The practice in which a foreign military force occupies a country to build infrastructure (such as roads and schools) and/or to protect the local government until it becomes stable. Nation building is highly controversial. Proponents argue that it stabilizes nascent democracies and protects local citizens, while critics contend that it is an unnecessary use of resources and can protect unpopular governments.
Last week, British Prime Minister Theresa May unequivocally stated that “the days of Britain and America intervening in sovereign countries in an attempt to remake the world in our own image are over.” Whether or not this declaration holds true or not, and mark me down as being highly dubious, remains to be seen. But, the sentiment is correct nonetheless. Call it “isolationism” if it makes one feel better, but foreign policies of spreading democracy to the world’s many nations and regions by fire and sword, particularly to nations that are simply not ready for it, as their own respective histories clearly indicate, is in dire need of abandonment.
Nearly the entirety of the 20th and 21st centuries have been characterized unilaterally by this fallaciously destructive foreign policy. Progressives of the early twentieth century first embraced a notion of new age empiricism in the name of spreading democracy, and ultimately undiversified control, culminating in the tragically erroneous democratic peace theory. America de facto engaged in both World Wars largely against its people’s collective will – in a word, undemocratically – and both were terrible examples of avoidable human suffering and pestilence, cultural and private property destruction and confiscation, and a de-liberalized economy. Add to this the Truman Doctrine, itself inspired by the so-called Domino Theory, and you have one government aggressively spreading its political doctrine in proxy contra-force to another’s, in one near-perpetual conflict after another. And of course, we have a ready-made geopolitical doctrine to supplant the old, now that the Cold War is over: a Global War on Terrorism.
It seems the new religion has replaced the old in this capacity.
It is simply not possible to force democracy upon a people who are culturally unfamiliar with the institution, hostile towards its implementation, civilly underdeveloped, and/or otherwise unwilling to accept it, any more than it is to force sobriety upon an unwilling or unable alcoholic. Logic dictates that if a given country wanted, were ready for, and were therefore accepting of democracy, it would not require violent imposition to realize this outcome. And this is just the practical downside of such international meddling. There also exists no constitutional legal authority granted to the United States federal government to conduct such aggressively destructionist foreign policy. In effect, all such warfare inspired primarily by a nation building goal – as opposed to legitimate and demonstrable defense, which is exceedingly rare – is illegal. Ethically, visiting aggressive violence upon another actor for their own alleged benefit simply does not wash. This is analogous to beating someone to death because they choose not to vote.
And this broader question is not just a foreign policy issue. If it is true that violently spreading political ideals across the globe is illegal, unethical, and impractical, then it also holds true that doing so domestically across a given society is equally so. The only difference between the two scenarios is one of scale, not of substance. So it unsurprising that the warfare state which constantly engages in aggressive international nation building also tends to unethically and violently impose unwanted ideologies upon its own constituency as well.
In this day and age, everyone – from individuals to the collectively represented governments that legally monopolize violence on their behalf – could do with minding their own business a whole lot more.