Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Sovereign irresponsibility

There was a fine article by Deborah Hart, the executive director of the Arbitrators' and Mediators' Institute of New Zealand, in Monday's Herald, making the sensible case that the supposedly controversial 'Investor State Dispute Settlement' (ISDS) process within the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) is actually a good idea. Read it for yourself: the gist is that ISDS "will work well for NZ" and that "Investor-state dispute settlement is therefore not something to be afraid of. It's part of being a trading nation in a globalised world".

What's baffled me most about the strong opposition to ISDS is the notion that "national sovereignty" is something that is sacrosanct, not to be jeopardised, diminished or traded away. If national sovereignty really trumps everything else, Dachau would still be open, apartheid flourishing, and every Tutsi in Rwanda and every Muslim in Serbia would be dead.

Progressives everywhere ought to welcome international controls on appalling behaviour by "sovereigns" - a useful crutch for the world's kleptocratic tyrants to lean on - as they have since (at least) the founding of the League of Nations in the wake of another fine exercise of national sovereignties, the Great War.

What "sovereigns" are demonstrating when they resist principles-based restraints - when, for example, neither China nor the US will participate in the International Criminal Court - is that they prefer the option of unprincipled behaviour. When countries sign up to the likes of the ICC, or to the ISDS provisions in the TPP, they're saying the opposite: we'll play fair, and we don't mind being judged on it. That's exactly where New Zealand should be.

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