The long-running sovereignty debate has now come full circle, to the realm of the theoretical debate over the importance of societies and states. Read the piece in full. She explains that the nature of the Arab Spring may mean that new governments no longer uphold US interests, but makes the case for supporting the Arab Spring anyway, because naturally it is proof societies have the power to overturn states.
Given this reality, why aren’t scholars and commentators like my friendly foil Dan Drezner not actively recommending that we simply tell the Syrian government that it can do whatever it likes to its people, as Joshua Foust, Dan Trombley and their fellow defenders of absolute sovereignty insist is the right of all sovereign governments? Why didn’t we encourage the Egyptian military to fire on the protesters in Tahrir Square, keep Mubarak in power, and enforce a transition to his son? North Korea’s Kim Il-sung managed such a transition to Kim Jong-il, who looks set to do the same to Kim Jong-un. If states are what matter in the world, then why not do everything we can to encourage the continuation of governments that are friendly to our interests, regardless of what happens within their borders?
Firstly, I would like to reiterate that my claim has never been that states are what matter in the world. Power is what matters in the world. The reason realists choose to resolve the complexity and tension between the various social and political organizations outside the state and the state itself in favor of the state is generally because the state remains the optimal mechanism for maintaining territorial sovereignty and defense against external intervention. As I have detailed in previous posts, there is a long history of realist authors dealing with forces outside the state since realist political theory antedates the state itself. The fundamental difference between realists and the rest is their understanding of power as essentially coercive, and view the creation of alternative nodes and networks of other forms of power as relying upon the careful concert of coercive forces at play.