Whose Right?

Will the United States intervene in Syria? Will any other nation?

Mitt Romney has criticized President Obama for not taking a more forceful approach toward the Syrian regime, which has been cracking down on protesters and rebels, leaving an estimated 10,000 dead. And more pundits are now taking his side. “The Obama administration must be willing to use force in Syria,” writes columnist David Rohde in Reuters. “The risks of inaction now outweigh the risks of action.”

It is not much over a year ago that Muammar Qaddafi was deposed in Libya, thanks to active intervention by several Western powers, for what were described as humanitarian reasons. Now, with turmoil in Syria, a similar set of questions presents itself: When should a nation’s sovereignty be violated in the name of humanitarian interests?

Such questions are hardly new, and they intrigued Peter Drucker, much as they intrigued most engaged citizens of the 20th century.

Drucker considered the nation-state to be here to stay. “There has been talk about the ‘end of sovereignty’ since well before 1918,” Drucker wrote in Management Challenges for the 21st Century. “But nothing has emerged yet to take the place of national government and national sovereignty in political affairs.”

But, as enduring as Drucker considered national sovereignty to be, he did not consider it sacred—especially not in cases where governments were abusing their citizens. “By no stretch of the imagination can it be accepted a legitimate purpose of government to dehumanize” its people, Drucker wrote in Landmarks of Tomorrow. What was required was “international action to ban such powers,” and “if this is incompatible with ‘sovereignty’—and it is—then ‘sovereignty’ has become incompatible with human survival and must be limited.”

How to make this happen in practice was the question. “World government cannot do the job,” Drucker wrote. But there was a need to a establish a “supernational power to hear appeals from the citizen against his government, or from government against government, and to give effective legal relief against governments transgressing the new limitations on their power.” He added, “I have no illusion that this will be easy.”

When do you think intervention in a sovereign state’s internal affairs is right?