Resolving sovereignty-based conflicts: the emerging approach of earned sovereignty.

AuthorWilliams, Paul R.

Today there are nearly fifty sovereignty-based conflicts throughout the world. Nearly all of these conflicts entail a high degree of violence with state security forces engaged in active combat or aggressive policing operations against armed rebel forces. (1) In many instances the rebel forces have resorted to terrorism. In fact, at least a third of the Specially Designated Global Terrorists listed by the United States Treasury Department are associated with sovereignty-based conflicts. (2) In addition, a number of non-violent sovereignty-based conflicts undermine regional stability and prospects for political and economic development. (3)

Until recently, most efforts to resolve sovereignty-based conflicts have faltered due to the limited legal and political tools available to policy makers. The two most applicable principles, sovereignty and self-determination have been reduced to little more than legal and political shields behind which states and sub-state entities justify their actions.

While these two basic principles of international law may sometimes be reconciled to create a lasting settlement of a sovereignty-based conflict, more frequently they are a recipe for political gridlock and violence.

Given that the international community of nations is structured around the principle of sovereignty, any effort to dilute the principle or to expand the notion of self-determination to more readily facilitate the secessionist ambitions of numerous minority or ethnic groups will have serious consequences. The fear that too loose a re-definition of sovereignty might lead to a spiraling of self-determination claims and calls for independence is genuine. So to is the fear that the global community will become populated with unstable mini-states which breed yet more conflict ridden mini-states.

Different, yet equally destabilizing consequences arise from the hierarchical relationship between sovereignty and self-determination. Given that under the prevailing conceptualization of sovereignty a state is generally entitled to near absolute discretion to deal with self-determination movements, many states freely opt for the aggressive use of force. The over-reliance on the use of force is inherently destabilizing and tends to radicalize self-determination movements, which then often turn to terrorism. Even in instances where states embark upon campaigns of attempted genocide, as in the case of the Serbian campaign against Kosovo Albanians, the principle of sovereignty prohibits international intervention, leading to surreal situations such as where the NATO humanitarian intervention designed to stop the atrocities was dubbed "illegal" but "legitimate."

All too frequently the mantra of sovereignty is used by states to shield themselves from international action to prevent them from violating human rights and committing atrocities in their attempts to stifle self-determination movements, as in the case of the Iraqi Anfal campaigns against the Kurds, the Turkish suppression of Kurdish human rights, the Russian campaign in Chechnya, the targeting of Christians in Southern Sudan, and Indonesia's brutal...

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