State Sovereignty After 9/11: Disorganised Hypocrisy

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Abstract

This article examines the implications of the 9/11 attacks and the US-led ‘global war on terror’ for debates about state sovereignty. To support its attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq, the Bush administration put forth a ‘selective sovereignty’ thesis that would legitimise intervention in states that are accused of supporting terrorists. This new rationale for intervention was paradoxically justified as a means of ensuring a ‘well-ordered world of sovereign states’, which had been imperilled by transnational terrorist networks. This article argues that the ‘selective sovereignty’ thesis exaggerates the challenge posed by terrorist organisations to Westphalian sovereignty, and understates the US's own unprincipled violation of its core norm of non-intervention. A related argument of this article is that on the face of it, the ‘selective sovereignty’ approach fits the notion of ‘organised hypocrisy’ put forward by Stephen Krasner, which refers to ‘the presence of long-standing norms [in this case non-intervention] that are frequently violated’ for the sake of some ‘higher principles’– violations that are generally tolerated by the international community. But the higher principles evoked by the US to justify its war on Iraq, such as the human rights of the Iraqis, and democracy promotion in the Middle East, are now clearly seen to have been a façade to mask the geopolitical and ideological underpinnings of the invasion. In this sense, the war on terror has revived national security and naked self-interest as the principal rationale for intervention, notwithstanding the self-serving efforts by some Bush administration officials to ‘graft’ the ‘selective sovereignty’ thesis on to the evolving humanitarian intervention principle. This policy framework is hypocrisy for sure, but as the international response to the war on Iraq (including the lack of UN authorisation for the war and the transatlantic discord it generated) demonstrates, it should be viewed more as a case of ‘disorganised hypocrisy’.

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