1. Given a world in which states exist, libertarian philosophy holds that a foreign policy of non-interventionism is the best and most sensible way for governments to relate to each other. Non-intervention is essentially the same thing as neutrality. It means to trade with all nations, but to have as little political connection – what Jefferson called ‘entangling alliances’ – with them as possible. Non-intervention requires a state to maintain armed forces sufficient to deter and defeat aggressors, but does not entail stationing troops in regions of the world not directly relevant to defending one’s national borders.
Since non-intervention is a philosophic concept, a dissertation that explores at length the practical realities of neutrality would be extremely useful for the liberty-minded. The external policies of Switzerland, for example, can historically and in the present day be described as non-interventionist. Looking at a country like Switzerland and then asking how ‘successful’ it has been in avoiding expensive wars that diminish civil liberties domestically, or how much of a terrorist target it has been in comparison to aligned states like the US, would yield valuable policy insights. If it could be shown that neutral states tend to be more peaceful and attract fewer enemies, then there may be a case in favour of adopting such a policy. If, on the other hand, neutral states find themselves constantly under threat because they lack geopolitical security alliances with other states or do not extend their military abroad, then we may doubt the efficacy of non-interventionism.
2. The rise of WikiLeaks in recent years has caused tremendous alarm among those who protect state secrets. The Justice Department in the United States has considered criminally prosecuting WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for ‘theft of government property’, and federal employees (with a few exceptions) have been instructed by the White House not to look at publicly available documents posted on WikiLeaks.
The leaking of classified information is not a new phenomenon. During the Cold War, American and Russian spies passed on information to the respective sides. Such material sometimes led to arrests or executions. For instance, when CIA informant Dmitri Polyakov was betrayed by mole Aldrich Ames the Soviets proceeded to arrest Polyakov and execute him.
These types of incidents give rise to questions about the ethical status of intelligence leaks. From a Rothbardian standpoint, if the state is a ‘criminal gang writ large’ then the answer might be that there is nothing morally wrong with revealing state secrets, and in fact it may be a positively good thing because it helps expose a criminal entity. Liberty may be enhanced by a more open flow of information, for then the public knows precisely what state ‘criminals’ are doing behind closed doors. A useful dissertation in this area would investigate the rationales given for state secrecy and assess the historical evidence. For example, those opposed to transparency charge that leaks place military personnel and innocent lives at risk. If it is found that leaks do not as a general rule lead to loss of innocent life, then happily there would be fewer reasons to condemn whistle-blowers.
3. Thomas Carothers writes in Foreign Affairs that “One cannot get through a foreign policy debate these days without someone proposing the rule of law as a solution to the world's troubles”. Rarely however, has the rule of law been applied to foreign policy in a systematic way in order to establish timeless principles and apply these principles to facts. An idea for a dissertation is to draw upon the rule of law as formulated by liberals (particularly Hayek and Bruno Leoni) and examine how events such as the assassination without due process of Osama bin Laden by President Obama can be viewed from the perspective of constitutional government.