Support the Westphalian sovereignty

Paradoxes of Sovereignty

Anyone thinking about sovereignty, statehood and the problems of international politics at the beginning of the 21st century will encounter a number of paradoxes. On the one hand, there are the highly developed countries of Europe, whose sovereignty, both internally and externally, has no doubts, but which in the past few decades have given over control of key areas of politics - such as currency and borders - to supranational institutions within the framework of European integration. On the other hand, there are fragile and disintegrated states of the global south, which can no longer govern themselves, but which still cling to their national sovereignty and react extremely suspicious of attempts at interference. And there is the United States of America, which has repeatedly intervened militarily in the internal affairs of other countries, but which itself is seldom willing (apart from exceptions such as the World Trade Organization WTO) to surrender sovereign rights to international organizations.

Is it - as Stephen D. Krasner thinks - the concept and practice of sovereignty in the international system a matter of “organized hypocrisy”, a norm that has been broken and violated so often that it contributes little to our understanding of current world politics? can? 1 I mean no. But Krasner is right insofar as the paradoxes mentioned above are related to the fact that the various dimensions of the concept of sovereignty have long ceased to form a unified whole. Areas of limited sovereignty are increasing in international politics and are by no means limited to fragile and disintegrated states.

In this post I ask about the consequences that the divergence of the various components of sovereignty has for world politics. First, however, the concept of sovereignty itself must be clarified and explained in order to then be able to go into the sovereignty paradoxes in the current international system in more detail. I conclude with a few policy implications.

Sovereignty - Conceptual Considerations

As with almost all basic concepts of international politics, the concept of sovereignty is a scientifically and politically hotly contested concept.2 Jean Bodin understood sovereignty to be the highest power of ultimate decision-making in the state, which was accordingly indivisible and allowed absolutist rulers to make binding decisions even against their subjects enforce. In the meantime we have got used to the fact that the people are the sovereign in a democracy and that powers of power can only be temporarily transferred, that sovereignty can be transferred to supranational institutions (such as the EU), that they are divided between different levels within a state or political system can (as in German federalism, but also in the European multilevel system) and that most states accept interference in their internal affairs quite voluntarily (for example in the area of ​​international human rights). These examples each address different aspects of the concept of sovereignty, so that it is appropriate to distinguish between different dimensions of the concept of sovereignty.

At least three components of what is meant by sovereignty should be differentiated: 3 International or international law sovereignty is first and foremost an attribution of the international community, which first and foremost constitutes statehood. Who is a state is also sovereign, and who can be sovereign is decided by the international community. No matter how many financial resources multinational companies have at their disposal, no matter how many transnational non-governmental organizations (NGOs) they have, no one would think of ascribing sovereignty to them. In this sense, sovereignty is a constitutive norm of the international system that establishes the world as a world of states. This norm of sovereignty has started an undreamt-of triumphant advance in the last decades and centuries, although it has only been truly global for a little over 40 years. Because only with decolonization did the world globalize itself as a world of states. It was "nationalized" in this way. Today there are more than 190 nation states recognized as sovereign. With the exception of a few areas in the polar regions and the oceans, there is no territory on earth that does not “belong” to some state. The nationalization of the world also meant that the borders between states are generally clearly demarcated. This fundamentally and systematically distinguishes today's world of states from a world of empires, which is why the talk of empires today can at best be meant metaphorically.

But what does “belong” mean? The prerequisite for the international sovereignty of a state is what could be called effective or internal sovereignty. According to Jellinek's three-element doctrine4, this means that a state authority exercises control over a state people in a clearly defined territory. In principle, this means that there must be a government or political institutions that are not only able to make political decisions, but also to enforce them, if necessary against resistance and with violence. The legitimate monopoly of force not only serves to establish internal and external security, but also to enforce political decisions. However, international law does not make great demands on the effectiveness of state rule once a state has achieved international sovereignty. Even collapsed states like Somalia will continue to be granted statehood as long as it appears in principle possible for a central government to regain power. This is where the problems begin, as shown below. 5

A third aspect of sovereignty is what political scientists in particular erroneously refer to as Westphalian sovereignty.6 This in turn means that the sovereign state has no overriding authority that exercises power over its territory. This is about the principle of non-interference in internal affairs or the prohibition of intervention. At this point, the “armor of sovereignty” of the nation states has become increasingly porous over the past few decades. Today, no state can invoke the prohibition of intervention to protect itself from external interference in the event of serious human rights violations or the disregard of fundamental international law. Since human rights are erga omnes obligations, i.e. obligations of a state towards the international community, Westphalian sovereignty has been riddled with holes at this point. However, the extent to which the international community has an obligation to intervene (including military) in the event of serious violations of human and international law arises from the principle of non-interference, which has become porous, is still deeply controversial, as is the debate about international responsibility to protect people ("responsibility to protect"). ) shows. Apart from these caveats with regard to the principle of non-interference, international law as well as the international discourse of the United Nations, for example, still assume that international, internal and Westphalian sovereignty form a unit. This is a fiction.

Prerequisite: the nation state capable of acting

First of all, it should be pointed out that only a minority of states in today's international system have both international and internal sovereignty. Areas of limited statehood are all internationally sovereign, i.e. recognized by the community of states.7 Here, limited statehood means restrictions on internal sovereignty, i.e. the ability to make and enforce political decisions, if necessary with means of coercion. Now even the highly developed states of the OECD world sometimes have difficulties in being able to enforce decisions in some areas of politics or even in parts of the territory. Just think of the suburbs of Paris, of the conditions in southern Italy, but also of the fact that the Free State of Bavaria ignored the decision of the Federal Constitutional Court on the crucifix. Areas of limited statehood do not even stop at France, Italy and Germany. Nevertheless, inner sovereignty is generally given here.

In most of the countries of the global south, areas of limited statehood are not limited to individual local areas or to clearly delimited individual policies, but rather they encompass large parts of the territory and entire policy areas. In many cases, the development state is characterized by the blatant weakness of state institutions, which not only do not govern “well”, but in many cases (cannot) govern at all. In other words, the main issue here is a lack of state capacity, not a lack of will.8 This state weakness has another consequence. Not only are there problems with internal sovereignty, but the weakness of political institutions also means that mechanisms for limiting rule do not take effect. It is then not surprising that actors who use state institutions for private purposes, for example to support clientelist networks, often take control. Neopatrimonial structures in parts of sub-Saharan Africa are an example of the consequences of this “weakening” statehood.

Ultimately, fragile and disintegrated (d) e states should be mentioned here, in which internal sovereignty is only rudimentary, but which still have international sovereignty. As mentioned, international law is very flexible towards these areas of limited statehood, insofar as - as in the case of Somalia, for example - it is based on the fiction of statehood, and with good reason. Because it should be prevented that other states seize the territory or raise territorial claims, which are then carried out violently.

The divergence of international and internal sovereignty in areas of limited statehood has two consequences: On the one hand, the countries concerned are less “legally competent” under international law, the less they have internal sovereignty. State-centered international law requires nation states capable of acting that not only ratify but also implement and implement international law - from world trade law to international environmental law to human rights treaties and disarmament treaties.9 Today's international system is institutionalized through and through and almost legalized in all areas of politics, and for most states it is good form, as members of the “civilized” community of states, to become contractual partners of as many international agreements as possible. But what if countries with areas of limited statehood are subsequently unable to implement these norms because they lack the appropriate political and administrative capacities? The result is a growing decoupling of norm recognition and norm compliance. In most cases, sanctions do not help because it is not about a lack of will, but a lack of ability (although it is often difficult to separate the two in individual cases).

On the other hand - and this is a paradox of sovereignty - states that lack internal sovereignty are holding on to their international sovereignty all the more tenaciously, essentially to protect their Westphalian sovereignty. One could even argue that particularly weak states insist all the more vehemently on the non-interference requirement of international law. Incidentally, this is one of the reasons why the “responsibility to protect” found only in a much weakened form in the final declaration of the 2005 World Summit adopted by the UN General Assembly. This insistence on the principle of sovereignty - for example to defend against demands for the observance of human rights - of course often has to do with the fact that authoritarian governments fear for their rule. But often in areas of limited statehood the point is to insist on international and Westphalian sovereignty, precisely because this is the only thing that protects these countries from becoming the plaything of the world powers - or their neighbors.

This leads directly to another paradox of sovereignty, namely the breaks between internal and Westphalian sovereignty. Essentially, they are countries with somewhat functioning, effective sovereignty that are voluntarily prepared to accept restrictions on their Westphalian sovereignty and, for example, to allow supranational institutions to systematically interfere in internal affairs. The EU is the main example of this connection. Apart from exceptions such as the USA and Great Britain, on a world scale it is precisely "strong" states with fully developed internal sovereignty that establish supranational institutions which then intervene to a considerable extent in what we previously called "internal affairs".

At the other end of the spectrum, on the other hand, we find fragile and crumbling states in post-conflict situations that still have international sovereignty, but whose Westphalian sovereignty has more or less been given up. What is meant are the modern protectorates or trust areas, in which the international community - partly as a result of humanitarian interventions - has taken on essential state functions and deeply intervened in Westphalian sovereignty. In Afghanistan or Bosnia-Herzegovina, the international community has practically suspended Westphalian sovereignty with the aim of (re) establishing the internal sovereignty of the government in making and implementing political decisions. Today we call it state building. Finally, Iraq and Kosovo are particularly blatant examples of the divergence between the three dimensions of sovereignty. After the US-led intervention, Iraq is now a disintegrated state that has regained international sovereignty, but neither internal nor Westphalian sovereignty. In this case, the intervention from outside even led to lasting damage to internal sovereignty, without the overriding of Westphalian sovereignty by the occupying power having led to the restoration of statehood. Basically, the international community would have to assert the “responsibility to protect” against the American occupying power.

In contrast, Kosovo has no international sovereignty (it is still part of the Republic of Serbia), but the Serbian government has neither internal nor Westphalian sovereignty in the province of Kosovo. In contrast to Iraq, the international community has at least partially succeeded in making a contribution to state building and thus to the restoration of internal sovereignty. If one wants to sum up the international negotiations on the status of Kosovo, it is ultimately a question of exchanging international sovereignty for Westphalian sovereignty. In the end, the western position offers Kosovo recognition as a state under international law (international sovereignty), but with drastic restrictions in terms of Westphalian sovereignty. This means that even in the "most favorable" case for Kosovo, the province / country will have to adapt to drastic interference by the international community in its internal affairs over the next few decades. The fiction of international sovereignty is exchanged for an actual loss of sovereignty. The fact that even the fictitious independence of Kosovo in the Republic of Serbia and Russia is met with considerable resistance shows the symbolic content of international sovereignty in world politics.

Policy conclusions

I have argued in this post that today we can observe an increasing divergence between the various dimensions of sovereignty. More than two thirds of today's world of states belong to the areas of limited statehood. That means they do have international sovereignty, but their internal sovereignty is limited, in some cases it hardly exists any more.At the same time, international law itself is increasingly interfering in the internal affairs of states, so Westphalian sovereignty is restricted everywhere. It hardly exists in the various protectorates and de facto trust areas, although many of these countries (e.g. Afghanistan) still have international sovereignty.

Almost two years ago, Stephen D. Krasner pleaded in this journal for “shared sovereignty” as a consequence of this problem and called for “the participation of foreign actors in the internal power structures for an unlimited period” for countries that lack internal sovereignty. In other words, these states would have to accept interference in their internal affairs indefinitely with the aim of strengthening their internal sovereignty. In my opinion, it will not be possible to place such permanent restrictions on Westphalian sovereignty on a contractual basis, except in post-conflict trust areas, where the international community has already revoked Westphalian sovereignty due to a UN mandate. Because states with weak internal sovereignty are increasingly insisting on their Westphalian and international sovereignty. The armor of sovereignty on the outside is defended all the more strongly the less one is sovereign on the inside.

However, the following ways out of this dilemma seem possible to me: First, the international sovereignty of the more than 190 states cannot be shaken, even if in many cases it is pure fiction. Second, even countries with severely restricted internal sovereignty must be measured against minimum standards of good governance. This includes maintaining a minimum of internal and external security as well as compliance with basic human rights. The international community must assume this responsibility towards states that do not meet their “responsibility to protect” in the sense of these minimum standards (whether intentionally or unintentionally), if necessary through intervention, in extreme cases also with force.

Thirdly, however, it is primarily about innovative assistance from the international community - from states, international organizations, but also multinational companies and non-governmental organizations - for areas of limited statehood to get their own affairs (again) under control and to strengthen governance in these areas . This can be done by helping to build internal sovereignty in the sense of restoring effective statehood internally (with limited violation of Westphalian sovereignty). However, it can also be done by helping to establish alternatives to conventional statehood, e.g. through innovative governance solutions in which public goods are provided and political problems are regulated in the interaction of social and state actors and institutions. Such international support from and participation in local public-private partnerships also have the great advantage that they elegantly circumvent the resistance to the weakening of Westphalian sovereignty in areas of limited statehood. In addition, “soft” control through positive incentives and the promotion of learning processes is often far more effective than “hard” control through control and intervention.

Prof. Dr. THOMAS RISSE, born in 1955, teaches international politics at the Free University of Berlin and is spokesman for the Collaborative Research Center 700 “Governance in Areas of Limited Statehood”.