The Williams College Debate Union will be conducting its second debate, “Is Assassination a Morally Justifiable Foreign Policy Tool?” on May 4 at 8 p.m. in Chapin Hall. The debate will feature two guest speakers: George Stephanopolous and Dr. Richard Betts.
Stephanopolous has served as a senior advisor in the Clinton administration, and is a visiting professor at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University and a political analyst for ABC News. Betts, Director of the Institute for War and Peace Studies and Director of the International Security Studies and Public Affairs at Columbia University, has served as a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the National Security Council.
Stephanopolous recently published an article in Newsweek arguing that Saddam Hussein should be assassinated. Stephanopolous will argue on the Proposition side, in defense of assassination.
Betts, an author of numerous books and articles on U.S. foreign policy, who has long opposed the use of assassination as a foreign policy tool, will be arguing on the Opposition side.
Assistant Professor of Philosophy Samuel Fleishacker, Professor of Political Science James McAllister, Jonathan Kravis ’99 and Robert Wiygul ’00 will also participate in the debate. As in the previous debate sponsored by WCDU, the audience members will be asked to participate by stomping their feet, delivering brief speeches and voting for the most convincing side.
The use of assassination in foreign policy was prohibited by an executive order passed by President Ford which every succeeding president has ratified, presumably on the grounds that assassination is immoral. However, this position has recently been seriously questioned in connection with the narrowly- avoided war with Saddam Hussein over his recalcitrance concerning U.N. arms inspections.
The upcoming debate will center around questions of how and if assassination differs morally from other foreign policy tools such as war. The success of the opposition side largely depends on how convincingly they argue that assassination is a fundamentally different sort of tool.
Some of the crucial points of contention will inevitably include the nature of state sovereignty as well as the disparity between the human cost of waging full-scale war versus that of carrying out assassination plots. Ultimately both sides will have to demonstrate that adopting the opposite position will have dangerous implications.
To answer in the affirmative may lead to a situation in which every nation would be morally justified in carrying out assassinations of leaders according to their own interests. Such an atmosphere could potentially pose a threat to all nations, in light of the relative ease of planning and carrying out an assassination plot. Moral problems relating to sovereignty include those of assassinating a leader who is supported by the majority of the population and using the citizens of that nation rather than one’s own citizens to carry out such attacks. In the most unfavorable case, an affirmative position on assassination would result in a climate of mutual distrust among nations who do not share strong economic common interests or similar systems of government.
To answer in the negative could lead to a situation in which despots such as Saddam Hussein would be able to defy the international community at the expense of their own people. The most obvious moral problem in such a situation would be he victimization of innocents. This could lead to a great deal of antagonism amongst the people of the targeted nation against those nations who are making their lives harder by means of sanctions and other restrictive measures. In briefly exploring some of the issues raised by this question it becomes evident that it is a complex question with particularly wide- ranging implications. It is for this reason, among others, that the upcoming debate promises to be lively, thought-provoking and compelling.