Saturday, March 06, 2004

In a speech on Friday, Tony Blair set out to defend the Iraq War and, more importantly, to put forward a new vision of the international community. In doing so, he rejects the principle, going back to the Treaty of Westphalia, that states are sovereign within their own borders. Instead, he argues that regimes that brutalize their own people forfeit such sovereign rights, not only for human rights reasons, but also because such regimes ultimately threaten the rest of the world. Here's the key point:

It may well be that under international law as presently constituted, a regime can systematically brutalise and oppress its people  and there is nothing anyone can do, when dialogue, diplomacy and even sanctions fail, unless it comes within the definition of a humanitarian catastrophe (though the 300,000 remains in mass graves already found in Iraq might be thought by some to be something of a catastrophe).  This may be the law, but should it be?

We know now, if we didn't before, that our own self interest is ultimately bound up with the fate of other nations.  The doctrine of international community is no longer a vision of idealism.  It is a practical recognition that just as within a country, citizens who are free, well educated and prosperous tend to be responsible, to feel solidarity with a society in which they have a stake; so do nations that are free, democratic and benefiting from economic progress, tend to be stable and solid partners in the advance of humankind.  The best defence of our security lies in the spread of our values. 

But we cannot advance these values except within a framework that recognises their universality.  If it is a global threat, it needs a global response, based on global rules.

The essence of a community is common rights and responsibilities.  We have obligations in relation to each other.  If we are threatened, we have a right to act. And we do not accept in a community that others have a right to oppress and brutalise their people.   We value the freedom and dignity of the human race and each individual in it.

I'll flatter myself by pointing out that I made a similar argument back in January, but Blair's speech is far more thorough and eloquent. Please read it.

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