What causes the erosion of Sovereignty and Territorial Integrity?

Hello readers, welcome back.

In my last post I looked at one of the most heated conflicts the world has seen between two nations over territory, namely the region of Jammu and Kashmir. I hope that you found this interesting and a change from hearing about Brexit or Trump in the media or my usual posts about topical economics news stories. In this post I will also be looking at something more abstract, and will be exploring the factors that lead to the erosion of sovereignty and territorial integrity. Such factors are extremely relevant in the current economic climate and in fact they go as far as explaining some of the reasons why Britain voted to leave the EU-“To get our country back” and restore sovereignty or what it would mean if Scotland were to become an independent state. I would be interested to hear any thoughts you may have on this subject, so please leave your comments below.

Sovereignty refers to the absolute authority which independent states exercise in the government of the land and people in their territories. In other words, it refers to the power or independent control that states have. Territorial integrity is the principle that a state’s borders are sacrosanct; the idea that states should not attempt to promote secessionist movements or to promote border changes in other states. The two are interrelated as states exercise their sovereignty within a specific territory; the boundaries of which have been established by international law. Thus the preservation of territorial integrity and sovereignty is important in achieving and maintaining international security and stability in the world. Although it may appear at the outset that political factors/geopolitics such as the transnational movement of terrorist and extremist activity across the Turkey-Syria border or contested maritime boundaries such as in Atlantic Waters off Ivory Coast and Ghana are responsible for the erosion of sovereignty and loss of territorial integrity, they can be influenced by a number of economic, social and even environmental factors.

Let us first consider the political factors, which are often said to play the greatest role in eroding territorial integrity and sovereignty. Firstly, the current system of nation states is based on the Westphalian model and these principals of sovereignty and territorial integrity are reinforced in the UN charter today. The system has been challenged by many current threats and in the last two decades, both within and between sovereign states we have witnessed contested territory-the most obvious example being Russia’s annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in Ukraine. This conflict has led to the deaths of 7000 people, including 298 people shot down in a civilian aircraft. Although sanctions/embargos were imposed by the EU and USA on Russia, these caused impacts for other countries e.g. Germany’s oil supply and often had regressive effects, whereby the poorest and most vulnerable in society were most affected. Other examples include contested islands in South & East China seas, as well as the U.K. and Argentinian claims over the Falklands. In the Middle East/North Africa, factional or sectarian tensions have led to political and ethnic conflicts, which has reduced sovereignty. Furthermore, transnational movement of terrorist/extremist activity such as across the Turkey-Syria border, where smuggling of foreign fighters, oil and weapons, has threatened territorial integrity and sovereignty of the two countries. In addition, the legacy of colonialism such as the ‘Scramble for Africa’ has lead to ethnic partitioning which has promoted nationalist groups that weaken the states power.

As well as the role of individual governments, supranational institutions such as the EU, UN, and NATO are made up of member states that retain their sovereignty; however, they are bound to the requirements of this body, including any treaties they sign. For this reason they are sometime said to “surrender” sovereignty, as they must comply with these. The EU, made up of 28 sovereign member states, was first established as a trading bloc with a common tariff/access to the European single market, but is now an economic and political union with its own parliament. On one hand, the benefits of this integration protect states interest, for example, transnational issues such as air/water pollution and international crime. On the other, some states are required to implement EU laws and decisions even if they did not vote for them and 19 members of the Eurozone have financial restrictions preventing them from setting interest rates and forcing them to accept harsh austerity measures e.g. Greece. This was one of the driving forces behind Brexit-“To get our country back” and regain sovereignty. Similarly one of the policies of the UN is that the international community will intervene in a state without its consent when that state is allowing violation of human rights to occur. Although this may be deemed the right thing to do, there is still a loss of sovereignty to such countries and there is the argument that why should Western countries be enforcing their ideology on the rest of the world.

Although such factors are central, it may be argued that the role and influence of economic factors in disputes are just as important. For example TNC’s who exploit ‘soft power’, bi-lateral trade agreements or even currency strength can all come into play. A good example is Scotland who over the past few years has been seen to be ‘vacillating’ between remaining within the UK and becoming a separate state. If they were to leave, this is likely to cause economic complications and ultimately a loss of sovereignty for Westminster. The most notable of all being the loss of oil, tourism, fishing stocks/controls and even the trident nuclear programme. Furthermore, there is likely to be a loss in territorial integrity as a large piece of land is at stake here. In terms of currency, with the UK’s vote to leave the EU, the pound took a major hit and since then imports have become more expensive. This has already led to issues over trade agreements with EU countries.

TNC’s such as Nike who has 692 factories in 42 countries and employs over a million people, have become a driving force of global economic integration and some LIDC’s such as Kenya or Nigeria are reliant on TNC’s to integrate their economy into the global market and promote development or create multiplier effects, thus lifting the population above the poverty level. However, such corporations present major challenges to government control and state sovereignty. Firstly in the last two decades, TNC’s have expanded operations regardless of state boundaries-some states have lost control of territory, work force, environment and even political decision making. Moreover TNC’s have been criticised for pursuing their own profit-making interest at a cost to countries in which they have invested. Business decisions to invest which affect many local people are made outside the host country, which has little involvement, and often there is disrespect for human rights by some TNC’s such as exploitation, low wages, poor conditions and child labour in pursuit for higher profits. That being said, companies such as Nike now aim to shed this reputation with other TNC’s such as Nestlé, Toyota, and Shell following suite, implementing policies to achieve corporate social responsibility and conform to the UN Global Compact.

Social or cultural factors in disputes, which include the challenges by strong nations/people such as the Kurds, the Basques or more topically the Catalonians, are causing a loss to sovereignty and territorial integrity and are often significant as they interlink or affect economic and political factors. Ethnic groups with strong identities often demand full independence to create a new state e.g. Tuareg in Mali or ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Internal conflict between ethnic groups results in governments unable to protect all its citizens often leading to civil wars. We should also note that the geographical distribution of ethnic groups does not always coincide with current political borders. Sovereign states may include more than one ethnic group within its territory such as South Sudan (60 ethnic groups/indigenous tribes) or a single ethnic group may be partitioned by modern state borders e.g. Kurdistan extends across 5 states.

The Basque nation is a prime example of how cultural factors were responsible for the loss of sovereignty and how nationalism (people with a shared identity) can exist without a formal state. It spans across 7 provinces and has a population around 3.1 million. They have a distinct culture, language and a strong tradition of independence/political autonomy with their own Basque parliament. In the past the separatist movement-ETA has carried out violent acts, responsible for over 800 deaths and the French and Spanish governments have always seen them as a threat to sovereign power and territorial integrity. It is often referred to as the IRA of France/Spain. With unique sports (pelota), set traditions such as the Pamplona bull running, and their own food, language, and culture which dates back to the late 1800s which saw rapid industrialisation in Bilbao, the people of Basque have been struggling for either further political autonomy or, chiefly, full independence for years. Despite the violence and turbulence within the political sphere, the key leader of this ‘terrorist’/’ ‘freedom fighters’ group was arrested and this marked the end of the armed activity with a formal ceasefire in 2011. However challenges to sovereignty will exist so long as there are active members of ETA not just in the Basque land but dispersed across the world.

Arguably less important, we should also consider some of the environmental factors that may affect sovereignty. Firstly, TNC’s exploit natural resources; particularly in LIDC’s who are desperate for foreign investment and allow oil rigs/mines to be constructed in exchange for new roads/infrastructure. Secondly, fishing quotas in the Common Fisheries Policy & the Countryside Stewardship under Common Agricultural Policy under EU law has also been criticised for causing environmental degradation/wasting resources.

Overall it is clear that although political factors are important, the issues of sovereignty and territorial integrity are also influenced by a combination of economic e.g. TNC’s, environmental e.g. EU agricultural policy, and social factors e.g. Basque people. Moreover, the issue is actually more complex than this and we should consider the fact that every dispute is unique, meaning some factors will be more dominant than others; it all depends on the situation and each one evolves over time. However we can conclude that stating just political factors in most cases would only examine a part of the issue, in reality a combination of factors work together and there is no “one size fits all” explanation.



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