April 30, 2017


The State of Sovereignty (J. Dana Stuster, April 30, 2017, Lawfare)

[S]ince the collapse of the Soviet Union, the logic of the ideas put forward in the 1940s is creating new international norms that undermine the very concept of sovereignty.

Haass reserves particular concern for the development of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, calling it a "major turn" in the way states relate to one another, though he notes that it has not been adopted as an international norm in practice. The growing emphasis on states' domestic affairs--governance and human rights concerns, in particular--has hindered effective foreign policy, while multilateral institutions designed to regulate international affairs have failed in their promise to manage responses to crises. The United Nations struggles to address too many issues and wrangle too many countries in pursuit of an illusory goal of global consensus, he argues; smaller or more issue-specific coalitions might allow some limited progress, but this can be stymied by bandwagoning. Haass discusses the G-8 with nostalgia, in contrast to the unwieldy process of coordinating policy among the G-20. "[The] trend toward disorder has been a function of structural changes in the international system--above all, the diffusion of capacity into more hands than ever before--exacerbated at critical times by the action (and inaction) of the United States and other powers," he writes. "The result is a world not just of more capacity in more hands but also of more decision makers and independent actors. Consequently, a host of global and regional challenges have emerged that are proving to be far more than the major powers can contend with."

Brooks is more charitable toward post-World War II international institutions. "While the U.N. Charter's collective security system certainly did not end all wars," she writes, "it did succeed in greatly reducing the number of conflicts between states, and overall, deaths due to armed conflict have declined." But like Haass, Brooks pinpoints the establishment of the post-World War II order--particularly the "notion that individual humans were entitled to be treated by their states with respect and concern" and "that they held 'rights' not at the pleasure of their governments but simply by virtue of their humanity"--as the point when sovereignty started to unravel. Brooks also notes that this accelerated after the end of the Cold War and with the development of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine. She writes that the United States was ambivalent about intervening in Kosovo for fear of establishing a precedent for humanitarian intervention, but proceeded anyway, laying the groundwork for the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty's November 2001 report establishing the concept of Responsibility to Protect.

In its report, ICISS did something novel and in many ways extraordinarily appealing: it sought to circumvent the tension between the moral pull of human rights and the moral pull of sovereignty by simply redefining the terms of the discussion. In particular, ICISS sought to redefine sovereignty itself, arguing that sovereignty is not something that states possess simply by virtue of being states, but rather a matter of responsibilities as much as rights--and the most fundamental responsibility of a sovereign state is the protection of its own people.

With this revision, Responsibility to Protect gained credence, though not unreserved acceptance, in Washington and at the United Nations, and facilitated the justifications for the 2011 U.N.-backed interventions in Libya and Cote d'Ivoire.

Brooks argues that, like Responsibility to Protect, the modification of principles on states' use of force abroad since 2001 has also eroded the concept of sovereignty. While self-defense has always been a legitimate cause for war, this was premised on the actions of states, not terrorist organizations. "The events of 9/11 showed that a state's failure to control its 'internal' affairs' could lead to the 'export' of harm to the population of other states," Brooks writes. "Inevitably, the blurring of the lines between internal and external and between crime and war undermined the logic of sovereign nonintervention principles." In 2003, the United States justified its invasion of Iraq on the basis of preemptive self-defense. But what could have more far-reaching consequences is the U.S. policy of conducting targeted strikes outside of active battlefields in countries with which the United States is not at war regardless of the consent of the country's government. Brooks explicitly ties this reasoning to Responsibility to Protect:

[T]he underlying logic used appears structurally identical to that underlying the 'responsibility to protect' concept: sovereignty implies responsibilities as well as rights; states must refrain from internal acts that threaten the citizens or basic security of other states, and must prevent nonstate entities from engaging in such acts inside their borders. If a state fails to fulfill this responsibility...other states are entitled to use force within its borders if doing so is necessary to protect themselves or uphold global security.

Except that these new ideas are over 200 years old--the US is founded on the faith that sovereignty carries with it responsibilities.

Posted by at April 30, 2017 5:59 PM