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Sovereignty: Organized Hypocrisy.

Sovereignty: Organized Hypocrisy. By Stephen Krasner. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999. 207p. $69.95 cloth, $24.95 paper.

Few concepts in international relations have aroused as much debate and emotion among political leaders, activists, and scholars as that of sovereignty. Diplomats continually invoke it, transnational organizations attempt to circumvent it, and scholars debate its meaning and wonder whether globalization is making it obsolete. Yet, most accept the premise that sovereignty is not only the foundation of our international system but also one of the few consequential institutions we have in world politics.

Sovereignty: Organized Hypocrisy challenges both assumptions by offering a coherent and powerful analysis of how the theory and practice of sovereignty often diverge. The central thesis is that the characteristics usually associated with sovereignty (territory, autonomy, and recognition) do not provide an accurate description of the actual practices of the units within the international system. Specifically, Krasner argues that since its inception, sovereignty's primary attribute--domestic autonomy--is routinely compromised whenever political leaders believe it to be in their interest to do so.

Although this may sound like a classic neorealist argument, Krasner is not a typical realist, and his book moves well beyond a static structuralist account of state behavior. Although he uses a power-and-interest approach to examine how sovereignty is practiced in international relations, he takes the logic of this analysis farther than most realists have been willing to go. As do most realists, Krasner argues that it is impossible for any institutional arrangement at the international level to become deeply embedded--even one as fundamental as sovereignty.

Yet, whereas a realist may find strong systemic pressures that help maintain domestic autonomy for most states (e.g., the balance of power), Krasner makes no such assumptions. This is because his starting point is not "states" but the political elites who rule in the name of the state. Such individuals are primarily motivated by a desire to maintain their authority within the domestic sphere, so they can adopt a "logic of consequences" that is not consistent with either the norms or structural dynamics of the international system. In this sense Krasner's world is not a Hobbesian state of nature in which states act according to the necessities produced by international anarchy but, rather, a Machiavellian one, in which leaders act to maintain and expand their own power.

Krasner also departs from the assumption shared by realists and nonrealists that the core attributes of sovereignty--international recognition (legal sovereignty), independence from outside actors (Westphalian sovereignty), and state supremacy (domestic sovereignty)--are necessarily connected. He argues that a state can have one of these attributes (e.g., international recognition) without enjoying others (e.g., state supremacy). Having made this point, he focuses primarily on Westphalian sovereignty and how leaders compromise this aspect through intervention and invitation.

Krasner argues that the basic principle of Westphalian sovereignty--domestic autonomy--is frequently compromised through coercive intervention by stronger states and by conventions and contracts that domestic political elites voluntarily sign. In each case, external actors influence domestic authority structures, thereby violating the fundamental norms of independence and autonomy. Thus, not only do powerful states routinely compromise the sovereignty of other states, but also domestic elites sometimes compromise their own sovereignty when it suits their interests.

The author supports this thesis through several case studies that cut across time and geographic region. Specifically, he examines the ways states' domestic autonomy is compromised through the conclusion of human rights conventions, minority rights treaties, international financial lending agreements, and conditions placed on the constitution of new states. In some cases states are forced to accept such intervention as the price of international recognition; in other cases they voluntarily agree to accept constraints on their domestic autonomy when such actions strengthen the ruling elite. Taken as a whole, the cases suggest that violations of sovereignty norms have been an enduring practice since the evolution of the nation-state system.

This book is an important addition to the literatures on sovereignty and international organization. Most studies present the institution of sovereignty as either empowering or constraining, and some examine how its meaning is constructed over time. Few are bold enough to suggest that it is irrelevant. Krasner also throws a curveball into the debate between institutionalists and structuralists. Although the two schools differ on the degree to which norms can become institutionalized in international affairs, both assume that, when and if they do, they can have a strong influence on behavior. Krasner offers the provocative argument that some norms do indeed become widely accepted and remain persistent over time, but even when they become institutionalized they are often ignored.

Krasner's study also contributes to the ongoing debate over whether sovereignty is changing or even becoming obsolete in the face of rapid globalization and the spread of transnational issues, such as human rights. Rather than address the influence of these factors on the future of sovereignty (as most studies have done), the author shows that states have never been "sovereign" in the way that many assume. Thus, current trends do not constitute a radical departure from practices that have occurred over the past few hundred years.

The book is powerfully argued and tightly organized, but there are several methodological and conceptual problems. First, the author presents his evidence primarily by chronicling clusters of cases in which international institutions or collectivities of states exercise influence on the domestic politics of other states. Yet, this leads one to ask how these examples compare to the large number of cases in which domestic autonomy is respected. How many violations does it take for one to conclude that they are routine and frequent? On a daily basis, diplomats and political leaders tend to respect one another's sovereignty most of the time. In fact, it could be argued that, given the high level of daily interaction among states, violations as the author describes them are relatively rare. For example, Krasner discusses how international institutions imposed comprehensive minority rights requirements on new states in the periods around 1878, 1919, and 1992, in each case after a major war or systemic shock. These requirements constituted a significant intervention, but they involved relatively few states under extraordinary circumstances and only occurred three times in the past century.

Second, some scholars may challenge Krasner's interpretation of what constitutes a "violation" of sovereignty norms. The author defines Westphalian sovereignty in terms of domestic autonomy, but few would argue that this means states are unencumbered and free from all external constraints. If sovereignty is understood as a social construct, then the rights and duties contained within the institution are not fixed; rather, they are subject to interpretation and change by the collectivity of states. In fact, many argue that a state's sovereignty is derived from its participation in the international system, and therefore the members of the international community determine what counts as an international as opposed to a domestic issue.

This problem of defining violations is illustrated by the author's inclusion of contracts and conventions among the practices that compromise domestic autonomy. Any form of cooperation or collaboration reduces one's range of options in making policy. Political leaders voluntarily sign agreements in order to attain benefits they otherwise would have to forgo. It is difficult to understand how this violates their sovereignty. One can argue that the ability to enter into international treaties or contracts is actually an expression of sovereignty.

Finally, some may find the argument that sovereignty is not absolute and is often circumscribed by political expediency and the exercise of power is not particularly enlightening. There is virtually no political principle or concept that is either unambiguous or consistently applied in all contexts and under all circumstances at either the international or domestic level. The concepts of "freedom" and "democracy" are examples. Even in the best of circumstances, the application of these principles often has to be harmonized with other (often conflicting) principles. If this constitutes "organized hypocrisy," then all social interaction contains a degree of incongruity.

Bruce Cronin, University of Wisconsin-Madison
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Cronin, Bruce
Publication:American Political Science Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 2001
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