319. "When Does Global Good Outweigh Our Own Sovereignty?" USA Today, (December 8, 1999), page 31A.


One theme united many of the divergent groups that participated in the "Battle in Seattle" last week: As they saw it, the United States was, again, sacrificing its sovereignty to satisfy yet another international organization. And President Clinton confirmed their worst suspicions when he stated that he was looking forward to the day when the World Trade Organization (WTO) would be able to impose sanctions on nations.

No wonder the demonstrators, and millions of others, fear that we are losing our independence and being sucked into ever more "multilateral" arrangements, instead of either retreating into fortress America or striking out unilaterally.

The WTO is but one of a rising number of international organizations that are stripping away our sovereignty. But should we fight them or embrace them as the forerunners of a new world order?

This is one of the most challenging choices we face in the coming age.

When I check my thesaurus to find synonyms for sovereignty, the terms "king," "lord," "dominant" and "absolute" pop up. No wonder we are so reluctant to allow inroads into our right to self-government. Who wants to be lorded over by others, let alone dominated by foreigners? After all, the ability to control our fate is the reason we formed these United States in the first place. Yet, we are increasingly driven to recognize that we are entering an age in which our much-cherished sovereignty may have to be curtailed to serve global economic and humanitarian goals.

In global markets, billions of dollars slosh daily across national borders. This maelstrom of hot money forces us to act (for instance, we cut interest rates in 1998) when markets go awry in such faraway places as Russia, Indonesia or Thailand, whether it suits us or not. There used to be a saying: "If the American economy sneezes, other countries catch a cold." But we slowly have ceased to be the self-sufficient giant who can inflict harm on others while ignoring their malaise.

Competing in global markets led us to join NAFTA. The treaty allows a foreign corporation to haul an American one before a NAFTA tribunal. That tribunal's decisions are binding.

This loss of sovereignty has been protested from the right by Pat Buchanan -- who sees "a betrayal of our history and our heritage of liberty" -- and from the left by Rep. George Miller, D-Calif. -- who viewed the NAFTA tribunals as an "assault on democracy," because they are not accountable to our electorate. Yet, the economic benefits from freer trade have led us to learn to live with these supranational decisions.

Humanitarian concerns are pushing us in the same direction. NATO recently arrested several people charged with war crimes in Bosnia. Nearly 100 people have been indicted or jailed in The Hague by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Thus, we are witnessing an army of one country arresting the citizens of another, in their homeland, and kidnapping them to stand trial in a third country, presided over by judges from still other countries.

Indeed, while the U.S. supported this measure of internationalization of justice, it vehemently opposes the next step, the establishment of an International Criminal Court (ICC). This court would have much greater power and, therefore, would present a much larger threat to sovereignty. We fear that our soldiers might be hauled in front of the ICC for some action overseas, such as bombing civilians. But note, the debate is about how much sovereignty to yield to these new courts, rather than whether it would serve international justice to fight them off entirely.

When we joined the drive to stop ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, we interfered in Serbia's internal affairs. Kosovo is recognized by the international community as an integral part of Serbia. We thus have set a strong precedent that we support interference in other nations if we judge that they are acting in an inhumane manner. There are several such countries, although perhaps as they realize from the get-go that they will face our wrath, there may be fewer Rwandas, Sudans and Bosnias.

Even more troubling to those who cling to yesterday's concept of sovereignty is the loss of our ability to act unilaterally when we participate in peacekeeping efforts, under NATO and especially under the United Nations. In Kosovo for part of the war, we could not drop a bomb until 18 other nations agreed. In East Timor, we (and Australia) did not move until the United Nations sanctioned the action.

Critics argued that we should not have been involved in either conflict, or we should have acted unilaterally. But we have learned that by acting in unison with other nations, we avoid being perceived as a global bully. Still, putting our armed forces, even in a limited and temporary way, under a supranational command is a significant step toward a new world order, indeed one that may require amending our Constitution.

There is little doubt that during the coming decades the world will continue to grow more interdependent in every conceivable manner, from environmental concerns to interlocking mafias. Unless we support various forms of pooling governmental powers, we will be unable to cope with these swelling global challenges. One need not be a bleary-eyed visionary, dreaming of a world government and a seamless global community, to recognize we require a new world order.

These losses of independence may seem less threatening if we cease thinking about sovereignty like pregnancy -- you either are or you aren't. Giving up slices of sovereignty does not entail sacrificing our ability to govern ourselves, let alone becoming a U.N.-occupied territory. Thus, the fact that we are a partner of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund does not require closing down our Federal Reserve System.

And while NAFTA's (and others') tribunals may chastise, that's fine; or one day they may even shut down one of our corporations, then all of the others will continue to do business as usual. Moreover, if serious injustice is inflicted on us, we can walk away from various new supranational commitments.

All of this does not mean that we should embrace sacrificing our sovereignty as some kind of novel international fad. Each step must be carefully examined and conditions set. However, we had best recognize that there is no way to stop globalism.

Building stronger worldwide authorities to curb its ill side effects may be one of the most critical steps for the next century.

The Communitarian Network
2130 H Street, NW, Suite 703
Washington, DC 20052
202.994.6118
comnet@gwu.edu