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Thursday, March 31, 2011


A very sombre post from Jerry Pournelle on what the attack on Libya means. I am editing but strongly reccomend the full article:
The President has abandoned the principles of the Laws of War and Peace that began with Hugo Grotius publishing his book of that title in 1625....One principle of International Law is sovereignty. It is a difficult concept and particularly difficult to reconcile with the notion of natural law. Which sovereign powers are legitimate and which are not? ....Over time his views took root and there did develop something called "International Law" and the Laws of Nations. There were even recognized principles sort of regulating war.

The long tradition of development of International Law was supposed to come to a triumphant conclusion with the creation of the United Nations: but the UN seems now to be a popular mechanism for interference in the internal affairs of sovereign nations...My tentative conclusion is that we have a new definition of "sovereign". Sovereign nations have nukes. Those who do not have nukes are not sovereign and may be judged by the UN Security Council, and possibly by American Intellectuals, and deposed by Great Powers acting in concert, or even by UN "Peace Keeping" forces depending on the military strength of the non-sovereign. Non-sovereign states may be overthrown.... have no brief for the governments of Iran, Burma, Syria and such. Under the old International Law those were sovereign entities. As of today, they are not, and they are on notice that they are not. Sovereigns are those who have nukes. Those who do not have nukes can find themselves under fire from rebels armed and aided by the Great Powers, even when the Great Powers have not the foggiest notion of who those rebels are. It is not important who takes charge: it is important that the old rulers go. No safe place for them to go will be provided and the World Court waits with its prisons. Sun Tzu said we should build golden bridges for our enemies, but we are not taking that advice: we are burning the bridges for Gaddafi and his sons. ....He has few choices: he faces death for himself and his sons and much of his clan. He is not sovereign. Unlike Dear Leader in North Korea, who faces the same fate, but who is sovereign under the new rules. I suspect this is all being closely followed in Syria. And perhaps in Saudi Arabia as well?

It's a matter of sovereignty.
   This is very much my view but it is frightening to have it confirmed.

  A world where de facto sovereignty depends on having nukes is one where lots more countries are going to have them. The more there are the more the likelihood they will be used. This is not just an arithmetic growth function but a geometric one because when everybody has them and one is used who will be sure where it came from. If that doesn't frighten you??

   It is not the first time that technology has determined political culture. Under the feudal syatem the sovereign had only limited powers because his nobles had castles which could not, without a long and doubtful siege, be captured. Then cannon came along. Only kings could afford to keep a permanet artillery train which meant they, alone, could easily destroy their subject's fortifications and the modern definition of sovereignty, Grotius's, arose.

    I do not see this new soverignty being limited to nuclear weapons. During WW2 the Germans developed the nerve gas Sarin - one bomb of which could have killed an area similar to Hiroshima. Indeed nerve gas has been described as the poor nation's atom bomb. The same applies to biological warfare. Possibly even more important than the weapon is the delivery system, but even there they need not be ICBMs but can be cruise missiles. Even a suicide squadron of Censna's will be very difficult to stop.

   Almost any country can regain its sovereignty by such means. At one time the SNP had a defence spokesman who said that Scotland's defence policy should be to buy some missiles and gas and declare ourselves a major power. When the leadership noticed they fired him.

   Which is why western policy has been so disasterous. During the cold war both sides stuck, fairly closely to the leter of international law (both sides denounced each other for breaking the spirit but law is about law not "spirit"). After the west won our leaders showed a total contempt for international law. Our war against Yugoslavia broke soverignty, the law, human decency and our most solemn treaty commitments. Yugoslavia had been the 4th country in the world to develop a nuclear pile and made a deliberate decision, in the 1970s, not to develop a Bomb because it would have destabilised Europe. That was a noble decision but, with hindsight, overly trusting. Equally (well not quite equally because Yugoslavia was a law respecting democracy an Libya isn't) a few years ago Gaddafi made the deliberate decision to exit the "Axis of Evil" and receive western friendship in return for giving up his nuclear ambitions and the missiles he did have, which were, at least theoretically, capable of bringing weapons of mass destruction to most of Europe's cities. Clearly one of Gaddafi's failures has been being overly trusting of the integrity of our political leaders. What chance now any other nation will make the same mistake?

     If we want a world where the next SNP leader will not feel compelled to accept the advice mentioned above. The UN's alleged "authorisation" of bombing Libya is unlawful because the UN Charter is absolutely clear that it does not have authority to interfere within national sovereignty. We have to start respecting that. At the very least we should not support Libyan rebels by bombing anywhere to the west of rebel occupied territory, rather than encouraging them to kill Gaddaffi, his children, his grandchildren, relatives and pets. We should either get rid of the ICC or prove it is a serious attempt at strengthening international law by bringing those western leaders against whom there is an indisputable case, or even one little stronger than the case we brought against Milosvic, of the war crime of pursuing a criminal war against Yugoslavia and perhaps also Iraq and Libya. Nothing less can produce political pressure towards the rule of law and against everybody who can going armed.

  A technical semi-answer would be revamping SDI but the probelm with that remains that if it is done by a single nation others allowing it would be consenting to world sovereignty being in that nation's hands (USA or China and currently China is the more credible space power). It also doesn't work 100% or against cruise missiles, short range missiles or the Cesna Suicide Squadron. An SDI in the UN hands, or some other international body, would only work if the UN etc was visibly a supporter of international, law and could be trusted - which Libya proves is not the case.

  I have previously proposed the creation of an open access computer programme to act as judge of international law. I think that would earn far more trust than Obama, the UN, Nato, or indeed the Chinese Praesidium combined.

   As normal Heinlein had the last word decades ago.

  A worse point is that a commercial space craft is a potential commercial ICBM. We may see pressure to prevent them existing. A world government that could do that could stop all human progress as Professor John McCarthy has said. In the 1980s Dr Pournelle warned that we might be in a race between
 technological progress and exhaustion of Earth's resources leaving us stuck here. That did not happen because both the resources and human inginuity proved greater. However we may now be in a race between everybody having WMDs and consequent wars; a capricious world government smothering freedom and progress; & the technological future we know is possible.


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