Globalization and State Sovereignty: to Succumb or not to Succumb

Globalization and State Sovereignty: to Succumb or not to Succumb

By: Gerald F. Witherspoon, Sr. 20160601


There are unquestionable and negative impacts of globalization on state sovereignty and some have argued the impacts are irreversible. I argue, in contrast, that the pressure toward consolidation and fragmentation of state power is irreversible, but the most powerful states continue to project power in the face of globalization. That is, globalization and the inherent economic interdependencies it entails, forces states to make independent and self-seeking decisions, and those decisions may, or may not, lead to their loss of sovereignty. So then, globalization, in and of itself, is not necessarily a threat to state sovereignty as much as it is a force that demands an appropriate or inappropriate response from state actors.

Goksel proffered how economic globalization and trade liberalization-particularly, has created a dilemma wherein, “national governments are no longer in control of the spread of ideas, capital, technology, labor, trade or ownership of economic assets” (Goksel 2004, 4). As national governments lose control over national economic policies, the market is appearing more effective at fostering peace than nation-states and economics seem to be playing a more significant role than politics (Goksel). Krasner argued that economic globalization alters the “scope of state authority” more than transforms how political life is organized (Krasner 2001). Rosenau put forth that “outcomes stem from multiple sources, that they are transitory and ever subject to reversal, and that what happens at one level of community can rapidly and unexpectedly cascade across other levels” (Rosenau 2003). These are just a few of the diverse arguments related to the impact of globalization on state sovereignty. Nevertheless, the threat economic globalization poses to state sovereignty has a disproportionally negative impact on smaller and weaker states.

The effectiveness of a state’s response to globalization can be viewed in terms of an increased or decreased level of internal stability. Weaker states will be forced to humble themselves against their will and to align themselves with greater powers and, thereby, rescind a portion of their sovereignty and autonomy in the process of self-preservation. For example, those who resist the demands of globalization will risk increasing their vulnerability to economic sanctions and military interventions (the latter equates to a blatant loss of sovereignty if only but metaphorically speaking). True rebels, per say, who hold fast to isolationist policies and strategies, will experience economic ruin, internal strife, political instability, loss of legitimacy, and an enduring prospect of state collapse. In the final phase, these once so-called sovereigns or ex-legitimate state actors would then join the ranks of illegitimate actors such as international criminal organizations, state sponsors of terrorism, and terrorist networks. Therefore, globalization produces consolidation and fragmentation of power held by legitimate and illegitimate state and non-state actors wherein sovereignty proves incapable of staving off external excursions into domestic affairs.

Furthermore, the Hobbesian postulation of sovereignty fits more neatly into a historical context where “subjects had no right to revolt” than it does a contemporary world where democratic states allow their domestic polity to “…choose their own form of government…” and external states have no right to “…intervene in the affairs of another” (Krasner 2001).  Nevertheless, subjects are continuously murdered by their own governments and states are consistently intervening in the affairs of others and, therefore, sovereignty can be best viewed as one states’ ability to protect its right to govern its own affairs in proportion to its ability to defend said right against those who would otherwise violate it. In this sense, sovereignty works better to legitimize the interests of the elite statesmen.

Despite the construction of global governance structures such as the United Nations, International Criminal Court, and the World Trade Organization, strong states continue to intervene in the affairs of other states against their sovereign wishes and in the absence of institutional authorizations. Therefore, imagining sovereignty as something that prevents external intervention in and of itself is a mythical notion at best. John Fonte argued well that “American freedom will never be guaranteed by international agreements and global norms, but by independent military strength, and, most importantly by the will to use it” (Fonte 2011). Therefore, globalization does not pose as significant of a threat to state sovereignty as do states to one another. 

Thoughts to ponder:

Threats to human security to include human rights violations may cause one state to be more vulnerable to a loss of sovereignty than others as they offer the prospect of external intervention under the R2P doctrine and, therefore, states have more incentive to succumb to domestic and external pressures and influence which, theoretically, could equate to a loss of sovereignty.

State sovereignty, then, can be challenged not only by external influences, but by the domestic citizenry, and the globalization of communication and other technologies coupled with the initiatives of non-state actors can create an environment where the accused state must respond appropriately or suffer the threat of diminished power. There will be a strong link between those states whom increasingly commit human rights violations against their own populations or refuse to offer protection and those who will come to be viewed as threats to international security and risk the loss of legitimacy. Once the state’s legitimacy is questioned, naming and shaming, economic sanctions, and military interventions will follow and only the strong (accused rightfully or conspiratorially of such) will survive.

Therefore, despite mounting evidence that sovereignty has been threatened, it seems logical to inquire as to whether or not there may be exceptions to the rule. In 2012, Foreign Policy published an article by Joshua Keating entitled America the exception: 7 other treaties the U.S. has not ratified. The seven other treaties the U.S. has not ratified are as follows: Convention on the Rights of the Child, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, Mine Ban Treaty, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Convention on Cluster Munitions, Optical Protocol to the Convention against Torture, International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (Keating 2012).

I ask, how successful has the force of globalization (or the institutions and organizations associated with globalization) been in ignoring U.S. sovereignty and forcing the U.S. to comply with external influences?

Additionally, I found it comical that what appeared to be Jessica Matthew’s most compelling argument for globalization’s influence toward a loss of state sovereignty, ended with her contradictory acknowledgement that 50 years from now “…the Westphalian system and an evolving one will exist side by side” (1997, 66). What? Did she not begin the article by stating, “The steady concentration of power in the hands of states that began in 1648 with the Peace of Westphalia is over, at least for a while” (Matthews 1997, 50)?

Whether one considers her argument contradictory or not, most importantly, I believe she captured well what any student of international relations experiences when attempting to prove that globalization leads to a loss of state sovereignty; the realization that not all states are affected the same because the imbalance of power within the international system does not allow all states to respond the same. Arguing otherwise, in my view, is like attempting to produce a juice that is not worth the squeeze.

Undoubtedly, many power wielding institutions have been birthed in the post1945 period. However, arguing that globalization has threatened state sovereignty becomes a faulty construct and overgeneralization that does not take into account those most powerful states who continue to demonstrate sovereignty while utilizing the force of globalization to cripple those who cannot weather the storm. In essence, it is more accurate to claim globalization threatens the sovereignty of some, while strengthening the sovereignty of others. Clearly, the global institutions that force others to relinquish powers on various issues are influenced by those who do not. Further, many of these same so-called revolutionary NGOs and INGOs wrestle with one another for financial support and increasingly seek to become agencies, departments, arms, divisions, etc. within the UN which demands them to not oppose the UN too strongly.

In conclusion: Religion does not eradicate the existence of evil, laws do not eradicate crime, human rights regimes do not eradicate human rights violations, and globalization does not eradicate state sovereignty. 




Fonte, John. Sovereignty or Submission: Liberal Democracy or Global Governance? October 2011. (accessed June 01, 2016).

Goksel, Nilufer. Globalisation and the State. 2004. (accessed June 01, 2016).

Keating, Joshua. America the exception: 7 other treaties the U.S. hasn’t ratified. May 17, 2012. (accessed June 05, 2016).

Krasner, Stephen. Sovereignty. February 2001. (accessed May 31, 2016).

Matthews, Jessica T. “Power Shift.” Foreign Affairs 76, no. 1 (January 1997): 50-66. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed June 5, 2016).

Rosenau, James N. Distant Proximities: Dynamics beyond Globalization. 2003. (accessed June 01, 2016).


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