The US Abstains at a UN Vote

The international news at the close of 2016 is all about the abstention of the United States regarding a United Nations condemnation of the state of Israel for its settlement policy.

What has the libertarian to say about this situation?

From the anarcho-capitalist point of view, matters are simple. There should not be a government of the U.S. There should not be a state of Israel. The governments of the member nations of the U.N. should all be disbanded. And, since that organization consists of the governments of many countries, it, too, should be terminated.

There is nothing wrong with this perspective. If it were fully implemented, the world would be a far better place. For if there is anything dangerous to mankind, it is national governments. In the previous century, they, all of them together, have been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of millions of people; the best estimates are in excess of two hundred million. And this is totally apart from the other millions of innocents who have perished from the incessant wars perpetrated by these malevolent institutions.

See on this claim the following:

Block, Walter. 2006. “Deaths by Government: Another Missing Chapter.” November 27.

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Branfman, Fred. 2013 “World’s Most Evil and Lawless Institution? The Executive Branch of the U.S. Government .”  Alternet. June 26;

Conquest, Robert. 1986. The Harvest of Sorrow, N.Y.: Oxford University Press;

Conquest, Robert. 1990. The Great Terror, Edmonton, Alberta: Edmonton University Press;

Courtois, Stephane, Nicolas Werth, Jean-Louis Panne, Andrzej Paczkowski, Karel Bartosek and Jean-Louis Margolin. 1999. The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression, trans. from French by Jonathan Murphy and Mark Kramer, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press;

DiLorenzo, Thomas. 2006. “Death by Government: The Missing Chapter.” November 22;

Rummel, R. J. 1992. Democide: Nazi Genocide and Mass Murder. Rutgers, New Jersey: Transaction Publisher

Rummel, R. J. 1994. Death By Government, New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction;;

Rummel, R. J. 1997. Statistics on Democide. Center on National Security and Law, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA

Some people reject statelessness on the ground that the Blood, or the Crips, or the Mafia, or other such groups would murder people. The above statistics ought to put paid to that fear.

However, this response is too easy.  We must not content ourselves with reiterating basic principles, even entirely valid ones, such as in the case of anarcho-capitalist libertarianism. We must dig a bit deeper into the issue of U.S abstention on the Security Council vote.

So, let us consider from yet another libertarian perspective the failure of the U.S. government to veto this particular U.N. critique of Israeli land settlements, as has been its traditional practice. From which other libertarian viewpoint? We next ponder this act, or, as some would say, failure to act, from the outlook of libertarian minarchism. This is predicated on the claim that there is such a thing as a legitimate government, but that it must be extremely limited, typically to armies, police, and courts. How, then, would a minarchist view these international goings-on?

Here is a flavor of what such a libertarian leader such as Ron Paul might adopt (and indeed has adopted) as his principles for international relations:

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George Washington: “The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible.”

Thomas Jefferson: “Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.”

John Quincy Adams: “America . . . goes not abroad seeking monsters to destroy.”

If we had to summarize this in four letters they would be: “MYOB.” That is, mind your own business. Yes, in this case, all the member states of the U.N. are legitimate, including the U.S. and Israel. However, it is the U.N. itself which is the main violator of minding our own business. Thus, that organization ought to be ended, and forthwith. From the (American) minarchist point of view, the U.N. should be completely disbanded. It involves all countries in meddling in something which is really none of the business of any of them – the affairs of other nations. Assuming, however, that the U.N. is maintained, then, at the very least, the U.S. ought to pull out of it, and inform this organization that it is no longer welcome in Manhattan.  Let us then wish the U.N. the best of luck – elsewhere – if not the bad cess that it really deserves.

But even this level of analysis does not really get to the essence of the abstention incident. Let us now focus, narrowly, on only that. We thus now assume the position of a libertarian who for some reason, perhaps a pragmatic one, thinks the U.N. ought to continue in existence, and that the U.S. ought to remain as a member of it. One possible program would be for the U.S. to step off the Security Council. If its membership in the U.N. is ambivalent at best from a libertarian point of view, but, for some reason we are positing that we must retain our membership, then the logical implication is for us to have as little to do with its decision-making apparatus as possible. This will be an unaccustomed position for the “leader of the free world” to occupy, but, if we are to be true to even our greatly attenuated principles, this would seem to be the only possible step to take. If we have to stay in the U.N., let us at least leave the Security Council.

At last, we must confront the actual position of the U.S. and its recent decision in this controversy. We now, arguendo, assume that for some reason the minarchist libertarian U.S. government remains not only in the U.N. but, also, as a member of its Security Council. What then? Should the U.S. vote for or against the proposal to condemn Israel for its settlement policies? The answer is, whichever is closest to the minarchist libertarian principle of minding our own business. When put in this way, the answer is clear. Voting either in favor or against the proposal is much more interventionist than merely abstaining. Abstention is the closest to these (rather attenuated) libertarian principles.

Thus, I support the position on this matter of the Obama administration.  I maintain that this decision was the closest to libertarian principles, assuming we do not disband the U.S. government, nor leave the U.N., nor absent ourselves from the Security Council. Barack Obama, libertarian? Well, at least in this one case, yes.

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