In This Review

The Sovereignty Wars: Reconciling America With the World
The Sovereignty Wars: Reconciling America With the World
By Stewart Patrick
Brookings Institution Press, 2017, 352 pp

For more than a century, the grand debate over the United States’ global role has tended to pivot on one question: Can Washington best advance its interests and values through international institutions or through its own national efforts and ad hoc partnerships? At times, as Patrick illuminates in this cogent and timely book, this debate has turned into “sovereignty wars,” heated controversies over whether the United States should accept constraints on its autonomy and freedom of action. The U.S. Senate’s debate over President Woodrow Wilson’s League of Nations was the first and most dramatic fight of this kind. But more recent arguments over the North American Free Trade Agreement, the International Criminal Court, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the Paris agreement on climate change have proved almost as profound and consequential. Cutting through the hyperbole and inflamed rhetoric that tends to surround this subject, Patrick argues that when the United States signs a treaty or ties itself to other countries, it is exercising its sovereign authority, not abdicating it. Washington’s long-term efforts to build and operate within a world of rules and institutions have made it easier, not harder, for the United States to be the captain of its own future.