This article was published in the Autumn 1997 issue of Formulations
by the Free Nation Foundation
Foreign Relations for a Free Nation
by Richard O. Hammer

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The Goal Toward Which I Work
-Who is the object of an attack, and why?
--Example 1: U.S. in the Gulf War
--Economics: Who should pay for defense of what?
--Example 2: Defense of Underutilized Property
-Common Sense: Who should pay for defense of what?
-First, statists do not understand libertarianism.
-Second, statists do not think libertarians are dangerous
-The Ideal Ambassador
-Basic Attitude is Live and Let Live

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For my part in our Forum, I will make a series of points, about the international relations of our envisioned free nation.

The Goal Toward Which I Work

As we enter into this discussion, there may be some confusion about what we mean by the word "nation." We talk about seeking a free nation. But what does "nation" mean?

What I mean by "nation," as I use that word in my work in the Free Nation Foundation, is the common meaning. I mean a nation with identity and with borders. I mean a piece of the earth, distinct from the remainder of the earth, so that when you look in an atlas you will see it drawn in its own color—just the way other nations are drawn.

I need to make this clear because some fellow travelers in the libertarian movement seek a "virtual nation," or a "nation in cyberspace." But that is not what I am talking about.

And some participants in FNF strive to attain a free society, more than a free nation (as I have defined the term). The goal of attaining a free society, as I understand it, seems more remote, more difficult, because it seems to require that more, or more difficult, changes take place before it can be attained. For us to attain a free society would require, I believe, either that an overwhelming majority of the surrounding populace, and not just libertarians, be educated to appreciate the value of voluntary order, or that, apart from the education of the masses, advances in wealth and technology outstrip the ability of the state to keep up with individuals, so that the state withers away and becomes irrelevant.

A free society sounds fine to me. I hope it can happen. But, for those of us who want to act, who, sensing the urgency of life within us, want to do something more than wait to see how history unfolds, I repeat: We libertarians hold easily enough strength to secure for ourselves a new nation, a piece of real estate which foreign regulators and tax collectors will not dream to enter. We have this strength today. Today—if we can pool enough of our strength toward that shared goal—we can create that nation.

I recognize that my assumptions raise a host of questions, of paradoxes. How, for instance, can there be a region which has borders if it does not also have a foreign service? an immigration policy? an army to patrol the borders? and a coercive government which will tax to pay for all this?

These are good questions. I founded FNF so that we libertarians could work together to seek answers.

Libertarians can, and no doubt will, continue to debate theory until the end of the next millennium. But we should not allow this fact, that debate continues, to cripple our progress toward building shelter, today, for as many of our rights as possible. We only need to find good compromises: compromises which will work and which will attract the support of enough of us so that we can gather a critical mass.

In saying "compromises" I announce that I will settle for a nation which falls short of libertarian ideals. If we create a new nation, with more freedoms than any other nation now existing on Earth, that will be a big step in the right direction. If we can do that, I may be satisfied, believing that a platform has been erected, upon which the next generation of libertarian rabble rousers, and advocates for free society, can build to more perfect heights.

So that sets the stage. We are looking for workable, practical answers, to theoretical paradoxes.

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Let me start by repeating a viewpoint that we expressed in our earlier Forum on Security in a Free Nation. When we are considering the security of a nation from foreign invasion, it is educational to notice that a centralized defense can be easier to conquer than a decentralized defense. If a nation has a central government, with a capital, with a unitary chain of command, this gives any conqueror a clear objective: seize the head, or the capital, and probably the rest will fall into limp and useless discord.

Whereas if a nation has no one central command system, if, in the extreme, every household is completely responsible for its own defense, then every single household will have to be conquered, one at a time. An example is provided by the difficulty which the British had (and still have) in trying to maintain their grip upon Ireland. After the British invasion of Ireland, the Irish in the countryside did not have enough respect for the capital of Ireland to care if it had fallen. They kept on fighting.

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Who is the object of an attack, and why?

When the government of one nation decides to invade another nation, the attack is not normally directed at every single person and interest within the invaded nation. Rather the attack is directed at only some subset of the people and interests. Furthermore, in the nation being invaded, probably there are some people who welcome the attack.

But suppose, as is typical, the government of the invaded nation decides to fight back, with the resources of the nation as a whole. Then we must see that this expenditure is no different than any other expenditure on the part of a coercive government, in that it represents, not the desires of everyone in the nation, but rather only the desires of the faction which happens to hold power in the government at present.

It seems likely that an invading nation will recognize this, and will focus its effort on trying to conquer only those parts of the invaded nation from which resistance springs. And, if the invasion succeeds, subsequent life within the conquered nation will change for the worse for some inhabitants, but probably not for all of them.

To me, this leads to the idea that we should welcome division, in many ways, of the defense of the nation. With defense, as with most "public policy" questions, we can see a plausible route to defusing what appears to be an intractable problem, as soon as we stop saying "we" have a problem. Privatize the problem. Sell off the assets at the focus of the problem. Let the individuals who then own the problem deal with it as they see fit.

Rather than wave flags, and attempt to arouse in all a willingness to fight for the "good of the nation," should our nation face attack we should say, to that subset of our neighbors who are really the direct object of the pending attack, "What have you done, neighbors, to provoke this hostility?"

We should listen to their answers, and we should join them in a violent struggle to defend themselves only if we sympathize, or if we in truth share some common wealth with them. If we do not have a reason such as this to join our neighbors in their defense, then I will argue that the right thing to say to them is, "You, but not I, have a problem."

Now some knee-jerk patriots may call this cowardly. But I think it is wise, and probably moral. I have been arguing this case, and others have questioned my view, in other articles here in Formulations. As such I will not repeat the reasoning at length here. But, to any who would call it cowardly, I offer a challenge: meet me in debate, public and thorough, in which we each attempt to justify our position—if you dare.

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Example 1: U.S. in the Gulf War

For an example, I recall the Gulf War, in which George Bush controlled enough interests in the U.S. that he was able to deploy the forces of the U.S. against those of Iraq. In this way the cost of the war was spread among Americans, through the tax structure. But if the U.S. had been what I call a free nation, then a different set of interests in the U.S., or in oil-consuming nations generally, would have had to face what to do, if anything, about Iraq's seizure of the Kuwaiti oil fields.

I think it would be just fine if oil companies were responsible for defense of their own fields. Exxon could afford to buy some F15s, or to lease some as needed from a general-purpose defense contractor. Let them do it.

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Economics: Who should pay for defense of what?

I assert, you see, that primary responsibility for defense of property should fall to the owner of that property. Secondary responsibility for defense may be shared by a pool of owners in a similar class. Such a scheme, insurance, should present no insurmountable barriers to people who employ their assets efficiently, for the following two reasons:

First, people who employ assets profitably will thereby enjoy some surplus with which to pay for defense. The amount of money that an owner can commit to pay for defense of a given item of property derives, in large part, from the use to which the owner puts the property.

Second, property tends to move into the ownership of people who value it most. Basically, this is what trade achieves. If we can assume away transactions costs, and ignore the subtleties of aesthetic attachment, we can say that free trade will move ownership of each item of property into the possession of the person who values it most.

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Example 2: Defense of Underutilized Property

Suppose a particular 100-acre plot of land has two possible uses.

1. Support a farmer who ekes out a poverty-level existence. Estimated market value: $20,000 per year.

2. Produce 5000 barrels of oil per day. Estimated market value: $30,000,000 per year.

Should the land at present be in use 1, there will be forces, economic and possibly armed, to move the land into use 2. These forces grow because many more people are served, in ways and in amounts that they value, by use 2.

No doubt we will hear some moralizing about rights march onto this field of cold economic discussion. "Are you saying," someone will challenge me, "it is right that a farmer should be forced, against his will, to yield his land to oil production?"

I would answer that questioner by returning a question of my own. Suppose you are a neighbor to this farmer. Years ago, government policing seeming ineffectual out in these parts, you entered an informal mutual-defense pact with him. At the time you felt natural empathy with him, as your lifestyle and land seemed equal. But recently this one difference, the oil, has made itself evident. Even though you have searched, you have not been troubled by such a discovery on your plot.

Now your neighbor, a sensitive person, has turned down an offer of $80 million for his 100 acres. This farm, you see, has been in his family for five generations. He intends to continue farming in the style of his forefathers. And he knows he has some strength to maintain this position, because of his mutual-defense pact with you. He has vowed to resist all advances upon his rights.

Into the scene comes Bully Oil Company. Bully, it turns out, has its own defense forces. It finances these forces from its oil fields, and uses these forces in defense of those fields—or so it says.

But one morning your neighbor awakens to see a line of Bully armed personnel carriers at his fence line, prepared to cross. And, government policing seeming ineffectual in these parts, he calls to you, "Good neighbor, get your bird gun and join me at the fence line. There we will fight, and die if need be, to defend my rights."

What do you do?

Your neighbor has turned down an offer for vast wealth, which you would have eagerly accepted, and has chosen instead to waste his life and yours to cling to his right to continue busting sod on this particular 100 acres. What is right?

"Neighbor," I would say, "I am not sure our mutual-defense pact meant exactly this." And, as I develop the argument, that is right.

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Common Sense: Who should pay for defense of what?

If an asset is employed in a suboptimal way, then there is a cost to be paid in holding that asset secure in that suboptimal use. That cost, I would argue, should be paid by the one who chooses to hold the asset in that use. It would be wrong to force others to pay that cost, through some scheme of law or national defense, unless they had voluntarily bonded to do so.

In our free nation, for any bonds which I joined, I would be inclined to join in defense of practical values with which I could empathize, but I would not join in defense of aesthetic whims which could become expensive.

Now, if we employ an assumption which I believe is common in military calculations, that one who would attack, to acquire a given asset, must commit more resources than one who would defend, to hold the asset, we can notice that crime would not pay, not normally anyhow, against a community organized as I have suggested. In such a scheme assets will tend to be owned already by people who gain most from that ownership, and those people commit, on average, sufficient resources to defend their property.

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An attack upon a nation may focus upon a few victims at a time, and this leads to one argument for a collective, coercive national defense. Why, for instance, would a property owner at the center of the nation care if a property owner at the frontier looses his land to an invader?

But it is easy to counter this argument, if we assume, in the vision of our free nation, that robust institutions of insurance and risk sharing will grow. For instance, I might enter a bond, in a peer group of property owners, to share loss in the event of invasion, acre by acre. In such a bond, if my peer at the frontier comes under attack, I come under attack, as I (along with 98 other members of the group) may be required to yield one acre of my land for each hundred which he loses.

This gives me direct interest in supporting defense of his land. With free and honest contracting such bonds should be possible.

And, I assert, insurance companies—if freed from regulation—should be able to effect this.

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Over the years I have enjoyed noticing the ways that libertarians explain statism. We libertarians have, among us, many different theories to explain what goes on in the thinking of our ideological opposites.

When we formulate foreign policy, each of us will probably base our prescriptions upon our theories of how our opposites think. In this section, I will tell two observations of my own about the thinking of statists, and will derive prescriptions for foreign policy.

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First, statists do not understand libertarianism.

Now many people, it seems to me, do not like to admit ignorance about some subject. As such, many statists will say that they know what libertarianism is about, or at least they will act as though they think they know what it is about. But I have noticed an almost iron rule, and I invite you to compare notes with me to see if your experience confirms this rule:

The only people who can describe the libertarian philosophy—to the satisfaction of a libertarian—are other libertarians. With rare exceptions, no statist can describe the libertarian philosophy, and what it implies, to the satisfaction of a libertarian. On the other hand, the majority of self-described libertarians can, I believe, pass this test.

Starting with this observation I have surmised that, in most people, understanding of the libertarian philosophy grows with embrace of the philosophy. People who know it in their heads feel it in their hearts.

Thus, I think we should face this fact: Statists will never understand us. Any person who has gone through the process of learning, to the point where he can satisfactorily describe libertarianism, has almost certainly become a libertarian in the process, and thus is no longer a statist.

_ This suggests that the diplomats of a free nation should not expect to be understood. Rather they should accept misunderstanding as a fact of nature, and strive to work within its limitations.

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Second, statists do not think libertarians are dangerous.

From my experience in politics in America, I believe that our statist neighbors think we are crazy, idealistic, or misguided—but they do not think we are dangerous. And that should make us, in the free-nation movement, smile.

Probably the biggest threat to a newly forming free nation would be the threat of invasion from a large power. But, if our nation will be viewed, in the international scene, with the same attitude with which the Libertarian Party is viewed, in American politics, then the libertarian nation will be mostly safe: It will be mostly ignored.

For evidence to support this view, notice that on Earth there exist some little nations which, even though they are not libertarian, do have unusual degrees of freedom. Amsterdam (Netherlands) has unusual freedom to consume narcotic drugs. Singapore has unusual economic freedoms. And notice that these little nations exist without their unusual freedoms provoking the ire of statists in bigger nations. Rather the statists, for the most part, ignore these zones of greater freedom. If our little libertarian nation practices reasonable diplomacy, I believe statists will ignore it too, for the most part.

And reality helps us on this score. When the statists sense that our little nation poses no military threat to them—they will be right.

Now you and I might get some satisfaction from believing that we do pose a threat—in an ideological sense—to statist nations. But remember, if this is true, statists do not see it that way. They think we are nuts. Let it be. Actually, we should thank our lucky stars. Just so long as they do not think we are dangerous, we could not ask for a safer cover.

Our statist neighbors will not take time to think about our little nation. Their thinking will be occupied, as it is today, by pressing needs which they think they see within their own nations, for new acts of state. (To clean up the mess created by their prior acts of state.)

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The Ideal Ambassador

One time, at a conference organized by a libertarian institute, I witnessed the presentation of a speaker whom I would like to nominate, for your consideration, as an excellent ambassador for a free nation.

He was a professor, I think, of philosophy. He was semi-shaven. He had combed his hair perhaps a month ago, but certainly not during the past week. His tie was crooked. He talked for 40 minutes, but I cannot tell you what it was about. During the whole of his talk he never looked at his audience. Rather, with arms pressed to his sides, and legs pressed together, he gazed above the audience. As he spoke a meek smile remained fixed on his face. He quoted Ludwig von Mises a lot, I think. When he finished, no one asked any questions. He dipped, in a sparrow-like bow, and departed.

What a great ambassador, I thought.

No one knows what this guy is about. But, since no one feels in the least threatened, no one cares. Everyone ignores him. Everyone returns to his own business. What more could we want, for the international presence of a free nation?

I am serious about this, partially at least. The most important message which our foreign policy needs to convey to outside nations is, "We are not dangerous to you." One way to attempt to convey this message is to say it, in those words. But you and I know that statists seem never to listen to libertarians. So another way, perhaps even more persuasive, to communicate our non-aggressiveness, would be to display it, through a foreign service comprised of ambassadors such as the above professor.

Our Ambassadors' Training Manual should contain this exhortation: When in doubt, when stares make you sweat, start quoting Ludwig von Mises, in long passages. The glare of attention will soon recede.

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Basic Attitude Is Live and Let Live: Do Not Provoke

Good neighbors live and let live, they do not meddle in each other's internal affairs. As such, a libertarian nation, to the extent that it has a centralized voice with which it speaks, should not try to convert citizens of other nations to the libertarian philosophy. Such attempts would seem wrong to me, as they are not required by our libertarian philosophy, and they might annoy the governments of those other nations. And, until our nation is well secured, it needs to avoid annoying governments in other nations.

But on some occasions I think it might be appropriate for the ambassadors of our nation to make brief statements about libertarian principle. These occasions would normally be limited to times when someone asked for an explanation. But, on rare occasions, an explanation might be proffered: if it was evidently needed to further negotiations, or if it promised to enhance the peaceable acceptance of the free nation.

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The immigration policy of a free nation should be, I believe, no policy at all—at least as far as the nation is concerned. But of course if, against my preference, the free nation owns land, docks, or airports, then it would need to have a policy regarding immigration on that property. If a government owns land, then no one except the government can be expected to police it.

Notice that the problem encountered by statist nations, of masses of immigrants huddled on docks or penned on beaches, occurs only because of the existence of public space, of the fact that those countries have nationalized the entry points, thoroughfares, and policing. If all these are privatized, the problem will shrink from view.

Of course each property owner in a free nation could and would have a policy, regarding who is and who is not welcome. And each property owner would be, ultimately, responsible for the policing necessary to maintain this policy. The company that owns a dock, or an airport, naturally faces greater risk that its property will be entered by persons who have no welcome on adjoining properties (by people who cannot leave) and thereby naturally incurs a greater cost of policing against unwanted entry.

Assuming it is more efficient, for the whole nation, to police entry at the common entry points to the nation, then the cost of that policing will naturally, through neighbor-to-neighbor market forces, fall upon the owners of entry-point properties. If all land in the free nation is private, we have nothing to worry about regarding immigration policy, because our worry will have been subdivided and acquired, as part of the package of ownership, with each purchase of property.D

Richard Hammer continues to spend three-fourths of his time managing FNF, a commitment which, for the time being, includes editing Formulations. In his spare time he is renewing his computer programming skills, learning the language Delphi, anticipating that in the future he may earn his keep as a software developer. In the past he has worked as an engineer and home builder.

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