Re-Thinking Sovereignty


-        Realism, Liberalism and Constructivism give primacy to states


-        International politics as politics among states


Acronym Soup: NGOs, TNCs, IGOs

-        IOs: international organizations, also referred to as IGOs, for international governmental organizations

-        NGOs: non-governmental organizations (usually excludes firms)

-        TNCs: trans-national corporations, or firms that have components distributed across countries. Formerly, called multinational corporations (MNCs).



Puzzle of Paradoxical Trends

-        increased role for ‘sub-state’ and ‘supra-state’ actors

Supra-state cooperation

Actors ‘above the level of the state’

§       European Union pursues integrates 25 states economically and, to a lesser extent, politically

§       International Criminal Court (2002) created to deter and punish war crimes and crimes against humanity

§       World Trade Organization as site for debate over states’ trade policies


Sub-state activism

Actors ‘below the level of the state’

§       Antipersonnel Mine Ban Convention (1999) generated by International Campaign to Ban Landmines

§       activist campaigns against effects of trade liberalization 

§       WTO, WB, and IMF meetings as forums to challenge international economic policies


Solving the Puzzle

-        Emergence of trans-national mode of politics
v. inter-state mode of politics

-        Global or transnational civil society as set of actors distinct from the state and international organizations.

§       Emerging institutions of global civil society: European Parliament, trans-national advocacy groups (TNAGs)

§       TNAGs can have effects on practices of firms and citizens independent of state action

§       Creation of ‘dolphin-safe tuna’ labeling (Wapner)

§       State regulation and international (inter-state) cooperation followed after firms altered practices in response to civic and consumer activism

-        ‘Cosmopolitan model of democracy’ (Held)

§       need to democratize international politics by creating more ‘local’ and democratic forms of global governance


Is Sovereignty Intact?

Sovereignty as an institution has always been under challenge


-        prior to late 20th century, main challengers to sovereignty were:

§       lack of state ‘capacity’: bureaucratic organizations lacking or incapable of controlling activity

§        other sovereign states: war or economic coercion

§       aspirant to sovereignty (nationalist independence movements): revolutions, de-colonization

§       mercenaries, pirates, filibusters and privateers eliminated or reduced by late 19th century (Thomson)

-        emergence of increased economic and political interdependence by 1970s

§       liberal ‘complex interdependence’ as theoretical alternative to realism (Nye & Keohane)

§       states are not primary actors; transnational actors matter

§       declining utility of the use of force

§       host of non-security issues dominate global agenda

-        New challenges are trans-national actors that are beyond effective, regular control of states and affect state conduct and relations

§       TNCs that are more organizationally capable and financially powerful than many states


Increased International Cooperation

-        formal IOs take on increasing role in managing inter-state relations

-        sovereign powers ceded to them, in principle (trade rules, economic management)


Theoretical Responses

-        Realist response: powerful states can break these relations at will

-        Liberal response: IOs are tools of state’s interest; states join voluntary

§       Intergovernmentalism v. supra-nationalism

-        Constructivists: sovereignty as an institution is undergoing a re-definition as practices change

§       Identity of ‘sovereign state’ is changing