Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Lexington Rule

Why do we let lines on maps inhibit our ability to defend ourselves from terrorists?

The potential for non-state actors to inflict damage with nuclear weapons has made our Westphalian system based on the primacy of states as the basic unit of diplomacy obsolete. Or at least inadequate. Even without nukes, non-state actors can inflict state-like damage. The recent Hizbollah War waged in northern Israel and nominally Lebanese southern Lebanon is only the most recent example of sub-state or non-state actors taking on the role of a state and possessing power once reserved for national governments.

This is not to ignore the role of the traditional states of Syria and Iran in propping up Hizbollah. But cheap rockets and other weapons are readily available on the open market and so not beyond even self-financed groups. Especially if they have access to drugs, valuable natural resources they can sell, private donors who sympathize with them, or who simply extort "taxes" from locals. And the nightmare is that one day nuclear or lesser WMD will be within the reach of these groups. Remember the Tokyo sarin attacks on their subway system by a small group within Japan.

We are taking steps to transform our military to fight non-state actors instead of just focusing on traditional battle; and adjusting our diplomacy for a post-Westphalian environment. Even privatizing our side of the war on terror has been brought up. We also have to worry about the ease which the Internet provides for those who wish to wage private war on other countries. You no longer need to learn how to shoot, get your shots, and head to some distant place to hump through the bush to attack an enemy.

Freedom from control by national governments is breaking out all over.

I think we should take advantage of some of the breaking down of loyalty to national entities by recruiting those who love freedom from countries whose governments won't commit troops in our common defense. Coalition of the willing shouldn't mean just national governments in the new age.

More to the point, in order to addresss the problem caused by national governments failing to control their national territory, I propose a new rule of diplomatic recognition that I call the Lexington Rule:

Port Louis is a settlement on northeastern East Falkland. It was established by Louis de Bougainville in 1764 as the first French settlement on the islands, but was then transferred to Spain in 1767 and renamed Port Soledad.

For a time, the town became the Spanish capital of the islands, which they claimed as part of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata. The Spanish abandoned it in 1811, but the Buenos Aires Government sent new settlers in 1823 and then permanently in 1826. After a fishing rights dispute, the USS Lexington destroyed Port Louis in 1832, which was later condoned by the American ambassador in Buenos Aires, who declared the Falkland Islands free from any power. Amid the turmoil, the British took over the settlement in 1833 and renamed it Port Louis.

The Lexington destroyed the local authority and we declared the island free of control.

One of the problems with dealing with non-state actors is that they have enough power to defy the state government that has the responsibility for policing that piece of territory. So when a country goes after the non-state actor exercising the power of a state to wage war, the country runs afoul of the Westphalian assumptions because the country is attacking the formal territory of some state government even if that government does not control the territory. The Hizbollah War is a case in point.

So what if we modify our rules of recognition? Let's split our recognition. We recognize a government that holds a UN seat and borrows money and is responsible for its actions, as we do now. Right now it is all or nothing. You are recognized or not and if you do you are given credit for controlling everything within the lines on the map indicating your country. The government has legal responsibility to control their territory, but in practice there is no way to compel them to do so and yet international law prevents others from trying to install some level of control--or at least to destroy threats gathering in those areas beyond government control.

But as part of this recognition, we also declare the boundaries of these recognized governments that reflect effective control and not just legal fictions based on lines on maps. For most countries, we'd use the formal boundaries. Germany controls their territory. But not all countries are in this situation.

Where a country's government does not or cannot control all their territory, we should declare areas "free of control" by a national government and therefore deprive the non-state actor from hiding behind the nominal legal government when they are attacked on their de facto territory that the non-state actor rules.

The UN is never going to go along with this. Although we might be able to cut our funding as a threat. Or maybe we just sign a treaty with our friends and declare it in force.

We'd have to write the rules carefully so nobody can argue Canada's far north is "free of control" just because Canada does not have much activity up there. The ice and permafrost aren't taking advantage of the lack of Canadian law and military presence to train for attacks on us. But some countries so poorly governed would have perhaps only their capital recognized as the effective country and a vast hinterland colored gray reflecting no government control.

By mapping out the gray areas between countries we would establish our right to send military forces into land "free of control" to destroy threats. Or establish friendly de facto governments that will control the territory and prevent threats from originating in that territory.

We'd have to update it quarterly, allowing nominal states to make their case that they do control the territory we've designated free of control. We'd need to have additional penalties for failure to control territory and rewards for establishing control.

So let's get working on the Lexington Rule. Assuming state control is an increasingly dangerous fiction in an age of vicious terror groups that aspire to government-level violence.