A Libertarian Foreign Policy
We can still promote human rights across the globe without getting entangled in foreign messes
Is it possible for America to simultaneously:
promote human rights and freedom around the world
not get our involved in foreign conflicts and spend massive amounts of money propping up questionable governments
In the words of everyone’s favorite constitutional scholar, jailer of journalists and fan of bombing foreign countries, YES WE CAN!
The answer here is really simple. A libertarian foreign policy is as simple as encouraging the large scale development, manufacture ,and export of asymmetric weapons.
Asymmetric Weapons are Peace Weapons
A Javelin missile is a weapon of peace because it can destroy a five million dollar tank, and yet it costs less than one hundred thousand dollars. The fact that javelin missiles can be used to destroy extremely expensive weapons of war, raises the cost of an invasion using armored vehicles. Asymmetric weapons that make wars much more expensive for invaders than defenders are weapons of peace.
Everything in warfare has to be viewed through the lens of economics. Libertarians believe that wars and politics aren’t really different from each other; we view wars as being a more honest form of politics, whereby two groups use violence to resolve their conflicts. We view laws as being a kind of ritual form of violence; necessary, but still violence.
Libertarians want a world where the winners of violent conflicts are those that are fundamentally peaceful and are only trying to govern themselves, not others. We can advance that aim by investing in lowering the cost of technologies that help small groups prevail over larger ones.
Libertarian foreign policy can aim to create new technology that dramatically raises the cost of imposing order on people who don’t want that order imposed on. Instead of trying to shape foreign military by picking winners and losers, libertarian foreign policy can act as a subsidy for people trying to defend their homes by lowering the cost of defensive, asymmetric weapons everywhere.
Encryption helps small groups fight against larger ones. Machine learning surveillance networks helps large groups control smaller ones. A libertarian defense department should ensure that effective cryptography is widely available and easy to use, and promote strategies for deceiving large scale facial recognition systems.
Weapons like javelins and heat seeking missiles allow small groups to destroy armored vehicles. A libertarian defense industry should specialize in the manufacture of weapons that can destroy vehicles of war. Invasions are much harder to pull off if you have to do them on foot.
Small drones and robots carrying tiny payloads can blow up massive ammunition dumps and twenty million dollar fighter jets on tarmacs. A libertarian defense industry should make it easy for people anywhere to manufacture both drones and explosives.
The ultimate peace weapon would be a forcefield that made an individuals completely invulnerable. This peace weapon would force the world to adopt libertarian principles, since if you can’t hurt someone who says ‘no’, how can you tax them or imprison them against their will? If it were possible for individuals, or communities, to cheaply generate completely impenetrable barriers, the world would become libertarian overnight. Libertarian defense research should find ways to make it possible for small groups to make themselves much more expensive to attack.
Aren’t I describing a terrifying world of incessant conflict? Doesn’t this place an in ordinate amount of trust in ordinary people? These are great objections, and they have been raised through history, primarily by royalists and opponents of liberalism. These same objections were raised against the existence of the crossbow.
Crossbows, Not Knights
The entire social order of feudalism makes much more sense when you understand knights as being more wealthy warriors wearing ten million dollar suits of power armor. The catholic church threatened anyone who used crossbows with excommunication because a crossbow allowed an untrained peasant to kill a noble, which threatened to upend the entire social order of Europe.
The ban on crossbows gets to the heart of the libertarian philosophy.
If peace and prosperity come from a top down order, enforced through fear (either of violence or damnation), then the only way to have world peace is for the good guys to have the most powerful top down order. This belief is really saying, “good guys should form an empire and dominate everyone else,” which is probably something many of our ancestors would agree with. Stated directly, this view strikes us as deeply uncomfortable today. But lots of us still hold this view, so we “do the modern thing” and keep believing it while pretending we don’t.
The modern catholic church is nowhere near as powerful as it was, but its role as “solely licensed purveyor of narratives and controller of geopolitical outcomes” has plenty of replacements, all of whom are now floundering due to the internet. The printing press broke the catholic church’s narrative monopoly and the internet plays a similar role for today’s equivalent.
Libertarianism is scary to lots of people because it argues that peace and prosperity come from the bottom up. This is a controversial idea; lots of people would prefer that the world be run by an invulnerable dictator who shares their values, rather than trusting that the world can stabilize and moderate itself as long as good people have the courage to arm themselves. Many people today who like the sound of ‘bottom up’ still believe that the way to have ‘bottom up’ work is for just the right group to have power over everyone else.
A world full of javelin missiles, where everyone adult has a few in the garage, is a world where using tanks to invade your neighbors straight up doesn’t work. A world where every kid knows how to build explosives and can manufacture drones in their bedroom using 3d printers and salvaged electronics is a world where ‘order imposed from the top’ simply can’t work.
In a future of accelerating technology, I think this is the only possible future.
The scary thing here for non-libertarians is the reality that anything which can be used by Ukrainians to defend themselves from Russia exerting its will on them could also be used by Texans to prevent Californians, or say, the World Economic Forum, from enforcing its will on Texas.
Libertarians believe in free markets and self government for everyone who wants them. The Russian invasion of Ukraine is obviously a violation of that principle. Using our own violent hierarchy to try and stop Russia doesn’t really solve the problem in a manner compatible with libertarian principles. Libertarians should fight an invasion of armored knights with crossbows, not our own, better armored knights.
The free market export of asymmetric weapons, possibly with a little government subsidy for their manufacture, would promote a more peaceful world order by making it impossible for one group to use violence to impose their will on another. This approach is only scary for people who think that a global empire is the only way to have global peace.
As technology accelerates, I suspect this kind of libertarian global order is the only thing that can stably last.
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Probably best to start with a libertarian policy for your town or county.
Also, if we're going to be giving away these things to whoever overseas, we need to earmark at least 50% of them to be sold/supplied here domestically (where's my Sheriff department's truckload of MANPADs?).