Saturday, May 7, 2016

Who Guards the Guardians? Not the UN

Every time I think I am out, they pull me back in.  No, not leading the mafia.  Principal-agent theory.  Yep, and I blame Stan Lee.  How so?  I saw the new Captain America: Civil Wars movie... explanation below the break:

The entire movie is essentially about who guards the guardians (a title used more than once for civ-mil relations books)--who is the principal that oversees the agents?  This is the classic question in civil-military relations--who oversees the folks with the guns?  We take it for granted in democracies in part because it is an essential ingredient.  But scholars have not.  Indeed, the Dave and Phil and Steve project starts with the premise that not only is war too important to be left to the generals, but oversight of those generals is too important, perhaps to be left just to the Presidents and Prime Ministers and Secretaries/Ministers of Defense.  That legislatures play a role.

With that project in mind, you would perhaps think that I would side with Tony Stark in his effort to have an external agency provide oversight over the Avengers.


Early 1990s

Steve looks around and see all of his friends succumbing to principal-agent theory and runs away.



Dave convinces Steve that to understand NATO's behavior in Afghanistan, prinicipal-agent theory needs to be applied.

Steve runs away again.  But then comes back and drinks the koolaid.


Indeed, given that almost exactly four years ago, I blogged about the Avengers and principal-agency theory,* one might expect me to be supportive of efforts to provide some mechanism to oversee those superpowered folks.
* Also see Dave and Steve, NATO in Afghanistan, p. 227, fn. 4.
However, in the movie, the institution engaged in oversight is a United Nations subcommittee of some kind.  Not good.  This is where my American skepticism defeats my new Canadian citizenship as the UN happens to be a body of many countries that have heaps of conflicting agendas, as Captain America noted.  And I happen to remember a key point in time where the UN served as an overseer, decider, of the use of force by another agency--NATO: Bosnia.  The UN official denied requests for air support when safe havens in Bosnia, most notably Srebrenica, were under attack, and then genocide occurred.

So, no, I am not a fan of the Sokovia Accords.  Of course, the previous mechanism, the World Council (whatever that was) happened to be infiltrated by Hydra, so that was problematic, too.   But to be clear, it is not that the Avengers should have no oversight.  Indeed, the noted philosopher Jeff Spicoli had it right (NSFW pics in the video, oops): we need some cool rules ourselves, pronto, or we will just be bogus, too.  Thus, the question is what kind of rules would make sense.

The movie made the choices artificially stark: that any disobedience means jail, that the oversight entity would have to give permission for all operations, and so on.  Perhaps some kind of oversight committee could be developed to examine Avengers operations and develop sanctions that vary depending on what the agent(s) did or did not do.  Operating on a beg forgiveness rather than ask permission basis probably makes sense for a superhero organization.  Fire alarms, not police patrols?

Anyhow, this is clearly where the next generation of oversight scholarship needs to go--to figure out what kind of institutions would provide the best form of oversight for superhero organizations.  Good thing I already have a grant to consider questions related to this.  I will report back in about three or four years, depending on whether any more impeachment hearings** or similar events disrupt the project. 
** I was supposed to go to Brazil last month as part of the project, but the half of the folks I wanted to talk to (the legislators) were too busy impeaching their President to talk to me.  And, yes, impeachment is also about principal-agent stuff.  Dammit to hell!

Oh, and, yes, the movie was very entertaining.  Best movie to sell another movie (the next Spider-man) ever, with Spidey's line about that old movie inspiring his tactics!

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