In This New World, All of Us Must Rethink Our Attitudes to Sovereignty

Article excerpt

EUROPE, THAT perennial mainstay of our national political debate, has fallen from view following the events of recent weeks. Arguments about sovereignty might seem trivial at a time when all nations have been facing a common danger. In fact, the debate about sovereignty is more important than ever.

We cannot afford to ignore the paramount lesson of the past few weeks since those terrible events of 11 September: nations are stronger when working together than they could be alone. Closer co- operation with our friends and closest neighbours in Europe is an essential safeguard as much for our security as our prosperity.

Individual European countries, Britain included, were among the first to rally around the United States in its hour of need after 11 September. The natural alliance between the countries of North America and Europe has been at the core of the international coalition against terrorism in all of its aspects - military, diplomatic and humanitarian.

Acting collectively in the European Union, we have risen to the challenge with plans for a common European arrest warrant, a common definition of terrorism, measures to freeze the assets of suspected terrorists, recognise each other's court orders and share intelligence.

These are all vital steps for our security which could not have been taken either quickly or effectively without the intergovernmental co-operation which is now a familiar feature of the workings of the EU.

But quite apart from the many practical benefits which we derive from our membership of the EU, there is a wider point to be made here. The events of 11 September brought home to us all, in the most brutal way possible, that isolationism does not and cannot work. We cannot afford to ignore events anywhere in the world.

The world's neglect allowed Afghanistan to become a haven for terrorists - with devastating consequences. When events in the most remote and alienated place on Earth can have such an immediate impact on the richest and most cosmopolitan city in the world, what does this mean for nation states?

Nation states are and will remain the foundation of the international order. The global system is founded on states - and one of the greatest threats to global security comes when states, like Afghanistan, collapse into chaos.

But in a world where states and the interests of their citizens are so obviously interdependent, we need to re-think our attitudes to concepts like "independence" and "sovereignty".

The truth is that "sovereignty" has never been absolute. Is the epitome of sovereignty a hypothetical island people, wholly isolated from any contact with the rest of the world? No. For them, sovereignty would be irrelevant. Sovereignty has always been a relative concept - since it defines the position of a nation in relation to other nations and peoples.

Exactly what comes with that sovereignty in practice depends on many other factors. In today's world, by sharing sovereignty, a people may end up with more, not less, independence of action, more, not less, internal self-government and more, not less, control over their lives.

This is because our security depends on the influence we can exert over events in the rest of the world, not our ability to stop our friends from influencing us. …