Small Wars Journal

Asia Security Watch: Sovereignty and National Defense

Thu, 01/05/2012 - 5:10pm

Asia Security Watch: Sovereignty and National Defense

by Adam Elkus

Japan Security Watch New Pacific Institute

As the year comes to a close, discussion of America national security policy has focused on the “pivot” to Asia. Yet, while America is interested primarily in the region as a national security concern, policymakers are less interested necessarily in the divide between America and many Asian states over national security policy. As William Overholt noted in his book on the United States and the new Asian geopolitics, regional tolerance of political pluralism is one of the larger divides between the United States and Asian states. The United States tends to believe that states with a different regime type naturally pose more of a danger than others, a view not generally shared by many in Asia.

Some in the US also believe that a new globalized order demands a stronger role abroad in producing security through political and military intervention to protect vulnerable populations and build capacity in troubled regions. Lastly, a strain of American political thought since Wilson has held that exporting democracy is beneficial to American national security.

As the United States shifts its security focus back to Asia, it may benefit from a serious consideration of the national security philosophies of the other states in the region. Ten years of third-party state-building and democracy promotion later, the United States has little success other than the defeat of al-Qaeda. Genuine revolutionary change in the Middle East, in turn, occured due to endogenous rather than external dynamics. Amid the proliferation of new proposed national security doctrines, some American thinkers have turned to a admittedly old-school solution.

In their new book The Sovereignty Solution, Naval Postgraduate Institute (NPS) scholar Anna Simons and her co-authors develop an approach to global security rooted around an odd idea: every state should have the right to order itself internally under its own preferences and in turn bares responsibility for all acts of aggression that transgress the sovereignty of others. This implies tolerance for a range of governmental types, an end to expeditionary state-building (direct and indirect), and an approach to warfare built on breaking states that misbehave with conventional capabilities rather than a “whole of government” approach. While a national defense policy built around such ideas may or may not be sensible, it certainly is at variance with many cherished ideas in American and Western national security policy. To name a few, the strong and weak versions of the Responsibility to Protect and the commonly held philosophy that all foreign events are interconnected and thus of American concern.


Bill C.

Fri, 01/06/2012 - 11:11am

From the last paragraph of the main article above:

"Every state should have the right to order itself internally under its own preferences and in turn bares responsibility for all acts of aggression that transgress the sovereignty of others."

This completely misses the point.

Our concern, re: the internal order of states and societies, relates to whether such states and societies are internally organized, ordered and designed to be optimally "open," "accessable" and "useable" (both the governments and the populations); this, so that they might adequately provide for and meet the needs of the rapidly expanding more-modern/more-globalized world.


a. If states had the authority to order themselves internally as they might desire, and

b. If they choose, based in this authority, to become closed, exclusive, inaccessable and, otherwise, not optimally open and usable by the more-modern/more-globalized world,

Then such would directly threaten the national security of not only of the United States but also that of most other countries.

Accordingly, "sovereignty" as we knew it -- and a state's authority to order itself internally as it might desire -- this must be understood as being something of an obsolete and outdated concept; as today, states and societies must be organized, ordered, oriented and configured so that they might adequately provide for the requirements of the more-integrated, more-inter-dependent world at-large.