A post by Dale Frank at Q&O got me thinking about Burma again. Also, thinking about Burma is a lot more interesting that thinking about my take home final. Honestly, I do not have an opinion on Harold Black's theories of negative feedback and their relation to Hargadon's views on creativity. Just don't have anything to say about them. I don't care. There. I said it.
I think there's an interesting paradox in the idea that you can depose a government if there's an international consensus. (Or if not depose, then at least violate the sovereignty of.) On the one hand you have to embrace some sort of conditional sovereignty: a government only gets to decide who comes and goes in its territory so long as it lives up to your standards. On the other hand, your decision about whether that government retains its legitimacy is based on the assumption that the other governments forming this consensus have enough legitimacy to not only control their own territories and armies, but those of other nations. You're tearing down the nation state as a moral authority, but in doing so you're appealing to the ability of nation states to make subjective moral decisions.
To put this concretely, you would trust the UN, a group which has pretty much fallen all over itself to avoid even criticizing the Burmese junta previously, to decide whether a "humanitarian invasion" was justified?
And the nations making this decision would include... Zimbabwe? North Korea? Libya? Let's say Zimbabwe votes for invasion of Burma. What happens when Zimbabwe hits the skids and doesn't want to let anyone help? Let's say it happens this summer. Floods, earthquakes, locusts, whatever. (Not that it looks like Mugabe really needs the hand of God to screw things up there.) So then we put it to a vote of the "international community." Should we do some forced humanitarian intervention in Zimbabwe? One day we trust the Zimbabwean government enough to help decide whether we trust Burmese government enough to let them run their own country. A few months later we're seriously debating whether we trust the Zimbabwean government enough to run their own country. That does not seem consistent to me.*
But I'm not suggesting we only put these decisions to "stable" or "trustworthy" governments. Nor am I suggesting anyone would really care whether Zimbabwe supported an armed intervention in Burma. Practically this does not matter. But the practicality is not my point. My point is that you must redefine, to the point of unrecognizability, your notion of sovereignty to consider the morality of an international consensus in relation to a benign invasion.
This says something pretty interesting about your view of the nation state if you think an international consensus of governments is morally relevant to overthrowing another government. What it says is that you support the concept of the nation state when a state does what you want it to do, but you're willing to ignore it when it does not.**
* I can already hear objections. (Or I would if anybody was reading this.) "Between letting Zimbabwe vote and then considering intervention, they responded very badly to the crisis. Things have changed, so our trust in them can change too." Fair enough. But who defines "crisis?" Who defines "very badly?" The whole notion of sovereignty is that you don't get to judge what they're doing within their borders: that's the point of exclusivity of jurisdiction as I understand it. If any government is one colossally bad disaster relief effort away from losing its legitimacy, what can it possibly mean to gain legitimacy from the agreement of many such governments?
** Actually you're holding both of these positions simultaneously. That makes it a little different from "you like the police when they're protecting you but not otherwise" or "you like federalism when you're the minority in DC but not otherwise" or "you like earmarks when they're coming to your district but not otherwise." First of all, those are all about how you feel about the exercising of power. I'm talking more about how you feel about the abstract entity called a "nation," about the philosophical concept of the state, about the definition of a country. Furthermore, those are all differing, conflicting positions you're taking up in different circumstances. In the "international consensus for benign invasion" situation you're holding both contradictory positions at the same time. You're using one to prop up the other.