The concepts of sovereignty, self-determination, failed states, and failing states



International Law


After reading this chapter, you should understand the following:

1.       The concepts of sovereignty, self-determination, failed states, and failing states

2.       The sources of international law, and examples of treaties, conventions, and customary international law

3.       How civil-law disputes between the parties from different nation-states can be resolved through national court systems or arbitration

4.       The well-recognized bases for national jurisdiction over various parties from different nation-states

5.       The doctrines of forum non conveniens, sovereign immunity, and act of state

20.1 Introduction to International Law

J. L. Austin, the legal realist, famously defined law as “the command of a sovereign.” He had in mind the fact that legal enforcement goes beyond negotiation and goodwill, and may ultimately have to be enforced by some agent of the government. For example, if you fail to answer a summons and complaint, a default judgment will be entered against you; if you fail to pay the judgment, the sheriff (or US marshal) will actually seize assets to pay the judgment, and will come armed with force, if necessary.

The force and authority of a government in any given territory is fundamental to sovereignty. Historically, that was understood to mean a nation’s “right” to issue its own currency, make and enforce laws within its borders without interference from other nations (the “right of self-determination” that is noted in the Charter of the United Nations), and to defend its territory with military force, if necessary. In a nation at relative peace, sovereignty can be exercised without great difficulty. But many countries are in civil war, and others experience “breakaway” areas where force must be used to assert continued sovereignty. In some countries, civil war may lead to the formation of new nation-states, such as in Sudan in 2011.

In the United States, there was a Civil War from 1860 to 1864, and even now, there are separatist movements, groups who refuse to recognize the authority of the local, state, or national governments. From time to time, these groups will declare their independence of the sovereign, raise their own flag, refuse to pay taxes, and resist government authority with arms. In the United States, the federal government typically responds to these “mini-secessionist” movements with force.

In Canada, the province of Quebec has considered separating from Canada, and this came close to reality in 1995 on a referendum vote for secession that gained 49.4 percent of the votes. Away from North America, claims to exclusive political and legal authority within some geographic area are often the stuff of civil and regional wars. Consider Kosovo’s violent secession from Yugoslavia, or Chechnya’s attempted secession from Russia. At stake in all these struggles is the uncontested right to make and enforce laws within a certain territory. In some nation-states, government control has failed to achieve effective control over substantial areas, leaving factions, tribal groups, or armed groups in control. For such nations, the phrase “failed states” or “failing states” has sometimes been used. A failing stateusually has some combination of lack of control over much of its territory, failure to provide public services, widespread corruption and criminality, and sharp economic decline. Somalia, Chad, and Afghanistan, among others, head the list as of 2011.

In a functioning state, the right to make and enforce law is not contested or in doubt. But in the international arena, there is no sovereign lawgiver and law enforcer. If a criminal burglarizes your house and is caught, the legal authorities in your state have little difficulty bringing him to justice. But suppose a dictator or military-run government oppresses some of the citizenry, depriving these citizens of the chance to speak freely, to carry on a trade or profession, to own property, to be educated, or to have access to water and a livable environment, or routinely commits various atrocities against ethnic groups (forced labor, rape, pillage, murder, torture). Who will bring the dictator or government to justice, and before what tribunal?

Instruction Files

Related Questions in business category

The ready solutions purchased from Library are already used solutions. Please do not submit them directly as it may lead to plagiarism. Once paid, the solution file download link will be sent to your provided email. Please either use them for learning purpose or re-write them in your own language. In case if you haven't get the email, do let us know via chat support.