The Theory of State Sovereignty and the Practice of Intervention
AbstractState sovereignty, a key notion of the Westphalian system of states, has recently come under mounting criticism from both International Relations and International Law camps. Postmodern philosophy and post-Westphalian reality have problematized the traditional concept of sovereignty as a given, objective, fixed and absolute reality, open to unbiased observation and investigation.
This paper argues that state sovereignty, in principle, is a modern invention, instrumental to the rise and maintenance of a dominant position on the international scene of a nation state. An overview of how the thinking on sovereignty has developed over centuries shows a clear link between a particular concept and the knowledge of the time. Sovereignty, in effect, shall rather be treated as a historical and geographical variable, as a social and cultural construct, as both an issue and outcome of political discourse.
This paper explores the ever changing and delicate defining line between state sovereignty and intervention, the latter becoming more of an issue of political theorising and practice. Humanitarian interventions of the 20th century, mainly during its last decade, have sparked off a keen debate on the relations between sovereignty of the state and sovereignty of the individual; universality and uniqueness; cultural and political identity; human rights and rights of nations; and consensus and compromise, all of which has had an impact on international law and international political practice. A review of the successful performance as well as failures of the international community in its humanitarian intervention effort reveals not only the promise but also the pitfalls of the current attempts to redefine sovereignty.
As both (re)conceptualisation of state sovereignty and justification before domestic and international audience of an intervention on humanitarian grounds comes through language, the author of this essay puts emphasis on the perception of politics as a conversation, where plural vocabularies, respect for cultural diversity and openness in general are crucial and indispensable.
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