What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A law against "idiots" interfering in world affairs by visiting failed states or their vicinity?

The French foreign ministry is proposing a new law (at this stage it is a projet de loi) part of which is about giving the French state the opportunity to make people who get into trouble in danger zones around the world liable for their actions - should this become law, they may have to pay back all or a part of the costs of their rescue, should the French state demand that (in the Bloomberg article they call this a "stupidity tax"). Rescuing citizens in trouble after travelling into dangerous areas despite proper warning against this is something the French had to do on three occasions off the coast of Somalia in the past two years. (H/t Axe; if you open the .pdf file above, go to the last page: that is the relevant section of the proposed legislation.)
It is an interesting idea, but I am not sure if it is actually workable, or if it is something that should really be put into effect.
A key part of the law's text is the part about there not being a legitimate or a professional reason for those concerned to have been there where they got into trouble.
Something that immediately jumps to one's mind is if journalists are covered here? Would people like Eric de Lavarène and Véronique de Viguerie, who interviewed insurgents from the Uzbeen valley posing in French military gear after a deadly ambush against French paratroopers in the area, causing much controversy with this, have been made liable for going there in case they would have needed to be rescued? To give a relevant example from France/Afghanistan... Looking at this from a more universal perspective, would people like David Rohde be liable for getting into trouble and incurring costs on the state that they are citizens of? For now, it seems to be clear enough that that is not the intention of the proposed legislation. However, it is exactly the case of Lavarène and Véronique de Viguerie which shows that public judgement of the necessity of what journalists are doing may vary. Bloomberg's Celestine Bohlen jumps into this debate by placing the two L.A.-based journalists, who were detained by Korean border guards on the North Korean-Chinese border earlier this year, in the category of reckless amateurs.
And then there are some conceptual issues. Why is it only the costs of the rescue that matter? If no ransom has to be paid as a result of the rescue operation, then perhaps that ought to be counted in as well. And the reason for the rescue operations is not only to save the given citizens who are in trouble, but for the state to avoid being blackmailed by kidnappers and send a deterring message for the future. So could one resign of the right to be rescued, in advance?

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