Saturday, December 19, 2020

Sebastian Schmidt's "Armed Guests"

Sebastian Schmidt is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Armed Guests: Territorial Sovereignty and Foreign Military Basing, and reported the following:
From page 99:
…preferred to discuss the issues of administration and aviation in the Pacific at large, the US government sought to move forward with joint use of only Canton and Enderbury islands and to work out broader issues at a later date. British policymakers felt that the United States was running roughshod over their legitimate interests, and some of the language of the discussions was fairly pointed and acerbic.

The fact that the difficult discussions regarding Canton and Enderbury islands were concerned with the governance of airfields suggests another way in which technological developments in aviation began to push the limits that military exclusivity placed on the disposition of military forces. The landing of military aircraft makes more direct demands on the use of territory than the port visits of naval vessels. While vessels remain in the harbor, the runways and hangars that planes utilize are integral parts the territory of the host and can cover a significant area. It is likely for this reason that the United States and Britain, while mutually benefiting from port access, were often at loggerheads in negotiations about landing rights in the Pacific before the development of sovereign basing and its decoupling of military presence and state authority. Tellingly, these negotiations included the refusal of the United States to grant Britain military or civilian landing rights in Hawaii.

Seen in this light, the decision to establish a condominium over Canton and Enderbury represents another solution to the problem of reconciling territorial authority and foreign military presence. It was a resolution, however difficult to achieve, that allowed action to proceed. A condominium is in fact quite a radical solution whose broader applicability is doubtful—especially in populated territories—given the complete reconfiguration of authority it would require.

In a nutshell, the precedent to which both the prime minister and the secretary of state for dominion affairs referred was not really applicable. Moreover, the Canton/Enderbury experience actually revealed how difficult negotiations over sovereignty were even when they concerned largely uninhabited atolls on the other side of the planet over which neither country had a history of governance. Despite the conceptual breakthrough made in the discussions leading up to the Caribbean basing agreement of 1939, the experience of the Canton/Enderbury island negotiations presaged potential difficulties in the working out of basing in practice. Traditional practices of sovereignty would be difficult to accommodate to the new ends of policy, even if, on the level of abstracted discussion, representatives of the United States and Britain had already agreed for the need for such a step. The implementation of rules is not direct and unambiguous, and agreement in the abstract, while important, says little about how rules, especially newly agreed ones, might work out in practice. Processes of deliberative innovation involve practical engagement within specific contexts of action, not merely discussion.
Reading page 99, the reader would gain some insight into the central issues addressed in the book. Several of the major concepts appear on this page, and the book is in fact principally concerned with “the problem of reconciling territorial authority and foreign military presence.” In that sense, the test works well. However, the references to concepts developed elsewhere in the work means that a reader would have difficulty understanding the meaning and significance of the discussion.

The context of the passage on page 99 is the effort by the British government to justify the 1940 Destroyers for Bases Agreement to members of Parliament by citing as precedent a condominium set up with the United States over the pacific atolls of Canton and Enderbury. In the Agreement, Britain granted the United states military bases in several British colonial holdings in the North Atlantic. As the leases would run for 99 years, this would be a long-term foreign military presence – a security arrangement that we are familiar with today but was completely novel at the time. I call this practice “sovereign basing,” a term which shows up on the page. Prior to the Second World War, state representatives could only comprehend a foreign military presence as either occupation or annexation, and foreign militaries were as a rule excluded from a state’s territory – an understanding I call “military exclusivity,” and which also appears on the page. The Destroyers for Bases Agreement, which concerned colonial territory rather than home territory, was a steppingstone to contemporary sovereign basing arrangements.

The book explains how the practice of territorial sovereignty changed through the emergence of sovereign basing, and the discussion of the importance of technology here (airfields v. ports) points to a key part of the argument. As the passage notes, reaching agreement on Canton and Enderbury was difficult and in any case not a good precedent for prospective bases on the densely populated colonies in the Atlantic. Aside from revealing policymakers’ attempt to frame radical steps as familiar to render them palatable, the page also shows how difficult it was to accommodate perceived encroachments on sovereignty.
Learn more about Armed Guests at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue