Sovereignty: Alive and Well – Paul Fry

Stephen Krasner quite rightly argues in his article on sovereignty that the challenges states face to their sovereignty today are no different than the challenges they faced in the past. But to say that the notion or idea of sovereignty faces challenges is very different from declaring it dead or in decline.

You only have to do a quick search of the news to find countless challenges to sovereignty being discussed, from Israel stating that it will defend its sovereignty over the Golan Heights from any outside forces, to the Philippines accusing China of intruding upon its sovereignty through illegitimate patrols in its waters, to Egypt accusing Human Rights Watch of violating its sovereignty through illegal investigative reporting. Clearly sovereignty is an idea which is very much alive, and being fiercely protected by states today.

States draw legitimacy for their actions within their defined borders through the idea of sovereignty. In doing so, they also acknowledge that they cannot interfere with the internal actions of other states without violating the sovereignty of those states, unless invited to do so. To put it simply, a state always has the loudest and most important voice when addressing issues inside its borders. For another entity, whether it is another state or a non-state actor, to intrude upon that right would be a violation of that state’s sovereignty.

This isn’t to say that sovereignty isn’t at times challenged. As Krasner puts it, “The polities of many weaker states have been persistently penetrated, and stronger nations have not been immune to external influence”. But when a state feels that its sovereignty has been violated, it either deals with the issue itself or it raises it to the attention of the international community so it can be dealt with multilaterally – the international community of states.

As globalization and technological progress change the way people, ideas, money, and goods and services flow across borders, more and more transnational and supranational organizations grow in response to these changes. Yet each one of these organizations is still subservient to the state as we know it, and must respect the sovereignty of the state. If North Korea doesn’t want McDonald’s to open up restaurants inside its borders, then it won’t. If Great Britain doesn’t want to use the Euro, then it won’t. And if the United States doesn’t want to be a part of the UN’s Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, then it won’t. States, being autonomous entities defined by their borders, are still the major players in international politics today. The idea of sovereignty still sets the framework in which all international and domestic organizations operate in, a framework which is highly unlikely to disappear or drastically change any time soon.


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