Sovereignty, Different approaches

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Summary

Sovereignty, in political theory, is a substantive term designating supreme authority over some polity. It is a basic principle underlying the dominant Westphalian model of state foundation.

Details

The concept of sovereignty has been discussed throughout history, from the time before recorded history through to the present day. It has changed in its definition, concept, and application throughout, especially during the Age of Enlightenment. The current notion of state sovereignty contains four aspects consisting of territory, population, authority and recognition. According to Stephen D. Krasner, the term could also be understood in four different ways:

  • domestic sovereignty – actual control over a state exercised by an authority organized within this state,
  • interdependence sovereignty – actual control of movement across state's borders, assuming the borders exist,
  • international legal sovereignty – formal recognition by other sovereign states,
  • Westphalian sovereignty – lack of other authority over state than the domestic authority (examples of such other authorities could be a non-domestic church, a non-domestic political organization, or any other external agent).

Often, these four aspects all appear together, but this is not necessarily the case – they are not affected by one another, and there are historical examples of states that were non-sovereign in one aspect while at the same time being sovereign in another of these aspects. According to Immanuel Wallerstein, another fundamental feature of sovereignty is that it is a claim that must be recognised by others if it is to have any meaning: "Sovereignty is more than anything else a matter of legitimacy [...that] requires reciprocal recognition. Sovereignty is a hypothetical trade, in which two potentially conflicting sides, respecting de facto realities of power, exchange such recognitions as their least costly strategy."

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