In a nutshell, "sovereign obligation" is the responsibilities nations have to one another in an era that finds the globe shrinking. From cyberspace and world trade to the prevention of pandemics and dealing with climate change, sovereign nations need to understand their obligations to one another to help resolve issues that are no respecters of national borders.
As Haass puts it:
Little now stays local; just about anyone and anything, from tourists, terrorists, and refugees to e-mails, diseases, dollars, and greenhouse gases, can reach almost anywhere. The result is that what goes on inside a country can no longer be considered the concern of that country alone. Today’s circumstances call for an updated operating system—call it World Order 2.0—that includes not only the rights of sovereign states but also those states’ obligations to others.Haass is no pie-in-the-sky idealist. He says that a world order based on sovereign obligation will only come about incrementally after much "time, talk, and effort."
Nor does Haass commend the diminution of American national sovereignty. It builds on this concept that's been central to international relations since the seventeenth century. As he explains:
...sovereign obligation is about what a country owes to other countries. It stems from a need to expand and adapt the traditional principles of international order for a highly interconnected world.What I appreciate about the article is that Haass is here wrestling to identify an overarching strategy for international relations (and US foreign policy), moving away from what today seems like a series of seemingly disconnected episodes that only heighten international tensions and fail to address the downside of the increased interaction of the whole world.
Sovereign obligation isn't, as Haass points out, unknown in the world today. He identifies international efforts on health issues as one area where this principle is gaining traction. He sees the need to thwart nuclear proliferation as an area that urgently cries out for implementing sovereign obligation as a norm among the largely fictional "community of nations."
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[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]