The Concept of Sovereignty in International Law: Lessons for the Nigerian Society

CONTRIBUTED BY AMAEFULE LINDA .C.

INTRODUCTION

The concept of sovereignty in international law is the right of sovereign states to be recognized by other States and gives a State the right to relate with other countries on an equal footing irrespective of size. This right further confers on a State the right to enter into diplomatic and trade relations with other States

Under the concept of state sovereignty, no state has the authority to tell another state how to control its internal affairs, even though in recent times, there has been a lacuna in the dealings between sovereign nations contradicting the legal concept of Sovereignty which grants and limits influence that states have on one another.

This article seeks to examine the concept of sovereignty in international law, the importance of national sovereignty and lessons for Nigeria under international law.

WHAT IS A SOVEREIGNTY

J.W. Burgess defined sovereignty as “It is the original, absolute, unlimited power over the individual subject and all the other associations of the subject. It is an un-derived and independent power to command and compel obedience.” Sovereignty is defined as the independence and autonomy of modern nation-states and the right of each state to conduct its affairs without interference from any other state. This is always evidenced in the conduct of each sovereign viewed from the perspective of economics, politics, culture, religion, etc.

THE CONCEPT OF SOVEREIGNTY IN INTERNATIONAL LAW

The concept of sovereignty in international law remains a complex and dynamic aspect of the global legal system and the evolving nature of international relations, increased interdependence among nations, and the growing recognition of global challenges have posed significant challenges to the traditional understanding of sovereignty. While states continue to assert their sovereignty, they also recognize the need for cooperation and multilateralism to address common issues such as climate change, terrorism, and human rights violations. International law has evolved to strike a delicate balance between respecting state sovereignty and promoting global cooperation.

The principle of sovereign equality as enshrined in the United Nations Charter (1945), affirms the equal rights of all states and their right to non-interference in internal affairs. However, the concept of “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) has gained prominence, suggesting that sovereignty comes with a responsibility to protect populations from mass atrocities, even if it requires international intervention.

The emergence of regional organizations and supranational bodies, such as the European Union, challenges traditional notions of sovereignty by pooling certain decision-making powers and creating legal frameworks that supersede national laws. These organizations seek to balance the interests of their member states while promoting common goals and values.

Additionally, the increasing influence of non-state actors, such as multinational corporations and non-governmental organizations, has further complicated the concept of sovereignty. Transnational issues like cybersecurity, trade, and human rights are often dealt with through global governance mechanisms that involve both state and non-state actors.

In recent years, the rise of populism and nationalist movements in some countries has led to a resurgence of sovereignty-centric narratives. These movements advocate for the reassertion of national sovereignty and a more limited role for international institutions. However, the global challenges we face require collaborative efforts and the recognition that no state can tackle them alone.

IMPORTANCE OF NATIONAL SOVEREIGNTY: FIVE KEY ASPECTS

  1.  ITS FORMULA TO ACHIEVE PEACE

The importance of national sovereignty, as a concept, can be appreciated at the beginning of the Modern Era. In the seventeenth century, it became a subject of legal and philosophical writings, after almost a century of devastating religious conflict in Europe. It was seen as a very attractive formula to achieve peace.

Thus, Catholic countries could follow their policies within their territories. For their part, the Protestant countries, in their various versions, could do the same.

Sovereignty was the limit: each independent state determines its policy by itself and none has the right to impose its points of view on others.

  1. ENSURES JURISDICTION IN THE RESOLUTION OF INTERNAL CONFLICTS

Internal conflicts and their consequences belong to the internal jurisdiction and, therefore, to the national sovereignty of each country.

However, sovereignty entails certain aspects for which governments must be held accountable. They are responsible to their national constituencies, and also to the international community.

In this way, internal conflicts pose challenges related to two aspects. One is the establishment of an effective system of prevention, management, and resolution of conflicts. The other is the protection and assistance to those affected by that conflict.

  1. PROMOTES INTERNATIONAL RECOGNITION OF NATIONS

The concept of sovereignty has proven to be compatible with a wide range of authority structures and constitutional arrangements.

This has been integral to the legal personality of the States and crucial for its recognition by other States. However, since the beginning of Modernity, it has been granted for very different reasons.

Thus, changing practices of international recognition have influenced the configuration of domestic authority structures.

  1. PROMOTES THE CREATION OF NATIONAL IDENTITY

The origin of the national States had two constructive principles in the concepts of sovereignty and identity. Sovereignty should be exercised in the face of external powers.

On the other hand, identity must be the product of internal homogeneity. States have institutions charged with promoting that national identity and, in turn, strengthening sovereignty.

  1. IT IS AN OPPORTUNITY TO DEMONSTRATE THE CAPACITY OF SELF-MANAGEMENT

Nowadays, beyond determining the internal juridical-political order of a state, national sovereignty is measured by the capacity for self-management. The diverse areas where this capacity must be demonstrated include the economy, food, and security, among others.[1]

THE LESSONS FOR NIGERIA REGARDING THE CONCEPT OF SOVEREIGNTY IN INTERNATIONAL LAW:

  1. STRENGTHENING DOMESTIC INSTITUTIONS AND GOVERNANCE:

Nigeria should focus on building and enhancing its domestic institutions to effectively exercise and protect its sovereignty. This includes bolstering the rule of law, promoting transparency and accountability, and ensuring the independence of the judiciary. Strong institutions are crucial for upholding sovereignty and defending national interests in the international arena.

  1. BALANCING INTERNATIONAL OBLIGATIONS AND NATIONAL INTERESTS: Nigeria needs to strike a balance between its international obligations and its national interests to safeguard its sovereignty. While participating in international agreements and treaties, it is essential to assess the potential impact on national sovereignty. Nigeria should carefully negotiate and implement agreements that align with its development goals and protect its sovereignty, ensuring that its national interests are not compromised.
  2. COLLABORATION AND DIPLOMATIC ENGAGEMENT:

Diplomatic engagement and cooperation with other nations are important tools for safeguarding sovereignty. Nigeria should actively engage in international forums, regional organizations, and diplomatic channels to assert its interests, advocate for its positions, and build alliances. Collaboration with other countries can strengthen Nigeria’s position in addressing global challenges and protect its sovereignty in areas such as security, trade, and human rights.

  1. STRATEGIC RESPONSE TO TRANSNATIONAL THREATS:

Non-state actors and transnational threats pose challenges to sovereignty. Nigeria should adopt a comprehensive and strategic approach to combatting terrorism, organized crime, and other transnational challenges. This includes enhancing intelligence capabilities, promoting regional security cooperation, and participating in international efforts to counter these threats while safeguarding its sovereignty.

  1. EMBRACING TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCEMENTS AND ADDRESSING CYBER THREATS:

With the rise of digital technologies, Nigeria must adapt and respond to new challenges to its sovereignty in cyberspace. Developing robust cybersecurity measures, promoting digital literacy, and enacting effective laws and regulations are necessary steps. Nigeria should also actively engage in international discussions on cyber governance to protect its interests and sovereignty in the digital realm.

  1. CONTINUOUS ASSESSMENT AND ADAPTATION:

The concept of sovereignty in international law is dynamic, and Nigeria must continuously assess and adapt its strategies and policies to address emerging challenges. Regular evaluation of the country’s legal frameworks, foreign policy approaches, and national security strategies is crucial to effectively respond to evolving international dynamics while safeguarding its sovereignty.

By internalizing these lessons, Nigeria can effectively navigate the complexities of sovereignty in international law, protect its national interests, and promote its position as a sovereign state in the global arena.

CONCLUSION:

In conclusion, sovereignty in international law is an evolving concept that must navigate the tension between state autonomy and global cooperation. While the principle of sovereignty remains fundamental, its interpretation and application have adapted to the changing dynamics of the international system. Finding the right balance between respecting state sovereignty and addressing global issues will continue to be a central challenge for international law and the international community as a whole.

  1. Randy Alexander “Importance of National Sovereignty: 6 Reasons”

    Jackson, R. (2007). Sovereignty: The Evolution of an Idea. Cambridge: Polity.

    Rabkin, J. (2000). National sovereignty: why it is worth defending. In World Family Policy Forum , pp. 78-81

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