The words below are a rewritten version of an article
by Wendell Willkie (a GOP Presidential candidate) published in Foreign Affairs, April 1944 Issue. This is what
he might have to say today.
Sovereignty: What good is It? Edited by Chuck Woolery for Wendell L. Willkie (if he were alive today.)
Over the last 100 years the United
States has lost the power of controlling our own national destiny. Our
unwilling participation in two world wars, an endless war against terrorism and
our economic instability during the Great Depression and the two most recent
recessions are powerful examples. We didn’t
want war or economy instability but our "national sovereignty" couldn’t
protect us. This concept gave us banking
failures, depressions, recessions, and highly nationalistic economic and
defense policies, with consequent deficit financing and violent discords by
groups and individuals within our own society; and war, after war, after war.
If we and our children are to avoid
the same disastrous and costly cycle we must give up the idea that sovereignty
is something limited to our nation. This
is my thesis.
That our Government and people use
the sovereign power of the United States in partnership with the sovereign
power of other peace-loving nations to create, operate and fund an
international organization designed to protect the rights and security of all
people in all nations. Real freedom means freedom from wars, economic
or environmental disasters and freedom from fear of other catastrophic
threats. Any formula maintaining
exclusive national sovereignty as the primary organizing force within
‘international law’ is sterile to do so.
We must expand the use of our
sovereignty with other nations expanding theirs to accomplish the common
purpose of freedom, security and prosperity for all. Doing so could reverse the fumbled attempts to
bring the world together after each World War.
We cannot continue the same reactionary or isolationist path we adopt
after each war.
Wise men have said that the ultimate proof of a nation's freedom is
in its ability to choose freely between war and peace. Most would agree
that maximum human freedom and security is the fundamental condition most
useful to America’s interests. The
primary aim of our government is the preservation of individual freedom and
security. Our freedom of action to offer peace to all nations, trade and
commerce with all nations, honest friendship with all nations.
Any informed American today knows that the United States has rarely been free to
choose peace or war. Mostly, our
decision hasn’t been whether or not we would go to war. But only how long we could postpone going to
In 1914 we approached a "foreign" war in a spirit
of determined neutrality. In 1939 we did the same, armed with a specific
program designed to make us immune to any external shock. Then after the Cold War we expected a “peace dividend”. Each
time we were forced, contrary to our desires and efforts, to abandon our
neutrality. Each time we found that our national existence was at stake. And, each time we had to fight to defend it. Even with the attacks on 9-11 our enemies understood
we would resort to war.
American foreign policy continues to
assume that nations are "separate,
distinct and wholly independent". It is a foreign policy which permits any
other nation or group to make decisions affecting vital American interests at their
convenience and when they choose.
Our inability to control our own separate destiny in
economic affairs is scarcely less striking. We still face this fact with
reluctance. For a century we prospered magnificently on the assumption that we
needed to consider only our own wants, our own resources, our own energy -- and
we proudly put all three to use. Yet
even in the nineteenth century the cotton growers of the South discovered
important exceptions to the rule that our economy was self-contained. In 1915
the farmers of the Middle West and West discovered their close relationship to
countries 5,000 miles away. In the
seventies non American car manufactures dominated Detroit. In
the 1980s the Asian economic flu cut American pension funds by 30% as Midwest
farm foreclosures increased 25%. Then in
2008 our economic blunders brought economic shock to the rest of the world.
Every decade laws are passed trying
to shelter farmers, homeowners, investors and manufacturers from economic
forces beyond our shores. Eventually we
must all realize that our own well-being is closely connected with the policies
and actions of other nations.
When the Great Depression began the country turned to
extreme protectionism in the search for economic security. The Hawley-Smoot
tariff of 1930 raised our duties on imports to the highest level in history.
Retaliation followed in the form of discrimination against our products by
Spain, Italy, Switzerland, France and a score of other countries. In 1932,
Great Britain and the dominions instituted their system of "imperial
preferences." Which was cause and which effect in the economic chaos of
the depression years need not be argued here. The war debts, the reparations
tangle, the foreign loans, the speculative mania, the panic of 1929 on the New
York Stock Exchange, the collapse of the Kredit Anstalt bank in Austria,
Britain's abandonment of the gold standard -- these were only high spots of the
general debacle. All the events were interrelated and the effects of all were
worldwide. The United States discovered with a vengeance that we were not
exempt from those effects. That it was,
in fact, an unstoppable consequence worldwide.
Our Government, faced with this
stubborn fact, pursued contradictory policies. Our only consistency was that we
stuck to nothing long. One Administration attempted to revive foreign lending
and stimulate international trade by pressing for a suspension of reparations
payments and placing a moratorium on war debts. But at the same time it raised
the tariff. The next Administration initiated a program looking to
international currency stabilization and dropped it, spectacularly, soon after
its own emissaries had gathered with those of other nations in a World Economic
Conference. It then attempted to institute a program of planned economic
nationalism of its own, supported by heavy deficit financing.
This program and its inevitable
results accelerated the decline of the economic structure of the European
democracies which were then beginning to feel the pressures of totalitarianism
(a system of political action and economic organization growing, in part at
least, out of the nationalistic policies almost universally practiced by the
nations of the world). Winston Churchill in 1937, on the floor of Parliament,
pointed out that, "Those who are keeping the flag of peace and free
government flying in the Old World have almost a right to ask that their
comrades in the New World should, during these years of exceptional and not
diminishing danger, set an example of strength and stability. The well-being of the United States may
spell not only the well-being but the safety of all sorts and conditions of
men. . . . A prosperous United States exerts, directly and indirectly, an
immense beneficent force upon world affairs. A United States thrown into financial and economical collapse spreads
evil far and wide, and weakens France and England just at the time when they
have most need to be strong."
All this is recalled to emphasize one point: our experience
demonstrates that we are not "wholly independent." As Senator Capper
said on behalf of the farmers back in 1927: "Wherever we turn we find the
Middle West and its economic woes entangled in the elusive 'foreign situation'
with which it used to concern itself very little."
Some farmers again show signs of being misled into thinking
that high protectionism will give them security. I do not believe that many will wish, on
second thought, to resume the hopeless effort to "lock up" wheat
prices on a purely national basis. The price of wheat in the United States is
not a "separate" affair. Similarly,
the price of cotton will continue to be determined, not solely in the United
States, but also in Egypt and India and Manchester and a dozen other
cotton-producing and cotton-processing centers. Conditions in Argentina and
Australia will continue to affect the livelihood of cattle and sheep raisers in
North America. Our businessmen and our farmers alike know in their minds, if
not yet fully in their hearts, that the economy of the United States is irretrievably
intertwined with that of other nations.
Congress and the press have been
discussing the steps which should be taken to bring the peacetime foreign
policy of the United States into harmony with twentieth century realities. Much
of the talk has centered about the term sovereignty.
In the whole literature of political
theory no word has occasioned more disputes. Students of politics hold
generally that few countries have contributed more significantly to the
development of political institutions than the United States. But since the days when Madison, Hamilton and
Jay wrote for The Federalist we have made few notable contributions in
the realm of theory. We cannot dismiss the conflict in opinion over the term
sovereignty as mere juggling with words.
The word sovereignty does represent a most important idea.
And it is of additional practical importance now because some of our deepest
emotions and loyalties, our pride in our country's past and our concern for her
future, are associated with it…Many people now feel the necessity of putting
the word "sovereign" into any sentence describing our relationship to
other nations as automatically as they put on a necktie. But,it
is much too important a word to be used as a mere convention of speech.
The word has had many meanings in humanity's long effort to
perfect the idea and instruments of self-government. Only comparatively
recently did it come into use as a specific name for the source of power and
authority within a state. Toward the end of the Middle Ages it described the
position of the feudal chief to whom allegiance was due. There were then layers
of "sovereign lords," beginning with a very small
"sovereign" who controlled the lives and property of a miserable
handful at the bottom of the heap, up through somewhat more impressive
sovereigns who ruled over several small ones, to a group of great barons who
recognized no superiors. In the course of time and much fighting these many
sovereigns yielded to one, and the nation-state emerged with all power in the
hands of one ruler, the king.
The great theme of modern history is
the story of how the absolute authority of the monarch yielded in turn to the
authority of the community – or “we the people”. It is the story of the
development of democracy.
The line of development was not
straight. Sometimes it doubled back -- as in Fascism. There have been
variations in the theory designed to widen the base of popular authority in the
state or to narrow it, to keep things as they were or to make way for change,
to restrict the electorate or to extend it -- as when the franchise for women
was debated. It is sufficient for us to
note that these theories simply were developed in response to the pressure of
practical circumstances -- political, military, economic or social.
Some ardent theorists have worked to
separate sovereignty from reality altogether.
They search for a completely logical system built up out of words. Sometimes the search for a mystical point
called the ultimate source of sovereignty has turned into a game for special
devotees, as in the studies finding the ultimate pinpoint of sovereignty in the
sub-section of the Constitution which provides for amending it. Some enjoy such academic pleasures. But the
central fact is that sovereignty within
the United States resides in “we the people”. We exercise the supreme power of the state. We
The difficulty arises when we extend the sovereignty concept
beyond this fact and apply it to relations among nations.
Does the sovereignty of the American
people extend throughout the world? Obviously
not. Superpowers often pretend they have a right and duty to enforce their will
throughout the world. They have dressed their claim up in fancy and most
offensive theories based on blood, race and mythology. The world put them down.
The idea of the absolute sovereignty of
any nation in international relations is as impractical in reality as the idea
of the absolute separateness of any nation.
To the extent that the term sovereignty is taken to mean
that we have the right to do exactly as we please in dealings with other
nations, and that what we choose to do is not properly of concern to any other
nation, is folly. During most our national existence we assumed that this conception of
sovereignty was valid. We even got into the habit of believing that it was an
essential part of national freedom. Its invalidity was brought home to us only
with the development of modern communications. To try to defend it against the
facts of modern life would be unrealistic and dangerous. Nor would we be
Few remember when there were so few
motorcars that each driver was free to make his own road rules. It was generally understood that a good
citizen behind the wheel would slow down on corners and either stop or make as
little noise as possible when he encountered a horse. If he didn't deliberately run into people,
"reckless driving" meant only that he would break a spring or his own
neck. But as the roads became filled with powerful automobiles there had to be
traffic lights and motor cops. A man could no longer make his own road rules.
Today if there were no traffic laws few would dare take the car out of the
garage. Red and green lights give us
freedom to use our automobiles.
An analogous situation exists between
nations. The highways of the world now are crowded. There are no empty seas, air spaces, radio
frequencies or lands where the rights and interests of many peoples do not meet
and potentially conflict. The United States or any other nation cannot make the
rules of the road all by itself.
Nations should not as a matter of
principle refuse to arbitrate international disputes which arise from domestic
policies. Secretary of State Charles
Evans Hughes, later Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States,
said in a 1923 speech before the Canadian Bar Association: "In these days
of intimate relations, of economic stress and of intense desire to protect
national interests and advance national opportunity, the treatment of questions
which, from a legal standpoint, are domestic, often seriously affects
international relations. The
principle, each nation for itself to the full extent of its powers, is the
principle of war, not of peace."
I am not suggesting the abolition of sovereignty. I am merely following out
logically what seems to me an obvious line of reasoning. Senator Austin of
Vermont expressed it when he said: "In order to save sovereignty we must
use sovereignty in joining other nations for security."
"As I speak of
sovereignty," said Senator Wiley of Wisconsin in a Congressional debate,
"I speak of something which is precious. I speak of that which my
grandfather obtained when he came to this country. Although he still could not
understand the English language, he could obtain 160 acres of land, and he
never forgot that that was his soil. . . . After he came to this country he
became inspired with something called American sovereignty, and he was a part
of the national sovereignty. I say that I do not think we, as trustees, can
barter that thing away -- the sovereignty of the State or the people."
Most of us share the feeling for American
soil expressed so movingly by Senator Wiley. Each of us values the backbone
which the feeling of self-reliance extols on us. Understandably we get angry at the suggestion
we might "barter away" something which we hold so precious. But this
is just another example where shades of meaning can obscure the essence of what
a word stands for. The actual process of
give and take described by the word barter has nothing unworthy about it.
Indeed, the phrase "enter into a contract to do such-and-such on
such-and-such terms," which can be properly substituted in this
connection, carries only honorable and businesslike implications.
I think that if we wish to establish
relations between nations based on law instead of force the method we must
follow is the one employed when men enter into a contract of partnership. This has been developed over the years as a
practical device for advancing the interests of civilized persons. A proper partnership involves clear rights
and equivalent duties for all the partners, proportionate to their respective
stakes in the common enterprise. The rights do not exist apart from the duties.
This means that anyone who wants to enjoy the advantages of a partnership must
give up some of his individual freedom of action. This voluntary limitation on
his own future action (be it in a marriage, a university, or a corporation) constitutes
the advantage which his partners gain in return for giving up some of their
freedom of action in his favor.
It is a simple fact that we have
often contracted to limit our theoretically absolute right to do as we liked in
dealings with other nations, in return for something which we thought of equal
or greater value. Let me cite one example that will surprise most people. In
1874 we bartered away our "right" to require that inhabitants of
other countries who wished to mail a letter to the United States must abide by
postal rules fixed independently by the United States. Did we "lose" any of our sovereignty
in joining the Universal Postal Union which set standard weights and rates for
letters exchanged between Americans and people in other parts of the world? A hundred other equally elementary examples exist
-- the rules of safety at sea of 1889, the international sanitary regulations
of 1903, the international regulation of radio wave lengths of 1927. Together
they show beyond dispute that in the world today no single state which wishes
to have friendly relations with other states is able to exercise all its
rights independently of other states.
The subject which therefore ought to
be debated now is not whether we should join in any sort of give and take with
other nations but what the items of give and take should be.
I offer a simile. Visualize several
big apartment houses touching one another in a single city block or occupying
adjoining blocks. Would it be sensible
and profitable for each to depend for protection against fire exclusively on a
fire-fighting capacities its own dwellers and employees? Or is it better for each
owner to make agreements with the others as to the conditions under which their
stand pipe to be used and under which fire brigades from neighboring houses may
use their roof in fighting a neighborhood fire? Going one step further, shouldn’t the owners agree
to pay taxes at agreed rates to maintain a fire department to serve them all?
Common support of a common fire
department does not affect the individual titles of ownership to individual
properties. But unless the owners do arrange for common support they will wake
up one day to find that their title deeds are indeed perfect but they apply to a
pile of rubble and charred beams. A
title deed in a safe deposit box does not insure protection from fire and many
other forms of trouble and loss. Only the wise and proper exercise of the
rights and powers inherent in the title deed can afford protection. The same with sovereignty. The proper exercise
of sovereign rights protects sovereignty; the failure to properly exercise
sovereign rights puts it in jeopardy.
Much of the current confusion over
the term sovereignty comes from those who are willing from personal or party
advantage to promote discord between the United States and other nations.
Usually the nations they seem to hate most can be our chief allies. They shout
that they will never permit any flag to substitute for the Stars and Stripes. We need never abandon our flag.
Today we try to find the right road
through the complicated problems raised by the War on Terrorism. We should not
be surprised or discouraged when we feel unfriendly toward those who threaten
us. We have done many things which are baffling and threatening to them. Under
our constitutional system our government is not permitted to make commitments
regarding future action to the same extent they are allowed to do under their
systems. No one can read the future
exactly and what we all are searching for is a means to safeguard our nations
from future shocks in unpredictable situations. It would be a sad commentary on human
intelligence if great peoples allowed irritations caused by occasional
uncertainties to make them cynical. We must not despair. We must not give up the search maximize the freedom and security that
all people want. It can be achieved if we
have the faith to act in common.
Arguments used against international
cooperation pretend to be rational. They
fear our loss of freedom and security. But in fact, independent policies ensure
we will lose one or both.
Fewer Americans now favor this
closed mindset. Rational Americans can look
at the problem of sovereignty without personal or party bias and ask: What specific actions are necessary and
wise for the extension of the use of our sovereignty?
Here opinions differ wildly. Assuming that some action is proper, and that
many forms of action may be necessary, disagreement is natural and healthy.
Agreement can and should be reached by argument and mutual give and take. As the war against terrorism evolves,
proposals as to how the peaceable nations of the earth should organize to
prevent more atrocities will multiply and take more definite shape. And they need to be examined and discussed in
detail. Let us enter this great debate with the object of coming to an
agreement instead of an irreconcilable spirit determined to vindicate a
particular point of view.
In the League of Nations debate of 1919 and 1920 the
sharpest differences of opinion within this country arose over the question
whether the United States should commit itself to the use of force in upholding
international agreements. Friends and foes alike of the proposed international
organization saw that this would be the test of its usefulness. Persons who
wished to prevent the United States from joining any world organization at all
inflamed emotions and awakened prejudice by proclaiming that such a commitment
would be "treason." Those who wanted to make the organization the
instrument for preventing a second world war saw that it would succeed or fail
according to the willingness of member states to pledge themselves to the use
of force to maintain the rule of law, by an agreed procedure and in agreed
The same essential debate took place
after World War II. Today this is still
the core of the decision which we must take. Are we willing only to talk when any situation
arises which plainly threatens war? Or
are we willing, in agreed circumstances, to act, to prevent it?
Unchecked Japanese aggression in Manchuria in 1931 and Italian
aggression against Ethiopia in 1935 gave Hitler the assurance he needed. None believed others was prepared --
psychologically or militarily -- to do more than talk.
We need a clear statement that we
are prepared in principle and practice to join with other members of an
international organization in using force to protect the freedom and security
of all people. Would the creation of such a joint instrument of force threaten
our sovereignty? Or would it, on the
contrary, represent a useful extension of our sovereign powers in an effort to
protect our vital interests?
First we must acknowledge that any postwar situation will
likely require an armed force for "policing" parts of the world
outside the boundaries of the United States to protect innocent people. This is not new to us. Acting unilaterally we have used our armed
forces for police work in other parts of the world more than 50 times in our
history. The cost and the repercussions
have not always been favorable. But
ignoring those parts of the world would have been more dangerous.
But we have also on 25 or more occasions taken police action
in cooperation with other nations. The
agreements which we entered into with Great Britain in 1891, and with Russia in
1894, to patrol the Bering Sea against illegal fur sealers might be cited as
examples of such international policing. These agreements gave both Russia and
Great Britain the right to seize suspected fur hunters and their ships, even if
they were American citizens sailing under the American flag. Both those countries in turn gave us a similar
right to seize ships and men, of whatever nationality, including their own, if
we suspected them of illegal activities. Those agreements were not destructive
of our sovereignty or of British and Russians sovereignty. They represented a
constructive use of sovereignty, mutually advantageous to all three parties.
This established principle of cooperative
international policing gives us the foundation on which to build for the
future. No dramatically long step is
required. There are practical difficulties in creating a closely integrated
internationalized police force, but they are not insurmountable given the cost
of doing nothing or taking uncoordinated or late action as in Rwanda 1994 or
Syria 2010. An agreement between the
peace-loving nations to each maintain certain land, sea or air forces and that
each will use them collaboratively, in agreed situations and within agreed
limits, to prevent aggression is possible.
This seems to me the minimum requirement to ensure that
international disputes which are clearly covered by international law shall be
submitted to courts and judges, and that those which are not shall be settled by
conciliation and compromise. For such a procedure to work successfully, the
members of the international organization must say plainly, in advance, that if
peaceful methods fail the aggressor state, or state actors committing atrocities
within their own nation will encounter sufficient armed forces to ensure
his/her eventual defeat.
In planning how this force would be operated as a practical
matter we have a model in the combined chiefs of staff with in prior wars. Such
a staff would make the necessary technical preparations for effective
collaborative action in the event that should ever become necessary. I would hope that the mere preparation for
action would forestall the need of ever taking it. But if the time should come
when collective action had to be taken, it certainly is in the interest of the
United States and of all other peace-loving states that it be taken promptly
To repeat once more: I think that our use of our sovereignty
to create an effective instrument of peace is the best way of protecting our
sovereignty. If this is called "bartering," I would say that it is a
profitable transaction. I would rather
see the United States enter into it than pursue our own aloof and enormously
costly way into future wars.
Even with no war in sight we shall
face many tough problems which can be met only by international action. Some
will be scientific or technological, some cultural or educational. Some will be
economic -- our struggle, in partnership with our allies, to use the raw
materials and the markets of the world to increase living standards everywhere.
Some will be political -- the delicate and hazardous adjustment to freedom and
self-government of millions of people who have now heard those magic words and
will need our help as they grope dangerously for a way to turn them into
Only in an international
organization backed by the machinery needed to enforce its decisions can the
United States deal boldly and effectively with the problems which will confront
it. In cooperation with our allies, we will
remain leaders by virtue of the strength and ingenuity of our people. Using
this leadership, for our own enrichment and that of mankind, will not be weakening
the sovereign power of the American people; it will be to widen it and make it more
real by maximizing the freedom and security of all humanity.
[i] Made in New York before the Council on Foreign Relations,
January 8, 1934. Rewritten Feb 8, 2014.