January 27, 2020 –
Euroscepticism, anti-immigration sentiments, fortified borders, trade barriers, de-globalization, faltering international alliances: today, state sovereignty is resurgent and defensive postures toward national political autonomy are everywhere.
They reveal an intense debate over the meaning, scope, and consequences of sovereignty in relation to international law. Whereas some scholars worry that a return to sovereignty presages the end of the post-World War II liberal order, my new approach posits that sovereignty is in fact the basis for international law—not its antagonist. After all, the UN Charter’s sovereign equality and noninterference clauses help define the international system.
Thus, the return of sovereignty can be seen as an adaptive response by states seeking both to rely on international law and to invoke bedrock principles of sovereignty in order to manage integrationist pressures, such as global trade, transnational threats, and intrusive international organizations. An appeal to sovereign preferences is permissible under international law so long as it does not evade ratified agreements. This distinction is often lost in scholarship that characterizes resurgent sovereignty as “backsliding” or state intransigence.