Tuesday, 24 September 2019

Territorial disputes: sovereignty [Post 7]


So far, we know what TERRITORIAL DISPUTES are. We introduced the two key concepts of STATE and SOVEREIGNTY.
We started by reviewing the main elements that characterize a sovereign STATE and some of their sub-elements. First, POPULATION (including language, ethnicity, religion); second, TERRITORY (including natural resources, defence, extension); third, GOVERNMENT (forms of government, division of powers, autarchy, currency, diplomacy); fourth, LAW (national law and international law). It is time now to introduce one last key concept in territorial disputes: SOVEREIGNTY.

SOVEREIGNTY is a characteristic that every STATE should have both at national and international level. Broadly defined, SOVEREIGNTY is the exclusive right to exercise with autonomy and autarchy, within a specific state, the ultimate authority in terms of creation and application of law. Following this notion, we find:

  1. exclusive right;
  2. with autonomy and autarchy;
  3. within a specific state;
  4. ultimate authority;
  5. creation and application of law.



a) what do we mean by “exclusive right”?

Whenever a new act or omission becomes part of the law in the form of a permission, prohibition or an obligation, one (and only one) government is allowed to decide what is legal and/or illegal in relation to such act or omission. This prerogative is not divided or shared with other states and/or agents.

Taking an example in Criminal Law: if the death penalty were to become valid again in a given country, only its highest authorities would be able to create the norm that could put in place such a penalty as a result of committing a certain crime. These authorities (for example, the Parliament) would be the only ones to decide what kind of actions and/or omissions would constitute the criminal offence so as to result in such a punishment.

It is a right as synonym of prerogative. The authorities are not obliged to rule but it is a privilege they have to represent their population and determine what is legal and/or illegal. The scope and exercise of such power is always center of dispute and goes beyond the present post.


b) what is the difference between autonomy and autarchy?

Directly linked to the previous question, a state possesses autonomy when it is able to determine on its own what is legal and/or illegal within its borders and for its population.
Autarchy is the financial side of the autonomy. Currently, some states may seem legally autonomous and independent (“sovereign” at first glance) but their internal and external affairs are decided by some other states or agents due to the fact that their economy is heavily indebted with them. Arguably, such a state is not autarchic and, consequently, not completely autonomous because its decisions in the law-making process will be affected by other interests.
In an ideal scenario, a sovereign state should have both legal autonomy and autarchic economy.

NOTE: This post is based on Jorge Emilio Núñez, “Territorial Disputes and State Sovereignty: International Law and Politics,” London and New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2020 (forthcoming)
Previous published research monograph about territorial disputes and sovereignty by the author, Jorge Emilio Núñez, “Sovereignty Conflicts and International Law and Politics: A Distributive Justice Issue,” London and New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2017.


NEXT POST: Sovereignty (continued)

Tuesday 24th September 2019
Dr Jorge Emilio Núñez
Twitter: @London1701

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