How have notions of sovereignty changed in the post-colonial era? How do these changes affect the way development is done? This chapter from Quasi-states: Sovereignty, International Relations and the Third World explores these questions, using a distinction between ‘negative’ and ‘positive’ sovereignty.
Since 1945 the world has been formally levelled into a sole constitutional category: sovereign states. Ex-colonial states have been internationally enfranchised and possess the same external rights as all other sovereign states (negative sovereignty). But most of them lack the real features of statehood in providing public goods for their citizens (positive sovereignty). Former colonies were granted independence without possessing freedom. They lack established institutions capable of constraining and outlasting the individuals who occupy their offices. But these quasi-states enjoy a right to exist and high prospects for survival despite their weakness and illegitimacy. This is a new constitutional mechanism, which has replaced colonial and pre-colonial military and diplomatic security arrangements. Key features of this system are:
- While there is legal equality, there is deep empirical inequality between North and South which is likely to persist indefinitely.
- Weak, marginal states are freed from power contests and treated as international protectorates.
- Weakness is not a threat to sovereignty, as in the past, but now a reason for international assistance. Incapacity and inequality have been turned into positive international rights.
- Quasi-states are part of a more general process of self-determination which has affected domestic as well as international politics, rooted in Western egalitarianism.
International aid is justified because independence is necessary but not sufficient to enable former colonies to become their own masters. It is an attempt to compensate for the lack of real (positive) sovereignty of quasi-states. Policy pointers are:
- International society can enfranchise states easily, but it is difficult to empower them. State-building is a domestic process occurring over a long time.
- It is not possible to interfere with sovereignty, although aid may be tied to human rights demands.
- The most significant factor is not variations in empirical statehood, which have always existed, but changes in international norms and expectations concerning underdevelopment.