In his seminal book, “Losing Ground,” Charles Murray used the construct of a “thought experiment” to explore an idea he found fetching but wasn’t willing to embrace fully.
In Murray’s case, the idea was abolishing the welfare system. And his book made clear that, on balance, he was very much inclined to think that would be a good thing.
I’ve had a couple of “thought experiments” going on in my head regarding foreign policy. Unlike Murray, these ideas make me highly uncomfortable. I think they are, on balance, bad ideas and should not be pursued.
Nevertheless, constructive alternatives also don’t seem to exist. So, they seem worth at least thinking about out loud. Here they are.
• Does the world need a new kind of colonialism?
This wouldn’t be the old-style colonialism in which a developed country controls the governance of an undeveloped country to exploit the latter’s natural resources and create a captive market for the former’s exports.
Instead, it would involve temporary governance of highly troubled or dangerous places. Three candidates come to mind.
The first is Somalia. Piracy from its coast threatens world shipping. Al-Qaida sympathizers are a danger to take over. Yet the place hasn’t had stable governance since at least the early 1990s.
The most compelling is Darfur, where the slaughter is heartbreaking and enraging.
And the most dangerous is the Northwest mountainous region of Pakistan, which the Pakistani government seems more inclined to simply cede to the Taliban. The possibility of an al-Qaida safe haven developing there, like in pre-9/11 Afghanistan, is very real.
Various African and U.N. efforts have been undertaken regarding Somalia and Darfur. They have been fruitless and will remain so.
The United States is undertaking military action in the border region in Pakistan. But the U.S. isn’t simply going to take over the place and govern it for awhile.
A few years ago, I advocated that a League of Democratic Nations be formed with an independent constabulary force. This would not be a force consisting of troops loaned by member nations. It would be truly independent, with troops working for the league and with a league command structure.
That way, things that were in the best interest of the collective, but not in the best interest of individual countries to take the lead on, could get done.
Of course, there are serious moral issues with one set of sovereign nations deciding to take over and run the territory of other countries, as well as issues of international law.
And there are serious doubts about the likelihood of success. These are highly dangerous places. Establishing order in them would be difficult and bloody.
Alternatives with a better chance of success, however, aren’t readily at hand.
• Should the United States and Japan vow to shoot down the next North Korean long-range missile?
The diplomatic effort to get North Korea to stop its development of nuclear weapons and curtail its arms trade seems stuck in an endless loop. North Korea makes promises in exchange for assistance, breaks them, and then starts the process all over.
China is the only country with sufficient leverage to put an end to the loop. But China seems to fear instability in North Korea more than its security threat to others.
North Korea’s threat, both intrinsic and as an arms merchant, would be much greater if it develops a long-range missile. So far, its test efforts have failed.
The United States and Japan, which have been conjointly developing missile defenses, could ensure that North Korea’s long-range missile capability remains uncertain by vowing to shoot down any new test rockets.
No one will want to buy long-ranges missiles that haven’t been proved to work. And if North Korea proceeded with a test anyway, it would offer a valuable, although high-stakes, field test of our missile defense technology.
The reaction of North Korea and China to such a vow is difficult to gauge. Right now, the risks probably exceed the potential gains.
But it would be a game-changer, when nothing else seems to have the potential to be.
Robert Robb, an Arizona Republic columnist, writes about public policy and politics in Arizona. E-mail: email@example.com