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September 22, 2002

International Community

Hidden in the footnotes of my last post is a mention of the current issue of Foreign Policy, which addresses the question: "What is the International Community?" Unfortunately, this is an ink publication, so the whole issue is not available online; however, they've put up three great perspectives on the question. The first, from U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, is titled "Problems Without Passports" and says—in a much more clear and concrete way—what I was trying to say here: that we are all interdependent, and that we must make international (and domestic) policy that starts from that basic assumption.

The second essay, "The Crimes of 'Intcom'" by Noam Chomsky, describes the duplicitous way in which American politicians have used the term "international community" for their own purposes. A taste:

The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein advised readers to attend to the use of a phrase in order to determine its meaning. Adopting that suggestion, one regularly discovers that terms of political discourse are used with a doctrinal meaning that is crucially different from the literal one. The term “terrorism,” for example, is not used in accord with the official definition but is restricted to terrorism (as officially defined) carried out by them against us and our clients. Similar conventions hold for “war crime,” “defense,” “peace process,” and other standard terms.

One such term is “the international community.” The literal sense is reasonably clear; the U.N. General Assembly, or a substantial majority of it, is a fair first approximation. But the term is regularly used in a technical sense to describe the United States joined by some allies and clients. (Henceforth, I will use the term “Intcom,” in this technical sense.) Accordingly, it is a logical impossibility for the United States to defy the international community. These conventions are illustrated well enough by cases of current concern.

Chomsky continues in an increasingly understated and bitingly satirical deadpan to hang "Intcom" by its own rope. The piece is devastating. (It also fits nicely with Garrett Moritz's thoughts on "international law", posted a few weeks ago.)

The third response to "What is the International Community" is by Ruth Wedgewood (a Yale law prof) and is called "Gallant Delusions." Like Chomsky, Wedgewood views "international community" with skepticism, at best. It sounds like she hasn't really bought the whole "interdependent" bag of goods Kofi Annan is selling in his piece, and she's all about guns and force and how the U.N. is ineffective because it is so reluctant to use them. Of course, if we follow Chomsky's argument we might find that in many of the cases Wedgewood cites to support her claims against "international community," that community was actually sabotaged by the U.S. and its "intcom."

Anyway, I'm no foreign policy head, but if, like me, you're concerned about what's happening in the world right now, these essays provide some important perspective on a question we (as in everyone in the world, but especially everyone in the U.S.) need to answer before we abandon the last 50-years of "international consensus" and start acting on a "strike-first" policy.

Posted September 22, 2002 01:21 PM | general politics

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