The Limits of Independence: Relations between States in the Modern World

The Limits of Independence: Relations between States in the Modern World

The Limits of Independence: Relations between States in the Modern World

The Limits of Independence: Relations between States in the Modern World


Nation states are not as independent as they seem. In The Limits of Independence , Adam Watson explores independence in Europe and globally, particularly in relation to empire and decolonization. The author examines how freedom of action is limited by a tightening net of interdependence and by the rules which the international society puts in place, but also by the hegemonial authority of the strongest powers.Drawing on his personal experience as a diplomat, Watson explains how these three forms of pressure determine the external and internal behaviour of juridically independent states. He argues that this creates an increasingly supranational framework of restraint that limits the sovereignty of even the most powerful states. The Limits of Independence examines the effects of supranational pressures on Europe, on former colonies, on human rights and on the responsibilities of states. It relates the growing curbs on independence to current hegemonial practice and to international theory.


The European imbalance of power or the German question

Against the background of the generalities in the previous chapter we can now consider in more detail what restraints there were on the independence of the European states, and how much the steady erosion of those restraints contributed to the calamitous wars of the first half of this century. We can also look at alternative options for organizing the society of European states, and the growth of awareness that firmer limits to the freedom of action of states are necessary to avoid further disaster.

the anarchic european society of states

A great deal has been written about the origins and causes of the First World War, that devastating explosion which inflicted incalculable political, economic, cultural and genetic damage on European civilization, but scarcely harmed the rest of the world and indeed hastened its emancipation from European dominance. the literature on the subject ranges from the polemical to the studiously impartial; and over the whole range it is suffused by a sense of guilt and shame. Many writers have pointed out that several obstinate disputes between the leading European states in the years before the war were settled by diplomatic bargaining, and that the remaining issues could have been settled as well. These writers therefore go on to discuss the more fundamental causes of the conflict. Serious scholars as well as polemicists have declared that the root cause of the catastrophe, or at any rate the essential condition which made it possible, was what Sir Norman Angell called the international anarchy. That condition was the independence of powerful sovereign states with no restraint on their actions save their own sense of responsibility, coupled with a general opinion that in such an anarchic system war was the ultima ratio of governments—a rational and therefore permissible last resort.

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