Important Features of Sovereignty as a Political Concept

Sovereignty as a Political Concept

by Shamsul
Sovereignty in Political Concept
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Important Features of Sovereignty as a Political Concept


Sovereignty is the quality or will that the people have over the power that a state possesses; it is absolute and perpetual power, the highest authority that exists within a state. Likewise, it is the absolute power exercised by a state over a specific territory, and it is based on the law (constitution) (Brown, 2002). Conceptually, the term refers to the legal rationalization of political power, that is, the transformation of de facto power into legal power. Historically the concept appears together with the modern State in the sixteenth century to describe the unique and exclusive state power subject of politics.

Another description of the term can be understood from three perspectives of its character: 1) limited, 2) absolute and 3) arbitrary. The first conceives sovereignty as Locke, which has natural limits in the contract from which it arises (Constitution) and by the people, of whom it is a representative; the second, proclaimed by Hobbes and Rousseau, contemplates that sovereign power has no legal limits but its power obeys technical or moral rationality (general will); and the third that considers that the Sovereign Power is the expression in the law of the interest of the strongest (Huysmans, 2003).

Examples of Sovereignty

Sovereignty is one, but it applies in different areas. The exercise of authority within a State, the management of its resources and diplomatic relations are just a few examples of how it is applied.

Popular Sovereignty

Popular sovereignty is the authority exercised by the people or group of citizens who live in a given territory. This form implies the exercise of the individual will express through voting, with which decisions of public interest are made and government representatives are elected (Prokhovnik, 2007).

National Sovereignty

National sovereignty is the authority exercised by a nation before the citizens that make it up and before other nations. A nation is considered as a network of institutions in which power is exercised on behalf of the people, instead of the sum of the wills of its citizens (Fassbender, 2003).

For example, when a nation starts a military conflict because they have invaded its territory, it is not necessarily considering the will of all its citizens. But it can make those kinds of decisions because it is exercising its national sovereignty through its official institutions (Executive Power, Armed Forces, etc.).

Internal or political sovereignty

Internal sovereignty or political sovereignty is the ability of a State to exercise authority within its territory, as established in its constitution and its formal institutions.

The organization of power (executive, legislative and judicial) and the civil code are expressions of the internal sovereignty of a nation to carry out actions, order laws, or make decisions (Prokhovnik, 2007).

In turn, internal sovereignty is reflected in other areas that have to do with the internal management of a State’s resources:

  • Food Authority: it is the power that each State has to define the policies that have to do with the production of its food.
  • Economic Authority: it is the authority of a State to create and implement measures related to its currency (value of the currency, exchange rate, interest rates, etc.).
  • Military Authority: refers to the ability of the State to protect its borders using its own Armed Forces, without requiring the intervention of other States.

External Sovereignty

External is that which a State exercises in the international arena with other States. It is expressed through diplomacy and international treaties, and its limits are regulated by international law (Lake, 2003).

The clearest example of external sovereignty is when a nation protects its territory against foreign aggression. By defending itself, it is using its authority to prevent another nation from interfering in its territory.

Another example would be international treaties, in which each State assumes a series of legal commitments with other peers. These treaties are framed in International Law but do not compromise the authority that each State has over its territory.

Characteristics of Sovereignty

It is the maximum power in a nation – It is the maximum power within a country since it does not admit other powers above it since it represents the collective and inalienable will of the nation.

It is a primal power

Sovereignty is primal, that is, it is a power by itself that does not come from or originate from another power or mandate, it is not assigned by an established power (a state) or person.

It is one and indivisible

Sovereignty is one and indivisible, that is, it belongs to the entire nation and not to a particular individual, although each individual is part of the nation and shares authority with the other members of the nation, as a private individual, he cannot claim authority as his own.

Sovereignty is inalienable and imprescriptible –

This means that sovereignty cannot be transferred, let’s say to another nation, even when the state or the majority of the people consent to it. In addition, the authority of a country is not subject to temporary changes, it is understood that it is not expired. Nor is it subject to the permanence or change of a regime, being completely alien to the regimes that govern a country and its ideologies.

It belongs to the people –

Its ownership belongs to the people (or in its case to the monarch), a single individual cannot be the holder of the authority of a nation, however at first the notion of sovereignty fell on the sovereign, (king, prince, or emperor), understanding that the monarchs had powers to repeal and enact laws and were only subject to the “common laws of all peoples,” that is, they had certain limitations. At present authority rests with the people both in the republics and in most monarchies (constitutional or parliamentary).

It is based on a legal regime

The sovereignty of each nation is based on its legal regime, generally on the country’s constitution. Therefore, the constitution and other laws establish the ways to exercise authority, giving powers to the state to exercise power and protect it from interference and violations in any area.

The laws of a country establish the legal framework in which is based and establish who will be the ones who will represent the sovereignty of the nation, (public officials), legislative, judicial, police, military, customs, prosecutors officials, etc. being the only ones legally authorized to represent the interests of national sovereignty and defend them by establishing the independence of state power from any other power (internal or foreign factual).

State protection of sovereignty

The state is obliged to protect sovereignty (territorial, air, maritime), through military and police forces, against foreign powers or factual powers that seek to undermine it. In the same way, the state creates methods and uses resources for the protection of food, industrial, fishing authority, etc., which is established in the constitution and in the laws of the country. Source: Kevin and Tony (2018).

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  1. Bardo Fassbender (2003) ‘Sovereignty and Constitutionalism in International Law’, in Neil Walker ed. Sovereignty in Transition, Oxford, Hart
  2. Chris Brown (2002) Sovereignty, Rights and Justice. International Political Theory Today, Cambridge, Polity.
  3. Harrison, Kevin & Boyd, Tony. (2018). The state and sovereignty. 10.7765/9781526137951.00005.
  4. Jef Huysmans (2003) ‘Discussing Sovereignty and Transnational Politics’, in Neil Walker ed. Sovereignty in Transition, Oxford, Hart.
  5. Lake, D. (2003). The New Sovereignty in International Relations. International Studies Review , 303-323
  6. Raia Prokhovnik (2007) Sovereignties: History, Theory, and Practice, Basingstoke, Macmillan.

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