Dictating Limits to Dictatorsdd75f80346f86f9414bc2e16

Robert Mugabe is an aging tyrant who is single-handedly destroying Zimbabwe's economy and social stability. Like many other tyrants, he seems ready to do anything to extend his 22 years in power, including resorting to violence and rigging elections. His corrupt cronies and military officials who benefitted during his lawless regime stand by him - not only to preserve their own corrupt incomes, but also out of fear of the retribution that might follow their fall from power. Despite protests from the US and Europe, Mugabe has so far had his way despite his thuggery.

Tyranny is of course one of the oldest political stories. But in an interconnected world, isn't it possible for the international community to do more to restrain tyrants in order to ensure a more stable global environment? A tricky question, no doubt. No country is ready to cede political sovereignty to outside powers or electoral monitors. Yet the high costs of tyranny spill over to the rest of the world, in the forms of uncontrolled disease, refugee movements, violence, and criminality. The world has a stake in preventing the continued misrule of Mr. Mugabe and others like him.

One plausible idea is regional monitoring - that a country's neighbors would help forestall such tyranny. This is plausible, since neighbors are the biggest direct losers when instability spills across borders. Yet neighbors are also the most fearful of challenging one of their own. So far, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has been acquiescent in the face of Mugabe's abuses. If that silence continues, it will gravely undermine SADC institutions, and will cast a deep pall over the most important leader in SADC, South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki.

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