Stephen D. Krasner Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

Sovereignty*: Conversation with Stephen D. Krasner, Graham H. Stuart Professor of International Relations, Stanford University; March 31, 2003, by Harry Kreisler
Photo by Jane Scherr

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One of your most recent books is called Sovereignty: Organized Hypocrisy. Before we talk about sovereignty and why it's important, I was struck by the subtitle, Organized Hypocrisy. book coverIt struck me that that was a term that you could apply to international politics, generally. Is that a fair conclusion, or does that subtitle belong only to sovereignty?

Life, Harry.

To life, I see.

Not just to international relations, to life.

Okay. But since our agenda is international relations and the study of it, it seems to be something that's very much there throughout this field. It looks at the actions of states in the world.

That's correct, with one small proviso, which is this: in many cases, states will simply be claiming to act in terms of their own self-interest or in terms of power, and they won't necessarily always dress up what they're doing in serious rhetoric, or serious moral claims, or serious appeals to normative principles. Organized hypocrisy occurs when states say one thing but do another; they rhetorically endorse the normative principles or rules associated with sovereignty but their policies and actions violate these rules.

So the link of "organized hypocrisy" to the study is the fact that people are working at taking it seriously, but in fact, they don't.

In fact, they can't, because the problems that they are dealing with are so complex and unpredictable that in some instances obeying conventional sovereignty rules will be inconsistent with a state's interests.

Here's how I found the subtitle for the book. I'd been working on the issue of sovereignty for a number of years, five or six years, and it was very clear to me that there are very clear rules about how sovereignty works, and they were violated frequently, much more frequently than people had imagined. So here was a situation in which you had a clear rule, but if you looked at actual behavior, it was often inconsistent with the rule. Yet people were not screaming and yelling about hypocrisy, nor were they trying to find new rules. This is something that is, at least for political science, a weird phenomenon. For the most part, in political science, you think if you have a rule, it either works or people will try to find new rules or develop new institutions which are more functionally effective. In this case, you had very clear rules and inconsistency with them.

I got the title from one of my colleagues, John Meyer, who is a sociologist at Stanford. This is actually a common concept in sociology: decoupling. The idea is that norms can be decoupled from behavior. The standard story would be something like the following. Your business: if you go to the bank to get a loan, you have to have a business plan. If you don't have a business plan, people will not take you seriously. But everybody knows you're not going to follow the business plan. So you have a set of rules, you have to behave in a certain way, but everybody knows that at some level it's not what's going to drive your behavior. You have to have a vice president for technology, but if it's some eighteen-year-old computer science major at Berkeley, no one will take you seriously. So the eighteen-year-old may actually be running your technology but you better have some thirty- or thirty-five-year-old out there with a formal title.

There are lots of situations. International relations, and life in general, is complex. We have these rules. The rules may work some of the time; often, they don't. So organized hypocrisy is in some sense inherent. I wasn't kidding when I said it's part of life, not just international relations.

So part of your task in the study is to unbundle the definitions of the concept of sovereignty, because it's at the core of the way we understand the international system. But, in fact, you found four definitions floating out there. Tell us about them.

We think about sovereignty as a clearly understood organic set of rules which are adhered to almost all the time. But the rules are not organic, and they are frequently not adhered to. We really have four ways in which people talk about sovereignty. First, they talk about international legal sovereignty, which is the rule that you recognize an independent territorial entity. So we recognize Russia; they recognize us. If you have international legal sovereignty, you get to sit in the United Nations, you get to sign treaties. The basic idea is that states can do anything voluntarily that they want. It's the international equivalent of liberal thinking at the domestic level. For the most part, as people in a free society, we can enter into any contract that we please. The idea of international legal sovereignty is that states can do the same. So that's one definition or way of thinking about sovereignty.

The second definition, which is very much associated with the idea of globalization eroding sovereignty, is what I call interdependence sovereignty, which is the notion that states are losing their ability to control movements across their own borders. This definition is not a rule, it's just a statement about empirical fact. Now, I think states never had very good control of movement across their borders, but it's just an empirical statement. So when people say globalization is eroding sovereignty, what they mean is you can't control capital flows, you can't control migration, you can't control ideas.

The third definition is domestic sovereignty, which is the standard definition, which refers to both domestic authority structures and how effective they are. So you could say the United States has a presidential system of government, and by and large, government structures work pretty well in the U.S. You might say that the Congo also has a presidential system of government. They have a president, President Kabila, but you wouldn't say that they have actually much effective control. So, domestic sovereignty is another way in which people use the term.

And, finally, there's a last definition which is generally referred to as Westphalian sovereignty, in my view a total misnomer, which refers to the notion that states have the right to autonomously determine their own domestic authority structures -- the corollary of that being no intervention in the internal affairs of other states. Now, as I argue in the book, Westphalian sovereignty has almost nothing to do with the Peace of Westphalia, at least not what we think. The notion of nonintervention was actually developed by Emmerich de Vattel, who was a Swiss legal jurist in the last part of the eighteenth century. So we ought to refer to Vattelian, or at least Vattelian-Westphalian sovereignty. But I fear this is a battle I won't win.

In the end, what you're suggesting is that the world has never worked exactly the way people assert that it works, based on the notion of sovereignty.

Right. There are two things. One is that these four notions of sovereignty need not be connected. If you look, for instance, at Somalia today, it doesn't have effective domestic sovereignty. It does have international legal sovereignty. It doesn't have interdependence sovereignty. It doesn't control much. But it actually has Vattelian-Westphalian sovereignty, because people aren't bothering with it anymore. There are very few countries that actually have the full panoply of sovereignty. The United States may be one of the few.

If you look at the member states of the European Union, they are no longer Westphalian or Vattelian-Westphalian sovereigns. All these member states have voluntarily agreed to subject themselves to supranational institutions like the European Court and to what they call "pooled sovereignty," which is qualified majority voting.

The rules don't go together. A fascinating case is Hong Kong, a British colony. The Chinese decide that they want it back as a piece of Chinese sovereign territory. But if they take over Hong Kong and make it part of the People's Republic of China, they will crush this economic juggernaut, because people who are living in Hong Kong don't want to be under conventional Chinese law from Beijing. So you get international agreements that do the following: they allow Hong Kong to remain a member of international organizations. It's a member of the World Trade Organization (and so is China), so it has international legal sovereignty in some institutions. Hong Kong can sign separate visa agreements with countries, so that if you're an American citizen, you can fly into Hong Kong without a visa, which you cannot do if you're flying to China. This created complications for the Chinese: if you're a Chinese citizen, how do you get into Hong Kong?

And the answer?

You don't want to require a passport because if you're requiring a passport, it would imply that that Hong Kong is not part of China. You don't want to not require anything, because you're controlling the movement of people between Hong Kong and China. Otherwise, Hong Kong wouldn't have been able to have these visa agreements. I was sitting next to someone on a plane once, a Chinese citizen, and they actually have a document that looks like a passport but isn't, that allows Chinese citizens to go from China to Hong Kong.

The Chinese also agreed to allow judges from the Commonwealth to sit on the highest court in Hong Kong. So you have international jurists sitting on a court in a country that's supposedly fully part of a fully sovereign China. So if you look at Hong Kong, you have a situation in which its domestic sovereignty is very weird. It has international legal sovereignty. It doesn't have Westphalian sovereignty, because China can regulate what's going on. So these different pieces of sovereignty are disaggregated. That's the first big lesson in the book: these four elements of sovereignty don't necessarily go together.

But the most important argument in the book, an empirical claim, is that the two big rules of sovereignty, which are the Westphalian-Vattelian rule that you have autonomy and non-intervention, and the rule of international legal sovereignty, which is to recognize judicially independent sovereign states, have been violated quite frequently, especially Vattelian-Westphalian sovereignty, and I can talk about that a little bit.

Let's get into that. What are the mechanisms or the modalities of interaction by which these notions of absolute sovereignty are undermined?

I don't want to say "undermined." Worked around.

Worked around, okay.

Worked around, and when they have been worked around, if we're looking at Westphalian-Vattelian sovereignty, the workarounds, which have been things like claims about human rights, minority rights, religious toleration, have always evoked alternative norms. There are four alternative norms that have been salient. First is religious toleration, which was a central issue in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; second is minority rights, which was central in the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth centuries; the third is human rights, which was central in the last half of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century; and the fourth has been international stability. So if you look at the Holy Alliance after the Napoleonic wars, the major conservative European powers claimed the right to intervene against republican governments on the grounds that they threatened international stability. If you look at developments in the successor states of the Ottoman Empire in the nineteenth century, from Greece in 1832 to Albania in 1913, recognition of those states by the major European powers was always conditioned on their guarantees of minority rights. The European powers did that, to some extent, because they believed in minority rights; but more importantly, because they feared that minority conflicts in the Balkans would be politically destabilizing, which, in fact, turned out to be completely true for World War I.

If you look, though, at how this Westphalian-Vattelian rule of sovereignty is compromised, it can happen in a number of different ways. First of all, it can be done coercively -- the United States in Germany or Japan after World War II. We didn't just go and say, "We're going to reconstruct these countries and then allow them to choose their own form of government." We said, "We are going to transform these countries," which is what we're saying we're going to do in Iraq now. This is a total violation of Westphalian-Vattelian sovereignty. We wrote the Japanese constitution. We found Germans whom we could ally with in promoting a democratic Germany. But that was something that we were able to do as a result of being military occupiers. So coercion is one way in which Westphallian-Vatellian sovereignty can be compromised.

Secondly, you can have situations in which states compromise their own Westphalian sovereignty entirely in voluntary ways. The clearest example of that is the European Union, and also the European Human Rights regime. The Europeans signed a set of human rights treaties in the late 1940s, they set up a European Court of Human Rights. The European Court of Human Rights has the right to make judgments which have a direct effect in national judicial systems. Individual citizens can bring cases against their own country. It's as if someone from California could go, say, to San José, Costa Rica, to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (which doesn't have the same power), bring a case against the State of California or the American national government, and have this court in San José, Costa Rica, make a finding which would be directly applicable in California courts or American courts.

But this was done entirely voluntarily by the European countries. There's a very, very interesting article by Andrew Moravcsik, who teaches at Harvard, in which he argues very persuasively that the main advocates of this regime were the states that were least secure about guaranteeing human rights in Europe. And so it wasn't the British. The British didn't need an international regime for human rights. Who did need an international regime? Germany. So Adenauer and other German leaders in the immediate postwar period wanted to lock Germany into this web of international institutions which would guarantee democracy and human rights, not just for their governments but for future German governments. So you can have coercive ways in which Westphalian sovereignty has transgressed, but you can also have voluntary ways in which it has transgressed, and you can have it transgressed in an asymmetrical bargaining situation, of which one example would be minority rights in the Balkans.

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