this. Any nation that hounds into exile its intellectual giants violates its own sovereignty in knowledge. Any nation that legally makes some citizens less than others violates its own sovereignty in humanity. Any nation that permits its territory to be used by supranational terror groups to violate other nations' geopolitical sovereignty violates its own. Any nation that dictates to its people what they can think, express, or how they will dress violates its own sovereignty in culture. Any nation that uses its military prowess to smother its own people and rape their dignity violates its own sovereignty in manhood (am using the word in a non-sexist sense).

In the past, when the world was less connected, these violations would've remained local or at worst regional issues. With internet and jumbo jets, each such incident now is the proverbial flapping of butterfly wings that sets off storms half way around the world.

What is to be done?

Perhaps we can all agree with the simple notion that sovereignty must advance modernity. Modernity is about equality and freedom in all spheres of human endeavor. Any assertion or action by nation-states that impinges on modernity of their own or other people is anti-modern.

If so, I'd then argue, that any nation-state that - in its conception of nationhood - violates these precepts of modernity, loses the right to assert sovereignty as a defense against other nations taking actions in self-defense of modernity. This does not mean that there will necessarily be such action but, if there were any, the nation-state in question will not have sovereignty as a defense in international law. This would also remove legal hurdles for modern states to intervene militarily when such action would prima facie advance modernity.

This approach based on conception (not practice) of nationhood is a means to strip sovereignty from those nation-states that are anti-modern in design. This is a narrow dilution of universal sovereignty that will ensnare autocracies and theocracies while leaving liberal democracies alone.

Of course, merely because a nation-state asserts modernity in conception does not imply it will practice it in reality. The response in these instances is not to strip democracies of their sovereignty but to persuade and pressure them to live up to their own aspirational conception.

In a world that's struggling with failed, suicidal, genocidal, and abhorrent states, this new approach may begin to square the circle between robust defense of sovereignty with equal championship of modernity.

I'm posting this idea as a means to trigger dialog that will inform and further clarify these issues. I welcome your thoughts and insightful reactions which, for me, will be highly educational and valuable. Thank you for reading and reflecting.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

The plague is coming

Doesn't this moment feel a bit like the withdrawal of USSR from Afghanistan?

The war is likely over and, with that, the gravy train for Pakistan.

They sure have perfected the art of boiling water at the right temperature. In the 80s, the water boiled just enough for a decade-long milking of the United States. In the 00s, the same happened once again.

In a perverse way, strategic depth is almost not the point. Strategic positioning to milk the patron power is the ball game. A triangular game where Pakistan is the pivot is what they seek.

The logic of concealing Osama becomes self-evident with this perspective. His capture would have ended the war. As long as he was at large, the water could be kept boiling in Afghanistan and funds could be squeezed from the US. The fate of Osama and of Afghanistan inevitably had to be secondary to this goal.

Now what?

In the late 80s, after the gravy train stopped, Pakistan was left with a bankrupt State and a jihadi infrastructure. It redirected the jihad to India.

In the early 10s, after the gravy train will stop, Pakistan will be left with a bankrupt State and a jihadi infrastructure and the bomb.

If you were the Generals, would you not pull out the 80s playbook? Redirect the jihad to India. And this time, try to even create a new triangular game.

A thought experiment. What if nuclear Pakistan uses its jihad infrastructure to tie India down in return for Chinese funds? Is this so hard to contemplate?

In this game, China becomes the new US and India, in their jaundiced eye, becomes the new USSR.

One can imagine a whole series of other scenarios where the Pakistani State unleashes its fury at India. Can we deal with this? Can we afford to not deal with this? If not, how would we preempt?

The one thing I'm certain we cannot do is to bask in schadenfreude and assume that serendipity will deliver security. It's not "aman ki asha" that's needed now, rather "jang ki tayyari". If war does come, it's not Kashmir settlement that we should seek, rather a Pakistan settlement.

I fear that things will go south quickly. I sincerely hope not. But history and Pakistani tactics are not very reassuring.

Everybody knows the plague is coming. Everybody knows it's moving fast.