Time to Reinforce Sovereignty
Dr Geeta Madhavan
Published in The New Indian Express
Thursday 27 March 2015
Ever since the term global village became fashionable and the idea of a shrinking world became universally accepted as a positive move, the concept of sovereignty has been considered as outdated and archaic. Subsequent to the two devastating World Wars the United Nations Organization was established to uphold the common goals of humanity and to ensure that all nations would act in the best interest of all mankind and have common purposes in matters affecting global issues .Therefore ,those who considered the element of sovereignty as essential for the creation ,existence and identification of nations were often questioned for upholding the theory and criticized for being antiquated in a world that was promoting and celebrating multilateralism. Nations which had thus far acted independently for their self-gain seemed to agree to act in concerted moves to promote multilateralism.
Following the two devastating World Wars, nations sought to come together to build a safe world ensuring peace and security for all mankind. The outcome of this excitement was that countries and their leaders began to believe that for the general wellbeing of all people , nations should no longer think solely in terms of national issues and that global concerns should be paramount in framing national policies. Elated analysts regarded these actions as the end of the narrow reading of the principle of sovereignty as recognized by international law. The world, it seemed, had moved beyond national self- interest and finally recognized inter- dependence for existence, even when these other countries lay beyond their regions and were not in geographical proximity to each other.
.The concept of sovereignty, however, is the essence of the existence of nations. Sovereignty is the ultimate power, authority and jurisdiction of the ruling entity over a territory and its people. The ruling authority may be created or may exist in diverse forms as monarchy, autocracy, democracy or any other form. A sovereign authority is recognized as the power which can administer its own territory and create laws without external influence subject to equity and justice and with regard to the established principles of international law. In that sense, it means that no foreign power has any authority within the territorial limits of a country or upon its citizens within that territory. It is based on the simple theory that nations have a right to rule their territory and a duty to protect their territorial integrity and ensure the safety and security their citizens and within that reasonable power, can do all such actions as required to ensure it. Along with these powers international law placed upon nations the responsibility to ensure that no such actions take place within their territory that cause damage to others. The power is further restricted by those principles that recognize and govern those areas regarded as “common heritage of all mankind” e.g. the high seas.
The backlash for the erosion of the unassailable doctrine of sovereignty is evident now, though many still do not accept the absolute need to maintain the principle in international relations. It is impossible to reject the need to restrict the immunity of the State authorities in all actions, especially in issues that deal directly with basic civil, political and human rights. However, the interference of strong global powers in the guise of supporting self determination and freedom in the internal affairs of less strong and strife-torn nations can hardly be accepted as acting for global good. The unilateralism of the two super powers with least regard to the cultural , ethnic and religious diversity of the nations facing internal strife and conflict has led to the situation the world is in today. While countries tried to grapple with extremism and violence political, ethnic or religious; the operations conducted by these powers have exacerbated the conflicts as is apparent around the world today. Although the operations have been termed as humanitarian interventions and securing freedom for those suffering under repressing regimes and have also been explained as curtailing impunity of the state, it is rather clear that these actions have invariably resulted in a vacuum into which non state actors like terrorist and extremists have comfortably settled in. Afghanistan, Iraq , Ukraine are countries that are disarray and while the world has tired itself out with their problems , for the people of these countries the terrible sense of hopelessness persist albeit in another form. Therefore, relegating the principles of national sovereignty to multilateralism and consigning it to textbooks of international law has proved to be a threat to the existence of less powerful and smaller nations. Global strategies have shown that the autonomy assured to every country under the principle of territorial sovereignty have been consistently eroded by hegemonic powers. These powers have over a period of time used the diluted sovereignty concept to serve selfish interests. Therefore, it has been made easier for the US, Russia and others to act either unilaterally (or with allies cobbled together) to justify their incursion into the territory of other nations.
Developed countries have also used the whittling down of the principle of sovereignty to extend their influence and increase their hold on global economics and trade to benefit themselves and their allies. They did this by the creation of international institutions that had at their inception apparent laudable principles but in reality were skewed in favour of the technologically advanced and economically strong nations. Thus emerged world financial institutions and global trade organizations that have ensured markets for the advanced nations but have left the newly emerging economies of Asia and the resourcefully rich but ravaged post colonial African countries in a defensive economic position. With state sovereignty on the wane and the ability to create regulations within its territory curtailed by global economic issues, it would seem that multinational corporations have emerged as the new policy makers. In the new era global strategies policies and foreign relations of nations are, therefore, driven not by sovereign authorities acting in national interests but by trade linked priorities of major state-owned or private corporations.
Every country has not only an interest in the use of all natural resources but also has an obligation in its rightful exploitation .Environmental concerns and ecological interdependency are real but the manner in which nation chooses to deal with the resources within its territory cannot be dictated by other powers . International law in its general principles and various cases brought by nations before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has reiterated that no nation can allow such action takes place within their territory that causes damage to others. The power is further restricted by those principles that recognize and govern those areas regarded as “common heritage of all mankind” e.g. the high seas and outer space. Most nations are parties to agreements that ensure sustainability of the environment and even non-signatories are bound by obligations under international law.
Sovereignty, the ability of nations to rule themselves should be reinforced. To resolve several of the issues that concern nations today dealing with problems of internal strife and conflicts or with failing economies, these countries should be allowed to act with autonomy restricted only by obligations recognized by international law ; and not by the imposition by other countries of what they deem as good for that country.