Tag: sovereignty

The Snowden Affair and International Hierarchy

Most of my public comments on Snowden have focused on how to evaluate his actions as a US citizen and someone entrusted with a high-level security clearance. Here I want to focus on an analytical concern–that of international hierarchy.

I don’t have a strong sense of the degree that other scholars associate me with the “new hierarchy studies,” but a major theme of my work is that we are better off understanding crticial aspects of international relations as structured by patterns of super- and subordination than as anarchical. Indeed, my sense is that two of the most prominent advocates of this view–Krasner and Lakeoverestimate the importance of anarchical relations in world politics. Still, both correctly note that de jure state sovereignty serves to deflect attention from the prevalence of hierarchical control among and across states. Continue reading


Grtfhthamak! Westphalia??! Pzht! Malx-kra.

Charles Hill has a storied and impressive career, successful books to his name, and a prestigious position at Yale University. He’s also repeating historical tripe:

“The way the world through almost all of history has been ordered is through empires. The empire was the normal unit of rule. So it was the Chinese empire, the Mughal empire, the Persian empire, and the Roman empire, the Mayan empire.” 

What changed this was the Thirty Years War in Europe in the 17th century. “That was a war between the Holy Roman Empire and states, and states were new. They had come forward in northern Italy in the Renaissance and now they were taking hold in what we think of as a state-sized entity. The Netherlands and Sweden and France were among these. . . . France was both an empire and a state—and the key was when [Cardinal] Richelieu took France to the side of the states, which was shocking because France was Catholic and the empire was Catholic and the states were Protestant.”

Our modern concept that war should be governed by law dates from the era. “It was so awful that it produced Grotius,” the Dutch philosopher of international law. 

It also produced the Treaty of Westphalia [sic]. “What they did in creating something to prevent another Thirty Years War, they put in place what would develop into the international state system. . . . This is a work of genius, probably inadvertent in some sense,” Mr. Hill says. “To be a good member of the international club you had to follow minimal procedures. . . . You could be Catholic or Protestant, but you had to be a state. So the state then replaces the empire as the fundamental unit of world affairs [emphasis added].”

Naturally, this derives from a recent book he’s written that rehashes what should be familiar ground to Duck of Minerva readers:

A Muslim has no nationality except his religious beliefs,” said Egyptian Sayyid Qutb, a key figure in the world of political Islam who was executed by the secular regime in his homeland in 1966. For decades, the ideologues of pan-Islam have refused to accept the boundaries and the responsibilities of the order of states. In Trial of a Thousand Years, Charles Hill analyzes the long war of Islamism against the international state system. Hill places the Islamists in their proper historical place, showing that they are but the latest challenge to the requirements that states had placed on themselves since the international system was born in 1648.

Look, you don’t have to read my derivative book to understand why whatever truth lies beneath is buried in the mud of historical falsehoods. You can check out Andreas Osiander’s classic International Organization article (PDF), Benno Teschke’s Myth of 1648, and Benjamin de Carvalho et al.’s “The Big Bangs of IR: The Myths That Your Teachers Still Tell You about 1648 and 1919.” Or you can take a look at one of my previous rants on the subject.

Why does this matter? It serves contemporary ideological claims that inaccurately divorce the European state system from empire, see the Europeans as having worked out a uniquely peaceful accommodation of religion via state sovereignty, and otherwise prevent a more levelheaded assessment of contemporary ideological, territorial, and military struggles. 


The Myth of Westphalia

Brad Delong:

The treaties of Muenster and Osnabrueck in 1648—the Peace of Westphalia—and the earlier peace of Augsburg in 1555 established the principle in European international law that internal affairs were nobody else’s business.

No, it didn’t.

In addition to stipulating a number of territorial adjustments, the Peace of Westphalia:

  • Reformed the Imperial Constitution to create non-violent processes for adjudicating religious disputes;
  • Reduced the authority over religious matters accorded to German princes in the 1555 Peace of Augsburg; and 
  • Generally revitalized the Empire as a supranational political entity. 

Indeed, far from affirming the notion that the “internal affairs” of European states were “nobody else’s business,” Westphalia designated France and Sweden as guarantors of its provision, including, as Benjamin Straumann notes (PDF), “the constitutional provisions for the Empire contained therein.”

Brad’s post — a long rumination on World War II — is otherwise a tour de force.

See: Andreas Osiander, “Sovereignty, International Relations, and the Westphalian Myth,” International Organization 55,2 (2001) (Gated PDF); Benno Teschke, The Myth of 1648: Class, Geopolitics, and the Making of Modern International Relations (London, Verso, 2009); and Daniel Nexon, The Struggle for Power in Early Modern Europe: Religious Conflict, Dynastic Empires, and International Change, Chapter 8 (Princeton University Press, 2003).


Is Sovereignty the Worst Organizing Principle — Except for All the Others?

The IMF has changed course and legitimated capital controls (under certain circumstances). Former IMF chief economist Simon Johnson (among others) bemoans Greece’s inability to devalue its currency (given that it is locked into the Euro) in light of its balance of payments difficulties:

“If Greece still had its own currency, everything would be easier. Just as in the case of the United Kingdom since 2008, the Greek exchange rate would depreciate sharply. This would lower the cost of labor, restoring competitiveness (as in Asia after 1997-98) while also inflating asset prices and thereby helping borrowers who are underwater on their mortgages and other debts.

But, with Greece and other troubled euro-zone economies (known to their detractors as the PIIGS: Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain) having surrendered monetary policy to the European Central Bank (ECB) in Frankfurt, their currencies cannot fall in this fashion. So Greece – and arguably the PIIGS more generally – are left with the need to curtail demand massively, lower wages, and reduce the public-sector workforce. The last time we saw this kind of precipitate fiscal austerity – when countries were tied to the gold standard – it contributed directly to the onset of the Great Depression in the 1930’s.”

Countries around the world are responding to the financial crisis by (to the best of their variable ability) favoring domestic industries and abandoning free trade commitments. And the Lisbon Treaty, the latest contribution to the shape and form of the European Union, has, for the first time, added a withdrawal clause — a way to leave the EU. Before, there was no institutionalized opt-out. Oh, and let’s not forget that China’s rise to world power has been accompanied by consistent insistence on the sacrosanct nature of sovereignty. Is this a random assortment of observations?

What if sovereignty is the best international organizing principle we can hope for? The concept itself has evolved, its trappings have varied. But despite that evolution it has proven itself remarkably durable. Despite all the international and transnational institutional innovations we’ve manufactured in the past century or so, and despite all the outbursts of hegemonic pretense, sovereignty keeps coming back. I don’t want to sound like a dull realist saying its all about power balancing in the end. No, sovereignty is an IDEA. An idea that carries a lot of weight, a lot of gravity. And yes, there is a balancing element to it, but not just balance of material power but assertion of distinctiveness, separateness. It is a very compelling idea. Are we stuck with it? Just throwing out some random and maybe obvious thoughts while the other ducks are busy at ISA…


Westphalian Illusions

Mark Safranski has a useful post up at Zenpundit critiquing LTC P. Michael Phillips’ Parameters article Deconstructing our Dark Age Future.”(I cannot remember the last time I saw an article written by a military officer, rather than a civilian post-modernist, whose title began with the word “Deconstructing.”)

Phillips argues (like many before him, not least Yahya Sadowski) that:

The Westphalian state system is not in fact in decline; this arrange-
ment, as we have imagined it, never really existed beyond a proposed
behavioral model exemplifying the American experience. Instead, territori-
ality, sovereignty, and equality, the guiding principles of that ideal system,
have always been transactional, if not entirely illusory, because effective
global enforcement mechanisms simply do not exist.

Safranski replies (in part):

While definitely fuzzy and spottily adhered to in practice international law is not entirely “illusory”, nor is it a byproduct of 20th century Wilsonian American exceptionalism as Phillips argued. Perhaps Hugo Grotius rings a bell? Or Alberico Gentili? Or the long history of admirality courts? Like common law or an unwritten tribal code, international law has evolved over a very long period of time and does exert some constraint upon the behavior of sovereigns. Statesmen and diplomats think about policy in terms of the impression it will make on other sovereigns, and international law is one of the yardsticks they contemplate. Admittedly, at times the constraint of international law is quite feeble but in other contexts it is strong. An American military officer, who can see firsthand the effect of creeping JAG lawyerism on command decisions on the battlefield ( in my view, greatly excessive and harmful ) and in the drafting of byzantine ROE, should know better than to make such a silly statement.

My skim of Phillips’ article makes me wonder at the point of his “deconstruction,” since how ever valid it may be the latter part of his article would seem to be arguing for a retrenching of those illusory practices of sovereign statecraft (like monopolizing the use of force rather than bleeding it out to PMCs). But if the monopoly on force was always a Westphalian illusion, what is at stake, exactly, with behaving as if the illusion doesn’t matter?

The fact is, illusions are powerful, for good or ill. Anyway, read and draw your own conclusions; the rest of my rainy Sunday will be spent playing Risk with my seven-year-old son. Is the geography of the board we’re using an illusion? Yes. Could I publish an article in a peer-reviewed journal proving this? Probably. How much does that fact matter in the conduct of either the game itself or the meta-experience between us that is constituted by the playing of the game? I’m not sure.


United Ossetia?

Rob Farley points to a Times article reporting that Russia will soon annex South Ossetia. The source for the report? The South Ossetian president. So, as Rob notes, caveat emptor.

Indeed, I can’t find anything about this on an (admittedly quick) look through the English-language Russian press. I do see a word of a military cooperation agreement and mutual recognition between South Ossetia and Abkhazia. More griping about lack of adequate support (background) from Russia from the SCO. A report on South Ossetia’s decision to form a new government….

So, yeah, I tend to agree. Given the paucity of other states recognizing the two enclaves so far, and the lack of any clear gains for Moscow from annexing either of them–they can just continue to do it de facto–I wouldn’t hold my breath. But I also wouldn’t bet against it happening at some point.


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