Kosovo is a sovereign state in the Central Balkans with a population of roughly two million people. Its territory covers 10,877 square kilometers and its capital is Pristina. At least so they say at the German Federal Foreign Office.1 Russians, by contrast, do not know a state called Kosovo. Russia has refused to recognize Kosovo’s sovereignty and has called Western support for Kosovo’s independence “immoral and illegal” (quoted in Weir 2008). Russians do know, however, two newly sovereign states called South Ossetia and Abkhazia (Levy 2008) – entities which are conspicuously absent from the Federal Foreign Office website’s country list. This is puzzling indeed. If sovereignty were an objective fact, it would follow that an entity either is sovereign or it is not. Then whence the confusion regarding the status of entities such as Kosovo, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia? Ruling out the possibility that an oblivious intern at the Federal Foreign Office simply forgot to update the website, one is bound to conclude that sovereignty is not an objective fact, because, if it were, then the educated people in the Russian and German foreign ministries would certainly know it when they saw it. What then, is sovereignty? On the most general etymological level, sovereignty signifies supremacy, derived from the Latin word supremitas. Sovereignty means that there is a final locus of authority within a political community. Yet this definition does not tell us very much about why some entities are considered sovereign while others are not, even though they exercise supreme authority over a given piece of territory.2 The answer can only be that sovereignty’s existence or non-existence depends on its intersubjective recognition by other actors. Yet not only sovereignty’s presence or absence, but also its content (i.e., its component norms) depend on the intersubjective understandings that states attach to it. Hence, sovereignty has no timeless, transcendental essence. This insight has given rise to a now well-established academic discourse over the socially constructed nature of sovereignty. Representatives of this school of thought conceive of sovereignty as an inherently social concept whose existence and content depends on recognition by, and reproduction in the practice of, other actors.3 Despite sovereignty’s historically contingent character, attempts at definition, i.e., at capturing its “essence,” have been numerous. In the literature it is common to distinguish between the internal and external consequences of
sovereignty, depending on whether one is referring to the relation between a state and its citizens (subordination), or the relation between a state and its peers on the international stage (coordination). The former means that a state exercises supreme authority over all other authorities within a given territory – F.H. Hinsley speaks of “final and absolute authority in the political community” (1966: 26) – whereas the latter designates a state’s independence of other states (Kelsen 1960: 5, 37ff.). The government of a sovereign state is assumed to be both supreme and independent. The latter, it is often claimed, constitutes a logical extension of the former, because a state which claims to exert a monopoly on violence and sole jurisdiction within its territory to the exclusion of all other states is bound in logic to accord the same prerogatives to other states. These attempts to capture the nature of sovereignty describe an ideal-typical state of affairs, however; and history shows that the aspirations embodied in the concept of sovereignty have frequently been compromised in practice. This book therefore seeks to “deconstruct” sovereignty, i.e., it explores how the intersubjective understandings attached to the institution of sovereignty have evolved after the end of the Cold War, and discusses to what extent the concept of sovereignty as responsibility has gained traction internationally. Focusing on this relatively brief – albeit highly dynamic – period of time has the advantage of sparing me from retracing in detail the long and tortuous history of the institution of sovereignty, a task which has already been accomplished masterfully by others – witness F.H. Hinsley’s (1966), Jens Bartelson’s (1995), and Hendrik Spruyt’s (1994) standard treatments of the topic. This book picks up where these genealogies of sovereignty left off – after the end of the Cold War – which, sovereigntywise, has been a period of geopolitical upheaval marked by the calling into question of hitherto prevailing doxai regarding the rules of the road in international relations. Since the 1990s – triggered by a wave of interventionism in the internal affairs of states such as Iraq, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Serbia, etc. – a discourse over the sovereign responsibilities of nation-states has taken hold, which has led to a calling into question of certain norms embodied in the institution of sovereignty. The ascendance of the concept of sovereignty as responsibility has challenged the United Nations (UN) Charter’s laissez-faire approach to sovereignty, which places a premium on values such as equality, non-interference, and non-use of force. Sovereignty as responsibility implies that sovereign states not only possess certain privileges, but also a set of corollary responsibilities for the protection of their citizens as well as the protection of the rights of other states within their own territory. States which fail to live up to these responsibilities, so the argument goes, forfeit some of their sovereign prerogatives. In the context of the debate over sovereignty as responsibility, two developments are particularly striking: the assertion by the United States and its allies of qualitative distinctions between states (democratic v. non-democratic, responsible v. irresponsible, rogue v. civilized states, etc.), and the calling into question of the rules governing the use of force. In the empirical chapters, these developments will be examined more closely. I will disaggregate the debate over sovereignty as responsibility into three different – albeit partially interdependent – discourses
and discuss to what extent the “norms” touted in these discourses have actually hardened into customary international law. As norms do not appear out of thin air, the concept of agency, i.e., the law-making role of (hegemonic) norm entrepreneurs, figures prominently in this book’s narrative about the transformation of sovereignty. In this context, the interaction between power and norms, between politics and law, is assumed to be of particular relevance, a nexus which has been addressed by a recent wave of constructivist scholarship on “sovereignty games” (see, e.g., Aalberts 2004; Aalberts 2010; Adler-Nissen 2011; Adler-Nissen and Gammeltoft-Hansen 2008; Werner and De Wilde 2001). Deeply influenced by the “linguistic turn” in International Relations (IR) theory, this strand of scholarship dismisses realist thinking about sovereignty and anarchy as reductionist. Realist conceptions of sovereignty, constructivists charge, succumb to the “descriptive fallacy,” i.e., the erroneous assumption that language (and hence sovereignty discourses) merely reflect, but do not constitute, reality. Constructivists have therefore suggested that we should understand sovereignty as the product of speech acts which establish “the claimant’s person as an absolute authority,” and hence legitimize the speaker’s exercise of power (Werner and De Wilde 2001: 287). Since sovereignty is a claimed status, and since the illocutionary force of this claim depends on the intersubjective recognition granted (or denied) by other actors, “it tends to be at stake always” (ibid.). The added value of analyzing sovereignty games as a series of speech acts is that this perspective exposes the disciplinary power which inevitably inheres in discourses about sovereignty:
[S]hifting the attention away from the traditional, essentialist question of what sovereignty is and the attendant allegedly ‘neutral’ way of depicting sovereignty, to ‘how does it work’, opens up a new and potentially more fruitful empirical agenda. When research focuses on what sovereignty does, it can expose how state practice indeed applies the prototype of the Westphalian state in order to discipline the members of the international order. . . . Such a focus helps to return substance to international relations by considering the power relations that underlie the notion of sovereignty and quasisovereignty, and the rights and duties states are subject(ed) to when they are designated as ‘rogue,’ ‘quasi,’ or ‘failed’ states.