Defining State Sovereignty

2543 Words11 Pages

State sovereignty is a broad concept…it is actually a two-in-one concept – state and sovereignty. In order to get a proper meaning of the concept I will therefore break it up and define each concept separately. I will start by defining state which in simple language means a community of people living together in a confined territory with an internally and externally recognized institution to protect them.

Sovereignty on its part can be defined as externally recognized right and freedom of a state (the unit of analysis of sovereignty) to conduct its affairs. Sovereignty provides the state with territorial integrity and enables it to enjoy recognition in the international politics.

If we now join the two concepts we can define state sovereignty as the freedom of state to make decisions within its defined geographical boundaries.

Internally, state sovereignty entails the distribution of power within the state while externally is about the state’s role within the international order and to whether or not it is able to operate as an independent and autonomous actor (Heywood 2004, pp90).


The significance of state sovereignty lies in its structure – it combines two very key concepts of IR – state and sovereignty – key actors in international relations. State sovereignty also involves obligation and authority - the state’s obligation to its citizenry (and same actors) as well as its power (authority) to make decision within its defined geographical boundaries.

Above all it is a fundamental part of contemporary politics and the international law, according to Westphalian concept. It is a concept which provides order, stability and predictability in International Relations (I...

... middle of paper ...

...r even when no state desires it. The classic example of that is the WWI.

Similarly, Iran’s nuclear programme which has stirred up heated debates and objections from super powers, the US in particular, is also both a matter of global security which liberalism is firm about and the realists’ concept of power balance.

Realists would on one hand support Iran’s move saying as a sovereign state it has the right to develop nuclear weapons and that the move would actually be healthy for the country. On the other they would see it as a costly and dangerous move that might end up triggering nuclear race (Dunne, Kurki, Smith 2010, 63).


As I said earlier in this essay, both theories have direct engagement with state sovereignty and whatever evolves around the concept can be explained (using the theories) from different perspectives.


More about Defining State Sovereignty

Open Document