Commentary Magazine


Saving America From Itself

To the Editor:

John Bolton bewails the erosion of the traditional Westphalian concept of sovereignty—which holds that individual nation-states have the right and responsibility to manage their own affairs within their own borders—and he warns that liberal thinkers and diplomats are pushing forward a new concept that subjects American policy to international restraints [“The Coming War on Sovereignty,” March].

This is a rather ironic plaint from someone who served in a government that strove so vigorously to undo the Westphalian arrangement. American military interventions in places like Iraq, Somalia, and West Pakistan are all examples of unilateral action conducted outside the international sanction of the UN and on the basis of “theories” of pre-emptive or preventive defense that violate the Westphalian notion of sacrosanct borders.

Contrary to Mr. Bolton’s assertion that his ideological colleagues “believe that diplomacy is the solution to difficulties that arise in the international system,” the Bush administration eschewed and thereby undermined the UN and pursued a belligerent unilateral “diplomacy” accompanied by the blatant threat of force. If Mr. Bolton would have his way, we would be at war in many other places—including North Korea and Iran. He would not only “rise from the [negotiation] table and go home,” as his article recommends; he would send in the Marines.

Mr. Bolton’s touting of the Bush administration’s 2003 Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) as a model for good multilateralism is also alarming. This program to stop international trafficking in weapons of mass destruction certainly does, as he says, “transcend the traditional structures of international organizations.” It also lacks transparency and public accountability, stretches if not violates the principles of international law, impedes legal trade, weakens the UN system, dilutes other non-proliferation efforts, excludes countries (like China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and South Korea) that are vital to its aims—and for all these reasons has limited effectiveness.

MARK VALENCIA
Nautilus Institute
San Francisco, California

_____________

To the Editor:

I fear that the present political moment may be one in which an assault on the national sovereignty of democratic nations can work. America is tired of war and its leadership role in global security, and has focused on the domestic urgency underlying the financial crisis. The illiberal movement has made a concerted effort to miscast the exercise of America’s sovereign interest as the source of its (largely imagined) fall from international grace. No less than the President of the United States speaks in contrite terms about past “unilateral cowboy” policies.

Terms like “multilateralism and “responsible sovereignty” are seductive (who can object?), but their practiced norms in Europe have made the continent hostage to the endless imperatives of multiculturalism—such as the idea that societies must find a place for shari’a law in order to remain true to their liberal traditions. The same imperatives farcically insist that Western countries negotiate respectfully with state sponsors of terror like Iran. Yet all that this has achieved in practice is to confirm to the regime in Tehran that the West lacks the nerve to confront it and to give it time to develop its nuclear program—making any future action in defense of our sovereignty all the more difficult.

ROBERT F. AGOSTINELLI
Paris, France

 

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