In This Review

Taming the Sovereigns: Institutional Change in International Politics
Taming the Sovereigns: Institutional Change in International Politics
By K.J. Holsti
Cambridge University Press, 2004, 372 pp

It is a cliche to say that the attacks of September 11 fundamentally changed international politics. But breathless announcements of "new eras," "epochal shifts," and "historic moments" occur all the time. In Taming the Sovereigns, Canadian scholar Holsti steps back from the rush of current events to consider more broadly how scholars think about and chart international change. His careful judgments, if not entirely surprising, are a useful counterpoint to the glib rhetoric of transformation. He identifies several basic types of change: quantitative shifts, such as growth in population or trade flows; increased complexity, such as in the rules and institutions of diplomacy; and the transformation of political actors themselves. Using this framework, he surveys long-term change in various aspects of world politics, including the state system, territoriality, sovereignty, international law, diplomacy, trade, and war. From his baseline conception of a "society of states" in which relations are regulated by Westphalian norms and institutions, he finds continuity and creeping complexity more than a sharp transformation toward a de-territorialized, borderless world. Others, however, might see the rise of U.S. unipolarity and the seeming end of great-power war as part of a more profound change.