This article was published in the Autumn 1997 issue of Formulations
by the Free Nation Foundation
A Paper Tiger for a Free Nation
by Roy Halliday

   (to table of contents of FNF archives)  (to start of essay)
Creating a Paper Tiger
Paper Tiger Foreign Policy
_Neutrality versus Defense Alliances
_Nuclear Disarmament
_Emigration and Extradition
_Foreign Aid
_Foreign Trade

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In a free world there would be no borders between nations, and the idea of foreign policy would make no sense. As Murray Rothbard said:

In a purely libertarian world, therefore, there would be no "foreign policy" because there would be no States, no governments with a monopoly of coercion over particular territorial areas.1 For a free nation, foreign policy is an issue only with regard to states that use force to control what crosses their borders. Unfortunately, the entire world is now divided among coercive states that monopolize crime within their domains, and the hypothetical part of this issue is the idea of a free nation.

If a free nation were to arise, it would initially have to develop a foreign policy to deal with the rest of the world, which would still be controlled by various states. But how can a free nation have a foreign policy? Doesn't the very idea of a foreign policy imply that there is a government of some sort that has a monopoly on foreign policy? In a free nation, how could a government get such a monopoly without violating the rights of those who live in the free nation and thereby making the nation unfree?

Individualism is so fundamental to the way my brain perceives human action that I have difficulty attaching any meaning to a question such as: "What should be the foreign policy of a free nation?" My defective brain wonders how a nation (free or otherwise) can have any policy (foreign or domestic). A policy presupposes a brain. Individual people have brains and so they can have policies. But a nation does not have a brain that it could use to develop a policy.

I have to force myself to unpack the assumptions that are built into this question so that I can attach meaning to it. The question implies that a free nation can have only one foreign policy at any time. How could this even be possible? The individual citizens of a free nation would be independent thinkers who would be likely to have diverse opinions about the kinds of interactions they want to have with foreigners. So, for a free nation to have a unitary foreign policy there would have to be some method of sifting through, weeding out, or reconciling the foreign policies of the individual citizens, settling on a single policy, announcing it to the world, and implementing it. There would have to be unique individuals or organizations in the free nation that would perform these functions and they would have to be recognized as the official authorities on the foreign policy of the free nation to the exclusion of all other individuals and organizations. Any other individuals or organizations in the free nation that announce and attempt to implement different foreign policies are, for some reason, not official and not authoritative, and they would have to be ignored so that the free nation could have only one foreign policy.

How can an individual or organization become the official, authoritative proponent of a single foreign policy for an entire nation? How can we distinguish the legitimate authority on foreign policy from illegitimate pretenders? How can we prevent those in the free nation who disagree with the official foreign policy from implementing an alternative, nonaggressive foreign policy?

Democratic theorists often exempt foreign policy from the arena of public deliberation and partisan politics. They give wide latitude to the executive branch of government in determining foreign policy, and they regard it as the patriotic duty of the opposing party to support the foreign policy of the commander-in-chief. Some reasons for this are: (1) The country must present a united front to the outside world so that commitments made by one administration can be expected to be upheld by succeeding administrations, regardless of party affiliation. (2) Some matters of foreign policy require secrecy to preserve national security, therefore, these matters cannot be debated in public and are best left to the judgment of the executive who has all the relevant information. (3) Sometimes decisions need to be made quickly without taking time to call the legislature together to discuss and vote on the issues. If democratic theorists are willing to sacrifice democracy in the interests of the nation, maybe libertarians should be willing to sacrifice some of their liberty for the good of the free nation.

Maybe libertarians should be willing to sacrifice some liberty, but we can't count on it, and it would be wrong to demand it. We need an alternative that doesn't depend on violating anyone's rights.

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Creating a Paper Tiger

A nation that has an organization with a coercive monopoly on foreign policy is not a free nation. A free nation would tolerate competing organizations vying for recognition as the official agency for foreign policy. As long as none of these organizations initiates violence, they would be permitted to try to portray themselves as the official interface between the free nation and foreign governments. In libertarian theory, none of these organizations would have legitimate authority to speak for all the citizens of the free nation, and the inhabitants of the free nation could regard each and every one of them as imposters.

Although their claims may be no more than hot air, their false posturing may not be seen that way by the officials of foreign governments. It is these fools, rather than the people in the free nation, who need to be persuaded to grant recognition to one of these competing paper tigers.

Suppose the free nation has two organizations competing to be the official interface to the outside world. Let's call them the Federal Republic of Neutral Territories (FRONT) and the Federation of Republics and Union of Democracies (FRAUD).2 The FRONT and FRAUD organizations both want to be recognized by foreign governments as the official government of the free nation so that they can have diplomatic relations, negotiate treaties, exchange ambassadors, and so forth. They both want to be treated like governments, even though they are not criminal organizations that monopolize the use of force within the nation.

Neither organization could speak for all the people of the free nation, and neither might be able to persuade the independent citizens of the free nation that it is their agent. But that doesn't matter. The important thing to FRONT and FRAUD is to establish legitimacy in the eyes of foreign governments. One way this might be accomplished is to hold a national election.

FRONT and FRAUD could agree to abide by the results of an election, establish the election rules, appoint a neutral party to ensure the election is fair, and then campaign for their respective foreign-policy proposals (which would have to be non-threatening). This process would have no legal or moral standing in the free nation except as a private wager between FRONT and FRAUD. The loser would be obliged to give up its claim to be the government and would forfeit whatever else was stipulated in their agreement.

FRONT and FRAUD could run slates of candidates for the top executive offices within their organization such as prime minister and foreign secretary. To improve their chances of winning the election, FRONT and FRAUD could select candidates who look attractive and dignified, are good communicators, are well educated, worldly, and sophisticated, and have reputations for honesty and integrity. In their campaigns, FRONT and FRAUD would each try to persuade the public that it will present an image of the free nation to the outside world that will win respect and deter military attack.

To help establish legitimacy in the eyes of foreign governments, FRONT and FRAUD might draft constitutions that describe the purpose, structure, and bylaws of their pseudo-governments. The public, by voting for FRONT or FRAUD, would also be voting for the corresponding constitution. The constitutions could include words that define the general requirements of and restrictions on the organization's foreign policy. Then, if foreign powers raise objections to the foreign policy of the organization, FRONT or FRAUD could use its constitution to bolster its position. They could say to foreign powers that they cannot change their policy, because it would be unconstitutional. For some reason, this argument carries weight with statists.

The constitution should describe the purpose of the FRONT or FRAUD organization, which is to encourage the rest of the world to respect the rights and independence of the free nation and to maintain peaceful, friendly, and mutually beneficial relationships between the free nation and all other nations. The constitution could specify the means that FRONT or FRAUD will use to achieve its objective. All peaceful, nonaggressive, means are available. This is where the two organizations can exercise their ingenuity and creativity and distinguish themselves from each other.

Its constitution could define the internal structure of FRONT or FRAUD as an organization. The constitution could describe departments within the organization that specialize in different aspects of the overall mission. The State Department could be the diplomatic interface between the organization and foreign governments. The function of the State Department is the reason for the whole organization. All other departments are optional. The biggest threat to the free nation would be military attack by foreign states. This is why it is important to persuade foreign states to recognize the right of the free nation to exist. This is the job of the State Department.

Other departments might be useful in making FRONT or FRAUD appear to be bureaucratic and government-like. The more it resembles a government, the more acceptable it would be to foreign governments and the more likely those governments would be to recognize and accept it as a legitimate state.

Here are some possible departments and their missions. The Commerce Department could specialize in promoting the free nation as a desirable place to invest capital and as a good trading partner. The Disaster-Relief Department could promote the humanitarian image of the free nation by dispensing charitable contributions and medical aid to victims of natural disasters around the world. The Department of Immigration could advertise the freedoms and opportunities enjoyed by those who live in the free nation, and it could help new immigrants to find employment and housing. The Department of Public Health could gather data about alternative medicine and publicize successful medical treatments that are available only in the free nation. It could work with the Department of Immigration and the Department of Commerce to encourage chronically ill people, pharmaceutical companies, and medical practitioners to immigrate to and invest in the free nation. The Treasury Department could operate mints that manufacture and sell coins. (I recommend that the constitution include words that forbid the Treasury Department from issuing paper money and that specifically acknowledge the rights of all individuals and organizations to issue their own coins or certificates of deposit and to choose whatever medium of exchange they prefer.) The Postage-Stamp Department could print colorful "postage" stamps that promote a positive image of the free nation, and it could sell the stamps to collectors or to people who want to use them as decorations. (I recommend that the constitution include words that prohibit all branches of the government from actually delivering mail.) The Department of the Interior could accept donations of land to be used as national parks, and it could maintain these parks for the benefit of the public by using funds raised from usage fees.

One of the biggest problems for FRONT or FRAUD would be to diffuse the pressure from drug-law-addicted states to cooperate with their war against people who use narcotics. A primary concern of the people in a free nation would be to prevent a foreign power from taking over the country. Based on its history, the most likely power to invade a free nation would be the USA. The American government has demonstrated that it has more tolerance for military dictators who cooperate with the war on drugs than it has for freedom. The problem would be compounded by the fact that a free nation would not only allow people to use drugs that are outlawed in other countries, it would also allow people to manufacture and sell such drugs, and it would treat the money earned by drug dealers as legitimate property that is worthy of protection. Consequently, a free nation could become a Mecca for drug lords. If this happens, the USA would be apt to conduct covert operations against the free nation or even launch a military invasion as it did in Panama. Even though their drug-dealing per se would not be treated as a crime in a free nation, drug lords should be regarded as potentially violent criminals who could threaten the existence of the free nation. They have great wealth, they have well-equipped military forces at their command, and they are prone to use violence without much regard to the rights of others. The outcome of the campaign between FRONT and FRAUD could depend on which organization offers the better solutions to the problems caused by the drug laws in other countries.

Suppose FRAUD wins the election. Then FRAUD could use this fact to support their claim to be the legitimate, popular government of the free nation. This argument would carry no weight within the free nation itself, but it might persuade foreign states to recognize FRAUD as the legitimate government. Then FRAUD would become the de facto interface between the free nation and those foreign states that grant recognition to FRAUD. In this way, an organization could become the de facto agent of the free nation to the rest of the world without violating anyone's rights.

Now the question is simply: What foreign policy should FRAUD implement for the free nation?

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Paper Tiger Foreign Policy

Foreign policy, like any policy, involves taking steps to achieve objectives. So, to determine the foreign policy appropriate for a free nation, FRAUD needs to know what the objectives of the policy are and what means are available to achieve those objectives. The paramount objective of the foreign policy of a free nation must be to ensure that the nation remains free. Any foreign policy that would cause the nation to lose its freedom cannot be the policy of a free nation. This objective places some limits on the means that FRAUD can use to implement their foreign policy. They cannot appropriate the citizens' rights, because then the nation would not be free.

Let's consider what FRAUD might reasonably decide to do in several areas that are generally associated with a nation's foreign policy: defense alliances, wars of conquest, disarmament, aid to revolutionaries in other countries, immigration, emigration, extradition, foreign aid, and foreign trade.

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Neutrality versus Defense Alliances: The FRAUD government should not enter into any defense alliances with foreign states. Such alliances tend to make for larger wars. Instead, FRAUD should proclaim its neutrality in all inter-state wars and use whatever influence it has to promote freedom of the seas and the laws of neutrality to reduce the scope of warfare. As Murray Rothbard explained, the libertarian position is:

Clearly, to reduce the scope of assault of innocent civilians as much as possible. Old-fashioned international law had two excellent devices for this: the "laws of war," and the "laws of neutrality" or "neutral rights." The laws of neutrality are designed to keep any war that breaks out confined to the warring States themselves, without aggression against States or particularly the peoples of the other nations. Hence the importance of such ancient and now forgotten American principles as "freedom of the seas" or severe limitations upon the rights of warring States to blockade neutral trade with the enemy country. In short, the Libertarian tries to induce neutral States to remain neutral in any inter-State conflict and to induce the warring States to observe fully the rights of neutral citizens. The "laws of war" were designed to limit as much as possible the invasion by warring States of the rights of the civilians of the respective warring countries.3 Furthermore, the FRAUD government has no right to make commitments for any people or resources other than those that belong to FRAUD itself. As Aubrey Herbert said: In a libertarian society though, it is the individual, not the state, which has the primary choice as to whether and how his defenses shall be maintained. As an individual he has the right to fight in his own or another's defense; or, if he adjudges it foolhardy or disbelieves in fighting altogether, he has the right not to fight at all. And similarly, he has the right to subscribe voluntarily to police forces and courts which offer defense, but also the right not to subscribe. No one has the right to force him to fight or to pay others to fight for him.4 Suppose a foreign government takes a liking to the free nation and offers to act as its protector. For example, suppose the FRAUD government is so successful in its public relations that the government of the USA decides the free nation is a noble experiment that deserves America's protection against military invasion. How should the people in the free nation respond to this? Should they rejoice and give thanks and cancel their private defense policies? Should citizens of the free nation offer to sell or lease land to the United States so it can establish a military base in the free nation for its defense?

I think that many people in the free nation would be delighted by such an offer from the USA and would be glad to lease land to America for a military base. After all, national defense is one of the most difficult problems for a free nation. National defense is a classic example of a "public good" that most people believe cannot be provided effectively by the free market, because of "externalities" and the "free-rider" problem. So an offer from the USA to provide this service at no cost to the citizens of the free nation would be hard to refuse.

Nevertheless, the FRAUD government and the citizens of the free nation should graciously decline the offer. Not only would it be unseemly and hypocritical for a free nation to rely on coercive government for protection, it would be dangerous. No state can be trusted. The government of the USA, in particular, has a long history of duplicity, imperialism, and invasion. The people of a free nation would be foolish to look to the US government for protection. On the contrary, the USA would be one of the most likely powers to invade and destroy a free nation, especially a free nation that refuses to cooperate with its war against people who use drugs.

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Conquest: FRAUD could conceivably decide that the free nation would be more secure if they conquered and incorporated nearby nations. After all, foreign states have no right to tell us where we can go and what we can trade. We have no moral obligation to respect the arbitrary political borders that governments have foolishly drawn. If they try to stop us from trading by imposing tariffs or import quotas, we have the right to crush them like bugs, strip them of power, and annex their countries to ours. If FRAUD decides to do so, they could try to raise an army to invade and conquer neighboring nations. However, we have not stipulated that the citizens of foreign countries have voluntarily given FRAUD the authority to appropriate their rights, nor would it be reasonable to expect them to do so. Therefore, FRAUD would have to conduct their wars in such a way as to not hurt foreign civilians or their property. This would severely limit their ability to wage wars of conquest. This is why FRAUD would be a paper tiger. Therefore, the FRAUD government, in addition to remaining neutral in inter-state wars, should abstain from wars of conquest.

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Nuclear Disarmament: FRAUD should agree to a policy of total disarmament of nuclear weapons and of all other weapons of mass destruction, since it has no right to such weapons in the first place. In a free nation, any organization that possessed such weapons would be treated as a threatening criminal, because there is no other use for such weapons than to murder innocent people.

Therefore, their very existence must be condemned, and nuclear disarmament becomes a good to be pursued for its own sake. And if we will indeed use our strategic intelligence, we will see that such disarmament is not only good, but the highest political good that we can pursue in the modern world. For just as murder is a more heinous crime against another man than larceny, so mass murder—indeed murder so widespread as to threaten human civilization and human survival itself—is the worst crime that any man could possibly commit. And that crime is now imminent. And the forestalling of massive annihilation is far more important, in truth, than the demunicipalization of garbage disposal, as worthwhile as that may be. Or are Libertarians going to wax properly indignant about price control or the income tax, and yet shrug their shoulders at or even positively advocate the ultimate crime of mass murder?5
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Revolution: Should the FRAUD government foster revolutions in other countries? A revolution is a violent uprising against a state by some of its subjects. The fact that all states are criminal organizations that initiate aggression against their subjects by taxing and commanding them, creates a prima facie case in favor of revolutionaries who try to overthrow these criminals. The FRAUD government would, therefore, have the right to support and assist revolutionaries in other countries. Whether it should do so is more a practical matter than a moral issue. Here it might be appropriate to try to use the utilitarian calculus to assess the likely outcomes of various levels of support for particular revolutionary movements in particular countries under their unique circumstances. Exactly how utilitarians can assign numerical values to all the possible outcomes and arrive at the optimum solution has always been a mystery to me, but as long as they respect everyone's rights, they have the right to make utilitarian calculation and take action based on those calculations.

To my way of thinking, the decision to intervene or not to intervene is an easy one only in the most extreme situations. If the revolution has absolutely no chance of succeeding, then it would be wise to stay out of it. If the revolution has virtually succeeded already and a libertarian system has replaced the state, we should give it moral support by recognizing its legitimacy and praising it. What to do in situations between these extremes is open to debate. One factor to consider is whether other states would retaliate against the free nation if the free nation offered support to revolutionaries. As a matter of prudence, I think the FRAUD government should officially remain neutral while other organizations in the free nation make their own decisions about the kind of support to give to revolutionaries.

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Immigration: The FRAUD government would have the right to keep people out of its offices or other property, but the FRAUD government does not own the nation nor is it the landlord for the nation, so it has no right to keep people out of the country. Consequently, it must allow immigration by anyone who could afford transportation to the free nation and a place stay when they get there. In a free nation there would be no artificial limitations on immigration such as quotas.

Exclusion of immigration if allowed to be in some cases a justifiable policy, is, it should clearly be recognized, quite inconsistent with any sincere admission of the equality of all human beings, or with any natural rights of all to share in the gifts of nature.6 A free nation would be a sanctuary for political refugees, draft dodgers, deserters, migrant workers, drug dealers, smugglers, and others looking for freedom from statism. Welfare addicts, anti-gender feminists, and socialists in general will be welcome, but they will choose not to come, because a free nation cannot offer what they want.

A free nation would probably have its share of nationalists, anti-Semites, and racists, but it wouldn't have politicians to cater to them. So, a free nation would not keep out persecuted minorities, and it would not abet genocide the way the Roosevelt Administration did by preventing German Jews from escaping to the Unites States.

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Emigration and Extradition: Anyone who wanted to leave the free nation would be free to do so. However, the FRAUD government would not have the right to extradite alleged criminals to stand trial in other countries. Under libertarian law, alleged criminals cannot be forced to appear at their own trials much less can they be shipped off to another country for that purpose. Foreign governments won't like this policy and they will accuse the FRAUD government of protecting criminals. It would, therefore, be wise for the FRAUD government not to offer any police or judicial services. Their Constitution should specifically prohibit FRAUD from offering these services. Then FRAUD could respond to these complains from foreign states by saying that the prosecution of criminals is a matter for the private courts and protection firms and it would be unconstitutional for the FRAUD government to interfere.

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Foreign Aid: In a free nation, private organizations have the right to give aid to foreigners. The FRAUD government could be one of these private charities. Unlike foreign aid as we know it, FRAUD foreign aid would come from voluntary contributions, because the FRAUD government would not have the power or authority to raise money through taxation or other forms of theft. Since the FRAUD government would be basically a public-relations firm, it might decide that making charitable contributions to foreigners would help the reputation of the free nation.

Libertarian charities should aid victims rather than victimizers. They should not funnel contributions through criminal organizations such as states. States cannot be trusted to use foreign aid justly or efficiently. They are likely to use it instead to strengthen their grip on their victims.

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Foreign Trade: A free nation should have a policy of complete freedom of trade except for stolen goods, slaves, and weapons of mass destruction, which are violations of rights. There should be no tariffs or import quotas, and there should be no national boycotts. This follows directly from the libertarian principle that it is a crime to initiate force against innocent people. Henry George made the point clearly more than 100 years ago:

Protective tariffs are as much applications of force as are blockading squadrons, and their object is the same—to prevent trade. The difference between the two is that blockading squadrons are a means whereby nations seek to prevent their enemies from trading; protective tariffs are a means whereby nations attempt to prevent their own people from trading.7


Individual citizens can decide to boycott countries, companies, products, and people that they disapprove, but the nation as a whole must have a policy of free trade. In a free nation, anyone who hates foreigners would be free to organize boycotts and protests against foreign trade. Sanctimonious liberals would be free to picket the offices of international corporations that employ children overseas at low wages and to congratulate each other for their nitwit policies, which if enacted would lower the standard of living of the children they claim to care so deeply about. But they would not be able to impose terms of overseas trade or employment. Those who are opposed to narcotics, pornography, and other vices would be free to organize voluntary boycotts against foreign as well as domestic commerce in these products and services. The FRAUD government would not have the right to cooperate with foreign states in their wars on drugs or in any other crusade that uses criminal methods to suppress vice.

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The foreign policy of the organization that poses as the government of a free nation should have preservation of individual rights and the freedom of the nation as its highest goals, and it should base its policy on the libertarian principle of nonaggression. This means it should maintain neutrality in inter-state wars, avoid military alliances with foreign governments, forego wars of conquest, promote disarmament, remain officially neutral while letting others support foreign revolutionaries, permit free immigration and emigration, abstain from extradition, give charitably to foreigners in need, give no aid to foreign governments, and allow free trade.

George Washington's advice in his Farewell Address (September 17, 1796) is still sound: "The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is, in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible." D

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1 For a New Liberty, page 264.

2 I gave these organizations absurd acronyms to remind the reader that the claims of these organizations are preposterous. No organization can really have moral authority to speak for a whole nation. Of course, any real organizations that were trying to establish themselves in the eyes of statists as the legitimate government of a nation would choose more appropriate names.

3 "War, Peace and the State" in Egalitarianism As a Revolt Against Nature and Other Essays page 77.

4 Aubrey Herbert, "The Real Aggressor" page 24, in Faith and Freedom Volume V, Number 8, April, 1954. (Aubrey Herbert, I believe, was one of Murray Rothbard's pen names.)

5 "War, Peace and the State" in Egalitarianism As a Revolt Against Nature and Other Essays page 73.

6 David Ritchie Natural Rights page 237.

7 Cited by James Bovard in "The Immorality of Protectionism" pages 41 and 42 in The Case for Free Trade and Open Immigration edited by Richard Ebeling and Jacob Hornberger.

Roy Halliday is a proud alumnus of Grove City College (class of 67), which, to preserve its independence, refuses to accept any funds from the Federal government. Recently retired, from a career as a professional editor, he helped with the editing of this issue of Formulations.

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