Conclusion: American Sovereignty and International Cooperation
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252 NINE Conclusion American Sovereignty and International Cooperation A­ century ­ after Lodge and Lowell squared off in Boston over the United States’ membership in the League of Nations, the country ­faces the same enduring dilemma: How can it reconcile its defense of national sovereignty with the imperative of international cooperation? This predicament has only grown since 1919, as the prob­ lems of an increasingly interdependent globe collide with an Amer­ i­ ca that often seeks to chart its own course, unencumbered by the outside world. The ascent of Donald J. Trump to the White House brought ­ these long-­ simmering U.S. sovereignty concerns to a boil. During the president’s first few months, journalists documented repeated clashes between “nationalists” and “globalists” within the administration.1 As often as not, the former emerged victorious. The most prominent example was Trump’s fateful decision on June 1, 2017, to pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Accord—­ the most impor­ tant multilateral agreement of the twenty-­ first ­ century. This step was necessary, the president insisted, to defend the foundations of American democracy. “Foreign leaders in Eu­ rope, Asia, and across the world should not have more say with re­ spect to the U.S. economy than our own citizens and their elected representatives,” Trump told his Rose Garden audience. “Thus, our withdrawal from the agreement represents a reassertion of Amer­ i­ ca’s sovereignty .” As he explained, “Our constitution is unique among all nations of the world. And it is my highest obligation and greatest honor to protect it.”2 09-3159-7_ch9.indd 252 9/11/17 1:10 PM Conclusion 253 This was a red herring if ever ­there was one. The Paris agreement is a purely voluntary arrangement among its 195 state parties. It is not a legally binding treaty but a collection of “intended, nationally determined contributions.” Rather than adopting a one-­ size-­ fits-­ all approach, each country chooses for itself what it ­ will bring to the climate change fight, tailoring ­ these commitments to its unique national circumstances. Indeed, the Obama administration had insisted on such an approach precisely to avoid raising sovereignty hackles in the U.S. Senate. Perhaps aware of the thin ice on which he was skating, Trump also offered up that all-­ purpose justification beloved of self-­ styled defenders of U.S. sovereignty—­ the slippery slope. Sure, the Paris Accord might be voluntary. But who knows where it could lead? “The risks grow as historically ­these agreements only tend to become more and more ambitious over time,” he warned. “In other words, the Paris Framework is a starting point—as bad as it is—­ not an end point. And exiting the agreement protects the United States from ­future intrusions on the United States’ sovereignty.”3 Trump’s slippery slope thesis was alarmist and, if taken seriously, would rule out U.S. participation in virtually any international agreement. It also ignored the multiple ave­nues the United States possessed to prevent nonbinding commitments from acquiring the status of international law—­ much less allowing foreign governments and international organ­ izations to meddle in U.S. constitutional pro­ cesses. But if Trump’s argument was a canard, it was also savvy. By playing the sovereignty card, the president hoped to short-­circuit more sober-­ minded discussion of the ­actual balance of costs and benefits of the Paris Accord, both for U.S. competitiveness and for the survival of the planet. By invoking this sacred touchstone, Trump was reassuring the public that the best way to keep Amer­i­ca ­free, prosperous, and “­great” was through complete freedom of action.4 The president wagered that his argument would resonate with many Americans.­ Whether his bet would pay off over the long term was unclear, for the con­ temporary American public is actually more internationalist than the president assumed. To be sure, as this book has argued, a reverence for sovereignty is deeply rooted in U.S. po­ liti­ cal culture. It dates from the nation’s origins as the first modern republic based on the consent of the governed, a princi­ple anchored in the U.S. Constitution. As Tocqueville wrote in the 1830s, “If ­ there is a country in the world where the doctrine of the sovereignty of the ­ people can be fairly appreciated, where it can be studied in its application to the affairs of society, and where its dangers and its advantages may be judged, that country is as­ suredly Amer­i­ca...