The Evolution of Sovereignty : E-Seminar on Global Rule of Law II

E-Seminar on Global Rule of Law II

The Evolution of Sovereignty

A transdisciplinary discussion of issues related to Global Governance

May 20, 2013 at 16:00 GMT [0800 PDT, 1100 EDT, 1700 CET, 2030 IST]


In Spring 2012 WAAS conducted the first in a series of e-seminars on Global Rule of Law to mark the launching of a new World Academy program. Several papers contributed to the seminar have been subsequently published in WAAS Journals. Those pertaining to the issue of nuclear threats and security were discussed at the Academy’s conference in Dubrovnik held in collaboration with the European Leadership Network last September. Other aspects of this important subject will be explored at a conference organized by the Club of Rome in Ottawa this coming September.

We are now pleased to issue a call for speakers for the second in the e-seminar series on Global Rule of Law to be conducted on May 20, 2013. The seminar seeks to address legal issues from a transdisciplinary perspective encompassing insights from the social sciences, philosophy and the humanities.

The concept of Sovereignty occupies a central position in global governance. Although it has often been claimed that national sovereignty is absolute, offsetting claims and mitigating factors have long been recognized, as indicated by the reference to “we the people” in the UN Charter. The emergence of a wide range of non-state and non-sovereign actors, the recognition of universal human rights, the growing awareness of shared threats and responsibilities for managing the global commons, the rapid expansion of global civil society, and the growing power of a borderless, global communications network raise fundamental questions regarding the meaning and adequacy of sovereignty as a basis for global rule of law.

This e-seminar will focus on the role of sovereignty in global governance, including the following important questions:

  1. What is the role of sovereignty in governance?
  2. What precisely is the relevance of the rule of law in seeking to limit unlimited sovereign competence?
  3. What is the role of authority in the exercise of sovereign competence or any form of governing competence at any level?
  4. Is the concept of sovereignty evolving? If so, what are the implications of these changes for the future of global governance?
  5. Does the UN Charter and practices under it empower the people of the earth/space community and restrain the monopolistic power of national sovereignty?
  6. Sovereignty implies unlimited competence. How does the problem of rational limits impact on the exercise of sovereignty by governing powers?
  7. Is it valid to speak of a global constitutional process? and if so, what needs to be done to  strengthen its authority foundation and its practical efficacy in securing the basic values of a humane global public order?
  8. What is the relationship of sovereignty to the processes of effective power at all levels of governance?
  9. How does the emergence of non-state actors challenge the exercise of authority in global decision making?
  10. How is the emergence of global civil society shifting authority rooted in the state to authority rooted and exercised in organizational activity that parallels the state?

The concept of sovereignty was the focus of the second WAAS web-seminar on Global Rule of Law, conducted on May 20th, 2013.  This meeting was preparatory to the conference at the UNO in Geneva on June 3rd.

Keynote speaker Winston Nagan, who heads the Academy’s law project, examined the evolution of the notion of sovereignty from its roots in the 19th century and the gradual transformation taking place in its essential meaning and relevance. The very first terms which introduce the UN Charter affirm the rights of all human beings – “we the people…determine..” The Preamble in Chapter 1 identifies people’s and individuals’ rights in terms of the need for security, human rights and dignity, humanitarianism, economic and social justice, and respect for law. The growing recognition of international humanitarian rights represents another challenge to the notion of absolute, unconditional national sovereignty.

The five-hold rise in democracies and the development of institutions of global governance since the founding of the UN now make it possible to challenge the sovereignty of authoritarian states which do not reflect the will or safeguard the rights of their own people. The globalization of information flows, communications, trade, investment, production, mobility, education, crime and terrorism have also substantially weakened the boundaries of sovereign states. The emergence of huge multinational corporations – the GDP of Walmart is twice that of Israel – further undermine the notion of national sovereignty. The problems confronting humanity today cannot be effectively addressed at the level of the nation-state. The recent international financial crisis resulted from the incapacity of the global regulatory system to keep pace with the rapid expansion of financial markets, since regulatory authority remains rooted at the national level.

The concept of national sovereignty is no longer functionally useful. Its critical role in global security has already been supplanted by collective and cooperative security arrangements such as NATO which need to be further expanded and made more inclusive.

Law is an institution for affirming and protecting values. Rule of law must be based on a constitutive process for converting power into legitimate authority. Nagan argued that the world already has a global constitutive process to serve as the foundation, but that it is not yet sufficiently effective. Law and politics are rooted in authority and authority is rooted in people. Governments are as much a prisoner of public opinion today as they are its leader. Today humanity is represented not only by nation-states but also by a rapidly expanding global civil society of non-governmental organizations.

Foremost among the challenges for global rule of law is to legitimize the institutions of global governance by democratization of the UN and its constituent organizations. The present unrepresentative, undemocratic composition of the UN Security Council must be altered before global rule of law can mature.

The seminar also explored the role of academic institutions, human rights organizations, and international associations of civil society in furthering the advancement of global rule of law. It also discussed the issue of aesthetic rights as a complement to political and economic rights. Ultimately, global rule of law must be fashioned to reflect the will and rights of each individual citizen – not only the minimum rights that need to be protected, but also the undeveloped potential for human development which is the source of new ideas, individual creativity and social evolution. Democracy based on the fundamental value of human capital is fulfilled in individuality. Global society is fulfilled in the fullest psychological development and flowering of the individual.


Presentations by Winston Nagan & Garry Jacobs