Sovereignty’s Struggle in a Search for a Common Future

By Chris Cote

In 1648, with the Peace of Westphalia, a system of sovereign states was established. Sovereignty gave these states’ complete self control over internal affairs, and since World War II, has evolved to include external sovereignty, a term defining the legality of inter-state interventions. European growth has contributed to an expanding evolution of the term, now subject to interpretation and debate. One thing holds true: a state’s rights to sovereignty are undergoing change.

Deep century old lines of territorial sovereignty are becoming blurred. Expanding global communication and economic routes are introducing new concerns regarding security and ethics. Transboundary concerns spur on international wars, internal crises and conflicts, and are redefining our politics, economics, and future on the whole. Security has always been the main concern of states, and as a state’s security, or ability to control the goings-on within its borders, erodes, states move to action. Factors that contribute to the erosion of state sovereignty include growing technology, economic interdependence, environmental degradation, poverty, human rights violations, and failed states. These can each be seen as having different levels of causation for one another, indicating that they are all interconnected and part of the same puzzle.

An easy example of the deterioration of sovereignty is the United States entering Iraq and Afghanistan. Our security was threatened (before?) September 11, 2001 by the Taliban and extremist Islamic groups, presumably encouraging the United States to eliminate the Taliban as a threat to its security. The United States’ “War on Terror” is immediately seen as a result of almost all of the factors listed above, except perhaps less obviously environmental degradation (although it is still a relevant factor). A failed state, Afghanistan, harbors an extremist group, who, angered by their poverty (and more importantly, its causal factors including a consumerist, capitalistic, hegemonic agenda), use technology (airplanes) to attack an international powerhouse, who in turn attacks, with the motives of economic interdependence (oil), human rights violations (in Iraq), which in turn were caused by environmental degradation brought about through a dictatorial regime and failed states. I wrote this in this long-winded, awkward way to show the causal connections throughout. Terrorism is the quintessential example of sovereignty deteriorations in this day and age.

Other sovereignty concerns abound in smaller regions, such as the water conflicts between the Palestinians and Israelis. Here we have a human rights concern, a political concern, as well as an environmental and economic concern. The issue linkages are immense.

So, instead of trying to create an innumerable list of examples of international security and sovereignty concerns, it will suffice to say that the game is changing. International organizations, in their efforts to diminish issues of sovereignty, present threats in themselves. The United States will not concede to signing many declarations and commitments put forward by the United Nations’ negotiations for fear that they are handing over their power.

What is the world to do? Clearly these issues need resolution, as they are the very core of our international dilemmas. One problem is the incompatibility of world views between America’s propagated lifestyle of consumerism, and the Islamists that disapprove. Each has their own fundamental values that should not be shifted, but instead, harkening back to Akio’s previous post, must be reinterpreted and compromised to find common ground. And this is with the understanding that a true compromise must be made on both sides, where the middle is actually found an agreement reached. Many of our human races’ oldest problems sit atop the premise that this fundamental disagreement cannot be resolved. But it must be, to ensure the survival of our human race. While security concerns between states grow, concerns of human security also grow, and this is alarming. Only in the past 50 years has anthropogenic global harm been a possibility, and now we are facing it on several fronts: nuclear arms, climate change, resource scarcity. We are quickly approaching limits we are largely unaware of, and trying to regulate ourselves in an ineffective matter, if at all. America has become involved beyond its own capabilities, stressing hard, short-term solutions such as military engagement, while ignoring the possibility of productive, long-term gains that soft power and diplomacy bring about. But this is not enough.

In the next post I will work around Stuart Kauffman’s argument, as well as my own and others’, for a global ethic. The world’s most powerful nations must acquiesce an amount of their own national sovereignty, forgoing security concerns, to ensure our gravest concern: human security. If we do not survive, what more can concern us? Only with a common ethic can we forge a common future, or, perhaps too grimly, any future at all.

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