The Reflexive Relationship between Internal and External Sovereignty

26 Pages Posted: 21 May 2014 Last revised: 10 Jun 2014

See all articles by Christina Eckes

Christina Eckes

Amsterdam Centre for European Law and Governance

Date Written: December 6, 2013


Sovereignty is deeply contested but omnipresent. The aim of this paper is not to offer a definitive conception of this multifaceted notion. It will rather identify three different dimensions that play a role in our understanding of sovereignty and use these as a basis to explain one particular aspect that has been underexplored in the academic debate: the link between internal and external sovereignty. Firstly, sovereignty describes a legal and political status; secondly, it refers to a factual condition; and thirdly, sovereignty entails a fiction that exists independently from factual or legal changes but that pervades our understanding. These three dimensions interlink and reinforce each other both internally (within the sovereign entity) and externally (in the international context).

The legal status and the factual condition usually, but not necessarily, come together. While territory, people and authority are usually considered the factual basis for legal sovereignty, there are no necessary and sufficient factual conditions that will automatically result in the legal status of being sovereign. As a fiction, sovereignty goes beyond power or legal entitlement. It grasps the deeper emotional and cultural dimension, the fear of losing control and ultimately relevance. Since popular sovereignty has replaced royal sovereignty, the internal political status is rooted in the consent of citizens. This creates a particular link of responsibility in that it aims to ensure that for any action of a sovereign entity there is ultimately an individual or a group of individuals that can be held responsible. This paper will explore to what extent this more recent understanding of internal sovereignty is and also should be relevant for our understanding of sovereignty more broadly, including external sovereignty as a condition and a fiction, but ultimately also as a legal status. Indeed, the paper argues there are pragmatic and normative arguments in favour of understanding internal and external sovereignty as a continuum. This confronts the traditional view of international law that denies this connection between the internal and external dimension of sovereignty entirely.

Keywords: Sovereignty, legal and political status, territory, international law

Suggested Citation

Eckes, Christina, The Reflexive Relationship between Internal and External Sovereignty (December 6, 2013). UCD Working Papers in Law, Criminology & Socio-Legal Studies Research Paper No. 05061213, Available at SSRN: or

Christina Eckes (Contact Author)

Amsterdam Centre for European Law and Governance ( email )

Oudemanhuispoort 4-6
1012 CN Amsterdam

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics