13 March 2007

Capital Punishment for Despots

It's time that the UN was given the power to assassinate world leaders.

As much as I've criticized George W. in this blog, I do agree with him about one thing: a head of state ought not to have the right to murder groups of his own citizenry. When a Hitler begins killing Jews, or Pol Pot begins to wipe out a quarter of Cambodia's population, or a Saddam begins killing Kurds, or when Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe begins to kill and imprison opposition party members, there ought to be a way for the world community to quickly intervene.

It seems like the two other options for dealing with this situation are simply immoral. The world community could bemoan the loss of life and do nothing. That's certainly an option we've chosen most often. Or the world community could launch an invasion, overthrow the government of the offending leader, perhaps even try and execute the leader. As we know too well, that, too, can create complications and can result in tens, or even hundreds, of thousands of innocent war casualties.

And perhaps it is just the eighth-grader in me coming out, but how hard could it be for the UN to use some combination of laser-guided bombs, hit squads, or poisoned quail eggs to execute an abusive leader? It has to be easier than either letting him commit genocide or sending in an army to topple his regime.

And if the rules were clear - if these world leaders who would imprison opposition leaders or would kill particular groups of their people know that there was a simple and clear consequence for such abuses - they might restrain themselves even when they’ve seized absolute power.

I realize that there are numerous complications that would come from such a policy. How does the UN decide? What happens when the next leader is just as bad or worse? These are just a couple of the questions raised by such a policy, but, again, it seems to me that these questions are less troublesome than the questions raised by passively witnessing abuse or actively occupying foreign countries.

It's not clear that such a power could rest with a single country like the US or Russia, or even a small group of countries like the G-8. Although it would make approval an administrative quagmire, it seems like the moral authority for assassinating a world leader could only come from an international body like the United Nations.

If we are serious about human rights as a global right and if we're practical about our inability to invade and occupy every despotic regime, it seems like we have no other choice.


Life Hiker said...

I'm against capital punishment, but in this case I'll make an exception. Nobody has the right to be a murderous despot.

I'd be for the U.N. making up a very small set of rules about identifying despots, then empowering the Security Council to enforce them as they see fit.

Perhaps the prospective victim could get one quiet warning about their behavior from the Secretary General...just a phone call to say "you are being watched". That's it. No negotiations.

Each of the Security Council members has more than enough means to surgically eradicate the asshole if he/she is hard of hearing.

It shouldn't take more than one or two quick mortalities for other potential assholes to get the idea.

The fact that several of these guys are living like kings in exile after killing hundreds of thousands is an indelible stain on the world community.

Ron Davison said...

LH - exactly!

Anonymous said...

Putting aside the moral arguments for the moment, I don't think practically it would work.

If you popped Saddam Hussein, for example, that would have put his rotten son in charge. Pop him, and that puts another rotten son in charge. Pop him, and I'm not sure who would take over, but he'd be rotten.

Here's another example: Pop Bush, and that puts Chaney in charge...

Well, anyway, the point is that you'd still end up having to invade and occupy the country to impose regime change.

Ron Davison said...

That gave me pause as well. I still say it's worth trying for two reasons. One, killing a series of despots still means that you're killing fewer people than if you launch an invasion or will be killed if you let him continue to murder. Two, eventually, even the bad leaders are going to pause before making the country their own killing ground. As LH says, too often these guys die of old age - a travesty. It is a moral outrage that a guy like Pol Pot would die of a heart attack decades after murdering 25% of Cambodia's population.

Anonymous said...

I would agree that killing a few people is less evil thank killing a lot of people, but there are other potential problems, too.

I think the worst offenders have an aura of invincibility that logic won't pierce. Hours before the Gulf War began, Hussein was given an opportunity to flee to Saudi Arabia (I think), but he didn't take it.

What would you do with heavily-armed despots, like China and Russia? What happens if you kill Kim Jung Il of Korea, and his nuclear-armed successor is out for revenge? What happens when a bunch of third-world countries decide that they, too, have the right to kill leaders they don't like? How long do you think it would be before Dick Cheney decided to assassinate leaders for his own selfish motives, for the humanitarian reason that spilling a little blood for oil is better than spilling a lot of blood for oil?

Ron Davison said...


Great questions but I'll only answer one: if it were the UN and not the US that had this power, it ought to seriously mitigate the influence of one Cheney on the process.

Why only answer one? Because to be fair, we'd have to ask the same questions about other policy options - like sitting by and watching genocide or launching an invasion or whatever else we can conceive. My claim is not that this policy would be problematic - I think it would be. My claim is just that the problems that would ensue from this approach would be less troublesom than the other approaches that I've seen.