An organizing principle around territorial integrity might have some value.. my sense is that the impact will be minor. It is largely a talking point. Just as impact of institutions such as the UN has been minor (certainly as compared to the mindshare and financial resources consumed by these institutions). The major changes in the world have overwhelmingly occurred outside these constructs.

The world has always been driven by raw power (economic, political, cultural, military). In some sense this is natural (as in competition of the fittest). However, it turns out that in such a world willing cooperation in groups can generate great power, and in order to maintain a functional society, generally one needs to motivate a significant part of the population. This is true everywhere except in very narrow economic structures such a Petro states. Why? A very small number of people can control the key resource and they really don't care about the rest of the population.

If we look at the breakdown of cooperation or as you put it Pax America [which I don't think ever really existed, at least as presented], it is invariably driven by Petro states: Venezuela (Guyana), Russia (ukraine), Iran (Israel, etc)....

The best way to address these issues is actually to drain the power from the Petro-state by reducing the value of their basic good. Moving to alternative fuel sources will have far more impact on these issues vs any declaration of a principle around territorial integrity.

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What a thoughtful, insightful, interesting, helpful essay!

I learned a lot: "All land is stolen land." That's a bumper sticker, but if essayed out, it holds water in that "everybody came from somewhere else."

And I agree that territorial integrity is a viable strategy for all nations at all times. Of course, there'll be exceptions, unique situations, and confusing issues, but the strategy has legs, in my opinion; if some other, new idea comes along that seems better, we'll download it. We make progress, if we do, one step at at time, no? Patience is a virtue and a requirement for maintaining a modicum of peace and world order.

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Dec 11, 2023Liked by Noah Smith

I see a variant of indigenism in Russian and Chinese territorial claims. It's not so much "Chinese people have always resided in these lands", but "Historically these lands have been part of the domain of Chinese civilization". Ditto for Russia. It's kind of a bizarre indigenist-imperialist fusion, a right to historically conquered lands.

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Brink back Westphalia.

And the best policy for the US to accomplish this is it increase its own geopolitical clout, notably fast economic growth per capita with a large inflow of merit-based immigrants.

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Dec 11, 2023·edited Dec 11, 2023

So obviously the Venezuelan thing is made up just because of oil. But I was curious about their historical claim on the territory. The Wikipedia summary on the arbitration of 1899 sure reflects poorly on the US and UK.

No Venezuelan was allowed to be on the panel. (The final panel was 2 Americans, 2 British, and 1 Russian.) Venezuela wasn't even allowed to pick their own representatives: the US picked for them. The British said they'd ignore the decision if they didn't like it. The Russian demanded a unanimous decision, for appearances. The US side (representing Venezuela) found the British arguments preposterous but in the face of the above folded. No explanation was given for the final decision, which gave Britain 90% of the disputed territory, including all of the gold mines. Faced with a combined Britain, UK, and Russia, Venezuela reluctantly accepted the arbitration result.

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This is quite half baked.

Talking about Westphalian sovereignty as the unit for resisting foreign domination as opposed to indigeneity, you run into a problem.

Most places in the world were brought into sovereign Westphalian states through the intercession and control of external powers. Sure, Swiss people are happy with their sovereign borders but most places outside of Europe are not. Africa is famous for "Europe drew some lines without local input"

It would be like asking everyone to to be happy with the shirt they have on when some people have shirts that they went to a shop and had fitted, while the rest are wearing hand me downs from someone of a different age, weight, gender, and made from garbage bags.

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Gaza is a clear case of recognized international boundaries. The 1949 armistice defined the borders, and there was even some territorial exchange for this purpose. In 2005, the Israeli government itself clarified that it would not allow any Jewish settlement within the Gaza Strip. The West Bank and certainly Jerusalem are a more ambiguous case.

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Dec 11, 2023Liked by Noah Smith

On humanitarian interventionism - I can't be the only one who, at the sad time of John McCain's passing, had the poetic thought that the idea he symbolised was dying with him.

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Dec 11, 2023·edited Dec 12, 2023

I'm Venezuelan so I am familiar with this topic, also note that a friend of mine a couple of years ago wrote a legal opinion for Guyana which changed my mind on this dispute.

Venezuela may or may not have gotten screwed by the 1899 arbitration result. One of the arbitrators wrote a letter to be opened AFTER HIS DEATH which explained that Venezuela had been screwed. He died and the letter was opened in 1948, fifty years after Venezuela had accepted the result of the arbitration. So from a legal point of view, Venezuela had a major uphill climb to reverse the arbitration result.

Since the 1960s this topic got drilled into the head of all Venezuelans with unwavering ferocity to the point that an otherwise rational Venezuelan will probably lose all rationality when discussing the Esequibo.

In 2004 Chavez decided he wanted Guyana's vote at the UN and other international arenas, so his then-assistant-and-now-president Maduro reaffirmed Venezuela's acceptance of Guyana's sovereignty over the disputed area, weakening Venezuela's legal case even further.

But what is driving this topic a the moment is Maduro's internal political weakness heading into the scheduled 2024 presidential elections. In a failed attempt to rally support, on December 3 Maduro ordered a referendum about the Esequibo. But the utterly anemic attendance at the polls stands in stark contrast to very high attendance at the opposition primary held just a few weeks earlier on October 22.

The perhaps-unexpected result of the December 3 referendum is that it is now abundantly clear to every Venezuelan that Maduro has very little support within the country.

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“With the advent of cheap FPV drones, light long-range ATGMs, and other technologies, the kind of breakthrough advances by massed armored vehicles that characterized warfare in the 20th century appear to be far more difficult and rare; the advantage now lies with the defender. This means that it’s easier for countries to defend their borders than ever before.”

Lest we forget, 30 drone hobbyists on bicycles turned back a 41-mile-long heavily armed Russian convoy. Each Russian tank in that convoy cost US$3 million.

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This isn’t a piece that I would present in Edinburgh or Cardiff. Or parts of Belfast. Or probably any First Nations reservation.

Facts in the ground and territorial integrity do matter, but arguing against people being indigenous actually would lead, would have led, to imperialism not ever being challenged.

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I think that if the US is going to be the international border police it might want to practice on its own borders first.

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I appreciate how succinctly this article covers the topic, encapsulating a couple undergrad lectures I attended decades ago.

That said, I do find the idea that the US is the spoiler of empires a bit rich, when it is an empire itself and shows no interest in divesting its remaining holdings.

Fwiw, the US is about the most benign empire one could ask to have around, and one reason that its territories are not straining to leave, even where it hasn't overwhelmed the conquered population.

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X is to social media what crypto is to currencies: unstable, ephemeral with the half-life of a jar of mayonnaise in Death Valley, with the mercurial power to destroy lives and livelihoods across the socio-economic spectrum. Why not just start each morning with a gargle of nitroglycerin? The irony is that many of its dupes are very talented, very smart individuals who could make positive impacts on society and culture. It’s not enough to be smart. Character outweighs intelligence in the long term. I’ll take EQ over IQ any day of the week.

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"Liberal interventionism isn't going to present a real challenge to territorial integrity in the next decade or two."

Liberal interventionism has been the driving force of US policy since the late 80's. Liberals believe in their universal principles with theological vigor. The EU conditioned Ukrainian aid on Kiev passing an LGBT law. This confirming that we're fighting to queer the Donbas, whether Ukrainians want it queered or not. Liberal interventionism is only accelerating.

"For one thing, the U.S. no longer has the power to play world police."

If this is true, why even write the essay? If we're too weak to do anything, our policy doesn't matter. If we're strong enough to do something, our ruling class tends to fall into liberal interventionism.

"I believe that territorial integrity should be the U.S.’ central guiding principle. Territorial integrity simply means a world where no one has to be afraid that an army is about to march into their home and subjugate them."

I concur with the sentiment, but sentiment is a poor basis for foreign policy. Look at a map of Asia and tell me how this applies. Kashmir? Tibet? Burma? Bangladesh? Korea? Taiwan? Philippines? And don't even get started on the --stans. Even Europe isn't clear cut: did Spain invade Catalonia or are Catalans engaging in indigious separatism? What about Finnish Karelia? Is Cyprus Greek or Turkish or independent? And we'll need a reality TV show to sort out Africa, a continent whose map must be redrawn every few years. When Sudan invades S. Sudan is that a "territorial integrity breach" or is it putting down an "indigenous rebellion"? Wash, rinse, repeat... annually.

Here's a novel theory for US military policy: "We are the champions of freedom everywhere but the guarantors of only our own. We go not in search of monsters to destroy." I like that one better. Absent a threat on the scale of Hitler (and Putin isn't Hitler, people), it's time to start using those 2 large oceans to our advantage again.

I'm willing to apply that to Taiwan and Ukraine (countries I have no interest in having my daughters drafted to defend) and also to Israel and Azerbaijan (countries I would be ideologically tempted to defend.) Enforcing a "look not for monsters to destroy" principle prevents both the Left and Right from giving into their respective temptations.

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I sure do regret that Bush et al have made such a mess out of the humanitarian interventionism doctrine.

I know that for Americans, this has mostly equated to loss of life and budget + opportunous attacks from all ideological sides equating every American action with imperialism.

But for us who grew up in countries such as Croatia, where US was the key player (diplomatically and militarily) stopping ethnic cleansing and genocide, that interventionism saved lives. There is a reason why we still today trust US more than Germany or France and why wanted to join the NATO. And why our soldiers are in Poland right now. Something is lost when the best we can come up with is “preserve territorial integrity, but what happens within borders is fair game no matter how bad it gets”.

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