Overseas Interventions As Testing Grounds for Government Intervention at Home
The United States doesn’t run an old-style foreign empire. But the U.S. government operates an”experimental empire” when foreign military operations open the door to testing large-scale “nation-building” projects. Quotes because such projects never actually build nations, but do build new government enterprises and experience. And unfortunately that state-building institutional experience tends to rebound on the U.S.
Economic and social recovery after the chaos and destruction of war is important. But not every important thing is within the competence of U.S. federal government agencies. When federal agencies engage in overseas “nation-building” exercises, the billions spent must first be extracted from taxpayers, or, if borrowed, must be repaid to creditors by future taxpayers.
But beyond the large cost of nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan, and separate from the chaos in those countries attributable to poorly (though expensively) “rebuilt” nations, there is a further problem:
What if foreign interventions abroad have the long-term effect of undermining liberties and freedoms at home? This paper explores how interventions abroad can affect domestic government activities in a way that reduces its citizens’ freedoms and liberties. Although our analysis is generalizable, we focus on a specific “Great Republic”—the United States—because of its global dominance in economic and military affairs. We develop a theory of the “boomerang effect” of foreign interventions for understanding Twain’s “natural process” through which interventions abroad increase the scope of government activities domestically, resulting in a reduction of citizens’ liberties and freedoms.
Christopher Coyne and Abigail Hall explain the problem in their Fall 2014 article “Perfecting Tyranny: Foreign Intervention as Experimentation in State Control” in the Independent Review (pdf of full article here. First page is advertisement for Independent Review).
Critics of the State Department and Agency for International Development (USAID) have long noted that policies promoted and funded in other countries, like land reform in Latin America, the U.S. government wouldn’t be able to carry out at home. Unequal distribution of income, wealth, and land have long been criticized by socialists, but, needless to say, a federal program to, say, break up vast privately-owned ranches in Texas and distribute them to hundreds of poorer residents nearby, would run into opposition.
U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) insisted on similar reforms in El Salvador, for example, as a condition of foreign aid. Here is Jim Bovard discussing USAID’s $250 million in funding for the El Salvador government in the early 1980s to seize “the property of hundreds of the largest farmers, began setting up cooperatives, and promised to eventually turn the land over to small farmers.”
Similarly, U.S. government agencies have funded invasive population control program in Latin America and the Middle East that they could not carry out in the U.S.. For this sad story, see Matthew Connelly’s book Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population. (Searching the book with Amazon’s Look Inside, there are references to Egypt and Islamic authorities objecting to U.S. and U.N. population control/family planning programs.)
From the U.S. State Department population webpage:
The United States strongly supports the Program of Action of the International Commission on Population and Development (ICPD), which was negotiated and accepted by 179 governments in 1994 in Cairo…
The link in the State Department page takes readers to the “Master Plans for Development” page of UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund). These programs are not old-style population control programs. Instead, these are new-style population control programs, and claim over and over that no coercion is to be involved. Still the premise is that governments have ought to have authority in these policies. Advocates still see rapid population growth in the developing world as the cause or at least a major contributing factor for poverty and conflict. Economists tend to focus on the lack of economic freedom in a country as the source of continued conflict and poverty. PovertyCure and PovertyInc videos focus on lack of free enterprise as the problem rather than lack of population control.
The United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHCR) has this 2005 article in response to “Refugee Claims Based on Coercive Family Planning Laws or Policies“
Family planning policies are an exercise of State authority in socio-economic development and can legitimately be aimed at improving the quality of life and common welfare of the population. As worded in Principle 5 of the 1994 Programme of Action of the United Nations International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD): “Population-related goals and policies are integral parts of cultural, economic and social development, the principal aim of which is to improve the quality of life of all people.”1
I would argue that such programs are not a legitimate role of government in the U.S. or in other countries. At the very least, U.S. tax dollars shouldn’t fund such programs in Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, India or anywhere else.
The Coyne/Hall article deals with military interventions (not population control programs), and notes the U.S. government learns from trying out various economic interventions overseas:
Foreign interventions serve as a testing ground for domestically constrained governments to experiment with new forms of state-produced social control over distant populations. Intervening abroad allows governments to circumvent many of the domestic constraints that end at the nation’s geographic borders. The relative weakness or altogether absence of international constraints allows members of the intervening government to develop and hone new methods of control over citizens. Under certain conditions, these innovations in social control are then imported back to the intervening country through several channels that change the costs and benefits associated with expanding the scope of domestic government activities. The result is that the intervening government becomes more effective at controlling not only foreign populations but the domestic population as well. (Source: “Perfecting Tyranny: Foreign Intervention as Experimentation in State Control“)
For debaters looking to reform U.S./Middle East policy, perhaps the lesson is to restrict U.S. military operations to protecting the U.S. from future attacks, rather than trying to direct the economic and social rebuilding of foreign countries.
Governments often utilize rhetoric of freedom, liberty, and virtue to justify and legitimize foreign interventions. This supposed commitment to higher ideals is indicated by the names that governments typically assign to foreign military interventions—Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Falcon Freedom, and so on. Despite this rhetoric, the boomerang effect indicates that interventions abroad can have the effect of, among other things, undermining and eroding freedoms at home by changing the very nature of the political rules and structure that are intended to prevent government tyranny. (Source: “Perfecting Tyranny: Foreign Intervention as Experimentation in State Control“)