Relational Sovereignty

Article excerpt

   A. Historical Models as Metaphors
     1. Hobbesian sovereignty
     2. Lockean sovereignty
   B. The Metaphor Breaks Down: International Humanitarian Law
   C. Limitations of Old Sovereignty Under Emergent Conditions
   A. Globalization as an Opportunity to Redefine Sovereignty
   B. Relational Sovereignty
     1. Relational sovereignty defined
     2. Relational sovereignty through the lens of social theory
     3. Relational sovereignty and human rights
   A. Human Rights: Foundation Obligations
   B. The United States and Globalization
   C. The ICC: Applying Relational Sovereignty


"[S]overeignty" is a mistake, ... a mistake built upon mistakes, which has barnacled an unfortunate mythology.

--Louis Henkin (1)

Sovereignty demarcates the line between one nation state and others in an international system. Two conceptions of sovereignty have dominated philosophical accounts of citizenship and the nation state and have in turn influenced legal and political theory: a Hobbesian account, which defines the nation state by its national borders and minimal obligations to its citizens; and a Lockean account, which extends the sovereign's obligations to protect its citizens' private property interests. Globalization provides the conditions to constitute a third revolution in sovereignty; it is an opportunity to make a choice between a definition of sovereignty as yet stronger declarations of borders and difference, or something crucially different. Following social theoretical expositions that describe the subject as contingent and negotiated rather than inevitable or necessary, this Article argues that there is a third account of sovereignty, termed here as relational sovereignty. Relational sovereignty is based upon a broader notion of the state's responsibilities towards its citizens, termed here responsible governance. I argue that relational sovereignty under the conditions of globalization calls for the United States to be a better citizen at the table of international human rights action.

It is well accepted that, since the trials at Nuremberg and Tokyo, international law has reconfigured sovereignty. As Kristin Henrard points out, Nuremberg and Tokyo created the principle that public international law does not merely address disputes between states, but also holds individuals liable for their egregious violations of human rights. (2) And just as sovereignty no longer impermeably shields individuals from regulation by foreign states, states are no longer shielded from external intervention in internal actions. The international community now enters sovereign lands where civil war or errant governance leads to human rights abuses. For example, the international peacekeeping events of the 1990s in Rwanda, Somalia, East Timor, and Kosovo imply that sovereignty, for at least some governments, is only achieved when they are able to avert internal catastrophe, or maintain an appropriate level of effective control over their domestic territories, or treat their citizenry with a baseline of human rights decency. (3) The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), and potentially the International Criminal Court (ICC), provide international human rights standards that override sovereign autonomy. Recent "regime change" events like those in Afghanistan and Iraq further indicate the transformation of national sovereignty.

Over the past decade, globalization has transformed the territorial and moral status of the nation state. (4) The older rhetoric of sovereignty as either Hobbesian protectorate or Lockean concern for citizens' property rights needs rejuvenation to emphasize instead the dynamic interactions among sovereign states and among the citizens of those states--interactions that have been with us since the Silk Road but that have become crucial with globalization. …