Annan has paid his dues: The UN declaration of a right to protect people from their governments is a millennial change (Ian Williams, September 20, 2005, The Guardian)

By the time John Bolton had hacked large parts out of the UN’s 60th anniversary draft declaration, and then had to agree to much of it going back in after Condoleezza Rice told him to be nice to US allies, it was no surprise that some observers saw the result as a smack in the face for Kofi Annan.

In fact, Annan scored a major triumph, a positive answer to the question he posed at the millennium summit five years ago: “If humanitarian intervention is indeed an unacceptable assault on sovereignty, how should we respond to a Rwanda, to a Srebrenica – to gross and systematic violations of human rights that affect every precept of our common humanity?”

In the final declaration last week 191 countries, including Sudan and North Korea, went along with a restatement of international law: that the world community has the right to take military action in the case of “national authorities manifestly failing to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity”. It comes too late to help Darfur, not to mention Rwanda and Cambodia, but it is a millennial change.

Tony Blair, whose speech did not mention the crucial millennium development goals in case it upset his friend President Bush, welcomed the new development: “For the first time at this summit we are agreed that states do not have the right to do what they will within their own borders.” […]

[T]he egg of “national sovereignty”, beloved of American conservatives and Korean communists alike, is now thoroughly shattered and cannot be put together again.

And good riddance. Folks have expressed some curiosity at the fact that an essay by Mr. Annan is included in our forthcoming book, but he’s an excellent representative of the idea of humanitarian intervention as a legitimate trump of national sovereignty.

Mr. Williams is quite right that traditional sovereignty will never be put back together again–the question now is what will replace it. The two main contenders are the notion of transnationalism–whereby central laws, institutions and bureaucracies would have powers transcending sovereignty such that they would be entitled to govern many nations irrespective of the consent of the peoples affected–or a standard of liberal democratic legitimacy–which would judge each nation’s entitlement to its own sovereignty by its conformity to the values we’ve determined mark the End of History: a society premised on human dignity and organized roughly around democracy, protestantism and capitalism. Though American sovereignty is threatened by the former–in everything from the WTO to Kyoto to the Supreme Court’s invocation of foreign precedent–we are the main proponents of the latter and have been throughout our history, though we’ve pursued the end only intermittently. The only real change in recent years is that Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have been more open about America’s historic role as democracy’s evangelist.

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