Sovereignty and the State

The Classical formulation of state sovereignty was given by Jean Bodin: The sovereign prince exercises power simply and absolutely and can not be subject to the commands of another. The state has the monopoly of violence within its territory. The citizen is "subject" to the exclusive jurisdiction of the territorial state.

While the Preamble to the charter of the United Nations begins "WE THE PEOPLES OF THE UNITED NATIONS…" it is not "people" but rather "states" which are members of the Organization known as United Nations.

The first purpose of the United Nations as set out in Article 1 Section 1 is,

  1. To maintain international peace and security,

The first principle of acting in pursuit of its purposes is set out in Article 2 Section 1 is,

  1. The Organization is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members.

1. To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace;

2. To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace;

State or sovereignty defined

John A. Hall and G. John Ikenberry in there book entitled "The State" indicates:

There is a great deal of agreement amongst social scientists as to how the state should be defined. A composite definition would include three elements.

First, the state is a set of institutions; these are manned by the state’s own personnel. The state’s most important institution is that of the means of violence and coercion. Second, these institutions are at the centre of a geographical bounded territory, usually referred to as a society. Crucially, the state looks inward to its national society and outward to larger societies in which it must make its way; its behaviour in one area can often only be explained by its activities in the other. Third, the state monopolies rule making within its territory. This tends towards the creation of a common political culture shared by all its citizens.

Qualifications for statehood include (a) a permanent population, (b) a defined territory, (c) a government that the population renders habitual obedience, and (d) a capacity to enter relations with other states.

A state is not synonymous with government. To constitute a state in international law there must be an authority that more –or-less has administrative control over a territory but the authority or its representative’s political parties are not the same as the state. A government of a state may be replaced with destroying the existence of the state.

There may be more than one language, religious, ethnic or cultural group or “nation” within a state, e.g. French and English in Canada; Kurds, Sunni and Shi’a in Iraq.

Sovereignty can not be divided in the sense that, either there is or isn’t sovereignty – the world abhors a political vacuum. However a sovereign state may divide its legal authority between “levels” or areas of jurisdiction or legal authority, e.g. Federal and provincial where one has jurisdiction over defence and the other has jurisdiction over property and civil rights,

Spacial Boundaries of Sovereignty

The exact spacial boundaries of sovereignty continue to be developed. Obvious on land boundaries are settled by occupation and where there is disputes as to the exact territorial limits an attempt is made to settle boundaries by treaties.

Under Roman law and at least up until 1957, it was assumed or beleived that sovereignty territorial rights extended the land boundaries up into the air to infinity. In the three dimensional universe of the bible this wasn't a problem and since a canon could only control 3 miles it was a problem any way. When airplanes began to fly across national borders, international agreements had to be reached to permit planes to fly over and through “sovereign” territory.

Every country had the legal right to deny access to its airspace to another nation’s aircraft and intruding air space could and have been legally shot down by force - as in the case of a South Korean civilian airplanes flying over Russia.

In 1957 Russia, with Sputnik crossed the borders of virtually every country on Earth without permission from any government. Since no other country had the means to do anything about it, the Soviet Union established the de facto principle that air rights end at the upper fringes of the atmosphere. Years later, when US “spy satellites” flew over Russian Territory Russia protested but they, they themselves had established the principle that nations did not need anyone’s permissions to orbit a satellite.

About ten years latter in 1967, two years before the US landed on the moon, it along with many other Countries signed the Outer Space Treaty which came into force October 10 1967 (For further information on this treaty and its effect on sovereignty see International Space Law.

Other Treaties consider sovereignty aboard sea born vehicles, under the ocean and continental shelf. The sovereignty of a State extends, beyond its land territory and its internal waters, to a belt of
sea adjacent to its coast, described as the territorial sea (Convention on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone)

Origins of State

Liberalism sees the emergent of the sate in functional terms, as the creation of an organ to fulfill common purposes. Marxism suggests that the state was made by and for the class that dominates it. The realist school of thought sees the state resulting from military conquest, often of a settled agricultural population by out lying nomads. There is evidence that there were early cyclical patterns of movement toward a state in the form of centralized chiefdoms of various types followed by retreat. However once the state was invented, its capacity for organizing military power meant that there was little possibility of going back.

Hobbes, one of the first modern political scientists, argued that men were moved by two basic motions-the desire for power and the fear of death. The desire for power leads to the state of nature where the life of man is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short". Civilization is based on the fear of death. Men are led by this overwhelming fear to construct a commonwealth, "Leviathan" which is an artificial machine for enforcement of social riles and for the security against sudden death.

In his first chapter of his book Power and Prosperity, Mancur Olson speaks of the "logic of power", whereby a chief gains a monopoly of power:

"In short, the bandit leader,if he is strong enough to hold a territory securely and monopolize theft there, he has an encompassing interest in his domain. This encompassing interest leads him to limit and regularize the rate of his theft and to spend some of the resources that he controls on public goods that benefit his victim no less than himself. Since the settled bandit’s victims are for him a source of tax payments, he prohibits the murder or maiming of his subjects. Because stealing by his subjects, and theft-averting behaviour that it generates, reduces total income, the bandit does not allow theft by anyone but himself…Thus government for large groups of people have normally arisen because of the rational self-interest of those who can organize the greatest capacity for violence. These violent entrepreneurs naturally do not call themselves bandits, but on the contrary give themselves and their descendents exalted title… Autocrats of all kinds usually claim that their subjects want them to rule and thereby nourish the usually false assumption that their government arose out of some kind of voluntary choice.

There are two dimensions to state power, one despotic, the other infrastructural. The first is great in such situations of Iraq when the state can act arbitrarily free from constitutional constraint. The infrastructural dimension – the ability to penetrate society and organize social relations – are every bit as important. State intervention in society, initially indicative of capacity top shape internal political and economic practices, may eventually lead to commitment and obligations, especially with the creation of new and entrenched pressure groups that bind the state in subsequent periods of decision.

The State in External Realm

Looking external to the territory of a state, certain things can be said:

1. Political life is dominated by sovereign nation states, each beholden to no higher authority than itself. The international system is anarchic ( an anarchy)

2. The relations among states are fundamentally competitive, although this does not preclude possibilities for cooperation when it suits the interest of particular states.

3. Nation states behave with purpose and direction, making choices that enhance the power and material well-being of their inhabitants.

A State must try and calculate the intentions of other states. The search for security by a state means that, in a system of states, it will seek to play balance of power politics.

The foreign policy of a state are the aspects, ideas or actions designed by policy makers of a state to solve a problem or promote some change in the politics, attitudes, or actions of another state or states, in the international economy or in he physical environment of the world. These ideas or actions are geared to achieving certain purpose of the state including, security, autonomy, welfare, broadly conceived, and the enhancement of the status and prestige of the state