There's No Place Like Home: Sovereignty, American Style
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28 TWO­ There’s No Place Like Home Sovereignty, American Style The United States has been at war overseas for most of this young ­century. Meanwhile another conflict, not bloody but shrill, has been brewing at home. It is the po­ liti­ cal strug­ gle over American sovereignty in an age of interdependence . As global integration accelerates, swells, and deepens, the security, prosperity, and ecological health of each nation is ever more tightly intertwined with the well-­ being of ­ others. Managing transnational threats and risks, as well as seizing opportunities created by globalization, requires unpre­ce­dented international cooperation. But that practical real­ ity collides headlong with traditional U.S. concepts and practices of national sovereignty—­ whether framed as constitutional in­ de­ pen­ dence, external freedom of action, domestic autonomy, border control, or the ­ will of the ­ people.1 Americans are famously defensive of their sovereignty. All nations, of course, value in­ de­ pen­ dent decisionmaking and freedom of action. But in no other country do domestic sovereignty debates carry such symbolic weight or elicit such emotional intensity. The tenacity with which Americans cling to sovereignty and resist symbolic incursions on their constitutional prerogatives has had—­ and continues to have—­ a profound influence on national po­ liti­ cal life, U.S. foreign policy, and prospects for international cooperation. At first glance, U.S. anx­ i­ eties over sovereignty seem mystifying. ­ After all, on most mea­ sures the United States remains by far the world’s most power­ ful nation. None is better placed to protect its in­ de­ pen­ dence, to act as it desires, 02-3159-7_ch2.indd 28 9/11/17 1:08 PM There’s No Place Like Home 29 or to make its influence felt globally. And yet a per­ sis­ tent domestic drumbeat portrays U.S. sovereignty as fragile and beleaguered by mighty global forces, including unaccountable multilateral organ­izations and overreaching international law. Among the most ardent defenders of U.S. sovereignty is the conservative nationalist firebrand John Bolton, a se­ nior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a prominent Washington-­ based think tank. ­ After serving as undersecretary of state and then UN envoy ­under President George W. Bush, Bolton returned to his perch at AEI, where he regularly warns that American sovereignty is in peril.2 In 2008, with Bolton’s encouragement, AEI and the Federalist Society launched “Global Governance Watch,” an initiative and website designed to monitor and expose emerging international trends ostensibly menacing U.S. sovereignty, in areas ranging from ­ human rights to environmental protection to corporate regulation.3 Bolton is hardly alone in claiming that global trends pres­ ent the United States with an existential crisis. Since 2000, a legion of “new sovereigntists” (as law professor Peter Spiro christened them) has sounded the tocsin. The expanding tentacles of international organ­ izations, they caution, are strangling Amer­ i­ ca’s constitutional liberties, freedom of action, self-­ government, and national security. One of their number is John Kyl, formerly a Republican senator from Arizona. He depicts Amer­ i­ ca as besieged by a legion of “leading academics and some high-­level government officials,” who “view sovereignty as an outmoded notion . . . ​ not as a princi­ ple to be upheld, but a prob­ lem to be remedied.” In league with activist allies, he claims, ­ these individuals are executing an “end run around the demo­cratic pro­cess,” by declaring “new” international law, so as to entrap the nation in global obligations to which U.S. citizens have never agreed.4 Sovereigntism has a strong constituency on Capitol Hill. Over the past de­ cade, Republican majorities have engineered “sense of Congress” resolutions in the House and Senate opposing any international agreements, including ­ those on climate change and the International Criminal Court. Legislators have warned that such conventions would “compromise” or “undermine” the sovereignty of the United States, ­ whether by conflicting with U.S. constitutional princi­ ples, constraining Amer­ i­ ca’s ability to defend itself, or “requiring the United States to submit to decisions of international inspection, compliance, and enforcement mechanisms.” More radically, since 2001, Republican legislators have repeatedly introduced a bill titled “The American Sovereignty Restoration Act.” The most recent version, which Representative Mike Rogers (R-­ Ala.) offered in January 2017, would if passed and signed into law terminate U.S. membership in 02-3159-7_ch2.indd 29 9/11/17 1:08 PM 30 THE SOVEREIGNTY WARS the United Nations and close Amer­ i­ ca’s UN mission; eject the UN’s...