The Constitutional Value of Sovereignty

by Artur Victoria - Date: 2010-01-26 - Word Count: 517 Share This!

The constitutional value that is most under threat is, of course, sovereignty itself. Sovereignty is being weakened as the forces of globalization ensure that forces outside the walls of the state fundamentally affect, and sometimes determine, what goes on within them.

Sovereignty and the consequential ban on intervention are also being undermined normatively. As an essentially Westphalia construct, modem ideas of sovereignty predate the Enlightenment by one hundred years. The greatest threat to sovereignty and the associated stigma attached to intervention lies in the full implementation of Enlightenment values.

There were many reasons for this limited role of Enlightenment values in international law. Initially, democratic nations sought the protection of sovereignty against autocratic states that might intervene to crush their fledgling democracies. Their inclination was to keep domestic political values out of international law lest the major views of other states (for example, in favor of monarchies) might be imposed on them. Democrats were only too aware that the French Revolution and the revolutions of 1848 were defeated by autocrats allied to the regimes which the new democracies had ousted.

With the notable exception of US interventions in the Americas, virtually all interventions during this century have been by autocratic states -and the enlightenment credentials of most US interventions in the Americas were dubious, to say the least. It is only recently that the majority of nation states came to enjoy any real measure of democracy and it becomes possible to think of international law being reflective of liberal democratic ideals.

The glaring inconsistency between the bases of constitutional legitimacy in domestic and international law has been sustained by a number of factors:

1. The idea that international law is a law for all states, of which not all are democracies.

2. Cultural relativist notions that different cultures have different approaches to governance.

3. The understanding that it is necessary to 'do business' in both commercial and political terms with a particular territory and that the only way to do this is through the group which exercises effective power in that territory.

4. The idea that there is no alternative to political authority based on the prior successful use of force in a state where there has never been a democratic government which can speak for the people. Even where a democratic government is ousted, it may not be able to retain the integrity of its representative principles for long (as it becomes difficult to collect all elected representatives in one place and it is impossible to conduct new elections).

5. The regretful history of interventions. Nations will rarely intervene solely for the benefit of the citizens of another nation state. They will only do so if it is in their interests. The danger is that nations will intervene to further their interests on the pretext of helping the citizens of the target state, but their 'assistance' will actually work to the detriment of those citizens.

Intervening nations generally intervene in the name of international law but are rarely willing to subject themselves to it. For all these reasons, liberal democrats are traditionally wary of interventions and skeptical of their ability to achieve further liberal democratic values.

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