July 11, 2006

US in $80m ‘Cuba democracy’ plan (BBC, 7/10/06)

US President George W Bush has approved an $80m (£43m) fund which he says will go towards boosting democracy in Cuba.

Mr Bush said the fund would help the Cuban people in their “transition from repressive control to freedom”.

The fund is part of proposals by a commission analysing US policy towards Cuba after the eventual death of Fidel Castro, who turns 80 next month.

The Cuban government said the plan was an act of aggression, violating Cuba’s sovereignty and international law.

Precisely. States that don’t conform to our standards of liberal democratic protestant capitalism don’t have sovereignty.


April 12, 2006

EXCERPT: Chapter One of Revolutions in Sovereignty: How Ideas Shaped Modern International Relations (Daniel Philpott)

VIRTUALLY ALL OF the earth’s land is parceled by lines, invisible lines that we call borders. Within these borders, supreme political authority typically lies in a single source–a liberal constitution, a military dictatorship, a theocracy, a communist regime. This is sovereignty. Hobbes and Bodin and Grotius first wrote of the modern version of the principle in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; by the middle of the seventeenth century, states across Europe practiced it. A generation ago, the sovereign state captured nearly the entire land surface of the globe when European colonies received their independence. Sovereignty has come closer to enjoying universal explicit assent than any other principle of political organization in history.

But sovereignty is again the issue. During the past decade, the United Nations has lent its imprimatur to intervention in wartorn, malnourished, dictatorial, and minority-persecuting states, in Iraq, Somalia, Haiti, Rwanda, Bosnia, Cambodia, Liberia, and elsewhere. Fifteen European states have formed a European Union, creating among other things a common currency among eleven of these states, continuing an amalgamation of governance begun in 1950 with the founding of the European Coal and Steel Community. Intervention, integration–both challenge the sovereign state’s territorial supremacy. They are conspicuous challenges–“revolutions in sovereignty,” as I will call them. They overthrow some of the basic rules of authority that define international relations, rules that I will call “the constitution of international society.” When a political order ruptures, in international politics as in national politics, its rivaling factions will send their scribes to seek out the order’s origins–conservatives, to fortify its pedigree; revolutionaries, to expose its flawed foundations. More measured scholars will also interest themselves in the order, but will eschew declaiming, seeking instead simply to understand what sorts of winds first brought it about and what sorts are now carrying it away. Mine is this task of understanding. If our sovereign states system is cracking, how did it ever come to be?

That is the question that I propose to answer in this book. My premise: The sovereign states system arrived most commandingly through revolutions. Through two prominent ones in particular. The first is what political scientist John Gerard Ruggie describes as “the most important contextual change in international politics in this millennium”–the shift in Europe from the medieval world to the modern international system, which took full shape at the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.1 The system then spread, rapidly expanding across the globe when the colonial empires collapsed after World War II. Colonial independence is the second revolution. These forging moments, which successively wrought the sovereign state system, were both the yield of volcanic periods, ones of wars, crises, and imbroglios that in the end amounted to refining furnaces, casting an apparatus so hardy that it came to organize every piece of land on the globe, an apparatus that has only now begun to crack. It is these casting moments whose causes I want to discover. I want to discover the origins of international revolutions just as historians and sociologists seek the origins of the French, American, and Russian revolutions.

My central claim: Revolutions in sovereignty result from prior revolutions in ideas about justice and political authority. What revolutions in ideas bring are crises of pluralism. Iconoclastic propositions challenge the legitimacy of an existing international order, a contradiction that erupts in the volcano–the wars, the riots, the protests, the politics–that then brings in the new order. This, through a typical chain of events: The ideas convert hearers; these converts amass their ranks; they then demand new international orders; they protest and lobby and rebel to bring about these orders; there emerges a social dissonance between the iconoclasm and the existing order; a new order results. In early modern Europe, it was the Protestant Reformation that brought a century of war, culminating in the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), which in turn brought about a system of sovereign states. In the twentieth century, it was nationalism and racial equality that brought the revolts, protests, and colonial wars that extended the system globally. For both revolutions, international agreement upon sovereign statehood was the terms on which a crisis of pluralism was settled.

My claim, too, is about what revolutions in sovereignty are not. That is, they are not merely the aftereffects of the rise and fall of great powers, or of slow shifts in class structure or political structure, in technology, commerce or industrial production, or in the division of labor, methods of warfare, or population size. Such forces contribute to the upheavals but do not solely bring them about. It takes a revolution in ideas to bring a revolution in sovereignty.

I suspect, though, that most citizens of most international societies would find the very idea of an international revolution a bizarre notion, a malapropism. Why? Because they widely believe that politics within borders and politics between polities are two sorts of realms with two sorts of habits. Within borders there are constitutions and there are revolutions. We enjoy civic familiarity; we fly flags symbolizing our common life; we recall, in eulogy or censure, a revolution, a founding moment, one that we remember through paintings, monuments, oratory, and criticism, through lessons and stories about battles, debates, heroes, and traitors. We speak of 1776, 1789, or 1917, of the spirit of the revolution, of the intentions of founders. We do not, however, exalt, versify, or acclaim in reverent public ritual the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, which christened modern international relations, nor repeat lore to schoolchildren about the early 1960s, when Britain, France, and Belgium freed their colonies.2 Only scholars write of such things, and they do so cooly to categorize and chronicle, not to pronounce or polemicize.

The eccentricity of international revolutions, the reluctance to remember them, I further suspect, lies in the strangeness of the very idea of an international constitution, an order that arranges the authority of states, empires, colonies, nations, the United Nations, and the European Union much as a domestic constitution establishes courts, the powers of presidents, and the federal rights of regions. That there are others states, empires, and the like, each having its own authority and having the authority to trade and negotiate and fight with each other, is something that most citizens of most states during most times take for granted, and do not consider the product of anyone’s design or the work of architects or framers. In fighting, trading, and negotiating, states and their citizens reflect upon these rules no more than baseball players reflect upon the underlying rules of the game when they throw to first base or steal second base. Fighting, trading, negotiating, they believe, is the real business of nations.

Behind the perceived eccentricity of both the revolutions and the constitutions, I finally suspect, lies beliefs about what kinds of forces dominate the two realms, domestic and international politics. Within borders, we more readily believe that notions of justice, both laudable and damnable, energize politics. Beyond, we are more awed by power–military, economic, political, and technological. Marxists, materialists, prophets of technology, and mavens of other academic schools have posed variants of this view. But the most widespread version, not only among scholars but also, I think, among statespersons and many citizens, has been the Realist school, which regards wars, alliances, balances of power, and the rises and falls of states and empires as the germane international events, and which holds that the contest over the international distribution of military and economic power is what propels these events. The separation is not hermetic. There are materialists and even Realists who grant significance to domestic politics; and there are idealists in international politics. But the emphases are clear. In international relations scholarship, 92 percent of hypotheses and 94 percent of variables used by scholars were Realist, according to one analyst.3

Publics determine their canons of memory according to what forces they think influential. We would more likely remember orders and revolutions if we thought them the fruit of will and design, ideas and vision. Otherwise, why take seriously the founders, speeches, and battles? But if we think ideas infirm and the drive for material power eclipsing, we will also think that rules and orders are deceptive emissions, forgettable surface reflections, and that references to them are strange usages, fragments of false grammar. Here lies the link between the eccentricity of the revolutions and constitutions, and skepticism toward ideas as their cause. Rather than the rule of nonintervention established at Westphalia or the 1960 United Nations resolution that declared colonies free, we are more likely to remember the longbow at Agincourt, the rise of French armies and finance under Richelieu, the rise of Germany, the decline of the British Empire, and other rises and falls, alliances and balances, and wars. It is inside the state where constitutions matter, where ideas hold sway, where the order was once different but then altered by wise founders or reckless revolutionaries; outside the realm, ideas are muffled by necessity, by the workings of colossal, impersonal forces.

This view I want to challenge. What happens between states is less the handiwork of impersonal forces and more like the idea-infused polity than we are used to thinking. International relations has always had a constitution, an order defining the very entities that rise, fall, ally, balance, negotiate, make war, and make peace, decreeing whether the world is organized into a system of states rather than a Holy Roman Empire, a European Union rather than a simple system of states, whether states may hold colonies, whether stateless nations may become states, and whether states may intervene in one another’s affairs. Publics in most times and places may take for granted the significance of these orders. But at particular charged times and places, aristocrats, liberals, Protestants, Catholics, nationalists, and colonists have shouted and fought both for and against their provisions. For such parties, the basic rules of authority around which the international world is organized represent exaltations or denials of justice.

It could turn out, though, that this advocacy and laud and protest and outrage amount to what Marx called false consciousness. Taking a long view, perhaps the beliefs of particular strata in the justice or injustice of international rules of authority are of little importance, and new orders emerge or fade only when armies, economies, and military technology first emerge or fade. This thinking, too, I want to challenge. The moral ideas of Protestants, nationalists, and liberal democrats, about rights to worship, self-determination, racial equality, and human rights are not just assessments that we now call “political philosophy,” but are effectual in creating new authority. Tumultuous disputation yields novel orthodoxy; revolu tions in ideas bring revolutions in sovereignty; and so the revolutions are worth remembering.

My argument will likely encounter two sorts of critics, each stirred by opposite convictions, both difficult to satisfy at once. One sort is the skeptic who doubts ideas’ influence on politics. Ideas, for this doubter, may adhesively bind the joints of political structures by inducing people to think them just or satisfactory, or they may inspire this or that politician’s zeal, but on balance, in the aggregate, on the big events, they have little effect. This view reaches back to Karl Marx, who replaced Hegel’s history of the unfolding of spirit with a history driven by class conflict, and to Emile Durkheim, who thought a society’s politics, religion, and philosophy to be mostly the products of its underlying division of labor.4 It finds resonance, too, in much of historical sociology of the past generation, which finds huge structures of class and state institutions behind large historical developments–the formation of the state, social revolutions, and the development of democracy and dictatorship. We find the view, finally, in the long tradition of realpolitik, in which international orders are fashioned by the competition for wealth, land, and power, particularly between states.5

Meeting such skepticism invokes the book’s project: a demonstration of ideas’ influence. I want to show that revolutions in sovereignty, West-phalia and colonial independence, occur when ideas arrive on the scene, and proceed most vigorously in those locales where ideas are most voluble. Likewise, revolutions do not correspond well enough in time and place with the skeptic’s structures–class, technology, the balance of power–to earn these structures the bulk of the credit for causing the revolutions. Along with asserting these correlations of time and place, I will also offer an account of the events, incidents, movements, and methods by which ideas moved politics–that is, a story of how revolutions in sovereignty result from revolutions in ideas. Through these methods, I will engage this skepticism, posing its plausible account of each revolution, but seeking to reveal its inadequacy for explanation.

The other sort of criticism doubts the value of this engagement. The view of these critics is quite opposite to the skeptics’. To them, the influence of ideas is not dubious, but unexceptional. It requires no proof, but is obvious to anyone who has ever considered the matter. The demonstration, then, is unnecessary. If these critics implacably insist that skepticism of ideas is implausible, it will be difficult to answer them. But we may nonetheless ask them to account for the tenacious prestige of such skepticism. It rolls forward, after all, inside and outside the academy. Realism, as I have mentioned, persists formidably in the academic study of international relations, but it is also voiced, again and again, in policy journals, in opinion pieces, in the State Department, Defense Department, and White House, in the Congress, and in the foreign counterparts of these institutions, behind closed doors, out in public, pervasively. It is true that during the past decade, more and more scholars in international relations have turned back to ideas, arguing for their influence upon foreign aid policy, states’ responses to outside threats, nuclear weapons policy, the end of the Cold War, and other international phenomena. Many call themselves “constructivists,” emphasizing that national interests are defined or “constructed,” not fixed, and that ideas, meanings, and discourses contribute to this definition of interests. Nearly all of these scholars, though, treat seriously the Realist hypothesis that the apparent handiwork of ideas is instead the fruit of the state pursuing material interests. They consider this argument, they provide evidence against it, and in so doing they implicitly pay tribute to its stature.6 This combination of respect for and dissent from skepticism of ideas is what I adopt here.

To explain how revolutions in ideas brought the revolutions in sovereignty that brought us the system of sovereign states that so essentially defines world politics today, even if certain trends now depart from it, is my central purpose in this book. Making the case will require fashioning a couple of tools, which are important aims of the book, too. First, I describe that which is revolutionized: the constitution of international society. Only if we know just what an international constitution is can we identify and compare revolutions in sovereignty. This description appears in chapter 2. In chapter 3, I tell a brief history of constitutions of international society in the West, illustrating them and identifying their key revolutions. The second tool is an account of how ideas exert influence in international relations, and even more generally, in politics. In chapter 4 I develop a framework to describe this influence, one that asserts two crucial roles for ideas: as shapers of identities and as forms of social power.

In the ensuing chapters, I then make the historical case for ideas as causes of revolutions in sovereignty. Chapters 5, 6, and 7 are about the rise of the sovereign states system in early modern Europe. In chapter 5, I assert the Peace of Westphalia as the origin of modern international relations. In chapters 6 and 7, I argue for the efficacy of the Protestant Reformation in bringing about the revolution at Westphalia. Here, I challenge leading accounts of the formation of the state system, ones that stress the state’s successful adaptation to technological, military, and economic change.

I allege instead the role of religious ideas. This particular kind of idea, too, poses a challenge. If international relations scholars today are coming to acknowledge the influence of ideas in general, few of them acknowledge the importance of religion. There are prominent exceptions, most notably Samuel Huntington in his Clash of Civilizations. Claiming that the major armed conflicts after the Cold War will be fought between religiously de fined civilizations, Huntington’s thesis created an uproar, coming to be attacked and defended in the media and in universities, foreign ministries, and other forums around the globe.7 Yet, the very attention that far-flung publics gave to Huntington’s thesis, to religion, accents how little attention political scientists who study international relations give to religion. Huntington first published his thesis in the prestigious and widely read Foreign Affairs, and then published the book version with a trade press. Meanwhile, scholarly journals in political science have virtually ignored religion. My own survey of four leading international relations International Organization, International Studies Quarterly, World Politics, and International Security, reveals that in the entire period 1980-1999, only six or so articles featured religion as an important influence in international relations. A glance at world affairs during the sane period reveals the myopia of the omission. By 1994, Gilles Kepel could write of “The Revenge of God,” shorthand for the resurgence of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, a trend realized wherever these faiths exist, save only among Western Europe’s publics and, not surprisingly, Western intellectuals.8 Meanwhile, the revenge plays itself out in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Sudan, in radical Islamic and other authoritarian regimes that have increasingly cracked down on religious freedom, in countries like India, where religious minorities are more and more afflicted, in clashes over population policy at United Nations conferences in Cairo and Beijing, and even in the growth of religious freedom as a foreign policy issue in the United States. Here, I look at none of these contemporary contests, but rather seek to show that the very system of sovereign states, the world of international relations where such conflicts occur, is itself in large part the product of religious ideas. But if the place of religion at the origin of international relations becomes more clear, then perhaps its place in international relations today will be taken more seriously.

Chapters 8 through 12 then look at the revolution of colonial independence, which extended the sovereign states system to the rest of the globe. Chapter 8 describes this revolution and its importance. Chapters 9 through 12 argue for the force of colonial nationalism and racial equality in bringing about this revolution–chapters 9, 10, and 11 in Britain, chapter 12 in France. In both cases, I dispute that the collapse of empires was solely a product of their increased expense, in money and lives.

These two revolutions, Westphalia and colonial independence, I discuss as separate events, as two separate stages in the formation of a global sovereign states system. They came in very different eras, amidst very different languages, circumstances, causes, and understandings. But there are important connections between them. Through both revolutions, the liberation of peoples from empires unfolded, a freedom that modern liberals would come to name self-determination. Both sets of ideas behind these two revolutions, although addressed to different peoples and different empires, themselves called for this liberation, advancing its logic through history. These connections, I will draw out in chapter 13.

But there is a paradox to the liberation. If the sovereign state provides a people with one sort of liberty, it also provides a carapace under which regimes may, and have, suppressed liberal and democratic rights, other forms of liberty. Ideas directed at these injustices are also concerned with liberation. Their calls for international institutions that would restrict the authority of sovereigns on behalf of the liberties of their subjects may well be the seeds of the more recent revolutions in sovereignty which have begun to circumscribe the global system of sovereign states. To this paradox, I also draw attention in chapter 13.

The first twelve chapters, though, are concerned with how the ubiquitous though now disputed sovereign states system came to be. How did this constitution of international society develop? What caused the revolutions through which this development took place? We begin with the thing revolutionized.

The Professor’s own book is terrific, but we also include a fine essay of his in Redefining Sovereignty.


April 11, 2006

Hamas Seeks to Take Over PLO (Hillel Fendel, 4/11/06, Arutz Sheva)

Hamas has defined the PLO as its next target for political takeover, demanding elections throughout what the Arabs call the “Palestinian diaspora.” This would mean elections in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and elsewhere, where Hamas feels it has very strong support. A victory in these elections would help Hamas attain positions currently held by PLO figures, such as the observer post in the United Nations, membership in international organizations, material assets, and the like.

A Hamas leader-in-exile, Mousa Abu Marzuk, declared recently that the PLO’s institutions have essentially stopped working. “The PLO can no longer represent the Palestinian nation until real reforms are carried out within it,” he said.


October 17, 2005

Towards a New Understanding of National Sovereignty, and the Utility of the UN
(Caerdroia, August 10, 2005)

While most of the challenges to sovereignty come in the form of transnationalism – that is, most of the challenges have been attempts to tear down nation-state structures and replace them with broader and generally less representative structures. The ultimate end goal of this would be a single government encompassing the entirety of humanity – there is no requirement that sovereignty be understood in that light. It is equally plausible (and far more sane in view of the various horrors visited upon humans throughout history in the name of centralization of power) to devolve sovereignty onto each individual person, and have governments obtain their sovereignty explicitly from the individuals who form them.

But more urgently than such philosophical musings is the nature of sovereignty in current, practical terms and how it should be understood and acted upon. That answer will be somewhere between the radical individualists and the radical global statists, but I think it is clear that the current understanding of sovereignty has to change. In particular, areas in which a de jure sovereign country is not de facto sovereign need to be considered anarchic, and thus open to all comers without prejudice.

It has always been the case that areas without strong government tend to bring out warlords, pirates, terrorists and the like – people need social organization, and in the absence of it, or where it is weak, strongmen inevitably arise. The reach given these miscreants by modern technology, which they could not produce, but can use to destroy, makes such groups more of a threat then they ever were before, even during the heyday of the Barbary Coast pirates. Because of this new capacity for destruction, married to the ancient will to destroy, it is no longer possible for target states – that is, any modern state – to tolerate these areas.

Yet under the current system, were the US to go into Nuevo Laredo and the other border areas to roust out the bandits, this would be seen as an invasion, even though when the Mexican federal agents go into Nuevo Laredo, they are attacked and killed as invaders themselves into territory de facto controlled by drug lords and coyotes – often one and the same people, actually. But why should it be? In what way is Mexico other than nominally in control of the border area? The same situation exists in Pakistan’s NorthWest Frontier, where Osama bin Laden apparently is holed up in quite the fortress, and where Pakistan’s army dare not venture. Yet were the US to intervene in the area – even if it were to do so to restore de facto sovereignty to Pakistan – this would be considered an invasion.

I believe that it is time to redefine sovereignty specifically to de facto sovereignty, unless all sides in a particular dispute agree to accept de jure sovereignty in defiance of reality (for example, this might be a possible compromise with China and Taiwan), at least as regards international conventions on where the use of force from another state constitutes a violation of sovereignty, and thus (theoretically) requires the approval of the UN or some other international body. But I do not think that such a definition would be agreed to by current states or international bodies – all of which are founded on the current understanding of sovereignty. For example, the UN is entirely concerned with de jure sovereignty – de facto sovereignty has no place in any UN undertaking. This is why the UN is incapable of dealing with truly failed states: it needs a state structure within which to work, and the agreement of the very “states” that it seeks to reform.

The unfortunate flipside of this though would be that de facto control of an unwilling people by a tyrannical power would be entitled to the same recognition–for example, China has no problem exercising de facto sovereignty over Tibet.


Transnational Progressivism, in theory aspires to erecting an international supragovernment – not the ” one world government ” once feared by the John Birch Society, that would be far too accountable and easily blamed – but a diffuse mosaic of transnational entities with ill-defined but very broad, overlapping, jurisdictions and vaguely articulated but far-reaching powers. All of course, that would claim to legitimately supercede the rights and powers of nation-state governments. That is theory.

As a matter of practical application, most of these trans-prog NGO activists content themselves withad hoc legalistic gambits to hamstring the execution of legitimate, democratically-elected and accountable state authority. The documents they do manage to produce at a diplomatic level – Kyoto, The ICC agreement, the EU Constitution – are all noteworthy for their convoluted and excessively complicated structures and avoidance of responsibility in terms of the purpose for which they were created. Their spirit is not democratic but oligarchical, giving shadowy groups of unelected activists on the NGO circuit the power to gum up the works. […]

The old Westphalian Rule-set is dying. Sovereignty is being challenged by forces of transnationalism, subnationalism and state failure. There is of yet, no agreement on the Rule-Set to replace the current standards of international diplomacy that rely increasingly on polite fictions that are at ever greater variance with reality. There is in fact, much dispute over whether the cognitive dissonance of treating geographic expressions like Somalia as nation-states is even a problem.

We need a Rule-set reset to move international law into better alignment with reality but before that can happen a cognitive reset must occur to force global elites to acknowledge that reality.


October 18, 2004

A Sovereign Nation?: Jeremy Rabkin Makes the Case for American: a review of The Case for Sovereignty: Why the World Should Welcome American Independence by Jeremy A. Rabkin (Adam Wolfson, September 8, 2004, The Weekly Standard)

Today, because the United States failed to win U.N. authorization for its use of force, the Iraq war is widely viewed among both European and American liberals as an illegal, immoral war. It’s tempting to chalk this up to mere politics or resentment against American power. Yes, France wants to serve as the great counterweight to the American “hyperpower,” and Democrats long for a Kerry victory in November. But, as Rabkin demonstrates, deeper forces are at play. A moral revolution has taken place over the last several decades, one that rejects the notion of national sovereignty. What’s needed, Rabkin believes, is not merely a political argument in favor of Bush’s foreign policy, but a moral defense of the idea of sovereignty, as such. Only then will America’s recent actions be seen in their proper context and thus become intellectually respectable and morally defensible.

This is the service Rabkin’s book performs. The Case for Sovereignty provides us with a historical and intellectual genealogy of the idea of sovereignty, as well as its would-be replacement, global governance. Today, as Rabkin concedes, national sovereignty is widely thought to be a selfish concept and, worse, the cause of conflict among nations. It is also thought to be antidemocratic and chauvinistic. Yet, by means of several forays into intellectual history, Rabkin shows this to be utterly mistaken. Sovereignty is the friend of democracy, human rights, and political pluralism, while global governance is the abettor of dictatorship, lost rights, and a worldwide political monoculture.

In the history of political thought, sovereignty is a relatively new idea. It emerged only with the Enlightenment. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Europe was wracked by unlimited wars. Crusading, transcendent faiths–religious and other–demanded universal allegiance. Borders were of no consequence. It was to impose order on this dire situation that the idea of sovereignty was first invented by such early thinkers as Grotius and Bodin, among others. They viewed it as a way of consolidating and confining political power and thereby limiting the reach and effects of war. Thus, in their treatises, these political philosophers attempted to identify what was essential to the proper exercise of sovereignty: the power to make laws, the power to tax, and the power to declare war as well as to terminate hostilities. The lists were long and varied, but as Rabkin recounts, the attributes of sovereignty were neatly summarized hundreds of years later by Abraham Lincoln when, in defense of the rights of the Union, he declared sovereignty must mean at the very least “a political community, without a political superior.”

The acceptance of the idea of sovereignty led over time to the formation and spread of nation-states–which are powerful political units indeed and not always to the good, as nationalism is a sword that a variety of dictators and adventurers would find useful. But sovereignty has worked, Rabkin argues, most of all as the handmaiden of many of our most cherished liberal democratic ideals. It encouraged the growth of democracy, particularly by enforcing the notion that consent of individuals is the ultimate source of political authority. It allowed political pluralism to flourish. It cultivated the ideal of religious toleration, with citizenship open to all consenting individuals regardless of faith. And it has been the friend of limited government, since sovereignty begins with the rights of individuals.

Rabkin calls this “the moral argument for sovereignty,” and the alternative mode of organizing political life, he argues, has always been a “crusading faith”–as demonstrated, most recently, in the liberal dream of global governance.

Even as we defend American sovereignty from transnationalist threats we need to acknowledge that America itself is the greatest threat to traditional sovereignty in the world today. The Taliban and Saddam Hussein, after all, were deposed for no other reason than that they violated our standards of democratic legitimacy. Our own crusading faith emboldened us to completely ignore the sovereignty of Afghanistan and Iraq–and we’re not done yet…


September 10, 2004

Violating ‘Sovereignty’: Questioning a Concept’s Long Reign (Carlin Romano, 9/10/04, The Chronicle Review)

As an explosive real-world political idea, sovereignty propels international armies and costs untold lives. As a historical concept within political philosophy — roughly defined by one scholar as “supreme authority within a territory” — it remains a back-alley matter, outside the main arena.

Compared with idealistic de jure notions like “justice” and “democracy,” it’s often a de facto embarrassment. Compared with relatively coherent concepts like “desert” or “entitlement,” it’s a mongrel: born in “divine right” theology and circumstance, barely coherent at best, terminally ambiguous at worst, preternaturally dangerous.

[Alan Cranston’s] posthumously published essay, recently issued as The Sovereignty Revolution (Stanford University Press), begins dramatically: “It is worshiped like a god, and as little understood. It is the cause of untold strife and bloodshed. Genocide is perpetrated in its sacred name. It is at once a source of power and of power’s abuse, of order and of anarchy. It can be noble and it can be shameful. It is sovereignty.”

An indefatigable international diplomat, Cranston insists on his subject’s enormous sway: “The fires of passionate crusades to achieve, assert, or defend sovereignty for one purpose or another or to avenge some breach of it light up the night skies of our time like some giant uncontrolled forest fire raging all over the world.”

Most of Cranston’s essay alternates between reporting the bare bones of multiple world crises rooted in the vagaries of his subject, and advancing a few basic positions. He argues that when people understand sovereignty as the absolute power of a government over its own territory and citizens, a shield against the intervention of other governments, nongovernmental organizations, and outside powers, it is an illegitimate and dangerous medieval idea. At best, sovereignty should be understood as the right of people to determine their own destinies. Such sovereignty, he maintains, delegable to governments through democratic process, is the only legitimate form, and political history in the West happily continues to head in that direction.

Finally, sovereignty as a defense against outside intervention to stop extraordinarily unacceptable behavior by a government against its people is always, in Cranston’s view, heinous and unjustified. International covenants on genocide and human rights similarly demonstrate the world community’s declining appetite for claims of such absolute state sovereignty. […]

Dan Philpott, the University of Notre Dame political scientist who offers the definition of “supreme authority within a territory” in his excellent Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on the subject, draws attention to facets of the concept important for current purposes. He writes that if sovereignty assumes authority, then authority, as the philosopher R.P. Wolff outlined, assumes both a right to command and a right to be obeyed. Philpott, author of Revolutions in Sovereignty (Princeton University Press, 2001), notes that a “holder of sovereignty derives authority from some mutually acknowledged source of legitimacy — natural law, a divine mandate, hereditary law, a constitution, even international law. In the contemporary era, some body of law is ubiquitously the source of sovereignty.” Yet much media discussion of sovereignty ignores the issue of whether a thug regime — e.g., Saddam Hussein’s — has in any sense earned a right to be obeyed, and thus earned sovereignty.

Similarly, Philpott observes, “territoriality is now deeply taken for granted” in the sense that simple presence within a geographical area presumptively places someone under a particular sovereignty. But a case such as that of the Kurds, a stateless people who have suffered under Turkish, Iraqi, and Syrian sovereignty without any moral acceptance of that rule, shows how sovereignty often plays out merely as a recognition of power, not an acknowledgment of just power.

Such historical and philosophical perspective suggests that moral foreign policy must cut through the threshold concept of sovereignty instead of allowing it to be a conversation stopper. It must push on to sovereignty’s etiology, to issues of justice, democracy, and legitimacy. Debates that reflexively criticize, for instance, the United States for violating Iraqi sovereignty, or Israel for violating Palestinian sovereignty, or Russia for violating Chechen sovereignty, make little sense if one doesn’t explain why the supposedly violated sovereignty deserves that status.

Alan Cranston?


October 10, 2003

The US and the UN (Criton M Zoakos, Oct 21, 2003, Asia Times)

The current tension between the United States and the United Nations arises from the fact that the UN as an organization is based on a legal principle that is continental European in origin and not ecumenical, as is usually and mistakenly assumed. This is the principle of the 1648 Peace of Westphalia which asserts that sovereignty is superior to legitimacy. It is a principle that the United States not only never accepted, but actively opposed throughout the course of its formation from 1620 to date. […]

Until the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), the Western world believed that the legitimacy of government derived from one source, namely the concept of “universal Christian monarchy” embodied in the person of the “Holy Roman Emperor” in the West, and the Roman Emperor in the East (Constantinople). The style of the “Holy Roman Emperor” in the West was instituted by Charlemagne in the year 800 AD, presumably in protest over the fact that the office of the actual Roman Emperor in Constantinople was occupied by a woman.

By reason of direct succession, the Roman Emperor in the East had been in continuous possession of all the legal titles and regalia of the Roman emperor ever since Constantine the Great designated Christianity as the official “cultus” of the Roman Empire in 313 AD, and transferred its capital from Rome to Constantinople in 330 AD. Yet despite the fact that from the year 800 AD onward the legitimizing principle of “universal Christian monarchy” was embodied in two different emperors, this split was a matter of contest between two claimants to one and the same legitimizing principle. The legitimizing principle itself had remained one.

This ambiguity ended with the collapse of the Roman Empire in the East and the capture of Constantinople by Muslim armies in 1453, leaving only one claimant to the legitimizing principle of “universal Christian monarchy”. This claimant was whichever potentate the Pope chose as “Holy Roman Emperor”. By the time of Martin Luther’s Reformation in 1517, this title had securely settled on the head of the House of Habsburg, the largest landlords on the Continent. (The Roman Catholic Church was the second largest landlord, with 25 percent of European landownership, mostly prime farm and grazing lands).

The Thirty Years War was a war of Protestant princes against the legitimizing principle of the “universal Christian empire” and its representative, the Habsburg Holy Roman Emperor. These Protestant princes were joined by numerous Catholic princes (most notably the King of France), who saw profit in challenging the legitimizing principle of the time. Some of the profit was political – freedom from Papal political interference in their administration. Some was economic – freedom to expropriate and secularize vast church lands.

Since both Papacy and Emperor were too weak at the beginning of the Reformation, a temporary compromise was struck in the 1555 Treaty of Augsburg which for the first time abandoned the legitimizing principle of “universal Christian monarchy” and settled on “cujus regio, ejus religio”, roughly translated as “whoever reigns imposes his religion in his realm”. In plain English: “Might makes right.” The compromise failed when the Catholic Church gathered forces and launched its Counter-Reformation for the purpose of restoring the original
legitimizing principle of “universal Christian monarchy”.

This led to the Thirty Years War, which devastated all sides. Drained of resources by the war, near collapse but still roughly equally balanced and without hope of decisive victory for either side, the exhausted adversaries settled on the 1648 Peace of Westphalia. In it, the parties agreed that if they were to survive, the sovereignty of each was far more important than any legitimizing principle on which that sovereignty rested. “Cujus regio, ejus religio” the old principle of 1555, was finally enforced.

Seen against this background, the history of the formation of the United States – from the Mayflower Compact of 1620, the revolution of 1776, the ratification of the US Constitution of 1787, George Washington’s admonition against “foreign entanglements”, American neutrality during the Napoleonic Wars, the Monroe Doctrine of 1821, the expansion to the Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico Coasts – is best viewed as a contrast to the Westphalian system, sometimes as opposition, sometimes as mere counterpoint. The original English and Dutch settlers of North America were men and women who rejected the Westphalian agreement that gave the local prince – the State – sole right to establish and dis-establish religion. When these settlers eventually wrote their constitution, its First Amendment and anti-establishment clause was a clear, explicit rebuff of cujus regio, ejus religio: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

In fact, and contrary to the Westphalian system, the formation of the United States affirmed a new principle from which government derives legitimacy: the inalienable rights of the individual human being, including the inalienable right to be governed by their consent. The assertion of this new legitimizing principle is evident from the Declaration of Independence through the entire process of ratifying the Constitution, in the course of the Federalist debates and in the evolution of the Supreme Court under Justice John Marshall.

While the Westphalian system is strictly and absolutely agnostic on the matter of legitimizing principle – in order to give primacy to the principle of sovereignty of the State – the founding of the American republic asserts the supremacy of its legitimizing principle (inalienable rights of the people) over the sovereignty of the State. In the Westphalian system, sovereignty trumps legitimacy. In the American system, legitimacy trumps sovereignty, with legitimacy embodied in the US Constitution. The only sovereign recognized in the American system is the Constitution, ie, the legitimizing principle itself.

So is traditional sovereignty literally un-American.


June 11, 2001

Intervention Compromises National Sovereignty
(DANIEL PHILPOTT, June 11, 2001)

Repeated throughout the 1990s, this “new intervention” has punctured the traditional sanctity of sovereignty. This is revolutionary, for the principle of sovereign statehood had become one of the least-questioned principles of international order. We still take it for granted that virtually all of the earth’s land is parceled by invisible lines that we call borders. Within borders, supreme political authority typically lies in a single source–a liberal constitution, a military dictatorship, a theocracy. This is sovereignty.

Hobbes and Bodin and Grotius first wrote of the modern version of the principle in the 16th and 17th centuries; a generation ago, the sovereign state captured nearly the entire land surface of the globe when European colonies achieved independence. Sovereignty has come closer than any other political principle in history to enjoying universal, explicit assent.

This is why it is surprising that internationally sanctioned intervention has become one of the most important foreign policy issues following the Cold War. And this is why one of the most conceptually innovative developments in international relations of the past decade has been formation of the European Union in the Maastricht Treaty of 1990. Here, 15 states banded together to continue an amalgamation of governance that began in 1950 with the founding of the European Coal and Steel Community. Eleven of these states even agreed to adopt a common currency, one of the most important principles of statehood.

Will these trends continue? It seems likely. It was only two years ago that the Clinton Administration ordered the sustained bombing of Serbian forces in Kosovo under the auspices of NATO. Although President Bush has promised to intervene more sparingly, we should not surprised if he makes an exception or two: His father intervened in Somalia and on behalf of beleaguered Kurds in Iraq.

A transition to a wholly new principle of international order is still far distant. The formation of sovereign states, first in Europe, then throughout the globe, occurred over a period of 800 years. But such gradualness should not obscure the innovations and developments that intimate new authorities or new political forms.