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May 25, 2005

The Case for Sovereignty

Jeremy Rabkin – ISBN – 0844741833

Rabkin makes an eloquent case for the necessity of sovereignty. A case with which any honest broker of opinion must agree, and certainly anyone interested in statecraft. Sovereignty is not, and likely cannot be superseded by any other form of government. This book provides a solid defense of sovereignty, and simply cannot be reviewed in 500 words or less.

He begins with a brief discussion of a number of potential and actual problems stemming form European attitudes toward world governance, mentioning disagreements over the war on terror, the war in Iraq, the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the Kyoto Protocols, amongst others. In so doing he points up the fact that differences essentially preclude agreement on many of the important issues of this (or any) day, noting that sovereignty is necessary to avoid powerful forces causing all to conform to “universal opinion.”

Worse, the project of global governance supposes that there is (or can be) an underlying consensus that makes force unnecessary and therefore irrelevant. Unfortunately, observation--and history--make clear that some individuals and some governments are unwilling to comply, absent threat or exercise of force, even, or especially, in the name of the “higher law of the international community.” The U.S. must not, and cannot, entrust its security to “authorities” that have no means of protecting the U.S., which the debate over Iraq made clear. Still Europeans remain deeply enthralled by the “new faith.” They remain attached to the notion that international cooperation can supersede the need for force, as well as questions about who gets to use force.

Sovereignty rests in the capacity to enforce! Global governance has, and proposes no such force, unless by compelling the U.S. to carry out its bidding. The alternative to sovereignty, historically, was a crusading faith demanding submission, whether Christianity, Islam, or Communism (amongst others.) The arguments for subordinating or denying sovereignty are generally made by those who champion collective responses to other problems (i.e., the political left.)

The moral argument for sovereignty is the argument for limited government. For a global authority to compel a national government to submit, it must summon overwhelming moral authority. Faced with obdurate resistance, the tendency of international organizations, and even of advocacy groups, is usually to temporize or compromise . . . or obfuscate.

Europeans have increasingly come to embrace a notion of constitutional government that is fundamentally at odds with Amercans’ understanding of the concept. Europeans have been unwilling to invest authority in a single leader, because cannot agree on a common approach to save Europe. They are not a genuine political community. They have strong political incentives to believe that a crisis can never emerge, and with no troops of its own, Europe finds it hard to confront security challenges that require decisive action.

Those who imagine world peace achieved thru international organization are bound to feel that the U.S must join in the project. The problem is that it runs against the whole grain of American history and is not likely to receive American approval.

The strongest argument for sovereignty is that no nation can trust others to care as much about its own security as it does itself! Faced with a genuine threat, no state would let its security be determined by a show of hands among others that have no commitment to protect it.

Without moral and political context, indictments are mere ideological assertions. The E.U. has conditioned Europeans to think power can be wielded safely by mysterious bureaucrats in small, low-lying countries in Northwest Europe. The idea of the court also echoes larger currents of opinion that appeal particularly to Europeans. The moral force of law can subdue even powerful governments. If it were not so, then how could the European Court of Justice (the so-called ICC) be trusted to provide impartial justice among the states of Europe? If it were not so, how could the institutions of the new Europe have succeeded in subduing the evil tyrannies of Hitler and Stalin? To question the court would be to risk opening too many awkward questions. To believe in the reign of justice is far more edifying.

Originally the U.N. was established with the traditional view that only states could be “subjects” of international law. Now we have the concept of Euro-government with its ICC which deny, or proclaim they will preclude states, per se.

Rabkin goes on to apply similar arguments to world trade, and other issues, indicating that sovereignty is the best and most likely way to indulge these differences for a variety of reasons.

Our Constitution forbids the delegation of treaty decisions to supranational institutions. Otherwise international obligations could be imposed on the U.S., not by consent of the President and Senate, but by an act of an international body unaccountable to the citizens of the U.S. We have, historically, lived within a structure in which Americans in all their diversity can live together in confidence, and with mutual respect. This is impossible with global governance.

What we Americans define as “self-evident truths” are not subscribed to even in Europe. The aim of government is to center our perspectives on American values which we believe—and history bears out—to be superior to all others in most dimensions. And when they are not we reserve the right to change our position. It cannot be because of some overbearing international court. Similarly so in matters of defense.

Fascism and Communism are evil and detestable, and what made them dangerous was their willingness to impose their principles upon others. Sovereignty permits defense against such impositions without international approval.

Europeans already live under a system in which sovereignty is pooled, and inquire why Americans “fuss over” their sovereignty any more than do the largest European states. They insist that they have fared quite well, overlooking of course that the U.S. provides for continental defense, amongst other things. We in the U.S. have no reason to believe that such a “European” scheme would actually provide security, and the European “take” on the war against terror only confirms this. We will not capitulate. They have, for the most part.

The American attitude begins with the premise that individuals have rights, as do nations, and all are bound to disagree some times. Our structure of government addresses these strictures. By contrast the E.U. advocates international governance. (International in the sense that the Commission on Human Rights is chaired by Libya, China has a veto over American action on the Security Council, along with Russia and France. And we are expected to be reassured?)

There is an inherent asymmetry in every American partnership. The U.S. has military capabilities that no country and no combination of countries can match. This means that the U.S. “figures in” to almost any conflict in the world, and certainly into any world conflict.

“The U.S. has not emerged as the world’s greatest power because North America happens to have a uniquely favorable climate or uniquely advantageous mineral deposits. American success reflects, in the main, the result of well-constructed political institutions, wisely maintained by a people that have not let themselves be overly distracted by the opinions of outsiders.”

The U.S. has no choice about responding to security challenges. It also makes a very important contribution by remaining what it is. Independence requires a degree of moral discipline, and Americans can take pride in having maintained it. We live by rules. Not rules endorsed by others, but rules laid down in our own Constitution. The U.S. offers the greatest service to the world by the power of its example, and by its unwillingness to bend before Europe’s insistence upon “world government.”

Posted by respeto at May 25, 2005 3:46 PM