Start Geo Dictionary | Overview | Topics | Groups | Categories | Bookmark this page.
geology dictionary - geography encyclopedia  
Full text search :        
   A   B   C   D   E   F   G   H   I   J   K   L   M   N   O   P   Q   R   S   T   U   V   W   X   Y   Z   #   




  A condition of final and absolute authority in a political community. Originally conceived as a singular universal attribute of pre-modern empires, in the modern world the concept has been turned on its head to define a situation of multiple political authority (Taylor, 1996, ch. 1). Hence, since the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) which codified this modern international politics, sovereignty has been invested in states, which have authority over the land and people in their territories. This organization of states as political containers (Taylor, 1994) may be interpreted as the last political vestige of the age of absolutism (Taylor, 1997).

The emergence of states based upon territorial sovereignty created an inter-state system, first in Europe and then worldwide, that is the heart of political geography. This sovereignty implies two political processes. First, internal sovereignty means that outside powers cannot intervene in the domestic politics of a state unless invited to by the legitimate government. This is usually considered to be the first law of international relations. Second, external sovereignty means mutual recognition among sovereign states. Sovereignty cannot be simply proclaimed, it is a reciprocal relation. As such it acts as the ground rule for international relations, by defining who is and who is not a member of the inter-state system. For instance, the creation of black \'states\' as part of South Africa\'s apartheid system failed to produce sovereign states because not one other state recognized the new political units as members of the inter-state system. Since 1945 the main way in which new states have confirmed their sovereignty has been by joining the United Nations.

Although an integral part of international law for providing an order to international relations, in practice state sovereignty has been a source of conflict. Unlike earlier polities and their frontiers, sovereign states have to be precisely delimited by boundaries. Disputes over boundaries have been the major cause of wars in the inter-state system. Originally, such territorial claims by one state on another were mainly dynastic or simply opportunistic in nature, but contemporary claims are usually based upon either historical-cultural arguments (national self-determination, e.g. Pakistan\'s claims to Kashmir) or spatial integrity (proximity, e.g. Spanish claims to Gibraltar) (Murphy, 1990).

Contemporary conflicts over claims to sovereignty are by no means limited to surface land areas. Theoretically, a state\'s sovereignty extends downwards to the centre of the Earth, defining a cone in which the state has claim to all subterranean resources. Similarly, sovereignty extends upwards, as a 1919 convention gave states the right to prevent their territory being overflown. The problem is defining the upper limit of this sovereignty; established practice is a limit defined by the operational ceiling of conventional aircraft, leaving everything above this level — satellites, for instance — free from sovereignty restrictions (therefore, spy satellites are legal, spy planes are not). Lateral extensions of sovereignty over the adjacent seas of coastal states are covered by the law of the sea. Basically sovereignty has been extended from \'territorial waters\', a narrow zone with primarily a defensive function, to large economic zones where states have authority over sea and seabed resources.

Finally, it should be noted that territorial sovereignty features in current debates concerning the nature of globalization. Given that the latter is premised upon trans-state processes (see interstateness), it is sometimes argued that globalization marks the end of the state as a sovereign entity (Camilleri and Falk, 1992). But this is to take too formal a view of sovereignty (Murphy, 1994). Sovereignty as an absolute source of power is a myth; there have always been trans-state processes operating throughout the history of the modern world-system (Taylor, 1995). Contemporary globalization represents one of several periods of more intense trans-stateness tendencies. We do not yet understand what the influence of globalization will be on the future of territorial sovereignty. (PJT)

References Camilleri, J.A. and Falk, J. 1992: The end of sovereignty. London: Edward Elgar. Murphy, A.B. 1990: Historical justifications for territorial claims. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 80: 531-48. Murphy, A.B. 1994: International law and the sovereign state: challenges to the status quo. In G.K. Demko and W.B. Wood, eds, Reordering the world. Boulder: Westview. Taylor, P.J. 1994: The state as container: territoriality in the modern world-system. Progress in Human Geography 18: 151-62. Taylor, P.J. 1995: Beyond containers: internationality, interstateness, interterritoriality. Progress in Human Geography 19: 1-15. Taylor, P.J. 1996: The way the modern world works: world hegemony to world impasse. Chichester: Wiley. Taylor, P.J. 1997: Territorial absolutism and its evasions. Geographical Research Forum.

Suggested Reading Hinsley, F.A. 1986: Sovereignty. London: Watts. James, A. 1984: Sovereignty: ground rule or gibberish? Review of International Studies 10: 1-18.



Bookmark this page:



<< former term
next term >>


Other Terms : retailing, geography of | reciprocity | interviewing
Home |  Add new article  |  Your List |  Tools |  Become an Editor |  Tell a Friend |  Links |  Awards |  Testimonials |  Press |  News |  About
Copyright ©2009 GeoDZ. All rights reserved.  Terms of Use  |  Privacy Policy  |  Contact Us