Tuesday 14 Aug 2018 | 18:59 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 14 Aug 2018 | 18:59 | SYDNEY

Reader ripostes: Sovereignty in Southeast Asia


Sam Roggeveen


19 May 2008 15:39

Two responses to Andrew Shearer's post on ASEAN. The first is from Hans:

I find something puzzling about Andrew Shearer's enthusiastic support for 'the breaking down [within ASEAN] of views on sovereignty, and an increasing emphasis on consistency with international norms'. Compare this post with a previous one in which he wrote that (Australia's) foreign policy should be 'tightly directed at pursuing our national interests' and multilateralism is 'risky', especially because 'the higher the stakes and the more countries involved, the harder it gets'. How can one support the notion that international norms should trump state sovereignty, yet not endorse the very vehicles that create, reproduce and enforce those international norms (ie. multilateral institutions)?

This seems to reflect an underlying contradiction of the Howard-Downer years: the previous government backed/initiated sovereignty-challenging intervention in the South Pacific, East Timor and Iraq to support norms of democracy, self-determination or humanitarianism; but it largely frowned upon the UN and its organs.

It seems to me that this can only be explained as follows: 'international norms' should trump state sovereignty only in situations which in some way affect Australia's interests. So it's the sovereignty of others that is affected, never our own. And the enforcer of those norms should not be multilateral institutions, but certain self-appointed enforcers — just to ensure that violations of sovereignty flow in only one direction.

And this from Alison:

If we are to rejoice with Mike Green in Foreign Policy about ‘a subtle but real breaking down of traditional Southeast Asian views on sovereignty and an increasing emphasis on consistency with international norms’, it would be good to see a similar change in US traditional views. America’s sovereignty is always cited as the reason for there being one rule for the US and another for everyone else. The US has not, for example, ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Torture Convention protocol and the Kyoto Protocol, and the US does not recognise the International Court of Justice or the International Criminal Court. As well, the US in recent years has undermined the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Conventions and Treaties on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. US sovereignty, it seems, is non-negotiable, while the rest of us are expected to follow international norms.