Sovereignty is Critical, Even In a Cloud-Based World

By | 2018-02-05T07:26:25+00:00 February 5th, 2018|
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President Trump stands for putting America first. This means putting U.S. interests and values ahead of the interests and values of foreigners. It means insisting on trade deals that are fair and that protect American jobs and technological preeminence. It means avoiding pointless foreign military adventures and spending our money on domestic priorities instead. It means requiring our allies to pay their way and shoulder their share of the burdens of maintaining global peace and security. It means responding vigorously and decisively to any and all challenges to our power and our way of life. Finally, it means upholding our territorial integrity, including our borders and our immigration laws.

Put simply, we want the world to respect America, including its territory, its trade interests, and its laws. But respect is reciprocal. If we insist that countries respect our sovereignty, we’d better be willing to respect theirs. Sovereignty, after all, is the idea that a nation-state (any nation-state) has the right, within its own territory, to make its own decisions. We cherish this right for ourselves. To be consistent, we cannot deny it to others.

Unfortunately, Americans have a long history of violating the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other countries. We have projected military power globally, especially with airstrikes and drone attacks, whenever our interests demanded it. We have lectured other nations on the form of government they should choose. We have used economic pressure, including sanctions, to punish those who run their internal affairs in a way that conflicts with our interests or values. We have even invaded and occupied other countries for a long list of reasons—but rarely, if ever, because our own national security required it.

In a hypothetical world where sovereignty is sacrosanct, the United States wouldn’t be nearly so aggressive. Rather, our government would acquire the habit of minding its own business and holding its tongue when we disagreed with other countries’ sovereign decisions—and in so doing we would be setting them a good example, and perhaps deterring them from seeking to interfere in our own internal affairs.

If only we had learned this lesson sooner. Would the Russians, for example, ever have tried to manipulate our election process, if we had not first stuck our noses into their flawed democracy, praising dissidents and criticizing the conduct of Russian elections, as indeed we do in so many parts of the world?

Is the Cloud All-American?
The United States could take any number of measures to rebuild trust and confidence in the principle of national sovereignty worldwide. This week, Congress will begin debating an important step forward with the Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data (CLOUD) Act. The legislation, which has support from members of both parties, would create a framework for resolving disputes between nation-states over access to electronically stored information.

It may sound like an obscure issue, but it is integral to the future of sovereignty.

The legislation is a response, in part, to a case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court. The Justice Department has been seeking emails from Microsoft stored in its servers housed in Ireland. The U.S. government contends that if it wants data that could be accessed in the United States through the Internet, privacy laws or the sovereignty of the country where the information happens to reside shouldn’t be an issue. But those most certainly are crucial questions that the U.S. government cannot imperiously wave away.

The CLOUD Act would require the United States to make bilateral agreements with countries where the federal government seeks data. The idea would be to protect the privacy rights of individuals and companies as well as respect the sovereignty of the country involved. That would be vastly preferable, clearly, to the existing model that allows the U.S. government to reach blithely into the global computing cloud and snatch whatever information it desires.

Sovereignty’s Enemies
Data storage is but one domain in which sovereignty is germane—and in which, let’s face it, the United States has not taken sovereignty seriously. Who, then, are the enemies of sovereignty?

Sometimes, they are deep state bureaucrats who want no niceties of constitutionalism, rule of law, or international comity to interfere with their freedom of action. Sometimes, they are elite internationalists, who see national independence as an obstacle to their utopian striving for a global order. Sometimes, they are international capitalists, who prize uniformity and pliability in governments, rather than real self-government.

Whoever the enemies of sovereignty may be, they are, in the end, the enemies of the American people. As President Trump said in his State of the Union address, we desperately need “reciprocity” in our relations with other countries. We need them to respect our rights and independence, yes, but we need to respect theirs in return. Any other way risks our freedoms and our way of life, putting them in the hands of globalists and foreigners.

Putting America first means “we’ll do it our way, and you do it yours.” That was what we fought for in 1776, and we should not surrender an inch of those gains today or in the future.

About the Author:

Nicholas L. Waddy
Nicholas L. Waddy, an associate professor of history at SUNY Alfred, blogs at www.waddyisright.com.