The Sovereignty Solution: A Commonsense Approach to Global Security

  • Published

The Sovereignty Solution: A Commonsense Approach to Global Security by Anna Simons, Joe McGraw, and Duane Lauchengco. Naval Institute Press, 2011, 256 pp.

The promise was, “No more anti-American violence. Achievable, we believe, by adopting a ‘live and let live’ philosophy with a powerful kicker: ‘Don’t violate U.S. sovereignty, or else.’ ” This is the crux of The Sovereignty Solution. The notion for this scholarly monograph arose out of a question presented to the authors during a two-day workshop at the Navy Postgraduate School (NPS) in 2006: “Think through what should be put in place today to be able to shift national strategy overnight, pending some sort of major shock.” And that is what these three authors have done.

The Sovereignty Solution is the result of five years of reading, thinking, and writing, and it presents a clear and convincing argument proposing a significant and fundamental shift in how we define the grand strategy of the United States. Anna Simons is a professor of defense analysis at the NPS and holds a PhD in anthropology from Harvard. Her coauthors, Joe McGraw and Duane Lauchengco, are both active duty US Army Special Forces officers with degrees from both the US Military Academy and the NPS. Although many consider this work a radical approach, it is not unique in nature, and the authors are first to admit there are similar analyses out there, even if they arrive at different solutions. Finally, all three recognize that even if their ideas are not the ultimate solution, at least they may spark some desperately needed debate on the issue. With that as their goal, they have certainly succeeded.

Throughout the book, Simons, McGraw, and Lauchengco solidly build their case for this radical shift in strategy in a clear yet concise manner. Although their approach to national strategy might seem brutal, they unpack it for the reader, breaking it into convincing subarguments. The Sovereignty Solution, consisting of nine chapters plus a conclusion, logically builds on the previous chapters as the reader progresses through the book.

Chapter one analyzes the current situation, specifically contrasting twentieth-century strategy with events in the twenty-first century. The authors conclude there is “no clear singular rival” and no agreement on “whom or what most threatens our national existence.” Therefore, the United States faces four major challenges in the present:

1. “Who and what to focus on—states or nonstate actors? Near peer competitors or super-empowered individuals?”

2. “The non-peer adversaries we do have—self-ascribed Islamists—are much more familiar with us and with how America works than we are with them.”

3. “We are riddled with soft targets.”

4. “Globalization makes it infinitely easier to destroy than to control.”

A common theme flows throughout the book: We as Americans should recognize what makes us American, what our strengths as Americans are, and embrace them. Americans “tend to have short attention spans, we are action-oriented, and we prefer direct over indirect approaches.” We also like clarity. Playing to our strengths to harden some of our soft targets is one of the foundational arguments. However, creating this shield of an indivisible America is perhaps our greatest challenge. The authors recognize this, highlighting that “we are becoming increasingly divisible” and that to be strong abroad we must first be strong at home. This includes solving our illegal immigration crisis—not a small task.

The authors assert that the “idea that there is an American lurking inside all non-Americans just waiting to be liberated by us also makes us surprisingly parochial.” No matter how hard we try, we as Americans lack the sometimes centuries of social context necessary to grasp the intricacies of foreign culture. “While being able to ask for tea in a local language is good . . . it takes a lifetime of drinking tea with locals to learn what is really going on beneath the surface.” If we stop trying to create others in our image and allow them to pursue their own sovereign rights, the demands of sovereignty will hold them accountable. “In a world in which sovereignty demands fulfillment of certain duties and doesn’t just promise deference—non-state actors, literally, would not exist.” This is a bold assertion.

The key to success in a “sovereignty rules” environment is to eliminate incrementalism and take a stance that puts “teeth back into accountability and responsibility.” Every country is given a choice to respond “as a partner state, struggling state, failed state, or adversary.” Partner states are willing and able to meet Washington’s demands. Struggling states are willing but require assistance to do so. Failed states are neither willing nor able. Adversaries have the ability but not the desire to meet these demands. When a crisis hits, all history is forgotten:

In a Sovereignty Rules world, one thing and only one thing matters. Regardless of how historic America’s friendship with another country might be, that governments’ ability and willingness to meet Washington’s demands in the wake of an attack perpetrated or assisted by its citizens determine whether we still regard that country as a friend, or as something else. . . .We’ve been attacked, and you own the problem. What kind of relationship have you had with the United States? What kind of relationship do you want now?

The remaining chapters tackle the lingering core concepts of the solution. “If any national security strategy is to have a shred of deterrent effect there must exist a government action that immediately signals to the rest of the world, Enough. Declarations of War flip that switch.” We must continue to fight for our “national identity and cohesiveness” emphasizing civic responsibility and ensuring that every citizen here harbors an inner American. “Foreign aid and assistance, and education and training” must also come under review. Under sovereignty rules, it is imperative that we recognize that foreign nations “have to be willing to fight—and labor—for their own liberties.” Governments must take responsibility for their own citizens, and the authors argue that “aid not only corrupts, it undermines sovereignty absolutely.” They then lay out their expectations on “sovereignty’s implications for alliances and multilateral agreements.” Sovereignty rules would “recalibrate the global order” and “under the Sovereignty Solution, security and trade would stay detangled. Thus, all of the impossible questions about what constitutes a vital or national interest would atrophy.” This is another bold claim that deserves more support.

Finally, the authors tackle the implications of sovereignty rules toward our military forces. “In a Sovereignty Rules world, under the relationship framework, the only kinetic (armed) mission for US forces abroad would be to get in, break, and get out—not to fix. Anyone who seeks to survive will surrender, while our military would keep targeting those who refuse.” We would not “imprison,” we would not “indefinitely detain,” we would not “occupy.”

There is a lot this book touches on but does not cover in depth. Opponents will argue the solution is too simplistic and does not account for real-world second and third order effects. Although it is beyond the scope and intent of this book to address all such counter-arguments, a study doing just that would be the next logical step. A national strategy shift to the sovereignty solution requires a leap of faith

Although the authors’ ideas seem radical at times, they are clear, concise, and convincing. The “don’t or else” message of The Sovereignty Solution strikes that necessary balance between the strategies of doves and hawks, finding the middle ground that has eluded US grand strategy for some time. It is not preemptive. It is not pro-war. It is about “choice and responsibility.” As such, The Sovereignty Solution is a recommended read for advanced students of national security policy if for no other reason but to open their eyes to a possible alternative to current policy and to spark some necessary debate.

Maj Jeremy F. Hough, USAF

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."