The State of Sovereignty: Territories, Laws, Populations

The State of Sovereignty: Territories, Laws, Populations

by Douglas Howland, Luise S. White

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ISBN-13: 9780253003126
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Publication date: 11/19/2008
Series: 21st Century Studies
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
File size: 758 KB

About the Author

Douglas Howland is the David D. Buck Professor of Chinese History at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee.

Luise White is Professor of History at the University of Florida.

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The State of Sovereignty

Territories, Laws, Populations

By Douglas Howland, Luise White

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 2009 The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-35231-6



Sovereignty and the Study of States


As the chapters in this volume demonstrate, sovereignty does not accrue naturally to a state. Taken together, these essays argue that sovereignty is a set of practices that are historically contingent — a mix of both international and intra-national processes, including self-determination, international law, and ideas about natural right. To explore how and under what circumstances states become sovereign, we historicize the concept of sovereignty, considering both the meanings of sovereignty and the entities practicing sovereignty. Rather than trying to find one overarching and totalizing definition of sovereignty — one that is ahistorical and transnational — we examine strategic sovereignties that have informed histories and shaped territories in the modern world.

In the past decade, discussions of sovereignty have gone in two almost parallel directions. On one hand, in academic circles sovereignty has provided a way to talk about individuated experiences, private and autonomous, and most of all, bodies. Bowdlerized versions of Carl Schmitt, who argued at the least that sovereignty was an authoritative decision in an exceptional situation, invited the study of sovereignty as performance; this in turn invited discussions of sovereign bodies, a metaphorical shift that claims to have both repoliticized individuals and reconceived autonomy. On the other hand, sovereignty has been assumed to be an inherent characteristic of functioning states (those that are not "failed states"); for example, we need look no further than U.S. foreign policy: who could have imagined, a decade ago, that U.S. officials would speak of "giving Iraq sovereignty"? It is clear that the question of how states become sovereign cannot be engaged without first asking what entity gets to be a state and how states come into being and become actors in an international world of states. To that end, some of the essays here depict how the entities that became states laid claim to a sovereign status, while others examine how such states practiced what was at the time globally recognized as sovereignty. As a group, the essays in this volume substantiate the uncertain and contested nature of sovereignty as an historical practice in specific situations.

To say that sovereignty is a contested concept invokes the language of contested meanings. Indeed, among the essays here are meanings of sovereignty, such as practical domestic autonomy, the right to domestic autonomy, and the right to international legal personhood. But we want to move beyond contested meaning in these chapters and demonstrate that sovereignty consists of unfixed practices within states — practices that are struggled over, just as the international relations of states are struggled over. Sovereignty is contested because it is continually negotiated on the ground — over what a state does, to whom, and where: it is these questions of authority, populations, and territory that shape the essays in this volume.

We believe that the problem of sovereignty in the study of states has been largely eclipsed by the study of nationalism in recent decades. This volume quite consciously offers an alternative to the recent literature on nationalism, which too often treats nationalism as a precursor to the formation of modern states. In studies of nationalism, states are goals of nationalists' ideas, territories are the homelands of nations, and populations are blank slates that await the construction of national identities. All of these ideas are worthy of interrogation, but they tend to make the state a concrete object, a given rather than an object of inquiry in its own right, a political form that legitimates itself through genealogies of philosophy and practice. Collectively, the essays here take recent debates about nations, national identity, and the political relationships between the two and relocate them in a broader history of sovereignty, territory, and legality. We explore the different ways in which sovereign political forms have been defined and define themselves.

We have deliberately limited ourselves to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries since we were concerned primarily with state forms and practices engendered by European expansion — an expansion characterized by both political conquest and intellectual exchange. We did not intend to cover the globe. We have fewer European or Native American examples of sovereignty than we would have liked, and if Africa seems to receive more attention, this is because Africa was arguably the site of the most pronounced export of and experimentation with state forms. For the states created by European expansion provoked many of the problems that have been addressed in the history of political thought — as Siba Grovogui's chapter makes clear. These are especially the problems of territory, authority and law, and nationality and populations.


As several essays here point out, the contemporary international system is generally traced to the treaties of Westphalia in the 1640s. The ideal envisaged by that Westphalian model was to coordinate states and territories, making each state, whether monarchy, principality, or republic, the sole sovereign authority in the territory to which it lay claim. This territorialization of power attempted to normalize a system of mutually recognized sovereign territorial states; it became the standard that European states subsequently maintained as they expanded globally. The Westphalian model also imagined that the international system would maintain itself through a coordinated system of international law, treaties, and diplomatic exchanges.

Nonetheless, as a number of historians have noted, we must emphasize that no such normative system arose from the Westphalian treaties. Rather, the Westphalian peace established in the 1640s legitimated the right of monarchs to govern their peoples free from outside interference, especially when that interference was based on political, legal, or religious claims. As a solution to the breakdown of ecclesiastical authority in western Europe in the wake of the Reformation, the Westphalian model sanctioned the organizing principle of the state. In the words of Mark W. Janis, the treaties of Westphalia "enthroned and sanctified sovereigns, gave them powers domestically and independence externally." By specifying which sovereign ruled which lands, the Westphalian model linked sovereignty and territory, and thus attempted to fix domestic sovereignty among European belligerents. But its primary concern was the independence of the sovereign's state from the pope and other rival authorities.

World systems analysts, however, would stress that the Westphalian peace, as an incipient international system, served to coordinate the rise of a global economy and, in particular, its legal and colonial institutions. Indeed, several of the chapters here retrace ground covered by scholars such as Immanuel Wallerstein. In Douglas Howland's chapter, the lucrative nineteenth-century trade between east Asia and Great Britain and the United States created enormous legal confusions over the jurisdiction of sailing ships and their crews. Aida Hozic's chapter on illicit transactions in the Balkans describes how regional trade and politics link and integrate states whose sovereignty is otherwise artificially maintained. And David Tucker's case of Manchukuo shows how Japan managed to manipulate other states' recognition of sovereignty in order to further its own colonial relationship to China as well as the "international" trade of Manchukuo. As chapters in this volume show, the international system per se has attemppted to enforce systemic practices of sovereignty that are directly related to global political economy. The chaos of World War I and Japan's efforts to follow in the colonial footsteps of its European mentors by creating Manchukuo prompted the League of Nations to adopt the Stimson Doctrine in 1932, which attempted to fix sovereignty over territories and to create a permanent status quo. Territories taken thereafter by conquest have been denied international legitimacy.

The point in all of this, of course, is that international political practice today demands that a sovereign entity be located and bounded. Governments in exile are not sovereign. Indeterminate spaces like that occupied by the Palestinian Authority are not sovereign territories, yet the territory occupied by Somalia is. In an earlier age, the king of France could lay no claim to a sovereign kingdom of France when so many minor principalities did not heed his command. As Hendrik Spruyt has argued, and Siba Grovogui indicates here, the sovereign state's claims to sovereignty arose only when a sovereign entity exercised its authority over an agreed-upon territory: the practices of sovereignty homogenized territory into a state.

But who decides what entity exercises sovereignty over a territory? This is a question in the chapters by Douglas Howland, David Tucker, Aims McGuinness, and Leonard Smith. Howland examines the regime of extraterritoriality imposed by the European powers in east Asia — what happens to subjects of otherwise sovereign states when they enter a territory that their own state does not regard as sovereign? A British sailor on a U.S. ship, for example, who murders someone in Chinese waters, could only be tried by British or U.S. authorities because Chinese jurisdiction over its own territorial waters was not recognized by Britain or the United States. For European and American nations, citizenship was portable; one carried it with oneself even into the illegitimate spaces on the globe. McGuinness notes that citizenship was also a bargaining chip: after riots against U.S. citizens in Panama City in 1856, the United States negotiated not only compensation but also territorial concessions in the isthmus.

The legitimacy assigned to spaces on the globe could change dramatically, however. Smith's chapter on the King-Crane Commission, a part of Wilsonian social engineering after World War I, addresses what was to become of the Ottoman territories in the Middle East. Based on history and ideas about nationality and national spirit, Wilson promised "secure sovereignty" to former Ottoman territories. Where people such as Armenians inhabited territories, the King-Crane Commission thought that they should have a state; where people had been dispersed from their territory for generations, such as was the case with Jews, the commission could see no legitimate claim to a state.

But what about conquest, annexation, expropriation, colonization, and the creation of client states? Tucker shows how the Japanese created the state of Manchukuo out of the Chinese territory of Manchuria. Through the overlapping strategies of domination and land alienation by the army and the railway, and bringing in the deposed emperor of China to rule, the Japanese proclaimed Manchukuo a state. Nevertheless, Manchukuo remained a disputed territory and not a sovereign state. It did not have the legitimacy of history or of international acknowledgment, and it was recognized only by El Salvador and the Axis powers and their allies.

The postwar era of decolonization in Africa revisited the territorial assumptions of the international order. Frederick Cooper, for example, maps the path not taken by French colonies in Africa. Well into the 1950s, many French West African politicians did not seek independence as autonomous nation-states; instead, they sought participation in a more egalitarian federal France that would consist of different nationalities residing in different territories. Cooper calls this a "layered sovereignty"; the three levels of territorial, federal, and confederal sovereignty would invite three ways in which member states could voluntarily associate in order to pursue common interests of legislation and administration. Territory ceased to be the exclusive basis of state centralization. But Kevin Dunn writes of former British and Belgian colonies that did seek independence as discrete nation-states. Indeed, so profound was the notion of the specificity of states that the Belgian territory of Rwanda-Urundi became independent as two states based on two precolonial states, Rwanda and Burundi. Yet how much of their territory do these states now control? Like the early modern kings of France who did not control all French lands, African states in the great lakes region share their sovereignty with game parks and territories reserved for animals that are founded, funded, and administered by international agencies.

Authority and Law

A second problem specific to the ideal of the sovereign state has been the creation of a sovereign authority, typically established as a law applied uniformly within the territory of the state. As historians of political thought and practice, including Hendrik Spruyt and Blandine Kriegel, have noted, the development of a royal law in early modern Europe, modeled after the putatively universal canon law of the church, was central to the rise of the sovereign state. It was only when the king's administrators succeeded in imposing royal laws through-out the kingdom that royal territory and authority coincided. Among other things, royal law facilitated the spread of trade that was so critical to European expansion.

But genealogies of the sovereignty of the state as an effect of territorial law cannot be limited to Europe alone. The Chinese emperors of the Tang Dynasty (618–905) established a legal code upheld by magistrates throughout the realm; this Tang Code soon informed the legal systems created by Chinese clients in the kingdoms of east and southeast Asia. At the same time and elsewhere on the globe, Justinian's Code is a second example of royal law. The territorial application of this code marked a form of state sovereignty for centuries and in turn informed the subsequent development of bodies of royal law in Europe. However, as Janice Thomson has argued, royal law applied uniformly within a territory was not a sufficient condition for the sovereign state. A sovereign state had to be able to enforce its laws outside of its borders, both to suppress the activities of pirates, privateers, mercenaries and filibusters , and to protect its soldiers and civilians in spaces it did not recognize — such as the British sailor in Chinese waters, the U.S. filibuster in Panama, and Blackwater in Iraq. The right — and the power — to enforce its laws in other lands was key to a state's ability to assert its territorial sovereignty, for enforcing laws outside its borders strengthened its claims to sovereignty within its borders. But consensus on many of these international restrictions was not achieved until late in the nineteenth century.

Moreover, the consensus thus achieved was that which guaranteed the recognition of new states after 1945. A few states might have recognized Manchukuo in the 1930s but no state recognized the renegade independent state of Rhodesia in the 1960s and 70s. This has in large measure to do with recognition doctrine, which, as Antony Anghie argues, developed in the nineteenth century and was perfected after 1945 as a mechanism for acknowledging "the metamorphosis of a non-European society into a legal entity." The stated prerequisite was a mandatory level of civilization that granted the putatively Christian states of Europe confidence that non-European societies would behave responsibly in matters of treaties, contracts, legal codes, and courts of justice. The sovereign members of international society thereby determined the status of non-European entities. According to Anghie, however, recognition was from the outset most often granted, not according to a principle such as civilization, but according to the expediencies of competition for colonies. At the same time, recognition doctrine served to replace society as the origin of law with sovereignty as a structure of power and decision making. Only the properly constituted sovereign states of Europe were in a position to recognize the sovereign status of other states, and this practice has been institutionalized in the United Nations. Rhodesia was not recognized, for example, nor is the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus or Somaliland recognized today. The important point is that European states made demands upon non-European societies as to the laws by which the latter were governed and, at the same time, constructed a body of international law that privileged European practices.


Excerpted from The State of Sovereignty by Douglas Howland, Luise White. Copyright © 2009 The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii

1 Introduction: Sovereignty and the Study of States Douglas Howland Luise White 1

2 Sovereignty on the Isthmus: Federalism, U.S. Empire, and the Struggle for Panama during the California Gold Rush Aims McGuinness 19

3 The Foreign and the Sovereign: Extraterritoriality in East Asia Douglas Howland 35

4 Wilsonian Sovereignty in the Middle East: The King-Crane Commission Report of 1919 Leonard V. Smith 56

5 Colonial Sovereignty in Manchuria and Manchukuo David Tucker 75

6 Alternatives to Empire: France and Africa after World War II Frederick Cooper 94

7 The Ambiguities of Sovereignty: The United States and the Global Human Rights Cases of the 1940s and 1950s Mark Philip Bradley 124

8 What Does It Take to Be a State? Sovereignty and Sanctions in Rhodesia, 1965-1980 Luise White 148

9 Legal Fictions after Empire John D. Kelly Martha Kaplan 169

10 Sovereignty after Socialism at Europe's New Borders Keith Brown 196

11 Environmental Security, Spatial Preservation, and State Sovereignty in Central Africa Kevin C. Dunn 222

12 The Paradox of Sovereignty in the Balkans Aida A. Hozic 243

13 The Secret Lives of the "Sovereign": Rethinking Sovereignty as International Morality Siba N. Grovogui 261

List of Contributors 277

Index 281

What People are Saying About This

Northwestern University - William Reno

The multidisciplinary character of the contributions reinforces the focus of the work . . . that sovereignty is socially constructed and that it changes with time and place. . . . [N]early unique in presenting the different operationalizations of sovereignty while avoiding the superficiality of other attempts to do so.

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