Summary of The Sovereignty Wars

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Stewart Patrick of the Council on Foreign Relations traces the issue of sovereignty, a controversial subject throughout US history, from the writing of the Constitution to the debate over signing the Covenant of the League of Nations to the present. Sovereignty is an increasingly urgent issue in the US due to the rise of nationalist populism and globalization. America may need to weaken some aspects of sovereignty, like autonomy, for multilateral cooperation. But, sovereignty is more flexible than many people think. Patrick is a policy expert with a powerful grasp of history. Though framing his work in complex US political history, he essentially responds to President Donald Trump’s isolationist policies. Written in precise, relatively jargon-free prose, his intricate, rigorous account of policy may wear down the non-specialist, and it needs a sustained account of one issue from several viewpoints. Still, it has much to offer policymakers and anyone concerned with international relations.

About the Author

Stewart Patrick is the James H. Binger Senior Fellow in Global Governance and the director of the International Institutions and Global Governance Program at the Council on Foreign Relations.



The Sovereignty Triangle

In 1919, Harvard University president A. Lawrence Lowell and the distinguished United States Senate majority leader from the state of Massachusetts Henry Cabot Lodge met in a Boston auditorium to debate approval of the Covenant of the League of Nations. Conceived at the Paris Peace Conference after World War One, the League would entangle America in the kind of international commitment it had avoided since the presidency of George Washington. At issue was national sovereignty as established and protected by the United States Constitution.

In its simplest form, national sovereignty is the ability of a nation to act independently in ways that determine its future. The sticking point was that Article 10 of the Covenant of the League of Nations required all members to protect each other from invasion. Signing and respecting the Covenant would require the United States to intervene in foreign disputes in ways that might not be in its self-interest and would thereby limit its freedom of action. Lodge argued that this would threaten the integrity of American democracy.

The debate ...

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