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The Sovereign State System

Sovereignty: Sovereignty is the central organizing principle of states which has two aspects:
Sovereignty is in fact a relatively recent innovation connected to the emergence
of nation-state as the primary unit of political organization.
A number of contemporary issues have placed increasing limits on the exercise
of sovereign authority.
Historical Development: Through the Middle Ages, alternative feudal arrangements governed
Europe and city-states lasted up until the modern period. The development of sovereign states
culminated in Europe at the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. This agreement essentially allowed
the ruler to determine the region within his/her borders, but it also represents the internal and
external aspects of sovereignty. As Europe colonized much of the rest of the world from the
to the 19
centuries, the state system spread around the globe. Much of international law,
at least until World War II, was designed to reinforce sovereignty.
One of the milestone treaties that shaped/ reshaped European politics and proved to be a
landmark in European political philosophy, was the Treaty of Westphalia of 1948. It was signed
in the backdrop of 30 years of war in Europe signifying a complicated context but epitomized
religious wars within the Holy Roman Empire. This Treaty is believed to have initiated a new
system of political order called the Westphalian system. This concept was based on
sovereign states governed by a sovereign.
The principles of sovereignty and equality in the Westphalian way became the
Constitution of the new system in Europe. At its core, sovereignty is taken to mean the
possession of absolute authority within a bounded territorial space. There is essentially two
dimensions of sovereignty:
1. Internal Sovereignty: Internally a government is a fixed authority with a settled
population that possesses monopoly on the use of force. It is the supreme authority
within its territory.
2. External Sovereignty: Externally, sovereignty allows a state entry into the society of
states. Recognition on the part of other states helps to ensure territorial integrity and its
participation in diplomacy and international organizations on an equal footing with
other states.
A sovereign state is thus represented by one centralized government that has supreme
independent authority over a geographic area. International Law defines sovereign state as
1. Permanent population;
2. Defined territory
3. One government
4. Capacity to enter into relations with other sovereign states.

A number of contemporary issues have placed increasing limits on the exercise of
sovereign authority. Sovereignty, according to one view now envisions states and non-state
actors as engaged in a continual process of renegotiating the nature of sovereignty. Today, as
per their view sovereignty is essentially based on borders as it has been circumscribed by
international organizations and rules-based procedures.
Nation: The nation is a cultural group residing within a territory of the political state. A large
group of people are considered a nation if
They are permanent residents of a defined territory
They exhibit some form of government
They have common culture
They have declared themselves to be and are considered to be sovereign.
A group becomes a nation, the older loyalties to family or tribe must be subordinated to
the new political order, and a sense of common literature, history and a common future
development. They share a real or imagined common history, culture, language or ethnic origin.
Political nation concept developed with the introduction of the concept of citizens and as
sovereignty passed from monarch to citizens. The criteria was based on nationalism, individual
liberty and equality, largely ignoring ethical or cultural considerations.
State: States are independent units that claim exclusive jurisdiction over defined territories and
over all the people and activities within them.
Nation-State: Nation-state is a certain form of state that derives its political legitimacy from
serving as a sovereign entity for a nation as a sovereign territorial unit. The state is a
geopolitical and political entity; the nation is a cultural and/or ethnic entity. The term nation-
state implies that the two geographically coincide. This distinguishes nation-state from other
types of state. The nation-state hence differs from state or nation for the following important
1. A nation refers only to a socio-cultural entity (culture, languages)
2. The state refers to a legal political entity.
The modern nation-state refers to a single or multiple nationalities joined together in a
formal political union. The nation-state determines an official language (s), a system of law,
uses a bureaucracy to order elements of society and fosters loyalties to abstract entities
(Canada, Belgium). In recent years, the nation-states claim to absolute sovereignty within its
borders has been challenged. A global political system based on international agreements and
supra-national blocs has characterized the post- war era (European Union for example).
Moreover non-state actors, international corporations and Non-governmental Organizations
are also eroding the economic and political power of nation-state.
Anyhow, there are four characteristics of nation-state:
It should have a government;
It should enjoy sovereignty;
It should have a population; and
It should have a territory.