In the 1990s, much of the burgeoning globalization literature suggested that the state was under siege and declining. Globalizing forces, it was said, undermined the state because such forces were beyond the control of any single political entity. (1) However, the one-two punch of 9/11 and serial economic crises across the developing world which lasted from 1998 to 2002 swiftly shifted that discourse. In terms of national defense and economic crisis management, the state not only remained unchallenged, but seemed both indispensable and more powerful than ever. In fact, the current global financial crisis, which began in late 2008, has enhanced the power of major industrialized states. Given these circumstances, now is an opportune moment to examine the changed nature of state power in an age of globalization. Are traditional ideas of sovereignty becoming irrelevant? Will the supposed decline of the state be accompanied by a correlated rise of sub-national and supranational institutions? In a world where states, communities, and people are becoming more interconnected and interdependent, even networked, what will become of sovereignty? Will authority be the more relevant construct when sovereignty has been diluted, delegated, disaggregated, networked, and even "sold?" (2) How will the loss of sovereignty affect those citizens who have ceded some of their personal sovereignty to a state? This study offers tentative answers to these questions, and suggests that a new networked form of global governance will allow the state to retain its central role in international relations.
All countries aspire to the traditional idea of sovereignty, that is, to either obtain domestic legitimacy and authority or to be recognized by the international community as equals among states, or both. Yet in many instances long-existing and newly created states have delegated authority and sovereignty to supranational transnational global governance institutions (e.g., France, Germany, and Italy and their relationship to the EU is representative of the former; Kosovo and East Timor are examples of the latter). Some states (e.g., Afghanistan and Iraq) have seen their sovereignty forcibly violated or removed entirely by military means, while others (e.g., Indonesia), though not physically coerced to recognize external authority, realistically have had no choice. Other states have effectively diluted or degraded their sovereignty and authority by using it, in effect, as a tradable resource (e.g., Lichtenstein's offshore banking operations, developing countries which trade votes in international organizations in exchange for aid, and Central American and African states that have recognized Taiwan in exchange for aid). In an ironic twist, some states are selling off rights granted by their sovereign status, if not outright selling their sovereignty itself. The irony is that, just as these states have made some headway in terms of asserting their independence and sovereignty, they are auctioning it to the highest bidder. Many micro-states, which are vulnerable to natural disasters and global economic shocks, and have limited resources, are selling their country-code top-level domain names (CCTLDN) of the World Wide Web to multinational advertising agencies. By doing so, they willingly relinquish much of the control that they would otherwise exercise over Internet functions within their borders. To be sure, this allows those governments to raise money, but at the same time it dilutes state sovereignty. This situation is similar to celebrities who endorse too many products; if someone sells the rights to their image to too many different entities, they ultimately may lose control over their own image or their endorsements. By flooding a market with so many endorsements, the overall value of any particular celebrity as an endorser becomes tainted or diluted. It is no different with states. Micro-states, such as the Cayman Islands, the Turk and Caicos Islands, and Bermuda, are selling-out their sovereignty by establishing unregulated financial centers that appear to be ultimately designed to attract organized crime, terrorists, and others needing to launder money? This gradually decreases and dilutes at least one key aspect of sovereignty, namely, the effective population control policies of these states. This, in turn, increases their perceived lack of authority and control.
State sovereignty is generally considered as the right to rule, involving an inherent independence from external authority and implying the legitimate authority to govern. Sovereignty has always been a contingent idea, a notion that is dynamic and socially constructed. In today's thickening globalization, not only are trade and culture increasingly globalized, but so, too, are criminal and terrorist activities. To combat such problems, the world community looks to networks of global governance to address issues of global importance. In the process, the idea and constructed realities of sovereignty are changing.
In today's world, there are several definitions of sovereignty: domestic sovereignty, international legal sovereignty, Westphalian sovereignty, and interdependent sovereignty. Domestic sovereignty refers to the legitimate authority within a state. One common definition of international legal sovereignty is mutual state recognition that entitles states juridical status in international relations. Some states have internationally recognized sovereignty on a juridical basis but lack the economic or military might to enforce this empirically. In contrast to juridical sovereignty, there is the traditional idea of Westphalian sovereignty, which refers to the exclusion of all external authority, enforced empirically by economic or military strength. In an international context this is the form of sovereignty that most people are familiar with. It is based on the principle of non-intervention concerning domestic state matters or governmental structure. Interdependent sovereignty revolves around the flow of goods and ideas across territorial borders. Westphalian sovereignty and international legal sovereignty, according to international relations scholar Stephen D. Krasner, focus on authority, not control; interdependent sovereignty is more concerned with control, and domestic sovereignty is concerned with both. (4) International legal sovereignty, then, is but a formal legal distinction, though without it states have a difficult, but not impossible, time as actors in the international arena.
None of these conceptualizations of sovereignty are mutually dependent on the others. States can have Westphalian sovereignty but exercise little domestic control. States can be recognized by the international community but have neither domestic, interdependent nor Westphalian sovereignty (e.g., Somalia has international recognition but no control over its borders or its people, or power to prevent external influences from intervening in its affairs). States can have domestic authority and control over borders as well as within a political community but have neither Westphalian sovereignty nor international recognition. (5)
Is having absolute sovereignty in all respects the best possible stance? North Korea is one of the most, if not the most, sovereign states in terms of all aspects of the concept of sovereignty. It has international recognition as a state, exercises complete control over its citizens, holds near absolute control over the flow of information and goods across its borders, and completely and vehemently rejects any external authority. The UN sanctioned North Korea in 2006 and 2009 for disavowing nuclear non-proliferation treaties and for testing ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons, yet North Korea has shown nothing but contempt toward these sanctions. Pyongyang's complete rejection of external authority has had clear costs, however, as it possesses one of the world's weakest economies and is constantly in need of food from South Korea and China. (6) At the other extreme, Taiwan is recognized as a state by only a few Central American and West African countries, yet it exercises all the sovereign and economic power of its universally recognized East Asian neighbors. (7)
Though absolute sovereignty and control might appear to be a desirable condition for states, there are clear repercussions for those that refuse to comply with accepted international institutions that can make participation in the international system problematic at best. In contrast to the example of North Korea, most liberal Western democracies have comparatively little control over the flow of goods, legal or illegal. If this were not the case, there would be no illegal drug problem in Western societies. But by definition interdependent sovereignty is a shared sovereignty. The United States could not control its borders to the extent that it does without cooperation from Canada and Mexico. The same holds true for isolated states such as North Korea. Major and middle powers like China, Russia, and South Korea all share this burden.
Several international relations scholars have identified various challenges to state power in the age of globalization. Susan Strange, a leading scholar in international political economy, has called attention to the constant tug of war between markets and political authorities, and the gaps between territorially-centered states and lack of inter-governmental cooperation. She asserts that the technological and financial changes that have "accelerated integration of national economies into one single global market" have reduced the capacity of the state as non-state actors (e.g., big business and organized crime) have whittled away state authority. (8) Sociologist Saskia Sassen has examined the ongoing reorganization of capital in developed countries that has produced a new system of labor management uncontrolled by the state. (9) Anthony Giddens, the British...