Problematic Sovereignty: Contested Rules and Political Possibilities

By Stephen D. Krasner | Go to book overview

11
Explaining Variation: Defaults, Coercion, Commitments
STEPHEN D. KRASNER

How constraining are conventional rules of sovereignty such as recognition of juridically independent territorial entities, nonintervention in the internal affairs of other states, and de facto autonomy for sovereign entities? Some of the cases in this volume, especially the breakup of the Soviet Union, suggest that these rules are highly salient and constraining, leaving actors with limited options and making some outcomes far more likely than others. Others, such as Hong Kong and Taiwan, indicate that there is more flexibility. New rules can be defined for new situations. Still others, notably Bosnia, suggest that the rules of sovereignty are salient, offering the most obvious way to organize political life, but that such rules can be ignored at least in the short and medium term in an effort to make conventional sovereignty more viable over the longer run.

What explains this variation? The standard approaches to the study of international relations, and politics more generally, suggest three general kinds of explanatory variables—power, interests, and ideas—suitably defined and elaborated of course to deal with specific issues. In the extreme, constructivist arguments suggest that only ideas matter, realist arguments that only power matters, and liberal arguments that only interests matter. No one of these explanatory variables can by itself provide an account of the conditions under which sovereignty is more or less consequential. But they do suggest three possibilities regarding the salience of widespread rules, such as those associated with sovereignty.

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