Whose Sovereignty? Empire Versus International Law

Ethics and International Affairs 18 (3):1-24 (2004)
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Abstract

This article focuses on the impact of globalization on international law and the discourse of sovereignty. It challenges the claim that we have entered into a new world order characterized by transnational governance and decentered global law, which have replaced “traditional” international law and rendered the concepts of state sovereignty and international society anachronistic. We are indeed in the presence of something new. But if we drop the concept of sovereignty and buy into the idea that transnational governance has upstaged international treaty organizations, we will misconstrue the nature of contemporary international society and the political choices facing us. In the contemporary context where there is a powerful imperial project afoot (on the part of the United States) that seeks to develop a useful version of global (cosmopolitan) right to justify its self-interested interventions, proposals to abandon the default position of sovereignty and its corollary, the principle of nonintervention in international law, are both premature and dangerous. Instead, we should rethink the normative dimensions of the concept of sovereignty in light of the new principle of sovereign equality articulated in the UN Charter, and show how it can complement cosmopolitan principles such as human rights and collective security. The task is to strengthen, not abandon, international law and supranational institutions, and to foster a global rule of law that protects both the sovereign equality of states, based on a revised conception of sovereignty, and human rights.

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