The Continuing Relevance of Sovereignty


Some things are so stupid only an intellectual could believe them.
—George Orwell (apocryphal)

Sovereignty is irrelevant.

The new think pieces are here, the new think pieces are here!

American professor: The Danish yes is part of a new world order
Solveig Gram Jensen,, Jun 2

Yesterday, as expected, Denmark voted overwhelmingly (roughly 2:1) to drop its “defense reservation” with the European Union.

So much for the wisdom of crowds.

The media are awash in hot-takes and preliminary think pieces about the results, but it’s not a very complicated issue, as the opening of Jensen’s article makes clear:

In the coming days, experts and analysts will finalize and examine why a large majority of Danes said yes to more EU in a historic vote on Wednesday.

Our vote will surely be read abroad as a resounding no to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his war against Ukraine.

And as a yes to stand with the other EU countries and Ukraine. It will be perceived in the same spirit as Finland’s and Sweden’s application to join NATO.

It’s true that the supply of think-pieces from “experts and analysts” will surely outpace demand. It’s true that the election results will be interpreted by many as a rebuke to Putin (even sterner, perhaps, than Ukraine’s victory at the Eurovision Song Contest). And it’s also true that the vote will be interpreted as a tightening of Denmark’s historically reluctant embrace of the EU.

Things can be true without being meaningful (“I’m wearing black socks,” for example, or “that tree has leaves”), but we’ll leave that aside.

“Putin’s invasion has simply united Europe. Almost the whole of Europe is now part of two institutions [the EU and NATO]. I have never seen so much European unity in the history of Europe,” said American historian Phillips P. O’Brien, a professor of Strategic Studies at the Scottish University of St. Andrews, to Berlingske.

“Unity” is the word we use to patch up the hole where more meaningful words belong. We have no idea what we’re doing, dagblammit, but we’re doing it together!

Image: internet meme.

In terms of European unity, O’Brien compares today’s EU favorably to the Roman Empire, because “the Roman Empire did not include all of Europe, such as Germany, Scandinavia, or Eastern Europe.”

Fair enough, although the EU doesn’t include the UK, Switzerland, Norway (a third of Scandinavia), a big chunk of the Balkans, or any territory at all in Africa, Asia Minor, or the Middle East. But his point is taken.

The article meanders merrily along in this way for a while, with Jensen asking basic questions and the professor providing answers that aren’t particularly interesting or controversial. He makes the usual frightened noises about the Dread Tyrant Trump, but that’s just the price of admission these days.

Most of the “conversation” is predicated on the idea that Putin miscalculated. His earlier adventures in Georgia and Crimea had provoked very little in reaction from Europe and the west at large and Europe had been increasing their dependence on his gas and oil, so he assumed we’d just let him roll over Ukraine.

And that’s exactly what we did.

Putin miscalculated the readiness and competence of his armed forces. He miscalculated the level of Ukrainian resistance. But are we really going to say he “underestimated” the European response?

Seriously: what is he supposed to have gotten wrong about us? He knew there’d be more sanctions, he knew we’d provide aid to Ukraine and accommodate their refugees, he had to have suspected Sweden and Finland would run for cover. (Which is what they did. Let’s please stop pretending their joining NATO was anything bold and heroic: they got scared and ran to daddy.)

Hell, Putin probably even knew we’d rig Eurovision for Ukraine: it’s exactly the kind of stupid, futile gesture that’s become our calling card.

What have we done that he might not have counted on? What were his fatal miscalculations with respect to us? At most I suppose it could be argued that our sanctions have gone beyond what he might have anticipated.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine wasn’t the result of Russian miscalculation, but of western miscalculation—or stupidity, really. Willful blindness. Reckless disregard for the iron-clad laws of geopolitics.

It was very clear to very many people in Europe that our failure to react more decisively to Georgia and the Crimea, and our increasing dependence on Russian oil, were going to embolden Putin.  Most of the experts who are now applauding European unity were promoting a tough-love approach to Russia and were arguing in favor of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. In fact, up until the eve of the invasion, with 100,000 Russian troops idling on the Ukrainian border, virtually every European leader was still committed to that Russian pipeline. Donald Trump was mocked and despised for having tried to block it with sanctions—that Joe Biden gleefully overturned.

But western fecklessness has been on abundant display for a long, long time. (The two most glaring examples on the main stage were probably Obama’s “red line” in Syria, which even Vox—Vox!called a “fiasco,” and the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan last summer.)

My point is that it was European and western “unity” that emboldened Putin in the first place: unity in weakness, unity in impotence, unity in fecklessness, unity in our willingness to look the other way so we could focus on the important business of destroying our own energy infrastructure.

“At this stage, it seems almost stupid for European states not to be united. Things that were worried about in the past, such as sovereignty, have become almost irrelevant. “


“Russia has destroyed what people thought was the world order after the Cold War.”

Unity is value neutral: people can be united on good and bad causes, for good and bad reasons. Unity just means sharing a common purpose, goal, or ideal. Salem, Massachusetts, exhibited great social unity around the burning of witches. The Aztecs were unified in their passion for human sacrifice. At various points in history, various tribes and clans and city-states and nations have unified their peoples around absolutely horrific ideas.

Hurray for unity?

When the professor says it’s stupid not to be united, I suppose we can be generous enough to assume he means united in our mutual defense. (And as we shall see, he does.) I don’t disagree. But as much as I’d like to think that the Russian invasion has been a wake-up call, there’s very little evidence to support that premise. What are the facts on the ground? Ukraine is a ruin. Whole cities have been leveled. Millions of people have been dislocated.

And yes, the cost on Russia has been higher than Putin anticipated, but are we really gonna call that a win?

You think the people of Mariupol do?

Were Russia to creep into Estonia, NATO’s Article 5 would be triggered: but what would we do?

I like to think we’d rain holy hell on the Russians in Estonia, the Russians near Estonia, and even any Russians thinking about maybe getting a littler closer to Estonia. But what I actually suspect would happen is something more like the Cuban missile crisis: meetings and threats and stern speeches, and a whole hell of a lot of crossed fingers and held breath.

We haven’t got the belly for war in Europe, and as the most blood-soaked continent on earth that’s not entirely a bad thing… but neither is it entirely a good thing.

But there’s no time to get any deeper into that: let’s try instead to understand why the need for unity has made sovereignty (almost) irrelevant.

To give the perfesser every benefit of every doubt, let’s pick up where we left off (at the end of the last block quote) and take it all the way to the end of the article:

This means, O’Brien explains, that Europe has entered a new era:

“Now we are in a post-Ukraine or post-Putin world order. It’s going to last a while,” he says.

Even if the war drags on. The fact of the matter is that the war is the reason why we now all want to unite.

And that means we all crave one thing, O’Brien assesses:


And that may well turn out to be the obvious answer when all the analyses of the Danish yes have come to their conclusions.

O’Brien’s big take-away: we all want security. Which is why we want to unite. Because of the war.

So that’s the purpose of all this unity: security.

And unity around security is more important that sovereignty.

Rephrasing that: it would be stupid not to be willing to sacrifice sovereignty for security.

Clarifying that and pulling everything together: we should be willing to surrender national sovereignty to secure ourselves against threats to our national sovereignty.

Makes sense, I guess… if you’re an intellectual.

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Soren Rasmussen
Soren Rasmussen
2 years ago

To quibble a bit, I would posit that Putin thought he was going to be able to deliver a quick knock-out blow to the Zelensky government, and that a quick and easy victory (the clear expectation of which is the only sane explanation for the multi-pronged way the Russian military chose to roll into Ukraine) would strengthen the image of Russia. And facing a strong Russia with a clear appetite for risk, Finland and Sweden would not dare to creep closer to NATO.

So I don’t think Finnish and Swedish NATO applications were anticipated in the Kremlin.

As for the rest, I completely agree that we are in serious danger of overestimating the actual value of our newfound unity, and that we would do well to ponder on the self-evident ability of our (otherwise not very impressive) leaders in utilizing fear to persuade their constituents to surrender ever more of their freedoms. It worked for terrorism, climate alarmism, and the pandemic. And lo and behold, if it doesn’t work for fear of the Bear as well.