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Theorising State Sovereignty in South Asia

Mainstream theories on international relations have largely evaded engagement with the concept of Sovereignty, which is fundamental to the discipline. Critical approaches such as "constructivism" appear to make headway into thinking about Sovereignty, not only in the west but also in south Asia, where theorising is sorely needed. With the approach's engagements with Sovereignty revealing contingent and relativist features as well as sounder ontological foundations of the concept, constructivism is better placed to theorise issues related to domestic and regional politics in south Asia.

SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW october 4, 200865Theorising State Sovereignty in South AsiaAtul MishraSovereignty is a curious concept.1 As an idea it is hard to pin down. As an ideal it remains much coveted. Its centrality to the discipline of International Relations (IR) and its fundamental role as the organising principle of modern states consistently draw attention of researchers and keep statesper-sons professionally active. Despite a long and rich history in western political philosophy and European interstate politics, contestations over the concept never seem to exhaust. South Asian states have also for long displayed obsession with their sovereign statuses. So much of domestic and regional politics is animated by, and charged around, the idea and ideal of Sovereignty. Indeed, at the heart of the opposition to the so-called Indo-US nuclear deal has been the question of India’s sovereignty, especially its nuclear sovereignty. Despite this centrality of the concept to the region, it is interesting that few attempts have been made to theorise it independently. The treatment Sovereignty receives in the region is often in relation to empirical instances which, predominantly, have policy implications. This article has modest aims. It is guided by the imperative of theorising state Sovereignty in south Asia. The nature of IR and the origins of the concept make it necessary to review its defini-tions and intellectual career in western political history, philo-sophy and theory. The problem of defining Sovereignty and its limitations is first discussed. The concept’s evolution in western political philosophy and history is then charted. Theories of IR have also engaged with the concept. The engagement of three theoretical traditions with Sovereignty is briefly reviewed to argue that “constructivist” and critical approaches are most suitable to theorising Sovereignty in south Asia. The final part of the article introduces preliminary reflections on how Sovereignty in south Asia could be most fruitfully and interestingly theorised. Problem with Definitions Nietzsche once noted that only that which has no history can be defined (1969:80). Scholars have attempted to define Sovereignty over a period of time. But its protean character has baffled intellectual pursuits since its inception. Liebniz remarked in 1677: “In explaining the concept of sovereignty, I confess I must enter into a field which is thorny and little cultivated” [cited in Onuf 1991: 425]. E H Carr, whose intellectual and political location has confounded many, remarked that Sovereignty “was never more than a convenient label” observing, with usual foresight, that it is “likely to become in future even more blurred and indistinct than it is at present” (1978: 230-31). Ernst Haas remarked in 1969 that “I do not use the concept at all and see no need to” [cited in Weber 1995:1]. Sovereignty, in brief, is difficult to define. A candid Cynthia Weber admits that “when confronted by the questions Mainstream theories on international relations have largely evaded engagement with the concept of Sovereignty, which is fundamental to the discipline. Critical approaches such as“constructivism” appear to make headway into thinking about Sovereignty, not only in the west but also in south Asia, where theorising is sorely needed. With the approach’s engagements with Sovereignty revealing contingent and relativist features as well as sounder ontological foundations of the concept, constructivism is better placed to theorise issues related to domestic and regional politics in south Asia.Atul Mishra ( is a doctoral candidate in international politics at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
SPECIAL ARTICLEoctober 4, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly66about the specific meaning of sovereignty, international relations theorists readily admit that precisely what sovereignty means remains rather fuzzy” (1995:1). Precisely how fuzzy is Sovereignty? It is generally taken to mean absolute authority of a state over a defined territory and population and recognition of this independent, absolute author-ity, internally and internationally. In his Sovereignty, which is something of a beginners guide to the concept, F H Hinsley defines it as “final and absolute authority in the political commu-nity” adding that “no final and absolute authority exists elsewhere than in the community” (1986: 1-2). Other definitions place accent not on political community, but on territory. Daniel Philpott’s parsimonious “Supreme authority within a territory” (2001: 16) is an example. Janice E Thomson has suggested that Sovereignty is an institution which imparts to the state “meta-political authority” – the authority to decide what is political and what is not (1995:214). Definitions configured around some arithmetic of absolute authority, population and territory appear in plenty. A move away from definition, however, complicates matters. Scholars draw distinction between internal and international Sovereignty [Lauterpacht 1997: 137-50], others see Sovereignty as the ultimate goal of nationalism [Breuilly 2005: 32-52]. Anotherscholar has recently introduced a new approach – “Sovereignty-Modern” – to what he suggests is an outdated concept [Jackson 2003]. Indeed, one attempt at compiling the various meanings of Sovereignty puts the number at 13 [Nagan and Hammer2004]. Many meanings of Sovereignty are one source of confusion. Another, and equally important, is the manner in which the concept is handled. Definitions are idealised abstractions. They themselves are not the institutions, concepts and practices they represent. But reification is common in political analyses and often, indeed very often, definitional accounts of Sovereignty are taken to be real– concepts, practices and institutions. Research influenced by such reification produces distorted conclusions about Sovereignty [Walker 1993: 81-103]. For example, claims of absolute authority within a territory could be falsified with minimal effort almost universally. This, in turn, animates other scholars to respond, producing, in the process, a polarising trend in literature. In brief, the fuzziness of Sovereignty lies in the many meanings the concept can take and its reification. Sovereignty in History and Theory Sovereignty is fundamental to study of politics, especially politics of state and statelessness. It separates, or at least is supposed to separate, domestic from international, inside from outside, hierarchy from anarchy, order from chaos, security from insecu-rity. Sovereignty’s foundational nature makes it a difficult concept to evade. Additionally, inasmuch as it is a product of European experience, its historical origins and supposed expansion to non-European parts of the world have registered impressive liter-ature. Theorists ofIR have, though relatively infrequently, also become curious with Sovereignty. Although some scholars would interpret the origins of the concept to Machiavelli [see, for examples, Walker 1993: 26-49; Onuf 1991], Sovereignty’s first systematic exposition was carried out by Jean Bodin. His concept of souveraineté featured centrally in his workLes Six Livres de la Républiqueor Six Books of the Republic (1576). The civil war between Calvinist Huguenots and Catholic monarchy had presented a crisis of order in France. Bodin sought to do away with medieval conception of segmented society, arguing that ruler and ruled be united into a unitary body politic where the sovereign would be above human law [Hinsley 1986:120-25]. Bodin conceptualised Sovereignty as “supreme power over citizens and subjects unrestrained by law” [cited in Camilleri 1990: 16] or “the absolute and perpetual power of the republic” [cited in Hinsley 1986: 122]. The English philoso-pher Thomas Hobbes too experienced the ravages of the civil war in his country and considered the crisis of order the central concern of his times. Suitably, his Leviathan, published in 1651, offered an omnipotent sovereign as the only alternative to complete anarchy. Hobbes exalted Sovereignty to a level of absoluteness which could not be improved. People alienated their rights to this sovereign and the sovereign was unbound by law, human, natural or divine. Sovereignty’s conception was absolute and absolutist.Such unfettered Sovereignty had its perils. John Locke, though he scarcely used the term and almost never referred to Hobbes, sought to ground Sovereignty in constitutional theory, dividing it between ruler and ruled [Hinsley 1986: 144-49]. But this weakened Sovereignty, and the efforts of Bodin and Hobbes. Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Social Contract, published in 1756, sought to rescue it from the constitutional trap while seeking to avoid the authoritarian implications of Hobbes’ thesis. In Rousseau state Sovereignty was indivisible and unlimited, but the state, in which Sovereignty lay, was a result of social contract [Philpott 2003]. If Rousseau’s treatment of Sovereignty was remarkable, it was better punctuated by Immanuel Kant. Kant’s conception of Sovereignty was an attempted reconciliation between freedom and consent of Rousseau and absolute author-ity of Hobbes [Camilleri 1990: 18-19]. Great philosophical breakthroughs are made in response to problems that societies confront. Their enduring relevance lies in able diagnoses of the problems and lasting solutions which impact societies in most fundamental ways. The story of the develop-ment of Sovereignty from Bodin to Kant is a tale of one such remarkable continuity. In many ways, the rigorous pruning Sovereignty received from these philosophers led to it being adopted, in time, by almost all of the western states. They provided much of the philosophical underpinnings of evolving state system in Europe between 17th and 20th centuries. The lingering attraction of absolute Sovereignty, however, fetched disastrous consequences in the first half of the 20th century in the form of the two world wars, especially the second.2 Philoso-phers reacted, as they would have. The contributions of three are particularly relevant. For the controversial German political philosopher and theorist Carl Schmitt, the state exists perpetually in the ever-present possibility of annihilation. It requires a sovereign that, in the face of existential threat, exercises an authority superior to law itself. The sovereign, for Schmitt, has the power to decide the “exception”. This radical view of Sovereignty was developed in
SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW october 4, 200867his Political Theology, published in 1922. It threatened to tear apart the labourious constitutional-legal limits accorded to Sover-eignty in the two centuries prior by constitutional liberalism [Frye 1966; Wolin 1990].3 The horrors of the second world war exposed the dangers of excesses of state sovereignty. Bertrand de Jouvenal, a French philosopher, expressed concerns over the concept in his 1957 book Sovereignty: An Inquiry into the Political Good. Absolute Sovereignty creates a sovereign above the rules which emanate from the latter’s will. This was dangerous, he reasoned, and there was little hope to be had in constitutionalism alone. He suggested that shared moral concerns of the citizenry should be the source of will that the sovereign must execute [Philpott 2003]. Jacques Maritain went a step further, suggesting that political philosophy must consider eliminating Sovereignty as a word and as concept (1950: 343-44). Maritain reasoned that Sovereignty was an “intrinsically wrong” concept. It accords the sovereign an absolute status, which is unwelcome. Three other reasons make it so. It hinders the growth of international law and world state, leads to centralism in domestic arena and runs contrary to the democratic notion of accountability (344-57). Peace of WestphaliaAs a modern concept, Sovereignty has been at the centre of western political thought for nearly five centuries. Consistent improvements upon the philosophical legacy of the concept have had a stabilising impact. Much of the traditional definitional agreement found around Sovereignty is partially a result of this stabilising influence. Another factor has been instrumental in stabilising the meaning of Sovereignty. This is historical and refers to, until recently, a resounding agreement over the precise moment in which Sovereignty as a feature of modern western state system emerged – the Peace of Westphalia (1648). For an astonishingly long period of time, the Peace of Westphalia (actually three separate treaties of Münster, Osnabrük and another signed between the “holy” Roman emperor and LouisXIV, the young king of France) was considered by scholars to have inaugurated the sovereign state system in Europe, which, in due course of time, expanded to the rest of the world. So pervasive was the insistence on Westphalia that modern states across the world have come to be called Westphalian states and modern international relations is supposed to have begun in 1648. Diplomats, foreign policy analysts, political commentators – nearly everyone has used, and continues to adopt, the Westphalianline. The international lawyer Leo Gross argued that Westphalia is that “majestic portal which leads from the old world into the new world” (1948: 28). Hans Morgenthau wrote in his Politics Among Nationsthat, “by the end of the Thirty Years’ War [1648], sovereignty as a supreme power over a certain territory was a political fact” (1967: 299). More recently, Daniel Philpott has argued that “Westphalia is as clean as historical faults come” (2001:77).As Stephen Krasner observes, Westphalia appears a “politicalbig bang that created the modern system of autono-mous states” (2001: 21). The insistence on the Peace of Westphalia helps stabilise the meaning of Sovereignty in space and time, two categories fundamental to the inquiry of the concept. Spatially, then, Sover-eignty gets fixed as a concept of European origin. Temporally, this specifically medieval achievement of a set of kingdoms andthe church in the mid-17th century Europe becomes the beacon of modern international politics. When these spatial and temporal fixities operate in tandem, they stabilise the meaning of sovereignty in a certain historical context. This stabilisingof Sovereignty enables scholars from the west to make an interesting claim: decolonisation led to the extension and expansion of the Westphalian system of states across the globe. The argument runs that imperial recession lead to independence of colonies across the globe and the newly sovereign states got appropriated into the logic of the Westphalian system of sover-eign states. Some scholars have called it the “expansion of inter-nationalsociety” [Bull and Watson 1984] where “international” is meant to imply European society. Others have called it the “second revolution” in Sovereignty (Westphalia being the first) [Philpott 2001].4 The claim is interesting because it is sweeping in nature and has remained largely uncontested. In fact, it could bearguedthatithas gained the virtue of common sense and a self-evident attribution. Scholars of critical persuasion have, in recent years, contested the temporal claim that the Peace of Westphalia inaugurated the system of sovereign states. One scholar has argued that anteced-ents of modern international relations – the institution of sover-eign territorial state – go back to the Concordat of Worms, estab-lished five hundred years before the Peace of Westphalia [Bruce Bueno de Mesquita 2000]. Others have argued that, in fact, the sovereignty of territorial state evolved later, during 18th and 19thcenturies [Benno Teschke 1998, 2002; Andreas Osiander 2001; Stephen Krasner 2001, 1999].5 This critical literature has done much to cripple the temporal pillar of Westphalian stabi-lity. The spatial claim, however, is yet to be critically visited in any substantial way. Claiming the expansion of Westphalian system globally produces relevant implication which will be discussed subsequently. Contemporary IR TheoriesGiven the density of conceptual and historical accounts of Sover-eignty, how have IR theories fared in engaging it? The dominant IR theory – realism (and especially neo-realism) – has had little engagement with the concept. Realism, and more specifically neo-realism, assumes anarchy to be the defining feature of international politics. For anarchy to become a feature of inter-nationalpolitics, the system must comprise of sovereign-legal states. Sovereign states have hierarchical institutional arrange-ments domestically and the sovereign fact of their existence enables anarchy in the international realm. Sovereignty, for realism and neo-realism is a no-contest accepted feature. The theory works on the premise of sovereign states and cannot afford to critically engage with it [Barkin and Cronin 1994: 107-08; Bartelson 1995].Liberal interdependence theorists argue that state sovereignty has been under continuous erosion due to increasing economic interdependence, global-scale technologies and democratic poli-tics. Keohane and Nye (1977), Morse (1976) and Rosecrance (1986)
SPECIAL ARTICLEoctober 4, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly68along with other analysts of globalisation have called the state’s day. The state can no longer control its borders allowing sub-state and other non-state actors to evade sovereign exercise. The flow of capital, and capitalist goods, have rendered traditional borders meaningless and technology adds further constraints on state sovereignty. And so on the argument, now familiar, goes. Constructivism Theorists of critical persuasion have, over two decades, attempted to introduce a fresh approach to study of international politics. Variously called constructivists and critical theorists, these schol-ars have opened fundamental assumptions of traditionalIR theorising for scrutiny. Sovereignty is as fundamental a concept as it gets, and has, therefore, received increasing attention. It is impossible to do justice to every strand of constructivist theoris-ing here. But a representative account can be attempted. Constructivists view Sovereignty not as a given, objective condition of modern international politics, but as a socially constructed feature which is contingent upon practices devel-oped in historical space and time. John Gerard Ruggie (1983) attempted this in his classic critique of neo-realism’s inability to explain, in his view, the most fundamental transformation of the previous millennium – the shift from feudal heteronomy to modern sovereignty. Richard Ashley’s (1984) forceful polemic “The Poverty of Neorealism” highlighted the relational and variable features of Sovereignty. Relational in that the inclusion and exclusion that Sovereignty facilitates is an act of reciprocity wherein states put a conscious limit on their extent and this limit is reciprocated by other states. Variable in that Sovereignty is a product of practice among co-reflective statesmen, a practical practice (see esp 272-73, n 101). The stability and fixity of Sover-eignty questioned, engagement with its nature becomes possible. Rob Walker makes critical inroads into inquiring Sovereignty, arguing that it is not a permanent principle of political order but is discursively constructed by complex practices that affirm conti-nuities and push disruptions in its way to the margins of analy-tical attention (1993: 159-83). Viewed this way, the dichotomies Sovereignty creates – domestic-international, inside-outside, citizen-alien – are rendered open for theoretical and empirical enquiry [Ashley and Walker 1990: 259-68, 367-416]. Alexander Wendt argues that Sovereignty is an institution which helps transform states’ self-help strategy of pursuing power politics. Sovereignty exists in intersubjective understanding and expectations of states. Without the sovereign other, the sovereign self does not exist. This relational aspect creates a community of sovereign states whose sovereign existence depends on respect-ing the limits of the self and the other. These produce norms of Sovereignty which must be constantly upheld through inter-subjective practices and this, in turn, makes Sovereignty a contin-uous accomplishment. Sovereignty, in other words, is a dynamic institution and not a settled fact. Further, practising Sovereignty transforms understanding of security and power politics in three ways. One, being territorial does not always augur well for state security. It appears natural for states to be territorial, but it is not. Relinquishing territorial claims may enhance security of the state and its people, the ultimate rationale of Sovereignty. Two, successful internalisation of Sovereignty norms promotes respect for territorial rights of others because a part of what it means to be sovereign is to not violate similar status of others without a just cause. Sovereignty helps weak states survive in international politics because their sovereign status denies arbitrary violation of their integrity. In the absence of such a community of sover-eign states and Sovereignty norms, powerful states enslave or devour weaker political-territorial communities. Imperial territo-rial conquests in the past resulted from this absence. Three, since Sovereignty depends upon recognition by other states, states, especially weaker states, can afford to rely more upon the institu-tional fabric of international society for security. For weaker states, this means readjustment of scant resources for suitable reallocation (1992: 149-53). Post-colonial international relations theorists view Sovereignty as a site of political and ethical possibilities. The formal Westphalian sovereignty of states intensifies the difficulties in responding to differences in culture, religion and mode of life. The problem of this “Westphalian deferral” lies in the claim of Westphalian universality. For post-colonial states and regions, Westphalian sovereignty remains a legacy of imperialism and provides a uniform veneer to hide divergent spatial-temporal trajectories of development in various parts of the world. In other words, the international system of states and international political economy form a competition of cultures in which principles of Sovereignty and self-help work to sanctify inequality and subju-gate those outside the centres of the west [Inayatullah and Blaney 2004: 2,21-45]. Critical and constructivist theories have most consistently and fundamentally engaged with Sovereignty. The approaches they have developed argue that Sovereignty is a historical and social construct. Sovereign states are a contingent feature of inter-national politics and not timeless entities. Moreover, Sovereignty is a consequence of conscious practices and there is nothing natural or given about it. Its permanence is, at best, an illusion. It has no logic, apart from that which gets actualised in the course of its evolution. The presupposed neat division between domestic and foreign is a product of this experience and it may be truly neat for some parts of the world and not others. Sovereignty appears universal precisely because the nature of present inter-national politics makes it so. These approaches have contested the linearity and universality of singe spatial-temporal trajectory of Sovereignty. They enable the possibility of theoretical and empirical research on Sovereignty in specific regions of the world, more crucially non-European, post-colonial regions. These regions have, since independence, confronted the legacy and burden of sovereign existence. Contested borders, territorial disputes, population transfers, ethnic-communal strife, unstable regimes, complex entanglements of domestic and foreign affairs, self-determination movements and wars have all been, in ways direct and latent, related to the pressure of being sovereign and the compulsory insistence to remain so. South Asia too has had its share of problems. Not all of these, but many. Not in the same degree of intensity as, say in Africa, but lingering nonetheless. How, then, is theorising Sovereignty in south Asia possible and fruitful in the light of the discussion above? This question needs
SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW october 4, 200869engagement. For this engagement to take place, a survey of issues on Sovereignty in south Asia is needed. And precisely why must Sovereignty in south Asia be theorised must also be asked. Thinking Sovereignty TheoreticallySovereignty seems to have fallen on bad days. In the face of globalisation, Sovereignty appears an outdated concept; an arcane impediment to the well being of globalisation and the increasingly interdependent world. The assault on Sovereignty emerges from corners other than economic too. Equal sovereign status of states has been one of the central features of the post- second world war architecture of international politics. It long preserved the notion of national interest, especially of newly independent states of the third world because juridical equality allowed them, at least in formal terms, to draft and execute policies fit for their respective national concerns. National interests, especially third world national interests, have run into a conflict with the emerging doctrine of humanitarian intervention. The formerUN secretary general Kofi Annan publicly and repeatedly articulated a redefinition of state sovereignty highlighting the dilemmas of leaving large-scale human rights violations unchecked [Elden 2006: 16-17]. There is, then, a sense that state sovereignty is a thing of the past and more pressing concerns – economic, political and ethical – should gain priority. Like most trends in international politics, some of these arguments have reasonably strong footing. Considered wholesale, though, they do not augur well for the third world. South Asia, recent performance of Indian economy notwith-standing, is still a third world region – developing, struggling and plagued by issues common to post-colonial regions across the world. But is that, and is there, a sufficient reason to enquire and theorise state Sovereignty in the region? After all, south Asian states are independent and sovereign entities. Their sovereign status is so recognised by the UN. As independent sovereign entities they are members of regional and sub-regional group-ings. They conduct their own foreign policies. Diplomatic relations among south Asian countries and with the world outside exist along conventional, time-tested lines. Domesti-cally, they profess and exercise supreme authority, especially coercive authority. Sovereignty in South AsiaYet, beyond and beneath these formalistic manifestations, contes-tations of sovereignty exist in abundance. Afghanistan’s location appears a curse for its sovereign status. Since its modern consoli-dation during mid-18th century, the country has struggled to keep its territorial unity and integrity. Sandwiched strategically between the British and the Russian empires during the so-called “great game”, its sovereignty claims were never terribly robust. A successful struggle in the early 20th century to emerge out of unequal treaties earlier imposed by the British did not last long. The subcontinent’s Partition in 1947 inaugurated the Durand Line dispute and has continued since. Pakistan shares the Durand boundary with Afghanistan and the two have periodically exchanged verbal and other hostilities. Besides, governing regimes in Afghanistan and the effectiveness of their writ have always been suspect. Pakistan, a product of 1947, has its own set of sovereignty-related issues, domestically and internationally. Baloch and Pushtu nationalisms cut into its domestic claims of coercive supremacy. Dispute with India over Siachen and Kashmir has been long-drawn and violent. India faces a set of sub-state sovereignty movements in its north-eastern region as well as in Kashmir. Organised and effectively calibrated violence by Left wing extremists question the effectiveness of the Indian state to use coercive power with successful and desired effects. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has, since the 1970s, used violence effectively against the Sri Lankan state. The conflict in that country is largely a territorial sovereignty contest that has defied solution ever since the initial hostilities erupted in 1983 with what the Tamil rebels call the Eelam warI. The picture has been more complicated at the interstate level. Pakistan’s search for “strategic depth” violates Afghan sovereignty. Its support to Kashmiri militants and terrorists has India accusing it of making a dent into its sovereign sphere. Treaties conducted by India with Nepal, the 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship, and Bhutan, the 1949 Indo-Bhutanese Treaty, are visible strains on the juridical claim of equal sovereignties. The strain may be giving way to fissures as the Maoists in Nepal pledge to scrap the treaty which guides the two countries’ “special relationship” and Bhutan cautiously asserting something of a foreign policy of its own beyond India’s “guidance”. Despite non-interference, peaceful co-existence and mutual respect for sovereignty of other states as the guiding principles of its foreign policy, two immensely impor-tant instances of interference by India – East Pakistan in 1971 and Sri Lanka in 1987 – continue to pose some interesting puzzles on the nature, and meaning, of Sovereignty. India and China have gone to war and experienced a long winter of diplomatic relations over territorial border and sovereignty issues. Indian allegations that Bangladesh provides refuge to militant groups, notably the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), which seek to sabotage India’s territorial sovereignty is another appendage to the architecture of interlinked, entangled and interconnected web of sovereignty contestations running across the body politic of southAsia. Now, it would be misleading to suggest that these issues have not been thought through in literature generated from within the region and from commentators across the globe interested in the region. Indeed, all of the issues have generated immense and quality literature which analyses and puts them in policy perspec-tives.6 However, an overbearing tendency of approach to issues of sovereignty in south Asia has been to take state Sovereignty as a given, accomplished fact. Analysts and commentators, who touch upon issues of sovereignty in south Asia, do so in the context of analysing some empirical case or the other. Sover-eignty becomes a secondary concern in such treatments. Largely because it is taken to be a given, a fact of independent statehood proclaimed by states’ independence and membership in the regional and international society of states. Sovereignty does not remain the focus of attention, at least not its nature or the process of its construction. What gathers attention is the gap between juridical claims of sovereignty and states’ inability to perform
SPECIAL ARTICLEoctober 4, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly70and make those claims good, not the reasons why such claims came to be made in the first place and why such claims came to be contested. A reason why existing literature offers limited theoretical mileage on sovereignty in south Asia is perhaps because most of these works have been policy-oriented. It is in the nature of literature on crisis and conflict scenarios to be drivenbypolicy considerations. Immediate solutions gains priority; meditative, theoretical reflections can follow in due time. Moreover, as Kanti Bajpai suggests in a discussion on a general aversion to theoretical thinking by international studies scholars in India, “theory is considered inappropriate for a developing country, a diversion of the best and the brightest from problem-solving into abstruse and speculative endeavour” (2005: 29). Besides, whatever theoretical attention Sovereignty receivesremainslargely restricted to realist/neo-realist and liberal/neoliberal perspectives. Being “problem-solving” approaches they foreclose the possibility of ontological engage-ment with the concept [Cox1981]. OntologySovereignty in south Asia sorely needs theorising. In the light of above discussion, such theorising must be sensitive to history, its contingencies and locational specificities. Moreover, such theorising needs to ask some basic questions about the meaning and nature of theory itself: what is a theory? What, and signifi-cantly whose, interests does it serve? Bajpai suggests that these questions can be addressed and fresh approach to theorising can be gained from paying greater attention to ontology. He cites Robert Cox to underline the importance of ontological beginning to any political enquiry: “Ontology lies at the begin-ningofany enquiry. We cannot define a problem in global politics, without presupposing a certain basic structure consist-ingofthesignificant kinds of entities involved and the form of significant relationships among them” (2005: 33). Identifying ontologicalfoundations for research is an important enterprise. Unless the very foundations of how something came into being – state Sovereignty in this case – are not examined, there are chances, and very fair chances at that, that we might be restricted in our analyses and objectives. State Sovereignty as an organi-sing principle of political life in south Asia could, therefore, be clarified and contextualised, criticised and reconstructed, genealogised and deconstructed [Bajpai 2005: 33]. And though it is usually difficult to balance coherence and history, it is impor-tant to note that “future prospects of sovereignty depends upon a theoretically coherent conception of sovereignty which is both consistent with history and amenable to empirical analysis” [Thomson 1995: 213]. How can such an ontological headway be made? A modest, but important, beginning could be made by concentrating on the spatial claim – that decolonisation represents an extension and expansion of the Westphalian Sovereignty – mentioned earlier. The nature of this claim, and the truism it has attained ensures that contesting it would involve fundamental enquiries into a host of issues: history of state formation in south Asia; the varia-tions within the trajectories of these processes; the nature of geopolitics and its material foundations; south Asian practices of territorial ownership during pre-colonial period, the survival of some of these practices during colonial occupation and their persistence through post-colonial times; the nature of sover-eignty during colonialism; impulses of various nationalisms and their outcomes; and of course the Partition of 1947. The list is certainly not exhaustive. And only a preliminary framework could be initiated here. Westphalian Sovereignty is fundamentally about an ordering principle which presents a perfect coincidence of political authority, territory and people configured around the twin features of exclusivity and exclusion. European polities grudg-ingly and violently came to accept this ordering principle. It is in the nature of such a principle of ordering to be contagious. A sovereign state produces another sovereign state and the conta-gious logic of this could proceed ad infinitum. Territorial space is limited, however, and political possibilities of such an ordering principle too have their limitations. Modern south Asian states, especially geographically contiguous states – Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh – have experienced a history of border disputes which have turned violent. These are colonial legacies no doubt. But what makes them disputed and violent? Engaging this question involves engaging the thick history of mobility and patterns of territorial ownership in the region. The political culture of neatly defined borders finds little resonance in south Asian history. In fact, cases of multiple and overlapping sovereignties [Inayatullah and Blaney 2004: 187-217] and persist-ence of such tendencies during colonial period are more familiar [Robb 2007: 58-89]. Partition of 1947 is understood to have created the sovereign states of India and Pakistan. But perhaps Partition occasioned the burden of sovereign existence on four political entities. Pakistan’s assertion of the legitimacy of Durand boundary made Afghanistan confront the contagious logic. It reciprocated by denial rather than recognition of the claim, the only line it holds even today. It would appear a retroactive justifi-cation to suggest that a sovereign Bangladesh was waiting to happen. That would be a valid criticism. But it does not take away the fact that the nature of nationalism that carried Pakistan to sovereign, even if fragile, existence had contradictions within it that could not endure without cracking up. Precisely that happened in 1971. And it happened with India’s efforts whose own sense of territorial loss in 1947 had an important role to play in its interference, against its own professed principles of foreign policy. Fissures still exist in present day Pakistan, threatening to turn the domestic into foreign. The suggestion here is that the neat divisions of domestic and foreign do not hold true for the region. The diversity and plurality of what populates it make such divisions difficult. This is not a suggestion to make borders meaningless and render sovereignty claims ineffective. Instead, it is merely an argument to face up to the complex nature of Sovereignty’s existence in the region. This is where Partition assumes significance for IR in the region. Rather than starting in the aftermath of Partition – as the trend currently holds – it may be more productive to trace the geneal-ogy of this colossal fissure. Such an effort is very likely to stumble upon the lineages of existing sovereignty disputes among states that were directly and indirectly affected by it. A counterfactual
SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW october 4, 200871usually helps provide sound rationale, so it could be tried: would independence without Partition have made India circumspect and, to take liberty with Sankaran Krishna’s (1994) phrase, made it “cartographically anxious”? Would there have been a Pakistan to nurture a longing for a territory it never possessed? Would there be the wars over assertion and denial of sovereignty claims? The questions could go on. The aspect to note is the centrality of Partition in studying Sovereignty in south Asia. The dichotomy of domestic-international it created, and on which subsequentpolitics of sovereignty in the region plays itself out, has never been neat enough. Seen thus, Partition opens the questions related to state-hood, territoriality, exclusive coercive authority, citizenship, regimes of recognition – all central to Sovereignty: for freshenquiries;Fresh for IR research and researchers in south Asia for certain. How could some of the aspects discussed above be made amenable to empirical research? Constructivist and other critical approaches have been developing methodological and analytical frameworks that are helpful. Sovereignty, in the constructivist worldview, is an institution with a collection of norms [Finne-more and Sikkink 1998: 891]. Each of these norms – territoriality, exclusive authority, etc – could be chosen for empirical research with the help of case studies. Thomson (2005) points out, that regimes of sovereign recognition depend upon historically contin-gent practices. Two questions here assume centrality: whose recognition is required? And what are the criteria for recogni-tion? (219, 228-29). As a relational and practice-based institution, Sovereignty is dynamic. One useful way could be to identify specific cases involving bilateral sovereignty disputes and chart the trajectories of state conduct. This could allow for constitutive expositionsofSovereignty under specific circumstances. An enterprising effort could also entail charting the internation-alisation of domestic issues through Partition. Inter-communal grievances in the early part of the 20th century precipitated Partition. After Partition, the domestic grievances became international. Specific means of expressing such grievances also changed, from communal riots to national wars. Weapons changed too, swords and stones gave way to nuclear weapons. If Partition and sovereign statehood were to be solutions to such grievances, they have failed. Grievances have turned into animosities blurring the line between domestic and inter-national, between the Indian and the Pakistani. It could be fruitful to examine how Sovereignty could seek a price and yet remainelusive. Conclusions The aim of this article has been to explore the most interesting and analytically productive means of theorising Sovereignty in south Asia. Drawing upon Sovereignty’s treatment by three theoretical traditions inIR, it suggests that constructivist and critical approaches to the concept appear most useful since they expose its historically contingent and relational nature. This could only be possible by engaging the ontological foundations of Sovereignty. The usefulness of such an approach is that IR research endeavours from south Asia could avoid the anarchophilia and Euro-American biases common to the disci-pline due to its Euro-American origins. Adopting an approach to studying Sovereignty which is sensitive to south Asian history, its text and practices must avoid, as Bajpai cautions, the familiar and possible trap of nativism (2005: 32). The lure of essentialist reading could be avoided by maintaining disci-plinary rigour and the acknowledgement that acceptance of regional novelties, at least inIR, depends upon dense and open engagements with the issues. This article does not present a coherent and systematic research agenda. It attempts merely to put together preliminary reflections on how state Sover-eignty in south Asia could be theorised. Diverse contributions would further clarify issues discussed here and perhaps open further avenues. Notes1 Throughout this article, International Relations and Sovereignty with upper-case initials convey, respectively, the academic discipline of Interna-tional Relations and the concept of Sovereignty within the discipline and political philosophy. The two, in lower-case initials, represent the subject matter of the discipline. 2 Mario Bettati (1996) thoughtfully, and anecdo-tally, highlights the mechanism of Nazi crimes perpetrated during the interwar and second world war years. The prerogative of national sovereignty, he argues, was central to the success of the crimes. 3 Schmitt remains a controversial figure to this day. His association with the Nazi regime being the most important reason. Interest in his work has risen significantly in the last two decades. European scholars on the Left and Right have borrowed and benefited from his ideas. Giorgio Agamben’s State of Exception and takes more than a cue from Schmitt’s concept of politics. Other scholars influenced by his works include Walter Benjamin, Leo Strauss, Alain Badiou, Chantal Mouffe. 4 Indeed the scholarship is vast on the subject. See, for illustrative cases, Hendryk Spruyt (2000; 2005) and David Strang (1992). 5 Teschke (2002) particularly argues that the decisive break to international modernity comes with the rise of the first modern state, England, after the establishment of a capitalist agrarian property regime and the transformation of the English state post-1688. Britain, he suggests, started restructuring inter-national relations in a long-term process. 6 It is difficult to single out the best works on all of the issues. A subjective selection would include, Sumantra Bose’sContested Lands, Kashmir:Rootsof Conflict, Paths to Peace, States, Nations, Sovereignty: Sri Lanka, India and the Tamil Eelam Movement; Barnett Rubin’s The Fragmentation of Afghanistan; T V Paul editedThe India-Pakistan Conflict: An Endur-ing Rivalry; and Sanjib Baruah’s Durable Disorder: Understanding the Politics of North-east India, India Against Itself: Assam and the Politics of Nationality. 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