Foreword: National Sovereignty and Globalization

By de la Madrid H., Miguel | Houston Journal of International Law, Spring 1997 | Go to article overview

Foreword: National Sovereignty and Globalization


de la Madrid H., Miguel, Houston Journal of International Law


I. Introduction

Sovereignty has always been a concept of great controversy and debate by jurists and scholars of law and political sciences. That is due, to a large extent, to the different meanings of this concept (a frequent phenomenon in political issues), to the various circumstances that have characterized it through time and in relation to space, and to the evolution of political organization at the national and international level.

As it is known, sovereignty as an attribute of the state power was born as a doctrinal justification of absolutism, that struggled in Western Europe to impose the supremacy of monarchy on the papacy and the empire, the external front, and beyond the scattered and autonomous power of feudal organization. Bobino, Hobbes, and the various theories of divine law of the kings were politically active in this battle that finally resulted in the emergence of the absolutist state as the first manifestation of modern state in the sixteenth century.

The liberal and democratic revolutions that took place at the end of the eighteenth century, inspired in a large extent by the English constitutional system, transferred to the people or to the nation the source of political legitimacy by stating that only popular will or consensus can establish political power through the law, a necessary product of general will. The new doctrine of popular sovereignty coincided with the doctrine of the rights of men, that promoted, together with the theory of division of powers, the political and legal limitation of power with the purpose of moderating its exercise to protect people's freedom.

These key ideas were the foundation of modern constitutionalism that emerged specifically through the Charters that established the League of Nations and the United Nations. The acknowledgment of the juridical equality of the states and the non-intervention principle, fundamental pillars of contemporary international law, are logical consequences of such doctrine.

The self-determination doctrine of the peoples has given birth to a multitude of new independent political units. It has also served both the decolonization processes generated by the two World Wars as well as the disintegration of the Soviet empire. The fact is that the United Nations, founded in 1945 by 51 states, presently has 185 member countries.

The formal recognition of the principles of popular sovereignty, juridical equality of the states, and non-intervention has not been, in practice, a real obstacle for the military or economically powerful states to occasionally carry out a different policy and openly violate those principles of international law. As noted in an Orwellian phrase: "even though all animals are equal there are some more equal than others."

II. Trends in Globalization

During the last several years, some outstanding trends in international relationships and in the internal life of nation states have placed on the table of discussion, with more frequency and intensity, the scope of sovereignty and even the perspective of the existence itself of the national state. I find that the present discussion focuses on the areas of economic, political, and social globalization.

A. Economic Globalization

It is evident that interconnection or interdependence among nations has accelerated during the last few decades. The intensification of commercial activity, investments, financial transactions, tourism, and technological exchanges, notably in the transportation and communications areas, have fostered an intensive process in the integration of national economies -- regardless of their magnitude and degree of development.

Within this model, even though the advances achieved in matters of integration are different and at different paces, the trend toward forming regional economic groups implies a new interrelationship, not only of an economic nature, but with juridical, political, and social effects as well. …

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