27 May 2006

Australia's new role and just interventions

Australia's new role in East Timor raises more than one question. Does international public justice permit a regional power with a stable constitutional government to assist a neighbouring state in maintaining the order that the latter's de jure government is unable to secure on its own? Might justice even require such intervention? The Westphalian principle of state sovereignty calls for each state to mind its own business. Yet in an increasingly interdependent world it is difficult to argue that the chaos unleashed by a failed state will have no repercussions for its neighbours, especially since at the very least the latter will likely be called upon to receive its refugees. Similar issues are raised for Australia by the troubles in the Indonesian province of West Papua, and perhaps even in Iraq, where Australian troops serve along side American and British forces. I myself have few answers here, but it might be helpful to formulate some general questions to spur reflection and discussion:

1. Who has the authority to decide when a state has failed? What criteria should be brought to bear? Should it be a single regional power making such decisions or should other states be brought into the process as well? Does the mere possession of power by countries such as the United States and Australia automatically carry with it authority? Or might their domestic stability confer such authority?

2. When does the perpetration of domestic injustice in a failed state become so egregious as to warrant outside intervention? Who should be authorized to decide on the propriety of such intervention?

3. If much of the earth's surface is covered by moderately to severely dysfunctional states — which would appear to be the case — how would such an authorized agent go about determining which require intervention and which do not?

4. What role should existing international institutions, such as the United Nations or, more locally, the European Union or the Commonwealth of Nations, play in initiating such corrective action in the interest of doing international public justice?

5. Is it possible to establish a global régime of justice in which such cases might be addressed in a more regularized fashion?

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