Changing Concepts of State Sovereignty

Changing Concepts of State Sovereignty

State sovereignty can be likened to a living organism. It casts off meanings, sometimes splits, and reunites as it evolves in response to changing global values. Over the years, those global values and the subsequent meanings of sovereignty have often reflected the interests and preferences of hegemonic states. While a superpower like the United States cannot change the meaning or interpretation of sovereignty on its own, its political, economic, and military muscle give it a greater chance of mobilizing resources and support to influence the direction of the new meaning than a smaller country.

States, multilateral organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and multinational corporations (MNCs), are all concerned about the impact of sovereignty on their liberty of action, and often behave as if they seek to reinterpret sovereignty to fit their specific goals. These international actors do not always deliberately set out to modify the meanings of sovereignty, but they frequently design their agenda, programs, and policy actions to suit their unique understanding of this phenomenon.

While states often pursue policies that are calculated to enhance their sovereignty, NGOs, multilateral organizations, and MNCs prefer to operate in environments in which state sovereignty is too weak to constrain their legitimate activities. This struggle over sovereignty often results in each of these actors not getting everything that they want. Even a superpower like the U.S., with all its diplomatic resources, failed to stop those who were keen to establish the International Criminal Court (ICC) between 1998 and 2002. The irony of this case is that the other parties did their best to accommodate American interests in the statute of the ICC, but Washington still refused to come on board.

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