Nina Hachigian makes the claim that the Chinese have learned their enthusiasm for the protections of state sovereignty from American neoconservatives. This gets several things wrong, and manages to give neoconservatives credit for beliefs they don’t have. Hachigian writes:
Yet some American neoconservatives find themselves on the side of China’s Communist leaders in this debate. Though they have tended to criticize the Obama administration for not being adequately tough on Beijing, their own ideal of national sovereignty supports China’s.
As her chief witness for this, she cites John Bolton’s sovereignty arguments against international agreements and institutions. Despite being perpetually wrong and obnoxious about major national security issues, and despite being a former high-ranking Bush administration official, John Bolton is not really a neoconservative if we want to use the word properly. He is a hawkish unilateralist nationalist, and he and many neoconservatives would typically agree on most foreign policy issues, but it is still a mistake to call him a neoconservative or assume that neoconservatives are as attached to a particular understanding of national sovereignty as he is. To the extent that deploying pro-sovereignty arguments enhances American power, neoconservatives would have no problem using them, but they more than happy to exploit international institutions and their regulations as pretexts for infringing on other states’ sovereignty. Mistakenly identifying Bolton as a neoconservative creates no end of confusion about what neoconservatives’ views on national sovereignty are.
Indeed, there are few people in the U.S. more hostile to the idea of state sovereignty as a serious principle of international law than neoconservatives, because they correctly understand that respecting other states’ sovereignty dramatically reduces the occasions for American intervention overseas. Their view is really quite straightforward: the U.S. and its allies should enjoy all the benefits of sovereignty, and states that they regard as undesirable or dangerous should have none of its protections unless their governments fall in line. Hachigian may have been misled by the massive hypocrisy that this position requires.
Neoconservatives are not necessarily averse to multilateralism, so long as it is a multilateral arrangement in which the U.S. is the dominant party, and as much as they may complain about the U.N. on certain occasions they are overwhelmingly hostile to pro-sovereignty conservatives who want to scale back U.S. involvement in international institutions, including trade organizations. Hachigian refers to the NPT and free trade agreements as examples of what a “more modern view of sovereignty” permits, and neoconservatives generally support both. Mind you, they support the NPT very selectively, and they do so as a way to thwart the Iranian nuclear program while permitting U.S.-aligned, non-NPT nuclear powers to do as they please.