So we’re agreed: ‘realism’ in practice means sidling up diplomatically to dictatorships and giving them (at least) equal standing in the international system (and morally) with democracies. It’s always nice to end an argument by finding some common ground.

The only question is whether this approach is a good thing or a bad thing. I’m happy to stand with the democracies. If Larison wants to run on the human rights and diplomatic records of the likes of Cuba, Iran, North Korea, China, and Sudan, that’s his affair. But it doesn’t strike me as a winning ticket, politically, ethically, or historically. ~Ted Bromund

It is interesting that Mr. Bromund has quoted me several times and has not contested the substance of anything I have said. What is striking about his response is how unresponsive it is. It is a little disappointing that he thinks any of this has to do with “running on” the “human rights and diplomatic records” of various dictatorships. What we have been discussing is the following claim by Mazower:

But the more thoughtful of them [interventionists] have come to realize that the way leaders treat their people is not the only problem that counts in international affairs. On the contrary, if the history of the past century showed anything, it was that clear legal norms, and the securing of international stability more generally, also serve the cause of human welfare.

Bromund’s latest response with its bizarre Lindbergh reference and irrelevant pro-democratic posturing has missed everything that matters. He has still not begun to engage with the truly important part of Mazower’s essay.

Let’s revisit Bromund’s central claim on which he bases everything else in his original argument:

It is simply not possible to separate the internal behavior of a state from its external policies. States that abuse human rights are not states that respect legal norms, and not ones that promote international stability.

In my first post, I spent some time explaining how false his central claim is and how this wrecks his entire critique of Mazower. I won’t repeat all of that, but I will instead point to an example that reminds us how untrue this close identification between abusive internal policies and destabilizing external policies really is. Everyone will agree that India is a democracy and most will agree that India is an important U.S. ally. It is also a country that suffers from many tribal, ideological and separatist conflicts, one of which is the rebellion of the spreading Maoist Naxalite movement mostly in eastern and southern India. PM Singh has identified the movement as a chief threat to Indian national security. Megha Bahree reports on the suffering of the civilian population that has been caught up in the fighting. Here we see many of India’s poor villagers suffering from human rights abuses committed by government forces as the government attempts to suppress a violent political movement that is also fueled by real economic grievances. As Bahree makes clear, this is not limited to inflicting collateral damage in the course of suppressing an armed insurrection, but has become an orchestrated campaign of dispossession waged against poor farmers:

The government has also squared off more frequently against those who have farmed the land for centuries, using various legal entitlements–and, villagers often claim, resorting to fraud or force–to gain possession of the property. Other times the state simply seizes the land, labeling any resistance rebel-inspired. Hundreds of thousands of people have been dispossessed and displaced. Many now live in what could become permanent refugee camps, where they are prey to both sides of the proxy war and easy converts to radicalism.

In my view, this is clearly an internal Indian matter. It is counterproductive to wage a counterinsurgency this way, as it will tend to swell the ranks of the Naxalites and alienate even more of the rural poor population in India, but it is ultimately not our business. A realist approach dictates that we do not define our relationship with India around how it conducts its internal affairs. A preference for democracy has nothing to do with this, as it would apply just as much if India were not a democracy. That doesn’t mean we approve of Indian government tactics, nor do we have to ignore what is happening, but we do not allow one aspect of Indian internal behavior to control U.S. relations with a rising power and valuable ally.

In Bromund’s view, the domestic excesses of the Indian state against its own people cannot possibly be separated from India’s external policies. If we accepted his view, we would have to assume that India does not respect other international legal norms and will therefore be a contributor to international instability. We would have to assume that internal Indian abuses tell us that there will be destabilizing Indian actions abroad in the future. In reality, this is not remotely true. For the last decade and more, India has been an anchor of stability in the region and has refrained from retaliating in response to repeated provocations from Pakistan. So we see again that Bromund’s claim about the connection between internal and external policies is false, and the rest of his argument against respecting state sovereignty collapses.

I could have demonstrated how false this claim is by using authoritarian states as examples, but this allows all of us to perpetuate the idea that respecting state sovereignty and not interfering in other states’ internal affairs on human rights grounds only concern the abuses of dictatorships. One of the virtues of respecting state sovereignty is that it is in the self-interest of both authoritarian and democratic states to defend the principle, and it is consistent with Western values to honor that principle. Out of foolish zeal to advance Western values, interventionists have compromised this principle on several occasions and dishonored those values in the process. If the goal is reducing the likelihood of international conflict and sparing the world from the horrors of war, rather than looking for reasons to start wars and to inflict terrible suffering on whole peoples, undermining state sovereignty takes us in the wrong direction. For some reason, that is the direction Bromund would like to go, but this seems both politically and ethically unwise.