Wednesday 20 April 2011

Some days, you just can't get rid of a dictator

The New York Times suggests one impediment to getting rid of Qaddafi is that there's no place to which he can flee and consider himself safe from prosecution.

Qaddafi of course should be prosecuted in a first best world. But if we're choosing among second best worlds, the one where he has an exit option and lives on without being punished - and his people are freed - rather likely dominates the one where he doesn't and has to fight on 'till the end.

Wronging Rights says this is wrong as the International Criminal Courts wouldn't have jurisdiction over most of the crimes committed by Qaddafi, including the Lockerbie bombing. I really have no expertise in the nuances of international criminal law applying to dictators, but I would expect that what matters less is the letter of the law and what matters more is Qaddafi's expectation of whether he would be prosecuted. I don't think there's any way that the US can credibly tell Qaddafi that he'll be left alone if only he goes into exile anywhere other than perhaps China or North Korea.

Prosecuting Pinochet didn't help make it easier to convince other dictators to go peacefully.

...and the obvious lesson: if you've got a bomb with a lit fuse, you ought to make sure there's some place you can throw it.


  1. Perhaps the island of St Helena can be revived as a last resting home for dictators. It worked for Napoleon.

    Seriously, it may even revive the economy which, according to Wikipedia is dependent on New Zealand Flax.

  2. Doesn't the literature on autocratic succession talk about this, i.e., the need to buy out dictators to ensure peaceful transitions?

  3. Sure. But making the buyout credible -- finding some way of promising that you won't go back and arrest the dictator once he no longer commands an army -- is the tough problem.

  4. Can you recommend any papers on this?