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Sovereignty

SP, JP. October 8: Sovereignty

This section explores the development and role of international organizations, looking at the more developed and complex institutional arrangements between states than the treaty committees we have seen so far.

It is argued that international organizations have become important actors in the international system of sovereign states and have changed the nature of international law and life. These international organizations have been created by states, in order to ensure the respect of international norms such as Human Rights. Independently, states have no incentive to act against violators of Human Rights, these organization thus put more pressure on violators and help enforce international norms. Yet, this creates tensions: states create institutions which to a certain degree limit their scope of action, and influence their behavior.

Inis Claude argues that international organizations have emerged as a response to the modern state system and are a necessary part of the system. He talks about constitutional problems (problems caused by the establishment of the organizations) and substantive problems (the reasons why these organizations are established) and argues that these two classes cannot be divided, and states should balance their concern for these types of problems.

Ernst Haas brings up the issue of power imbalances within international organizations, and argues that international organizations do not have a substantial influence on foreign policy.

David Kennedy investigates the relationship between states and institutions, looking at historical developments such as the change in voting systems at the heart of international organizations. These changes, even though they keep bringing up similar arguments, show a maturity of the system.

There has been a cycle of enthusiasm and hopelessness regarding international organizations, the book presents an article comparing international human rights law to international environmental law. It is argued that environmental law is more flexible and dependent on cooperation; it also is directed towards the private rather than the public. Finally, Steiner critiques the basic structure of many Human Rights institutions, arguing that they do not correspond to state interests and thus are problematic.

Section B of the reading deals with the intersection between issues of state sovereignty and the human rights regime. First, it addresses definitions of the term sovereignty, essentially determining that while sovereignty is generally agreed to signify the independence and freedom of action of a state, in practice it has no clearly ascertainable meaning. Thus Koskenniemi argues that this lack of a fixed meaning makes it impossible to define the full extent of a state’s legitimate sphere of action or the areas in which restrictions on state action would be allowed. Next, Stephen Krasner expands this discussion of definitions by identifying four distinct uses the term sovereignty: domestic, interdependence, international legal, and Westphalian. Domestic sovereignty refers to the organization and effectiveness of political authority. Interdependence sovereignty deals with the individual state’s ability or inability to control the movement of commerce, people, and ideas across borders. While globalization is often said to entail a loss of state sovereignty, Krasner asserts that this is a loss only of interdependence sovereignty, or control, and not a problem of authority. The third category of sovereignty, international legal sovereignty, is defined as a state’s status in the international political system. It is mainly an issue of recognition and perceived authority, and does not necessarily correspond to the state’s ability to control either domestic or cross-border developments. Finally, Krasner identifies Westphalian sovereignty as dealing primarily with a state’s territoriality and freedom from the influence of external actors in structures of domestic authority. Under this conceptualization, a state’s sovereignty is violated anytime that an external force has coercive influence in domestic affairs, even if it was invited to do so, while international legal sovereignty can be violated only by intervention.

Richard Falk argues for a concept of “responsible sovereignty”, which views states not just as bearers of rights but also as the subjects of obligations, which may be legitimately enforced both by their own citizens and by external bodies. Both he and Margaret Keck and Kathryn Sikkink point out that state sovereignty is seen by many, especially in the post-colonial world, as an essential protection rather than simply a threat to human rights. These views complicate an investigation of the relationship between state sovereignty and human rights.

The next readings focus on ongoing political debates about state sovereignty within the United Nations in connection with UN peacekeeping activities. First, a number of views by government leaders are expressed on this topic. United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan saw a trend towards an understanding of the state as a servant of the people, along with an enhanced consciousness of individual sovereignty. Because of this, he believed that we must think more about how the UN will respond to political and humanitarian crises. Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the President of Algeria, raised important questions on where the line was to be drawn between the humanitarian, the political, and the economic, and questioned whether interference was valid only for weak or weakened States. Surin Pitsuwan, the Minister of Foreign Affairs commented on the emerging concept of “human security.” In a New York Times Article, Judith Miller discusses Kofi Annan’s view that the world can not let countries like Yugoslavia commit genocide and hide behind the UN charter that has traditionally protected national sovereignty, because the principle of sovereignty cannot provide “excuses for the inexcusable.” However, not all agree, as the Russian Foreign Minister states that “Human rights are no reason to interfere in the internal affairs of a state.” Finally, the last reading comments on how UN organs have systematically reduced the scope claimed for the domestic jurisdiction ‘defense.’ Although Article 2(7) states that nothing contained in the UN Charter can authorize the UN to intervene in matters that are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of a State, this defense now rarely stands.

Discussion Questions:

1. Are international institutions necessary? What problems do unequal power balances present to these institutions?
2. According to Abi-Saab, the concept of state sovereignty arose in a particular historical context for a particular purpose. Is sovereignty still a valid concept in today’s circumstances? What purpose do assertions of state sovereignty serve today?
3. Which should be given priority: the protection of human rights or the principle of state sovereignty? At what threshold can state sovereignty be violated to protect human rights (if it can)? Who can decide?

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