Whose State Is It Anyway?- Caroline Courtney

Sovereignty is about faces. It makes it easy for us to read an article on the Russian imposition of Ukrainian authority and immediately connect the events to Putin. It makes it easy for us to talk about the American War on Terror and when Saddam Hussain is paired up against George W. Bush. But is that really what is going on? Are world events a mere dialogue between state leaders and nothing else? Do we as constituents not have a say or impact on this dumbed down version of international affairs? I would like to think not, but that does not mean to say that sovereignty has not designed an simple framework of understanding how states interact.

Ever since the dawn of international relations, sovereignty has always been the assumed incumbent when it comes to deciding how we as humans will coexist. And why wouldn’t it be? For hundreds of years it has successfully established the foundation of peace, war and everything in between, but more importantly has created a balance between the power of the people and that of the monarch. The Treaty of Westphalia set the precedent of expecting subjects to respect the authority of a governing body, while also requiring that the state work for the benefit of the nation as a whole, a responsibility that some leaders take more seriously than others. Professor Stephen Krasner of Stanford University makes the claim that this institution was developed much later on in history, but the final point remains the same. Viewing the world through the lens of sovereignty and state leaders is an age old limitation to our perspectives on world events and has created an inexcusable power gap between the government and the governed.

In a perfect world, state leaders wouldn’t need legal agreements or international treaties to understand that their citizens deserve the same power and authority as any government official. And in the same world, citizens would understand that their leaders are not always wholly responsible for the results of the state’s actions and would take one some of that responsibility upon themselves. The rise of democracy shows that the world is making steps towards this new image of shared authority between the people and the government, but there is still room to grow. 

Which leads us to our final question. Sovereignty is changing, evolving, maybe even dying. Non-state actors are taking steps into the spotlight and doing so with great stride. Civilian institutions are investigating government bodies and questioning their intentions. And at the same time, states are developing stronger norms in national security and are more capable of dealing with these rising constructivist powers. The system of checks and balances is more entrenched and fervent than it has been in the rest of human history. Slowly but surely, we are removing the veil of misconceptions that has been established by our reliance on the sovereignty framework and moving towards a world where people are accountable for their actions, regardless of national allegiance.

When it comes down to it, states only exist as an assortment of independent voices who speak in the context of that state, not just under the authority of a single leader. 



2 thoughts on “Whose State Is It Anyway?- Caroline Courtney”

  1. Hello Caroline. I was able to connect what you have said in your post to what I have learned in World Politics class last year. You mentioned that looking at the country through the lense of sovereignty is an old limitation to our perspectives. I do agree with your statement. I have been thinking a lot about how influential Non-governmental Organizations and other International Organizations are in the International community today. They influence countries to act on human right’s issues that could have not been publicized if those institutions have not deliver informations regarding to that. Also, I think that having more international institutions will allow countries to check and balance each other’s power and “sovereignty”, which can also limit the number and size of wars we have in the future. Of course we have to find out how many(and big) international institutions we need to have a healthy balance. However, in general, it seems that institutions definitely serve as an aid to many countries with taking care of national/international problems such as International Justice Mission saving children involved in child slavery in South Africa.


    1. Or is it possible for both state sovereignty and international institutions to expand while maintaining that same healthy balance? I have always believed that this is the next critical development in the international order because, when it comes down to it, international organizations rely on the active participation of international superpowers to maintain their function. It doesn’t matter if the Security Council passes a resolution on Syria if countries like the US and Britain are unwilling to provide troops to make the mission possible. Perhaps the greatest flaw in the system of international organizations is the fact that everyone views them through the lens of a power struggle between state sovereignty and universal codes of conduct. I believe that it is possible to nations to continue to grow as independently sovereignty states who contribute to a system of international law and cooperation.


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