Rethinking Sovereignty in International Law
Posted: 4 Jun 2010
Date Written: December 2009
Sovereignty has always been a controversial topic in international law. The most prominent attempts to rethink sovereignty in recent times have arisen out of the policies of the Bush administration, particularly its conceptualization of self-defense and its attempts to promote democracy worldwide. This review explores the debates surrounding these initiatives and the larger theoretical issues they raise about the relationship between international law and sovereignty. International law has long struggled with the problem of how sovereign states that make international law can also be bound by it. Self-defense raises this problem in a particularly acute form because it is one of the fundamental rights of sovereignty and because it can be seen to precede the law itself. The review also explores the various ways in which the relationship between democracy and international law has been examined in the recent literature. Many of the analyses of sovereignty rely, either implicitly or explicitly, on distinctions between different types of states — democratic versus nondemocratic or, more broadly, responsible versus irresponsible states. The broad argument of this review is that the Bush administration's policies attempt to create an international legal system that resembles in many ways a return to the imperial international law of the nineteenth century.
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