Questioning legitimacy of rulers
Measuring and controlling the actions of governments
Dr. Richard Lawson
Editor's note: in response to Culture Change Letter #68, Can the ecopsychologically disturbed citizenry question legitimacy of rulers?, Dr. Lawson told us he is "interested in this question of the legitimacy of rulers. I enclose an exploratory piece about measuring and controlling illegitimate actions of governments." Upon our urging he sent in a full report, below. His title was Improving Governance at the International Level but he allowed the above present title. He has innovative suggestions that come from an honest analysis that does not get caught up in the details of governmental atrocity and mendacity. - JL
community deals with oppressive regimes in an inconsistent way, and on an ad
hoc basis. Prime Minister Blair
seems to be moving towards enshrining the ìpre-emptive warî into
international law ñ itself an implicit admission that the current US-UK
venture into Iraq was illegal.
war on badly performing states a
sustainable or rational way of arranging
world affairs? Is this an acceptable New World Order? There must be a
non-violent way of curbing the excesses of tyrannical regimes.
W Bushís Operation Iraqi Liberation shows that violent overthrow of oppressive
regimes causes as many problems as it solves.
The arbitrary and illegal actions of the US-led ìCoalition of the
willingî have caused unprecedented hostility and controversy. Yet on the other
hand few people support the idea that the international community should sit
back and watch while atrocities and genocide take place as in Rwanda and Kosovo.
Millennium Report to the United Nations General Assembly, Secretary-General Kofi
Annan challenged the international community to address the real dilemmas posed
by intervention and sovereignty. The independent International Commission on
Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) was established by the Canadian
government in September 2000 to respond to that challenge, and has presented a
that indicates when and how military action might be taken against an oppressive
This leaves us
in the position of using military violence against a state, violence in which
innocent bystanders are bound to be injured and killed.
In place of this, the
world needs a non-violent system that rewards good governance and gives
disadvantages to governments that are tending
towards oppression and genocide.
we need a reliable measure of governmental performance.
Several models for this already exist.
It would not be difficult to develop an instrument of this kind so that
each country in the UN could be ranked in order, with well-performing
governments with good human rights records at the top, and badly performing
countries at the bottom.
second phase of the process would be to allocate diplomatic advantages and
disadvantages to governments in each band on the scale.
Those at the higher end of the scale would have least restrictions.
Those lower down would be subject to a progressively tougher ìsmart
sanctionsî ñ designed to restrict the regime without hurting the people.
problem lies in the way governments are accepted by the international community.
Essentially, government is de facto and not de jure.
Anyone who controls the army and the police is the Government. For
our leaders, the question is not, ìIs this a decent government dedicated to
justiceî but ìWill he align with us or with some other bloc? Will he trade
with us? He may be a bastard, but is he our bastard?î Tyranny is
tolerated and overlooked by governments when it suits them. When it is expedient
or desirable to do so from the point of view of our leaders, the tyrant that we
have been supporting may be denounced in the UN and at home.
He is portrayed as the new Hitler in our media. Full on sanctions are
applied. Later, the bombing starts.
His people are killed as collateral damage, his country is reduced to rubble,
and the development process is set back by decades.
the time, our government and those of our allies are presented as
ìdemocraticî and therefore above reproach.
simplistic good/bad categorisation is not a true representation of the
situation. Standards of Governance
range on a continuum from the reasonably good (e.g. Scandinavian) through the
indifferent to the thoroughly unpleasant (e.g. Husseinís Iraq, Burma,
need to redefine what constitutes a legitimate Government, moving its basis from
the de facto towards the de jure.
order to reflect this continuum, a league table of governmental performance
should be created, so that governments could see where they matched up to on an
objective set of criteria. It would be a measuring rule to rate the quality of
governance of any state.
performance of any institution can be measured. There are at least two
instruments in existence, which
can form the basis for measuring governmental performance. The Observer
Index of Human Rights (http://www.guardian.co.uk/rightsindex/Story/0,2763,201762,00.html)
is a good working model. It was compiled in two ways. The first ñ
the simple ranking ñ
represents the incidence of 10 headline abuses given a score that relates to the
intensity of the abuses in each country. The controversy of this method of
scoring is that it does not take into account the relative cultural development
of the country; so another factor was added to take account of this.
approach has been also been developed by the Purdue Terror Scale (http://www.ippu.purdue.edu/failed_states/1999/
) which was created in 1983 by Michael Stohl. It is a graded scale for
measuring human rights violation and was adapted from work originally published
by Raymond Gastil of Freedom House in 1979. The raw information for the
scale comes from the United States Department of State and the Amnesty
International Annual Reports on
countriesí Human Rights practices.
these instrument, further factors could be added in. For instance, the New
Economics Foundation has pioneered the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare
which gives a better pointer to the economic health of a nation than the
narrowly focused GDP.
factors which could be included might be the following:…
indices would be run together into a final score, an Index of Governance,
leading to a league table of nationsí performance.
would not be a difficult or expensive task, and could be run by a modest
secretariat, on an on-going basis.
the Index is installed, work can be started on the far more difficult task of
influencing the behaviour of governments. Diplomatic
and economic rights and privileges should be accorded to each country in
proportion to their score on the Index of Governance. If the ranking
of a country falls, the privileges are reduced. If the position on
the index rises, the privileges increase. According to a UN agreed
protocol, a failing country will incur penalties on a graduated basis. The
penalties will be carefully designed to avoid hurting the people of the country
a lesson learned from the sufferings of the Iraqi people due to the post-1991
sanctions. The sanctions will be
targeted onto the elite ruling classes of the country.
are some examples of possible sanctions:
Loss of specified voting rights in UN, with diminution of the power of
the countryís vote.
… Assistance given to democratic opposition groups who support principles of good governance.
Tightened border controls, in readiness for smart sanctions.
Loss of ability to receive loans.
the country falls further down the scale, graduated sanctions are introduced
progressively, beginning with financial transfer restrictions, then followed by
restrictions on trade in:
dual purpose technology,
chemical weapon precursors,
wines and spirits,
tobacco, cars, oil & oil products, and luxury items.
these measures fail to get the oppressive government to reform, opposition
groups who support the principles of good governance will be entrusted and
empowered with responsibility for imports of, and fair distribution of,
necessities like food and medicines.
effect will be that all parties know where they stand. If Governments
choose to behave badly, they know that there will be a price to pay for that
behaviour. Good governance will be rewarded and bad governance will be
inhibited on a continuous basis.
It is clear that
the second part of this proposal will be very difficult to implement, and will
raise many objections.
proposal runs counter to the aims and practices of the WTOî.
The central objection of the anti-globalisation campaign is that
globalisation sets free trade above human and environmental values. There
is a direct contradiction between the aims of the World Trade Organisation and
the aims of the Human Rights, Green and Peace movements. The WTO and
associated organisations could be challenged by the anti-war movement to assent
to these proposals as their contribution towards the war effort. There is
no better time than the present to make this challenge.
Proposal Challenges The Notion Of Absolute Sovereigntyî.
doctrine of state sovereignty was introduced about five hundred years ago to end
the meddling of the Pope in secular affairs and so is overdue for
revision. We should be under no illusions as to how difficult it will be
to institutionalise this system of international standards of governance.
What leader of a country is going to let go of any degree of his sovereign power
to a council of his peers, even if it is in the cause of inhibiting wars and
terrorism? A great deal of
pressure from citizens persuaded of the essential rationality of the proposal
will be necessary.
is the old idea of World Governmentî
It is not.
World Government implies a standard regime affecting all aspects of
behaviour; this proposal is simply restricted to prevention of inhumane
Regimes Will Simply Walk Out Of The UNî
is a major risk of this strategy. It should be recognised that the UN is
severely under-resourced ñ its total budget is less than Britainís military
expenditure, and its establishment is less than the NHS establishment in Wales.
For this initiative to succeed we need first a progressive strengthening
of the power, influence and usefulness of the UN.
new world order is possible on paper, a suitable subject for speeches and
articles, but in the harsh world of international realpolitik, it runs
smack into the buffers of state sovereignty.
The choice before the world is clear: either continue as we are under a regime of sovereign states oppressing their people and going to war with each other, or a community of states who are signed up to a common set of ground rules, and in which good governance is rewarded with power and trading advantages, and poor governance is inhibited with loss of privilege and trading disadvantages. The cycle of violence is endemic in human history. Modern wars are so destructive, whether fought with high explosives or machetes, that we must create a different political framework. This central reality is the motivation that will help us slowly to overcome the self-interest of politicians.
Richard Lawson is a member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. Learn
more about him at