Monday, April 20, 2009

Smart Coups?

Commenting on the Obama/Clinton foreign policy strategy of "smart power," Paul Collier makes a case for military coups.
...the international community monitors elections, declaring whether they are free and fair. The European Community and the Carter Center have been doing it for years. Yet at present these judgments have no consequences. Smart power would link them to the threat of a coup. An election judged free and fair would trigger an undertaking by the major democracies to use their best efforts to protect the government from a coup. Often this would be quite straightforward because the perpetrators of coups could not withstand even modest external military intervention. If a subsequent election was judged not to be free and fair this undertaking would be publicly lifted. It would be sensible to lift it because, if the army did oust a president who had won an election fraudulently, the international community would not want to be committed to restoring him. But the public lifting of protection would be a signal: in effect it would invite the military to oust the incumbent. Were a coup to take place, the international community could then recognise it, conditional upon monitored elections being held within a set period. In effect, the international community would be providing a guidance system for the previously unguided missile of the coup.

This proposal will provoke howls of outrage about infringements of sovereignty. But the outrage will be misplaced. Where an incumbent president abuses power to steal an election he forfeits the right to non-interference. Further, while historically the major international powers have themselves lacked legitimacy, President Obama is not so burdened. Africans are not just as enthused about Obama as the rest of us, they are proud of him. He is, not unreasonably, seen by Africans as partly African himself. Obama's father was a Kenyan Luo, like Raila Odinga, the opposition candidate in the last Kenyan elections. A prescient quip during the Kenyan elections was that America would have a Luo president before Kenya, and so it has proved. This African identity gives Obama the moral authority to intervene, not of course, to further American interests, but to support the basic tenets of accountable governance. Obama now has at his command an African-based American military force, AfriCom, whose mission statement emphasises its intention to conduct military operations which would help to promote a stable and secure African environment. This is the force which could now be entrusted with the role of putting down coups against properly elected governments. There would be ample opportunity to act in such a way. For example, last year the democratically elected government of Mauritania was ousted in a coup which was condemned by the African Union. The condemnation was without consequence. Had Obama authorised a temporary military intervention to restore the elected government, would this have been an outrageous abuse of sovereignty? If a subsequent president of Mauritania stole an election, would it be an outrage for that protection to be withdrawn?

This is, I think, an example of what smart power might look like. A minimal amount of existing hard power, namely the occasional use of AfriCom to put down a coup, is linked to a more extensive use of existing soft power, namely the monitoring and assessment of elections....


MT said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MT said...

(I had it a little backwards for a minute)