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International Law, International Relations Theory, and Preemptive War: The Vitality of Soverign Equality Today


Thomas H. Lee


Fordham University School of Law


Law and Contemporary Problems, Vol. 67, p. 147, Autumn 2004

Abstract:     
Although sovereign equality - the norm that all sovereign states are entitled to the same bundle of rights on the international plane - has long been a central norm of international law, its retention in the realm of preemptive war is fairly to be questioned when one sovereign state possesses overwhelming military power. In this Article, Professor Lee examines the historical and normative foundations of sovereign equality, finds them wanting under the condition of a militarily supreme republican state, but defends the norm on the pragmatic ground of what is best for the supreme state to defend itself against covert, non-state actors with potential access to weapons of mass destruction. Sovereign equality is very useful because the domestic institutions in a democratic state constrain effective monitoring and response to this category of threat. Treating other states, from which the supreme state might obtain intelligence or cooperation (by coercion if necessary) in combating the principal threat axis, as equals, is an efficacious substitute for the failure of domestic institutions to contain the covert, non-state threat.

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Date posted: March 15, 2005  

Suggested Citation

Lee, Thomas H., International Law, International Relations Theory, and Preemptive War: The Vitality of Soverign Equality Today. Law and Contemporary Problems, Vol. 67, p. 147, Autumn 2004. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=686800

Contact Information

Thomas H. Lee (Contact Author)
Fordham University School of Law ( email )
140 West 62nd Street
New York, NY 10023
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