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20 November, 2007

Absolutely not

I couldn't disagree more.  A nation's armed forces should be for it's own defence.  End of subject.

I cannot accept a moral justification for 'liberal intervention' into the affairs of other nations. If countries such as the UK don't like the way countries such as Iraq are run, tough – it is absolutely no business of the UK Government, which has no right to impose its views of democracy and human rights on other sovereign nations.

Monstrous, imperialist propaganda – how could the Guardian have considered it acceptable to give Powell a voice?

Comments

At the risk of invoking Godwin, do you take the position that the UK should have stayed out of Europe in 1939 and not attacked Hitler until it was attacked? If so, fair enough. If not, you will have to take a more nuanced position than you seem to have done.

BTW, I agree that the attack on Iraq by the US, UK, et al. was inappropriate, unjust and foolish. I am just reluctant to take, and uncomfortable when I see, absolute positions in such an unpredictable and shifting area as international relations.

Posted by Jon. at November 20, 2007 09:28 PM

It's no coincidence that I used 'absolute' in the title...

At the risk of invoking Godwin, do you take the position that the UK should have stayed out of Europe in 1939 and not attacked Hitler until it was attacked?

I was going to say that it had occurred to me, but that implies I've only just realised it, whereas it's something I've rather struggled with for years.
One of my most fundamental beliefs is that no one nation has the moral right to force its values on another, whatever the consequences.

I think it's important to acknowledge that I was responding to Powell's statement of a general principle by stating a general principle – I'm not (quite) naïve enough to apply it to specific situations without considering specifics.

More to the point (the one I failed to make about Powell's article): I reject the idea that any one nation has the moral imperative to impose its values on another.
To me, Powell's subtext that "but we're the good guys" carries no weight whatsoever.

Posted by NRT at November 20, 2007 11:26 PM

bear in mind that the uk joined in the defence of its allies, against the unilateral attempt by one country to impose its own regime on other countries, rather than deciding to change the way germany ran its internal affairs.

ie, the Hitler example is not related to the Powell example.


...other than invertedly: england/usa have now adopted the same stance to other countries that they decried as an offence to international law and sovereignty less than 70 years ago.

Posted by Saltation at November 21, 2007 11:54 AM

"I reject the idea that any one nation has the moral imperative to impose its values on another."

I agree wholeheartedly with this, partly because you are (here) rejecting an absolute rule, rather than embracing one.

"bear in mind that the uk joined in the defence of its allies, against the unilateral attempt by one country to impose its own regime on other countries, rather than deciding to change the way germany ran its internal affairs.

ie, the Hitler example is not related to the Powell example."

True enough; however, in declaring war on Germany in 1939, the UK was using its armed forces other than for its own defence. That action would have been precluded by NRT's absolute rule. It would not, however, have been precluded by the restated rule I quoted above.

Posted by Jon. at November 21, 2007 04:16 PM

Correct, Jon; I'd argue that the UK may have been acting in its own interests in supporting its allies i.e. attempting to stop Hitler before he acquired sufficient resources to become a direct threat to the UK and honouring a commitment to allied nations in case the UK needed the favour returned later. However, I don't think the UK acted on a moral imperative to stop a 'bad' regime.

I don't think that the fact of Country 'A' imposing its regime on Countries 'B', 'C' and 'D' is itself justification for intervention by Country 'E' (i.e. "but they started it") that's just a further iteration of the same thing.

I won't embarrass myself further by expressing barely-considered opinions, but I've always had a bit of a problem with the idea of mutual defence i.e. military allies.
Would I die for my country? Well, no, but at least I could see the logic of it.
Would I die for, say, Poland? What? Of course not!

Posted by NRT at November 21, 2007 05:18 PM

*light-hearted hat on*

is it not moral to honour the commitments you've made to others?
is it not moral to defend the weak?

you'll change your tune about defending poland when the tanks come marching over the(ir) border and you can't get a beer pulled by a lissome blonde babe in less than two hours, young fella. you'll be forced to go back to the aussies to supply your barstaff needs!
and i have it on good authority that we talk funny.


the trouble with the whole "morals are absolute" thesis is that it comes apart in your hands like a cheap watch any time you try to apply it in the real world.

"morals are absolute."
"is it moral to defend the weak?"
"yes."
"so we should invade that country to protect that persecuted minority?"
"no."
"but, you just said..."
"shut up!!"

a legal proverb of vatic worth: "hard cases make bad law."
or to put it another way, humans are ineffably bad at using language. and most human (written) languages are egregiously verbose for dealing with anything non trivial. and most people react more to emotion than to content and to (internal) implication than to explication.

the focus and whole-system understanding and sheer EFFORT necessary to fully describe a human system is far far FAR larger than most people realise and than almost anybody can muster.

all, incidentally, are also reasons why so few people make good coders.

Posted by Saltation at November 22, 2007 01:41 AM

"is it not moral to honour the commitments you've made to others?"
Yes, but only if one has made such a commitment. I wouldn't. But I'm not a national government. ;)

"is it not moral to defend the weak?"
If it's a matter of sacrificing one's own life for others, no, that's not a morality I respect.

Overall: I fully agree that absolutism is a bad thing, and fundamentally childish this topic rather ran away with me. Perhaps I should moderate my initial statement to "A nation's armed forces should be for it's own defence. I see no justifiable exceptions in principle."
Re-reading it, I stand by the rest, though. I still find Powell's self-justification offensive.

Posted by NRT at November 22, 2007 10:58 AM
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