Tag Archives: war and peace

The modern borders regime was designed to secure international peace

This is part of a book project, see explanation here. It’s written as part 1B in this outline. For the Google Doc version, see here.

The UN-led international order is primarily dedicated to protecting the “sanctity” of borders against foreign invasion, or, to a lesser extent, interference.

The universal hegemony of the Western nation-state model is a major historic victory for the statesmen, especially Anglo-American statesmen, who built first the League of Nations and then the United Nations, and who successfully established a post-WWII world order largely conforming to their ideological vision of how mankind should be politically organized. Though Woodrow Wilson’s career ended in humiliating failure when the US Congress failed to ratify the Versailles Treaty, leaving the US outside the League of Nations, Woodrow Wilson is probably the single most important intellectual influence on the modern geopolitical order, which attempts to embody the principle of national self-determination that he propounded.

The world was definitely not organized on the basis of national self-determination in 1914. For one thing, there was great freedom of migration. Though some border controls existed, e.g., at Ellis Island, where a small proportion of would-be immigrants were sent back for medical reasons, it was possible for most people to go migrate into and out of the leading nations of the world without passports or visas. If it is part of national sovereignty to control citizenship and residency in a nation’s territorial boundaries, as is often alleged, the nations of the world in 1914 did not enjoy, or at any rate did not exercise, effective national sovereignty. Furthermore, most of the surface of the globe at that time was governed not by nation-states, but by large transnational empires. Among these, there was a distinction between dynastic empires ruling over large landed territories containing ethnically varied peoples all subject to the same monarch, and colonial empires in which a “mother country” with an independent national life ruled over overseas territories inhabited by peoples who were definitely considered to be at a lower civilizational level, and with whom the mother country’s historic contacts, usually commercial in nature, had begun much more recently, during the European Age of Exploration. Of the dynastic empires, the leading examples were the Austrian Habsburg empire and the tsarist Russian Empire under the Romanov dynasty; China and the Ottoman Empire were other examples. Of the colonial empires, the leading examples were the British, French, and Dutch empires, though the Portuguese and Spanish empires, dissolved well before 1914, had helped to establish the pattern for this kind of colonialism. Woodrow Wilson’s principle of national self-determination, though initially directed mainly against the dynastic empires, was also inimical to the colonial empires, and the dissolution of most of the dynastic empires in the immediate aftermath of World War I and of the colonial empires after World War II both represent victories for Woodrow Wilson’s idea.

Many reasons can be suggested for the long-run success of Woodrow Wilson’s geopolitical reorganization of the world. Obviously, US military power is one major factor. The US remained potentially the largest military power in the interwar years, and became the world’s largest actual military power during and after World War II, as it remains to this day. Indeed, the military preponderance of the US only increased after the fall of the Soviet Union and may have been at a historic peak at the time of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. But the US did not exactly march out and impose its geopolitical vision on the world. It didn’t join the League of Nations and turned isolationist during the interwar years, except for a few interventions in the Western hemisphere. It joined World War II in self-defense after the attack on Pearl Harbor and Hitler’s declaration of war. That said, the US needn’t have prioritized the European theater, and the energetic war it waged in western Europe probably reflected sympathy for its democratic allies in Europe and pursuit of its principles of justice and right, more than national self-interest. Moreover, the US aided Britain and blockaded Japan before it was officially at war. From WWII on, US military power was deployed worldwide, but often in ways not particularly consistent with Wilsonian principles. Thus, in WWII, the US was the ally of two empires, and after the war, the US connived at the Soviet conquest of eastern Europe. In the Cold War, the US often made “realist” (i.e., cynical) alliances with authoritarian regimes, violating Wilson’s slogan of “making the world safe for democracy.” Wilsonian principles remained the goal, however. The US preferred to ally itself with democratic nation-states when it could, and US backing made it possible for some of these, especially in Europe and East Asia, to flourish in a security which they lacked the military strength to obtain for themselves. Continue reading “The modern borders regime was designed to secure international peace” »

The nation-state is militarily obsolete

If Germany were invaded by Russia, Germans would probably trust their army of 70,000 (maybe 200,000+ deployable in all forces), with little combat experience, to attempt to defend them against the million-strong armed forces of the Russian Federation, which also has nuclear weapons. But they could hardly expect them to win. If Germany doesn’t feel threatened by Russia, that’s not because they trust Vladimir Putin, nor does it have much to do with Germany’s own armed forces. It is because they could expect aid from their much more powerful NATO allies, especially the United States, but also Britain and France, both militarily stronger than Germany, and other countries, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Portugal, etc., that don’t carry much weight individually, have a good deal of power when all are pooled together. What goes for Germany is far more true of smaller nations like Norway. Germany probably could create a military capable of fending off Russia: certainly they were able to match Russia and better in the past on the battlefield. Norway couldn’t possibly defend itself against Russia on its own, but in NATO it’s safe enough.

Is Europe a special case? Partly, though even there, it may be a special case because it is at the front end of a global trend. But there are a lot of other countries which trust to the United States, to various treaty organizations, to the United Nations, and to international norms for their protection, rather than on any merely national military. Saudi Arabia was long protected by US troops. US troops are still stationed in South Korea, providing some protection against the powerful North. US troops are stationed in Japan, and Japan’s alliance with the US is a crucial strategic asset in its duel with China over the Senkaku islands. Kuwait couldn’t defend itself against Saddam Hussein in 1991, but was liberated by a large US-led international coalition, which was concerned only partly with oil. Partly, it was concerned with a global norm of geopolitics, sometimes called “the sanctity of borders.” If Saddam violated that norm with impunity, the precedent might be followed anywhere in the world. The international community thus intervened for the sake of its own principles. At any rate, it’s clear that Kuwait doesn’t owe its independence to military solidarity among its citizens. It owes it to benevolent foreigners. And the same goes for much of the world. The UN, the US, the West, NATO, have intervened all over the world, and the implicit threat of intervention has an impact far beyond where any intervention has actually taken place. Even the mighty United States doesn’t rely only on its own strength to defend it. When the US was attacked on 9/11, not just Americans but NATO and many other allies collaborated in trying to hunt down al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Even the Iraq war, more controversial, was a coalition affair.

A world based on nation-state military self-sufficiency wouldn’t work very well. This can be seen in theory, if you think about international relations as a game with stronger and weaker players, some with a taste for predation, all living in mutual fear. Strong nation-states could prey on weaker nation-states at little cost. A “balance of power” might sometimes emerge, but as the strength of nation-states varied over time, states would often weaken to the point where they were unable to defend themselves, thus inviting attack by neighbors, either interested in predation, or taking the opportunity to destroy an enemy in its moment of weakness. On the other hand, weak states might gang up on strong states. There is no reason to expect stability in such a system. We shouldn’t expect nation-state military self-sufficiency to lead to peace or security for anyone. And if we look at history, it doesn’t. In particular, the early 20th century was a time of great wars in Europe, and it was precisely at that time that the pursuit of national interest was most unapologetic and unrestrained by other principles. Britain’s betrayal of Czechoslovakia at Munich, which was as disastrous as it was unprincipled, taught the world the lesson that to look out merely for narrow national interests is asking for trouble. If you let the bad guys do bad things far away, not only is that cowardly and ungenerous, but it’s stupid because they just gain momentum and are much more powerful by the time they’re coming after you. After World War II, “collective security” became the norm. Most nations delegated most of the job of security upwards, to regional or global organizations, and even the United States supplied the backbone of the regional and global organizations and made itself “leader of the free world,” rather than simply fending for itself. The nation-state became militarily obsolete. Soldiers are still recruited and commanded by national governments, but they almost always work in coalition with each other and usually far away from their national borders, aiding allies rather than defending the homeland.

Why am I stating the obvious here, and what does this have to do with open borders? Well, I’m responding to the argument that Steve Sailer has made for citizenism in this post: Continue reading “The nation-state is militarily obsolete” »

Deepening the Peace

If I were a foreign-policy advisor to a major presidential candidate, I’d suggest a foreign policy platform labeled “Deepening the Peace.” What would it consist of? First, celebrate the fact that the world has gotten a lot more peaceful in the past few decades, as many have observed, but most impressively Steven Pinker in The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined and the authors of the Human Security Report. This shows that something is going right, and to some extent suggests we should “stay the course.” However– second– the trend towards world peace is less secure because of the persistence of many frozen conflicts: Georgia vs. Russia over South Ossetia and Abkhazia; Israel vs. Palestine; Japan and Russia over the Kuriles; Japan and China over the Senkaku Islands (the cause of a dangerous kerfuffle at the moment); India and Pakistan over Kashmir; the Kurds vs. various Middle Eastern states; Northern Ireland; Kyrgyz vs. Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan; Taiwan; Transnistria; Crimea; Cyprus; Serbia vs. Kosovo; the Falkland Islands; and Azerbaijan vs. Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh. There are probably a lot more that I’ve never even heard of, but which the relevant locals care about intensely.

What does this have to do with open borders? Well, to begin with, whether or not these questions have anything to do with open borders, they clearly have to do with borders. Continue reading “Deepening the Peace” »

Wars of liberation versus open borders

Open borders advocate Bryan Caplan talks about good and bad arguments for pacifism in his blog post How Not to Be a Pacifist. The blog post talks about the Vietnam War and the morality of US intervention in the conflict. Caplan argues that while there were strong humanitarian reasons to oppose the communist regime in Vietnam, these ends would have been better served through a policy of open borders in the US for refugees from Vietnam. He bolsters his case by considering the 300 days of open borders between North and South Vietnam.

The case that emigration is an important weapon in the battle against communist and other tyrannical regimes has been made elsewhere as well, but Caplan’s argument adds a new twist by comparing open borders with wars of liberation. My paraphrasing of his argument would be that if you think that a humanitarian injustice justifies a military intervention (war of liberation) you should also think it justifies open borders for the victims of that injustice. With this in mind, let’s look at the chart of possibilities for a person’s attitudes towards wars of liberation and open borders:

Rows represent attitudes to wars of liberations, columns represent attitude to open borders for victims Support open borders for victims of tyrannical regimes Oppose open borders for victims of tyrannical regimes
Support wars of liberation Uncommon, but consistent. Found among some neoconservatives and internationalists (liberal and libertarian). Example: My co-blogger Nathan Smith (his views on Iraq) Common, but inconsistent. Include significant fraction of mainstream US conservatives
Oppose wars of liberation Uncommon, but consistent. Example: Bryan Caplan (blog post) Uncommon, but consistent. Found among paleoconservatives, some isolationist liberals. Example: Steve Sailer (article)

The top right quadrant — support wars of liberation but oppose immigration — is the most interesting because it seems prima facie inconsistent, yet is widely held by a large number of people who identify themselves as conservative in the United States. Unfortunately, I don’t have any convincing theory or idea to explain this inconsistency.

UPDATE: See also the immigration and wars of liberation page on this site and a related piece by Jacob Hornberger.