Earned Sovereignty: The Political Dimension

Article excerpt

The contemporary world is beset by conflicts and issues that seem to challenge the utility of sovereignty as conventionally understood. (1)

Stephen D. Krasner


There are currently over fifty sovereignty-based conflicts throughout the world, and nearly a third of the Specially Designated Global Terrorists listed by the United States Treasury Department are associated with sovereignty-based conflicts and self-determination movements. (2) To date, the "sovereignty first" international response to these conflicts has been unable to stem the tide of violence, and in many instances may have contributed to further outbreaks of violence. This article will argue that the "sovereignty first" doctrine is slowly being supplemented by a new conflict resolution approach which we dub "earned sovereignty."

This article is the first in a series of three articles prepared under the auspices of the Public International Law & Policy Group that discuss the emerging approach of earned sovereignty, and is the product of the melding of two presentations delivered at the University of Denver by the co-authors. The purpose of this article is to provide a detailed definition of earned sovereignty, and its sub-components, as well as to track the development of the approach through recent state practice. The second article sets forth the legal basis for the approach, and the third article tracks international efforts to employ the approach as a basis for structuring a long term resolution of the Kosovo conflict.

As noted in the introductory note to this series of articles, In light of recent state practice, the emerging conflict resolution approach of earned sovereignty may be characterized as encompassing six elements--three core elements and three optional elements.

The first core element is shared sovereignty. In each case of earned sovereignty the state and sub-state entity may both exercise sovereign authority and functions over a defined territory. In some instances, international institutions may also exercise sovereign authority and functions in addition to or in lieu of the parent state. In rare cases, the international community may exercise shared sovereignty with an internationally recognized state.

The second core element is institution building. This element is utilized during the period of shared sovereignty prior to the determination of final status. Here the sub-state entity, frequently with the assistance of the international community, undertakes to construct institutions for self-government and to build institutions capable of exercising increasing sovereign authority and functions.

The third core element is the eventual determination of the final status of the sub-state entity and its relationship to the state. In many instances the status will be determined by a referendum, while in others it may involve a negotiated settlement between the state and sub-state entity, often with international mediation. Invariably the determination of final status for the sub-state entity involves the consent of the international community in the form of international recognition.

The first optional element is phased sovereignty. Phased sovereignty entails the accumulation by the sub-state entity of increasing sovereign authority and functions over a specified period of time prior to the determination of final status.

The second optional element is conditional sovereignty. Conditionality may be applied to the accumulation of increasing sovereign authority and functions by the sub-state entity, or it may be applied to the determination of the sub-state entity's final status. In either case the sub-state entity is required to meet certain benchmarks before it may acquire increased sovereignty. These benchmarks may include conditions such as protecting human and minority rights, developing democratic institutions, instituting the rule of law, and promoting regional stability. …