Libertarians and foreign intervention

Among those who regard themselves as libertarian there is a divide over foreign policy issues. At its core is the question of how to apply libertarian principles to interactions between countries.

In some areas, such as free trade, there is complete agreement. Anyone who would interfere with another’s ability to sell goods or services to people in another country, or to buy goods or services from people in another country, is by definition not libertarian.

However, the debate can get heated when it comes to military conflict, national security and occasionally immigration.

Some libertarians use as their starting point Thomas Jefferson’s famous quote of 1801, “Peace, commerce and honest friendship with all nations; entangling alliances with none” to argue for a non-interventionist, mind your own business foreign policy.

America’s status as the world’s largest economy and strongest military power adds a layer of complexity that is often unhelpful. For the purposes of this discussion I prefer to focus on underlying principles rather than consider the position of America (and invite the anti-American bias that often seems to accompany such discussion). Therefore I propose to look at it from the perspective of a middle-ranking country, Australia.

On one side of the argument are those who say that Australia should never intervene in another country unless that country directly threatens Australia. They also typically favour maintenance of a small military.

Applying that standard, Australia would not have sent troops to East Timor or the Solomon Islands, or obviously Iraq and Afghanistan. Vietnam, Korea and WW1 would also have been unjustified, although perhaps not WW2 and the Malayan crisis.

This position depends on the definition of what constitutes a threat to Australia. The threat of invasion is obvious, but what about a threat to a country with which Australia has a mutual defence treaty? Should there be such treaties? What about a naval blockade of our oil imports? Would the seizure of Australian assets in response to assaults on Indian students be such a threat? What if there was intelligence indicating a nuclear bomb was being prepared for detonation in Australia?

Some are tempted to think in terms of our region, but the world is a pretty small place these days. A nuclear device could be moved from anywhere in the world to Australia in a matter of hours. In any case, I am interested in principles here. What would constitute the relevant region for a country that happened to be located in a more crowded part of the world?

There are some excellent libertarian arguments against military intervention based on what tends to come with it. It is often used as a pretext to increase government authority through conscription, internment, higher taxes, loss of civil rights and so on. These concerns are frequently mentioned in the context of the ‘war on terror’ and opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they are well founded. Military action is also regularly used by politicians to divert attention from their own inadequacies.

But what if those issues could be somehow neutralised and the issue became purely about intervention? If it was impossible for the government to ever go to war for domestic political advantage, and was prevented from using it as justification for increasing its powers, how should it be viewed?

In that context I see myself as being on the other side of the argument. Not that I favour intervention in general, but think it is contrary to libertarian principles to talk about intervention in terms of domestic and foreign considerations. Libertarians are concerned about individualism, not collectivism, and there is hardly anything more collective than a national boundary.

If the libertarian ambition is to free individuals from authoritarian government intrusion, there is no reason it should halt at a national border.

An example might help. Suppose the Tasmania government were to declare martial law, dissolve parliament, imprison all the judges and begin executing those reliant on public funding, starting with welfare recipients with eyebrow piercings and dreadlocks but eventually moving on to all kinds including public servants.

As libertarians we would naturally be horrified at this massive abuse of government authority, even if we suspected a few of those executed might not be missed. Libertarians promote a live and let live approach rather than particular moral values, making it irrelevant whether we approve of the choices other people make. Our concern is to minimise government power so it cannot be misused at all.

In an ideal world we might hope a privately funded militia would intervene in Tasmania to throw out the government and restore freedom to its citizens. But we know that is next to impossible (especially since the citizens have been largely disarmed) and would expect either the Commonwealth or another State government to do it. It would certainly not be libertarian to argue that they are prevented from freeing Tasmanians from tyranny because of a State boundary.

If Tasmania was replaced by East Timor or perhaps Fiji, you can see my point. Why should national boundaries be different from state boundaries? Or put another way, if national boundaries are so important, why aren’t state boundaries or even local government boundaries equally important? My contention is that, in libertarian terms, none of them are relevant. Libertarianism is about opposing coercion of individuals, wherever they are.

Of course, there are practical limitations on how individuals in other countries might be freed. Australia is only a middle ranking power and our military can only do so much. Some will suggest that if we can’t free everyone from tyranny, there’s no point freeing anyone. I disagree – freeing some people from tyranny is better than freeing none. Some will argue that we are seeking to impose our values on those we free, a claim often directed at America because it faces fewer military limitations. Again I disagree – most people will prefer liberal democracy over other forms of government, but there is no need to make it compulsory. However, nobody chooses to be oppressed.

Obviously somebody has to pay for any intervention, and libertarians dislike taxes. There will inevitably be a trade-off between the cost and the benefit of freeing people from oppression, but it is not libertarian to argue that the cost is inevitably too high. Freedom has a price.

It might be true that a strictly non-interventionist policy is safer in libertarian terms, given the history of governments to use intervention to erode our freedom. But that is simply based on pragmatism – let’s not give the government another excuse to intrude on our freedoms. It is not a position based on libertarian principle.

I prefer to focus on Australia rather than America, but America faces the same questions. It has the capacity to free hundreds of millions of people all around the world from government oppression. If that could be achieved without the loss of rights and freedoms such as have accompanied the ‘war on terror’ of the last decade, and the cost to American taxpayers was acceptable to them (perhaps by eliminating the massive amounts spent on corporate welfare), is there any compelling reason it should not do so? Speaking as a libertarian, that is.

Finally, the Liberal Democratic Party has attempted to reflect these views in its defence policy. Some people have reacted angrily because it does not rule out intervention under any circumstances, but nobody has offered a libertarian argument to support that. See what you think.

60 thoughts on “Libertarians and foreign intervention

  1. G’day,

    David, in WW1 Germany was in New Guinea and made it clear Britain surrendered it would have lost all its O/S possessions and that would have included Australia.

    Regarding the LDP defense policy, just were are you going to get B-1 bombers? New ones haven’t been manufactured in years. I stopped reading your policy after that as I could stop laughing.

    ta

    Ralph

  2. “There will inevitably be a trade-off between the cost and the benefit of freeing people from oppression, but it is not libertarian to argue that the cost is inevitably too high. Freedom has a price.”

    This is the crux of the issue. I would want Tasmania to be freed of its oppressive government, and would donate to that cause or vote for the other states to intervene.

    But that’s me. What about someone who disagrees with the intervention?

    You could say that their libertarian right not to have their money taken away from them to be spent on helping someone else is trumped by Tasmanians’ right to live free of oppression. Which, I think, is a valid argument in this hypothetical. But it’s not a libertarian one, it’s a utilitarian one – balance costs and benefits (or freedom lost and freedom gained) and go for the greatest good for the greatest number.

    However, more importantly, it’s a type of argument that can be expanded beyond military questions to any policy. That’s what left-wing advocates of welfare-for-the-poor do. That’s what right-wing advocates of welfare-for-business do. They both say something along the lines of, “We will only impose on you a little bit to gain a lot for those who are a)less fortunate; or b)necessary for social or economic cohesion.”

    It’s OK to make this argument. Just be aware that it’s the argument used by everyone else to propose things you dislike. You should probably bear that in mind when you object to them next time.

    “Libertarianism is about opposing coercion of individuals, wherever they are.”

    Yes. However, you’re telling some people they have to accept some coercion to stop the coercion of others. What libertarian (as opposed to utilitarian) argument is there to support that?

  3. G’day,

    David, unfortunately your mirth filled policy prevented me from previewing my previous message.

    Semi, forget about the F-22, American law prevents their sale outside the USA.

    ta

    Ralph

  4. In a libertarian account of the state is a state sovereign?

    Should one state be able to over-rule the sovereignty of another state because it disagrees with the policies of said state?

    I don’t think so. I think freedom has to be organic, grassroots and bottom-up.

    I believe in the right of people to sign up to oppressive religions that threaten violence. I also believe in the right of people to organise together and form oppressive governments. There does need to be an “out” for people, though.

  5. I believe in the right of people to sign up to oppressive religions that threaten violence. I also believe in the right of people to organise together and form oppressive governments. There does need to be an “out” for people, though.

    But, Shem, that statement is not realistic. The whole point is that he government is ‘oppressive’ because, by definition, there is no ‘”out” for people’.

  6. To paraphrase my beliefs I think freedom must be won through battle of ideas. I don’t believe freedom can be won through violence.

  7. Could people in Iraq migrate to the US during Saddam’s regime?

    I was under the impression they could?

  8. I don’t know Shem, but I imagine that if you declared that you were leaving because the current regime was a murderous, fascist dictatorship and went to the airport taking your savings with you, there’s a good chance they wouldn’t stamp your passport.

    For what it’s worth to you heathens, Ayn Rand said a country which does these four things voids its rights as an international citizen and effectively becomes an outlaw (to which we may do what we want):

    1. Single party rule
    2. Executions or long prison citizens, without trial or with mock trial, for political offences
    3. Expropriation of private property
    4. Censorship

    How many was Sadaam guilty of?

  9. I think Ralph is splitting hairs.

    1. Find an alternative capability to the B1-B. Buy it. Build it. Tender it’s design.

    2. Politely ask our ally and friend to supply us with the F22, seeing we allow them a joint base to help the administration of their electronic intelligence. Lease them if necessary.

  10. SRL, all valid points and history will tell. I’d say the value to the West in reacting was due to the perceived high level of risk in terms of not reacting. Time will tell if that was valid but I’m ready to say that, at the time, it was a reasonable decision to make. How badly was the war planned? Well, the bit we knew was executed like the Vienna Symphony Orchestra playing a Strauss waltz. With the rest of it we’re still learning on the go, aren’t we.

  11. Find an alternative capability to the B1-B. Buy it. Build it. Tender it’s design.

    Australia has absolutely no chance of building this at the moment or even in the mid-term future.

    Friends and allies. If we asked nice enough, or the threat was bad enough, the US would give us a ‘detuned’ version of the F22. We’d have to hire them a little bit to help us maintain the bits we weren’t allowed to tinker with. But that’s nothing new.

  12. you’re telling some people they have to accept some coercion to stop the coercion of others. What libertarian (as opposed to utilitarian) argument is there to support that?

    Well, most libertarians believe the state has a role of some kind, generally in relation to criminal justice, protection of private property and national defence. As they necessarily require taxation to pay for them, the principle of accepting some coercion is established.

    Perhaps that is merely utilitarian, but it is what distinguishes libertarianism from anarchism.

  13. where was the net benefit for Australia, America, and how badly was that war planned for?

    I don’t think that’s the right question. Consideration of a net benefit for Australia or America is collectivist. The libertarian issue is about freeing Iraqis, as individuals, from Saddam’s oppression.

    The cost was collectively shared. You might argue that poor preparation substantially increased the cost, although history will judge.

  14. I’m not primarily anti-intervention on the basis of first principles. I’m primarily anti-intervention on the basis of real world issues. There are probably pragmatic exceptions on which I could be readily persuaded otherwise. I think the intervention in East Timor has in general been a positive one and has not been used to justify new government powers. However leaving aside the humanitarian benefits to the people of East Timor I also think the East Timor intervention can be justified in terms of pure national self interest.

    If the libertarian ambition is to free individuals from authoritarian government intrusion, there is no reason it should halt at a national border.

    National borders represent an institutionalised limit on the jurisdiction of our government. It is an institutional constraint that I think we should try and hold onto. At the end of the day a desire for “limited” government is a very libertarian ideal.

  15. G’day,

    The Super Hornets are adequate for the present time. The F-35 is a multi-role aircraft. With aerial refueling ( and we have new tankers) they can handle our foreseeable strategic needs. There’s no need for F-22 or B-1s.

    If you want to give the ADF some real new capability consider this: We are currently getting two Canberra Class LHDs. Replace the Tobruk with a third LHD and make a dozen or so of the F-35s the VSTOL version so they can operate from a LHD. It would allow us to provide our troops with air support just about anywhere in the world.

    ta

    Ralph

  16. Ralph,

    I hope you’re right but air superiority/dominance is your first concern in a conventional war. It doesn’t hurt to have a diplomat ask very nicely for something from an ally ad nauseum.

    Your LHD idea has a lot of merit. It would also provide a degree of air cover for the fleet.

  17. If a husband beats his wife and she doesn’t want to leave him and hasn’t asked for help should you take it upon yourself to get the police and coercive power of government involved even against her wishes?

    I’d say no. But I assume you’d say yes DavidL (and others) if you are applying the same principles you apply to intervention?

    I am all in favour of supporting citizens in the middle of a civil war against an oppressor with arms and even manpower. But I think that the initiative for liberation must be internally motivated.

    Otherwise you’re getting involved in their internal business and the wife that’s being beaten may just turn around and hate you for having the husband imprisoned that despite mistreatment, she loved.

  18. From the US Declaration of Independence:

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

    It is the right of the people to intervene… not for third party people or nations to intervene on their behalf. The fundamental premise of liberalism is the social contract between the people and their elected government. When broken they can over through. There is nothing wrong with a policy of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other nations. This hasn’t harmed Switzerland in any way.

  19. G’day

    To me this is an area of practical analysis not deep philosophical study. Unless you are an anarchist , in which case government policy would be irrelevant, defense is one of the prime role of government. Therefore I don’t complain over having to pay taxes for it. The questions really are what type of defense force we need and are we getting value for money.

    In my view although we should be working with our allies including the USA, we should not be completely dependent on them. Also if we have to defend ourselves from invaders at our borders our defense/foreign affairs policy would have been a complete failure. We need to take action well before that stage. That means we need tto be able to deploy troops quickly into hotspots and maintain them there with proper rotation. So our aim should be a six brigade capability (including reserves). In the words of the Australian Defense Association : ” with one at one month’s readiness, two at two month’s notice and the balance possibly at three months but in no case at more than six months.” And those forces need to be given the equipment they need to do their job effectively. That means expensive equipment like Wedgetails, LHDs , F-35 etc.

    ta

    Ralph

  20. Surely the use of taxation can’t be justified. Any extra funds needed for foreign intervention should be raised through donations.

  21. It is the right of the people to intervene… not for third party people or nations to intervene on their behalf.

    This is the essence of the collectivist argument. I believe it is anti-libertarian.

    Who or what is a third party or nation? Why does someone become a third party simply because they are located across a national boundary? Why not a state boundary, or even local government boundary? How were the boundaries chosen anyway?

    The fundamental premise of liberalism is the social contract between the people and their elected government.

    Does that mean unelected governments are fair game? It makes a certain amount of sense. But it doesn’t answer the question of whether and when an elected government might intervene in another country.

  22. Libertarians can hardly claim that governments are evil, then rule out intervention and stealth when dealing with other governments. Non-intervention would inevitably lead to a situation where foreign governments could destroy any libertarian society, simply through the use of agents of inlfuence, spreading subversion. There appears to be a real science to this practice.

    The best we can do is gear up for our interventions to be BIG AND SHORT. Big short, and focused on murdering foreign regime leadership. We should not be part of any treaties or at least very few. We ought to pull out any clauses or arrangements which limit the flexibility of our response. That means any alleged free-trade-treaties but most of the clauses in most of the treaties that we have, we would want to pull out of.

    Treaties and collective security undermines the will of people to make the flexible investments we need to cover and looming hazard.

    As to our alliance with the Americans I think we were right to intervene. But we ought to have intervened in a bigger way for a much more limited period of time. We cannot get rid of war. But if we can gear up for intervention, (whether for a quick burst of aid or killing) to be large and of short duration, then we can at least get used to the idea of their being peace most of the time. We should have had all our troops out of Iraq by the end of 2003. Out of Afghanistan within weeks of the Taliban falling from power.

    Gearing up for interventions that are BIG AND SHORT is also about getting rid of foreign debt and making sure we always run surplus trade balances in peacetime.

  23. I don’t think you put a high barrier on our government intervening. This is too much to the advantage of adversaries.

    I think you put the barrier on the length of time you intervene for. They have to define very clearly who needs killing. Then kill a proportion of those people and then come home when those people are dead. So they could mobilise with some frequency. Get good at mobilising. Like with the Tsunami. We could have mobilised in a massive way for just a few weeks. Then out of there and no billion dollars for Indonesia to spend on vote-buying and weapons.

    To do this we probably need a much bigger reservist force, more equipment and trained maintenance, but a slowly falling full-time force. A slowly falling full-time force yet with a much bigger reservist force could be a replacement for the unemployment benefit and for public funding of tertiary education.

  24. Liberalism’s strength is in demonstrating to the people of the world what freedom can achieve. The moment we try to impose it, by force or by funding grass roots campaigns, whether it is in East Timor, Solomons, Afghanistan or Iraq… we weaken ourselves financially, militarily, morally, politically, and ideologically.
    Public diplomacy (demonstrating freedom) is what spread revolutions of freedom across Europe in the 18th century, public diplomacy is what brought the revolution from America to France and what brought an end to the Soviet Union. Freedom and peace attracts – war detracts.

  25. DavidL – why does the payment of unemployment benefits stop at the border?

    Using government for the benefit of those on whom the tax burden falls is one thing but using it for the benefit of those who will never be elligible for any of the tax burden is quite another.

  26. The moment we try to impose it, by force or by funding grass roots campaigns, whether it is in East Timor, Solomons, Afghanistan or Iraq… we weaken ourselves financially, militarily, morally, politically, and ideologically.

    That’s moral cowardice if ever I saw it. Removing an oppressive government is not the same as imposing liberalism. It’s enabling people to choose for themselves. Notwithstanding Shem’s bizarre claims, I don’t believe anyone voluntarily chooses to be oppressed.

  27. A good argument Terje. But not an absolutist one. Its very hard for a government not to be complicit with evil if they do not oppose it. We may want to be like Tom Bombadil and simply be carefree and dominant in our own territory. But there is some balance to be had and I think the balance is in the length of massive activity. I’m still proposing limited government for aid and military intervention. But the limit here is in the form of the duration of the intervention.

  28. Consider this. If we have a reputation of being explosive and trigger-happy, but easy to get to withdraw and go home, diplomacy on the other guys part will consist of not annoying the Australians.

  29. David check out this link. I think this fellow hits the balance perfectly. The interventionists were called neo-cons. And they were alleged to be followers of Strauss. But Strauss himself was far more ruthless in his view of when and why we ought intervene. I think this article hits the balance perfectly. This fellow contends that once the Bathissts had been punished it was time to get out. It would not preclude us from sending aid to Israel under attack. Or to stopping any Chinese influence in the Pacific. But the goal is pretty ruthlessly selfish. And easily able to be integrated as keeping with the idea of the government as agent for its taxpayers.

    http://www.claremont.org/publications/crb/id.1075/article_detail.asp

  30. Whats the reduction to absurdity with non-intervention? Does it mean that we let dangerous regimes set up bases just out of our 200 mile zone? Do we let Indonesia point missiles at our cities? Or force her to redeploy them to where they could only be used against a Northern power in case of a sea attack. Lets not be too stupid about non-interventionism. Being an inwardly looking tough-guy means being left alone. But not if nobody is scared to flick our knows or murder children right in front of us.

  31. Didn’t Jefferson have an expansionest policy? Polk, the last president considered a “Jefferson democrat” went to war with Mexico, fightning over California, New Mexico, and Texas, threatened war with Britian if she didn’t hand over Oregeon? Basiclly spent his term in constant war and negoitaton for more territory.
    So, Libertarian government should concern themselves with defence.
    Anyway if thousands of Tasmanians are getting their spare heads lopped off what is the problem?

  32. Polk was likeable in some ways. But his war with Mexico was really pretty unacceptable. And according to Grant it created tensions which helped lead to the civil war. Plus you see in the longer run these expansionist moves tend to water down freedom wihin ones own country. Its true that California, at the time, really only had a bunch of huge Mexican/Spanish landowners and a lot of Gringos. So it perhaps wasn’t as bad as it looked to take it over. But we wouldn’t want to model ourselves on Polk exactly.

  33. ‘My contention is that, in libertarian terms, none of them are relevant. Libertarianism is about opposing coercion of individuals, wherever they are.

    Great post, David. I wholeheartedly agree. Libertarianism is cosmopolitan as justice goes beyond borders that have been constructed around individuals. Libertarians should advocate for the abolition of nation-states and the end of militarism.

    So, the question becomes, how do we reach a stateless world incrementally?

  34. Libertarianism may be about opposing coercion of individuals but that doesn’t mean government is the solution.

  35. Sorry Terje, my comment was a little confused! I was agreeing with David’s statement about borders, not his argument. I think that interventions are always against libertarian principles, as the very idea of nation-states is against libertarian principles!

  36. Helping foreigners (through war or otherwise) is “foreign aid”. The pure libertarian position on foreign aid is that it should be done voluntarily by free people, and not by government. I agree that we should have concern for all people in the world and try to help people were we can. I think it should be done voluntarily.

  37. The pure libertarian position on foreign aid is that it should be done voluntarily by free people, and not by government.

    So freeing Tasmanians from enslavement would not be foreign aid, but freeing East Timorese would be? There’s no way that’s libertarian, pure or otherwise. The objective of libertarianism is to free individuals from coercion. Full stop.

  38. Each person is entitled to their own objective in politics, but the “pure” libertarian position (not that I insist people be pure) is that all human interaction should be voluntary. Tax isn’t voluntary. No matter how good your intentions are with spending my money, taking my money against my will is not voluntary.

    Of course aid within Australia isn’t foreign aid.

  39. “The objective of libertarianism is to free individuals from coercion. Full stop.”

    This sounds like some sort of world crusade. Feeling a personal obligation is one thing but why does it have to become some sort of collective obligation? Very un-libertarian as far as I can tell.

    In a different thread David accused me of ‘not caring about brown people’ just because I hoped America and other foreign powers would not intervene in the situation in Iran or the Middle East. There are plenty of ways that libertarians can support people around the world but using the power of government to drag everyone else along whether they like it or not surely can’t be one of them.

  40. Graeme – I don’t wish to overdose on purity. However I think intervention should be the exception not the rule. Are there any instances where Australia didn’t intervene abroad where you think we should have?

  41. Feeling a personal obligation is one thing but why does it have to become some sort of collective obligation? Very un-libertarian as far as I can tell.

    This debate is avoiding the issue.

    Libertarians (but not anarchists) believe some collectivism is warranted to provide certain services eg a criminal justice system, protection of private property. If Tasmania were to start enslaving people, we would expect our government(s) to stop it. That would be a collectivist response, but I think we’d agree the priority was on liberating our countrymen from tyranny. We would not call for volunteers or regard it as none of our business. Nor would we define it as foreign aid (or should that be state aid), and therefore unacceptable.

    Given that, what makes it different when the tyranny is occurring across a border? (Beyond the pragmatic stuff I mentioned in the post, that is.)

    It would be collectivist to spend Australian taxpayers money to liberate slaves in Palau or Samoa. True, it might be better to do it on the basis of voluntary action. But ultimately, what’s the difference between that and Tasmania?

    I’m not advocating a world crusade but I think there is a philosophical dilemma here. It seems a collectivist solution is acceptable within national boundaries, but not outside those boundaries for collectivist reasons (ie national sovereignty). Bizarre.

    Graeme Bird’s comments make sense. There is no reasonable libertarian argument against foreign intervention (although there may be pragmatic ones), but that only extends to removing a source of tyranny. Once that’s done, you cannot justify hanging around.

    And in the long run, as Benjamin Payne points out, libertarians should be supporting the end of nation states. They are just big collectives.

  42. “Graeme – I don’t wish to overdose on purity. However I think intervention should be the exception not the rule. Are there any instances where Australia didn’t intervene abroad where you think we should have?”

    Cannot think of any. But we have to contemplate being alone now. Dealing with superior military powers on our own. The tone of my posts may sound like I want to be out there looking for a fight. But this is not what I’m trying to portray here. We spent too long in Indonesia with the Tsunami aid and we gave the central government money for no reason. Every year we give them more. We spent too long in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Vietnam and Korea. So you can take what I’m saying either way. As being anti or pro-war. But you ought to look at what I’m saying at a technical level. Not a tone level.

    What I’m saying is that tactically and diplomatically the way we ought to limit government in this area is as to duration. Because other limitations give advantage to people who cannot be allowed to win.

  43. A military force that provides a self defensive protection service to its customers (taxpayers) I think can be fairly termed a libertarian one. A military force that provides a service that extends to liberating people from tyranny outside of its customer base (whether that be Tasmania, Samoa or wherever) I don’t think can be fairly labeled a libertarian one.

  44. If some mad fundamentalists stormed the New Zealand parliament, cancelled elections and installed a dictatorship then would I oppose Australia sending troops to restore democracy? I suspect I’d consider such a liberation force on it’s merits. Should we have invaded Fiji when it’s government was over thrown a few years back? Such events rarely happen in a vaccum and I wouldn’t like to be too fixed either way.

  45. A military force cannot be purely defensive. Since that signals that the other government lives in luxurious security, while it sends its people to die on your half of the football field. A military force must be both defensive ……… and punitive against regime leadership. So it can expel those who came here, and murder those who made the decision for them to go.

    If people are thinking all the time of thresholds of provocation, well this is the thinking that will have us lose everything. The thinking that will have us left alone is gearing up for war that is big and short. If the matter is less vital the action may be shorter.

    But if we dither around competing with eachother as to who can raise the provocation bar higher, then all we can expect to achieve is being provoked all the time. Provoked and bullied, our families murdered to send a message, our businessmen hijacked and ransomed.

  46. David- so what if New Zealand elected the ACT party into government and radically reduced the size of government. Then the ACT party decided to invade Australia to protect us from the tyranny of the Rudd government’s internet filter and ETS?

    Is that legitimate?

    Do you think most Australians would be celebrating that New Zealand declared war on us to try and free us?

    People may not choose to be oppressed, however a lot of people have strong national ties. The nation state is against libertarian ideals- I agree- but the nation is a very strong force and people like to believe they have some degree of self-determination.

    Australians, generally, would not view a “liberation” by New Zealand as legitimate. Nor, I think, did most Iraqis end up viewing “liberation” by America as legitimate (although given that the Hussein regime was more oppressive than the Rudd regime the American libertarian has had some support).

    But if you believe that nation states are anti-libertarian then why is it okay for our NATION STATE to be the actor for freedom?

    I am not saying that stopping dictators is bad- but I just believe in grassroots freedom. I believe that revolution is the best cure from oppression. Revolution means that the people are motivated by freedom and are claiming it for themselves.

    Just like libertarian initiatives in Australia need to be supported at the ground level, even the most basic of democratic initiatives needs to be supported in Iraq at the ground level.

  47. Legitimacy in this instance depends on the definition of tyranny. I don’t think for NZ to free Australia from Rudd would be legitimate (no matter how worthy) so long as Australians had a choice about their government. If Rudd dissolved parliament, abolished civil rights and began locking people up (even if they were young gays), I would be personally inviting the Kiwis over.

    I disagree that Iraqis did not welcome liberation from Saddam by the US. Many came to believe the aftermath was not worth it, but that’s a different matter.

    My argument is not that action by nation states in support of freedom is preferred. As I said, voluntary action is always better. What I am arguing is that libertarians accept the government has a role, including protection of individuals and private property. We would expect it to act if slavery/tyranny was occurring within our borders. While there are obviously practical limitations to extending this beyond our borders, arguments based on national sovereignty are collectivist, not libertarian.

    It therefore follows that libertarians ought to complain about the loss of liberty that typically accompanies military adventurism, but they should not oppose foreign intervention simply because it is in a foreign country.

  48. So it’s okay to be against the Iraq War as long as it’s because one is generally against offensive war, but not because it’s a foreign country?

    So if I’m against liberation for Tasmania AND for Iraq that’s a position that (even if you don’t agree with) you respect?

  49. The problem with all of this dicussion is that they completely ignore reality.

    It is simply not possible for us to achieve the libertarian goal of “defense against agressive invasion from a foreign power” without entering into military alliances that require our participation in non-libertarian activities.

    We rely completely on our allies (in particular the US pacific fleet) for our protection, we don’t get to decide what we do until we pay for it ourself, which we cannot simply due to economies of scale.

  50. Yobbo, are there any small or medium sized countries now that do not have any military alliances with other countries? Considering Australia is not in a dangerous region and has no historical or obvious threats would it not be conceivable that it could exit safely without forming military alliances? This would mean we would be required to spend more of our own money on building up military capacity and a change in focus to a purely defensive one. Even if we don’t have the economies of scale surely we could assemble a decent army and navy by trading off with other areas of spending.

  51. I think you underestimate the kind of force required to be any kind of reasonable chance to be even be effective at pure defense.

    For a start we do not even have a nuclear program. We have no air superiority force, and our navy is tiny when you consider the size of our coastline.

    Considering Australia is not in a dangerous region and has no historical or obvious threats

    And this is completely untrue unless you are an Ostrich. The world’s largest muslim country is to our immediate North. The world’s next superpower sees Australia as the source of most of it’s raw materials.

    Just because we aren’t located in Israel doesn’t mean that there will never be a threat to Australia.

  52. “For a start we do not even have a nuclear program. We have no air superiority force, and our navy is tiny when you consider the size of our coastline.”

    As I said already it would mean allocating a lot more of the national budget on defense as opposed to other areas of spending. Granted it would never be any kind of ‘super force’ but would it be enough for defensive purposes? I really don’t know but it’s a question worth asking I think.

    “And this is completely untrue unless you are an Ostrich. The world’s largest muslim country is to our immediate North.”

    Just because they are Muslim does that mean they constitute an obvious threat?

    “The world’s next superpower sees Australia as the source of most of it’s raw materials.”

    So there is a significant chance China would invade Australia if it sensed we were vulnerable?

    Although nowhere in the world can be considered completely safe from attack from other countries I don’t think Australia has any historical enemies or obvious threats that require it to maintain military alliances (providing of course that its defensive capabilities were beefed up accordingly).

  53. “Just because they are Muslim does that mean they constitute an obvious threat?”

    Yes of course? You question is mystifying. They would be an obvious threat were they not Muslim. But being Muslim hardly takes that threat away.

    “So there is a significant chance China would invade Australia if it seemed we were venerable?”

    Yes of course? What was the point of the question? Do you somehow doubt this fact?

  54. New Zealand in recent years hasn’t been as active a participant in its alliance as Australia has. By your logic they are fucked, Yobbo, and it’s a surprise they haven’t been attacked already?

  55. I don’t think it is particularly the position of Australia that makes us safe, but simply the changed nature of international relations. Power and wealth are no longer linked to geography, so there is a much lower incentive to pay and die for geography. Consequently, small and defenceless states live quite easily surrounded by much more powerful states.

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