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Nature of state sovereignty in the post-Cold War era Essay

Most scholars dealing with issues emanating from International Relations have indeed found the subject of state sovereignty to be of immense significance.

As a result, the debate surrounding the concept of sovereignty has had far reaching effects on global politics. Moreover, the geo-political system has also benefited a lot in terms of ideas generated from the sovereignty discourse.

Some of the landmark and remarkable historical occurrences that have fuelled the sovereignty debate include the rapid pace of globalization and termination of the Cold War era.

This kind of alteration was also proportional to the transformation of global society that was witnessed during the Cold War era.

Although some International Relations experts argue that this phenomenon has worsened the state of international affairs, it is vital to reiterate that all the changes that took place after the Cold War era have been beneficial to the global society.

Besides, the traditional understanding of conventional practices on the state sovereignty was significantly affected. It is definite that a positive change has been realized with the alterations meted on the state of sovereignty since the culmination of the Cold War era.

This essay will deduce that during the post-Cold War era, the state of sovereignty was greatly altered by key payers in world politics

In order to offer an in-depth analysis of this topic; this essay has been subdivided into four sections. To begin with, a discussion will be carried out on the impact of the Peace of Westphalia of 1648 and how it played a significant role of reshaping the state of sovereignty especially after the end of the Cold War.

In other words, the fundamental application of the concept of sovereignty was embraced some centuries back and it is still being used in modern geo-political systems (Jackson 2007, p.367). In addition, the impacts of terminating the Cold War in regards to geo-political set up of key players in world politics will be analysed.

This area focuses on the emergence of weak or failed states across the world. The failed or weak states are known to have worsened the state of world peace due to the system of unipolarism that was invented by the United States. The latter also led to conflicts both internally and beyond the territorial borders.

Moreover, it will be imperative to note that lack of international order and peaceful co-existence was also instrumental towards setting up of the United Nations Organisation to oversee international peace. The world was indeed experiencing a fast-changing geo-political landscape.

Bush’s main attempt was to create a unipolar system that would control the whole world with much ease. Nonetheless, there were notable adverse effects occasioned by the aftermath of the Cold war.

For example, there were various failed and weak states such as in Southern Asia, Middle East, the Balkan region and some parts of Africa (Fukuyama 2006, p. 2). Moreover, other regions such as Kosovo, Bosnia and USSR were deeply absorbed with either intra-state or inter-state conflicts.

In the case of USSR and other states that were being led under communist ideals, much of the violence had already been suppressed towards the end of the Cold War.

The need to intervene for the sake of providing human needs also grew up at a very high rate especially after the end of the Cold War era. As a consequence, the state sovereignty was impacted greatly.

It is also worthy to bear in mind that it marked the period when realist ideas were quickly penetrating the geo-political systems in most states. However, this notion did not last for too long since the increasing movements mounted by global societies demanded for moral standing to be adopted in the management of world affairs.

Needless to say, a typical example of such drastic changes was witnessed way back in 1999 when NATO intervened in the affairs of Kosovo. NATO played a very significant role in this country.

The Extraordinary meeting that was held in April 1999 lead to the issuance of a statement regarding the Kosovo conflict. As a result, NATO took over the pacification of Kosovo in order to restore peace and order.

Furthermore, state sovereignty has been affected by the impacts of globalisation especially with reference to the end of Cold War period. It is imperative to note that when the Polycentric system of governance was preferred to Statist one, globalisation of international political affairs was given a major boost.

It is interesting that the actual understanding of the state sovereignty did not change remarkably even after the culmination of the Cold War era.

The state of sovereignty was coined back in the16th century and it remained as a formidable concept throughout the Cold War period in spite of several attempts to alter its meaning and significance.

In any case, most of the international pacts and treaties between states only supported the ideals of state sovereignty. For instance, the 1648 Peace of Westphalia that had been invented by Munsterand Osnabruck added value to the conventional ideals, notions and fundamental rules of state sovereignty.

These treaties have withstood the test of time even in the contemporary world politics. According to Wang (2004), the state of sovereignty still entails “absolute supremacy over internal affairs…absolute right to govern…people and freedom from any external interference….” (p. 473).

Therefore, the latter statement implies that no other internal or external authorities may supersede the fundamental principles of state sovereignty. Besides, states that have been declared sovereign are legally mandated to run their internal affairs without any undue interference from second or third parties.

For example, it is vital to mention that even in the contemporary political structures of sovereign states, the liberty to exercise internal self control (such as on matters regarding security and law enforcement) is fully guaranteed.

Brown (2002, p.64) elucidates that such provisions are recognised internationally and therefore, interventions are not permitted by other states.

Nevertheless, it would also be sensible to consider any latent changes that have occurred in the sovereign state since the closure of the Cold War even if those changes did not leave landmark changes to world’s geo-political systems.

There are scholars who posit that since the United Nations Charter broadly embraces and codifies the components of the Peace of Westphalia treaty, it would be erroneous to assume that the sovereign state has not experienced any changes.

The United Nations Charter that has embodied the aforementioned treaty notes that all of its members will be treated equally on binding matters of international affairs.

However, it is worth to mention that the Peace of Westphalia treaties did not contravene the fundamental provisions of the state of sovereignty since the differences that have been noted before are largely contributed by myriads of definitions of the term ‘state of sovereignty (Hehir 2008, p.87).

At this point, it would be perhaps instrumental to explore the application of the term ‘sovereignty’. According to Stephen Krasner, this terminology can be made use of in three unique ways. On the one hand, the effectiveness and structural composition of public governance constitute domestic sovereignty.

On the other hand, when the state is in a position to observe and control its borders in terms of the exchange of goods and people, such kind of liberty is referred to as interdependence sovereignty.

Ultimately, if other states can recognise the existence and power of a state to execute its will and also remain sovereign without external influence, it is referred to as international legal sovereignty.

After the end of the Cold War era, another grand vision dubbed the “New World Order” was crafted by George Bush who was the then President of the United States of America. It is worth to assert that at this time, the United States was the only superpower after the collapse of the Soviet Union (USSR) in 1989.

The attempt by the United Nations Security Council to enhance law and order in weak and failed states was indeed a stark contrast to what used to happen before or eve during the Cold War era.

Most states had originally preferred resolving their wrangles using internal mechanisms without involving external players. However, this kind of state sovereignty had to be overstepped at some point after the Cold War era since the Realist stance adopted by some of the states would not have stabilized international peace.

Moreover, there was need for some form of international watchdog to oversee the increasing state of lawlessness accompanied by crimes against humanity.

In general, there was increasing enthusiasm to safeguard and champion all forms of human rights. This was to be achieved by embracing a common approach towards the moral governance of the global geo-political system.

This approach was arguably never going to be easy because some states were very rigid in terms of governance policies. It was against this backdrop of rigidity that Boutros Boutros-Ghali (the then UN Secretary General) warned that exclusive sovereignty among states would no long work since its time had passed long ago.

In other terms, the demands of the global political systems had presented hard reality that demanded humanitarian intervention at some point (Weiss 2011, p.105).

When the United Nations Security Council became operational, it was possible for it to achieve its major goals and objectives bearing in mind that the end of the Cold War provided a favorable political environment for the UN security organ because states were no longer fighting for technological, economic or military superiority.

In addition, the Council was determined to remain rational and partial in decision making without inclining towards certain ideologies that were being propagated by different states.

The Council’s remit was evident when it mandated about forty missions to maintain peace in war-torn areas during the early 19990s (The International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, 2001).

The post Cold War era also witnessed the emergence of the need to safeguard the basic rights of citizens who belonged in other sovereign states. This responsibility was largely left on the docket of host countries.

Consequently, myriads of human rights rhetoric sprang up with increased demand for fairness among individuals from diverse nationalities. Although the state was left to guard against human rights from being abused, the post Cold War era has interestingly experienced unprecedented growth of civil society groups across the globe.

These groups have indeed taken over more proactive roles than the state in championing for human rights. Besides, the ideals behind Cosmopolitanism have inspired the global society movements in the sense that the former believes in giving priority to shared common morality and equality among citizens and non-citizens.

The realist ideology on the sovereign state was further hampered by the rapid growth of the global civil societies that fought for better methods of engagement when addressing human rights.

Moreover, in cases where lack of humanitarian intervention were prevalent among weak states, the human rights civil societies took very firm positions that overrode those of the state.

The human rights discourse that took a normative approach depicted that human rights could easily be violated in cases where there were no interventions by the state or political systems that preferred a realist approach.

It is also apparent that the normative discourse must have achieved far reaching goals as evident among authors like Thomas Weiss.

Most of the arguments presented by civil society groups during the post Cold War era were quite categorical that independence, population, authority and territory were the four major contentious areas of state sovereignty that needed to be followed strictly in protecting human rights.

In response, the United Nations came up with new resolutions that would adequately standardize and justify the globally accepted humanitarian interventions.

The Security Council has an express mandate of taking stern action against any country that may fail to protect its people (Weiss 2011, p.105).

After the Cold War era, there are several changes that have been witnessed on how wars are fought among states with territorial borders as well as sovereign states that may be harboring terror groups such as Al Qaeda.

Before the post Cold War era, terror groups were found within given states where they could launch internal attacks. A case example is the Irish Republican Army. However, the modern terror gangs are composed of individuals drawn across the world.

There are some International Relations scholars who posit that materialism and western liberal ideals are to blame on the rising cases of terrorism since some cultures feel threatened and therefore opt for violence as the best solution (Kiras 2011, p.370).

Although all international interventions by the United Nations have to be based on specific resolutions of the Security Council, it is imperative to mention that the sovereignty of a state may be interfered with by an international community since morality is given higher priority than sovereignty of a state.

This scenario was witnessed when the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) intervened in Kosovo. Furthermore, any other international law can also be superseded by the fundamentals of morality.

It is definite that the international legal sovereignty and the Westphalian treaties have been vastly degraded or altered with the involvement of the international community.

Globalisation rapidly took shape during the post Cold War era since global governance ended up adopting a polycentric system in preference to a statist system. Aspects such as terrorism, business and finance also took a global approach.

As a consequence, the Westphalian sovereignty and domestic sovereignty were greatly weakened. In 1999, the then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan observed that international cooperation and forces of globalization were keenly redefining the state of sovereignty among states across the world (United Nations 1999, p. 37).

Such a move indicated that the global political arena would be vastly affected due the adoption of the pluralistic position in addressing human rights (Willetts 2011, p.45).

Actors such as Green Peace, Amnesty International, European Union, United Nations and Microsoft were interfering with some decision making processes and political thinking in different states.

The fiscal and credit policy as well as adequate control of money has been lost by many states due to the effects of transnatiolization coupled with the impacts of globalization (Brown 2002, p.121).

In addition, some states are currently finding it cumbersome to harness capital flow within their borders because the financial system has been significantly globalised. The Euro-zone debt crisis is one of the typical and latest case examples of how a globalised financial state of economy can impact state of sovereignty.

When the Republic of Ireland and Greece were compelled by the European Union to execute austerity measures that were fiscally severe, the impacts were financially devastating.

The economies of the affected sovereign states were eventually managed by the European Union. Hence, the action fully ignored the electorates and their leaders. This action contradicted the fundamental ideals of Westphalian, international, and domestic sovereignty (Scholte 2005, p. 123).

To recap it all, it is vital to reiterate that this paper has explored how the state of sovereignty has transformed since the end of the Cold War period. The paper has also offered an incisive look at whether the above discussed alterations were negative or positive.

After discussing the pre-Cold War era when the Westphalian sovereignty was adopted and also the consequent changes during the Post Cold War era (such as the upsurge of human rights and globalisation), it can be concluded that the state of sovereignty has undergone positive changes that are beneficial to human society.


Brown, C 2002, Sovereignty, Rights and Justice: International political theory today, Polity Press, Cambridge.

Fukuyama, F 2006, Nation-Building: Beyond Afghanistan and Iraq, The John Hopkins University Press, Maryland.

Hehir, A 2008, Humanitarian Intervention after Kosovo: Iraq, Darfur and the record of Global Civil Society, Palgrave Macmillan, Hampshire.

Jackson, R 2007, Sovereignty: Evolution of an idea. Polity Press, Cambridge.

Kiras, J 2011, Globalization of World Politics: An introduction to international relations, Oxford University Press, New York.

Scholte, A J 2005, Globalization a critical introduction (2nd ed.), Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke.

The International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) 2001, The Responsibility to Protect: The Report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, IDRC Books, Ottawa.

United Nations 1999, The Question of Intervention: Statements by the Secretary General, United Nations, New York.

Wang, G 2004, “The impact of Globalization on State Sovereignty”. Chinese Journal of International Law. Vol. 3 no. 2, pp. 473-484.

Weiss, T 2011, Thinking about global governance: why people and ideas matter, Routledge, Oxon.

Willetts, P 2011, Globalization of World Politics: An introduction to international relations, Oxford University Press, New York.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "Nature of state sovereignty in the post-Cold War era." April 11, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/nature-of-state-sovereignty-in-the-post-cold-war-era/.


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