Concept of sovereignty in europe and central asia

What is sovereignty? There is no doubt that it is of a great difficulty to define this important concept. The concept of sovereignty is under constant development. It has changed a lot with the course of time and especially during the second half of the 20th century.

In legal terms of the first aspect, sovereignty is a phenomenon of centralized state authority which enacts irrevocable legislation and executes laws over a given territory (Morgenthau 2006) and has essentially an internal and external dimension. That is, internally, a sovereign state is a supreme authority that can apply the use of force without any restrictions and dispose of it without share being a unique source of power within its territorial borders. Externally, sovereignty is recognition by other states.

The second aspect is historical and connected with the Westphalian Peace of 1648 and its notion of absolute sovereignty claiming that “the state is the ultimate power within its territory and its existence is recognized by other states” (Öztiğ 2010, p. 135).

Nowadays the concept has undergone a significant transformation process. To make the new definition of the concept clearer, Sözen (2002, p. 160), University of Bahçeşehir, Istanbul, Turkey, suggests the idea of the nation state emergence. That is, if one wants to reveal the full meaning of this concept, it is necessary to deal also with such related concepts such as nation and people which are closely connected to the concept of a nation state (Sözen 2002, p. 159) and the related problems. Today sovereignty is not limited with territorial or power borders. It should be evaluated taking into consideration multiple current changes and processes that take place in international politics, economics and development.

As an example one can take the situation at the end of the 1980s and the early 1990s marked by the emergence of new nation states from the remnants of the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia accompanied by serious conflicts. This, according to Sözen (2002, p. 159), “pushed forward the discussion of troubled concepts, such as sovereignty and related concepts such as people, nation, selfdeterminationwhich are organically linked to the concept of nation state. Therefore the sovereignty acts as a kind of a reflection of reality (Cichocki 2009, p. 1). It also differs according to the place where it was originated. So the concept of sovereignty in Europe differs significantly from that of Central Asia. Let us view and analyze the both ideas.

In Europe the concepts of sovereignty and self-determination first appeared in the early Greek works: the beginning of government (Umozurike 1972).

In Christian tradition, “a king was appointed by God to govern the Earth” (Freud 1964, p. 170 171). Freud (1964, p. 170) takes

as an example the Russian monarchism idea that a tsar governs with “absolute sovereignty bestowed upon him by God”.

The idea was transformed after the French Revolution. The French Constitution of September 3, 1791 states: Sovereignty rests and resides, not in a fractional manner, in the individual members of the nation, but uniquely, in a global and indivisible manner, in that collectivity which is the nation envisaged as a unified body (Freud 1964, p. 177). Freud underlines that this statement transforms the people into one indivisible body the nation. That is, the idea of one sovereign monarch is replaced by the concept of a sovereign nation where this sovereignty is absolute and indivisible (Sözen 2002, p. 162).

The sovereign nation state emergence process, according to Sözen, can be divided into four periods (waves). Absolute sovereignty of the French nation state became a motto that outlives more than three hundred years. The Napoleonic Wars contributed to a centralized nation state by the introduction of a “unified system of law, bureaucracy and education” (Kohn 1982, p. 28 29). Other European people were highly inspired by this example, and the idea of nation state was eagerly adopted.

Its highest peak was seen several years before the revolutions of 1848. A good example is the Giovine Italia (Young Italy) movement that inspired similar movements in the German and Polish emigrants’ environment, the Ukrainian, Greek, Serbian, Irish, and Young Turkish nationalist trying to replace the oppressive regimes with a nation state with individual liberty and constitutional guarantees. This period is defined by Sözen (2002, p.

162) as the First Wave of the emergence of nation states.

The Second Wave took place in the period during the two World Wars with the emergence of more than 200 new states in Europe thanks to the enlargement of the nation states which had appeared in the 19th century. The dominating idea was that of the balance of powers and geopolitical considerations, without any regard for the wish for selfdetermination of smaller nations. This is brightly expressed by the creation of the synthetic states of Yugoslavia and of Czechoslovakia when the constituting countries were merely forced into the alliance (Gotlieb 1993, p. 29).

The Third Wave occurred at the age of the Cold War (1945-1989) when the new two Superpower states the United States and the USSR started to act more distinctly (a bipolar system). The idea of nation state was also formed by two different ideologies.

The Wilsonian idea of the United States claimed the right for self-determination for all people. The Soviet Union proclaimed the respect for the idea of equal rights and selfdetermination of peoples but failed to apply it within its own multinational state. So far selfdetermination of peoples was equal to the sovereignty of the states where they lived.

The criteria of forming a sovereign nation state changed a lot during the Second and Third Wave periods due to the appearance of new international rules and institutions concerning those conditions, such as the UN and NATO, and the breakdown of the old structure of the balance of powers replaced by the new normative regulation system. The idea of national sovereignty gives more and more way to the choice for Europe, when common European interests of are placed above the personal ones of the member states.

Forth wave (Sözen 2002) started with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the beginning of the Post cold war era. The end of the Soviet Union was marked by the renewed striving after independence of its former participant countries. The Baltic States Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia – were the first to separate and proclaim their independence, and the example was followed by the other Soviet republics.

By the end of 1991, 15 sovereign nation states appeared on the world map within the territory which had once formed the Soviet Union. Their claim territorial and ideological self-determination was satisfied. That was the positive outcome.

The negative result was presented by a number the ethnic conflicts when chemical and nuclear weapons were openly available even to very small ethnic groups.

That was the start of the process opposite to the integration in Western Europe. While some of the Western European nation states were forming a supranational structure – the European Union, people formerly united within the Soviet Union wanted to create their own nation states – that is, trying to disintegrate.

Nowadays a lot is discussed about the European Union and the sovereignty of its member states, whether this supranational structure could act as an alternative to the nation-state. More than 50 years have passed since the establishment of the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) on 1 January 1958. Now the six founding states underwent significant enlargements building up the 27 current member states of the EU. Tucak (undated, p. 1) asserts that this process of economic and political integration has no precedents and “represents a great challenge of the sovereignty theory”, which does not comply with the present day situation.

The question that often arises in a close connection with the sovereignty issues is following: are member states of the European Union sovereign at all when being a part of a huge supranational organization with a significant share of competences transferred to its institutions? There are many theoretical approaches towards the point.

The first approach supports the statecentric idea and affirms that the sovereignty of European member states was destroyed byintegration, becaus e political decisions are taken at different levels of the decisionmaking system and the EU institutions play independent roles. Tucak (undated) mentions that the member states transferred many of their competencies to the European Union, internal borders of the European Union almost disappeared and the notion of the European citizenship was created. Thus, according to this opinion, the EU member states are not sovereign anymore and are only a part of the complex system, and the notion of sovereignty has to be rejected as not being able to reflect the new social reality. The adherents of this approach add that the notion of sovereign states was the main motive for the numerous wars in the human history, and this makes up another very important reason for quitting this concept.

The second approach opposes the first one and is devoted to the concept of absolute and unitary sovereignty. It is based on the assumption that in spite of all the changes occurred as a result of the European integration, the member states retained their sovereignty within the traditional framework of constitutional and international law. According to the second approach, the European integration is a result of national preferences made by national governments (Öztiğ 2010, p. 144), as the European states considered sharing power and acting together to be a better way to answer their national interests and protect their cultural diversity rather than going on their own. According to Öztiğ (2010, p. 145) the European Union example “demonstrates that the power of states is not necessarily being weakened when they share their sovereignty”. Roskin et al (1994, p. 7) suggest the idea that if sovereignty can be explained as a manifestation of political power, and the shared sovereignty does not mean that this power is lessened.

Therefore it might be concluded that the concept of sovereignty in Europe changed a lot throughout the history. European nation states renounced the concept of the external state sovereignty in favor of the internal sovereignty symbolizing their cultural variety. Many European political parties give their voice for even deeper integration, at the same time emphasizing the importance of internal sovereignty presented by cultural diversity and the necessity to preserve it in a more politically and economically integrated Europe. That is, the sovereignty is maintained on the basis of common European culture that influences political and economic integration in Europe.

As the concept of sovereignty is a more or less precise reflection of the current social, political and economic events, it may be stated that the concept of sovereignty is under direct dependence not only from time, but also location, position and role of the country on the world stage. Therefore the concept of sovereignty in Europe would be to some certain degree different from the concept of sovereignty in Central Asia.

Now let us have a more detailed look at the ideas of a sovereign state in Central Asia.

Definition is the same as in Europe: sovereignty is described as a central organizing principle of the system of states. Essentially sovereignty possesses an internal and external dimension and usually means the availability of an absolute authority within a certain territoryAs mentioned by Brahm (2004), recognition by other states helps to ensure a country’s territorial integrity and participation in diplomacy and international organizations on equal terms with other states.

The concept of sovereignty is closely connected with the international relations theory and theories of the state and “provides the foundation of the conventional separation of modern politics into domestic and international spheres” (Bartelson 1995, p. 115). If we look back at the middle ages, the territorial division of many Central Asian countries is completely different from what they are now. Territorial borders are shifted, changed or even there appeared brand new national states that had not existed before or had been an ethnic minority of some other already existing nation state.

The brightest example can suggest the Central Asian countries located on the territory of the former Soviet Union. The medieval history of these states is mostly a chain of a wars and armed conflicts between the big and small principalities aimed to obtain more military and political weight and power or protect themselves from the identical wishes of their close and far neighbors. This is a story of principalities, kaganats, khanates and clan divisions.

In that time the concept of sovereignty in Central Asia coincided exactly with the Westphalian notion of absolute sovereignty in Europe with the state acting as a central power in the scope of its territorial borders whose existence is recognized by other states (Öztiğ 2010, p. 135).

Most of them had constituted a part of the Russian Empire having joined it or having been conquered during the period from the beginning of 17th to the end of19th centuries. Their striving after independence and selfdetermination was expressed in numerous rebellious conflicts with the official government, e.g. the Caucasus wars, the rebellion of Kenessary-khan of Kazakhstan (19th century), etc.

The protests manifestations almost calmed down after the revolution of 1917. First it was because of new hopes for a better life, then due to the disasters of the First and then the Second World War, with the need for reconstruction, recovery and development in the period in-between.

The wish for self-determination and forming their own nation states was fulfilled shortly after the fall of the Iron Curtain as the “perestroika” times brought significant changes. The collapse of the Soviet system was commemorated by the emergence of 15 new independent states with their claims for sovereignty. The question is now how far this notion of sovereignty corresponded to the concept of sovereignty in general.

Some scientists, for example Robert Jackson examined the emergence and survival of nations of the Third World since the end of the Second World War denoting them as "quasi-states". His reason was that they “exist more by the support and indulgence of the international community than by the abilities and efforts of their own governments and peoples” (Jackson 1990). This framework he addressed as "negative sovereignty" comparing it with the "positive sovereignty" of Europe of the same period of time.

In my opinion this point of view is a debatable one. Although many factors have influenced the creation of sovereign nations after the Soviet Union breakdown, the most important ones were the ideas of peoples, and they were exactly the same which had moved forward the similar emergence of sovereign states in Europe: tendency to independence. Here the independence is a necessary condition on the way to a broader understanding of the concept of sovereignty. So it is not always “negative” type sovereignty, as there have been various sovereign ideals and resistances to them in the world, and the components of state sovereignty are “socially constructed and combined in specific historical contexts” (Biersteker 1996, p. 27). That is, in some cases certain support provided by international institutions may enable a better application of the abilities and forces of the new governments in order to ensure the protection of human rights and stable economic developments which are important components of a contemporary sovereignty model.

Each country should be able to “determine its own political system and political actions in a sovereign manner, assuming the existence of democratic preconditions” (Hedetoft undated). So, if sovereignty means not to be ruled by another and be independent in the maintenance of a country’s national identity, its peculiarities and cultural interests, them it is possible to conclude that the new Third World countries are sovereign, but their sovereignty in some cases is secured by the help of international community. This is the case of protection of national sovereignty.

If a specified example is taken, it is possible to have a look at the concept of sovereignty of the Republic of Kazakhstan. In October 1990, the country’s own statement of sovereignty, “The Declaration on State Sovereignty of the Kazakh Soviet Socialistic Republic”, was adopted by the supreme representative body of the Republic. It was Kazakhstan’s first official paper towards the national independence.

The Declaration mentioned principal provisions determining a juridical status of Kazakhstan, the scope and frameworks of the power in the spheres of legislation, economy and culture. It was emphasized that Kazakhstan is a sovereign state, voluntarily unites with other republics of the Union and builds relations with them on a treaty basis (Embassy of Kazakhstan in Israel Official Website 2005). The documents pointed out that the only bearer of sovereignty and source of state power are the people of Kazakhstan. This power can be expressed by the representative bodies directly elected by people on the basis of the Constitution, and the state basis is the multinational people of Kazakhstan.

The Declaration on the state sovereignty was a legal start of the country’s movement towards independence. Its full juridical personality was formulated shortly after the Belovezhye Agreements on the USSR Disintegration. On December 16, 1991 the Parliament of the Republic of Kazakhstan adopted the Constitutional Law “On the State Independence of the Republic of Kazakhstan”, which now is a guarantee of the country’s sovereignty and independence.

As it is known and been mentioned above, one of the conditions for sovereignty is the fact that the country is recognized by other states. Still there can be some anomalous political conditions in different parts of the world. Most vividly it could be observed at the end of 90s (see Table 1).

Table 1. Anomalous Political Conditions in 90s (Baker undated)

Territorial Name


Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus

Recognized only by Turkey. Situation frozen and unresolved but relatively quiet. UN peacekeeping presence

Republic of Serbia Republika Srpska

Serbian part of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Supposed to have been resolved by Dayton Accord but still behaves like a state


Federal state based on Sarajevo, but runs de facto only in the Moslem area. Part of a loose entity looked after by an EU administration pro tem.


Croat state in Bosnia-Herzegovina based on West Mostar. Supposed to have been resolved by Dayton Accord. Croatian currency and seamless border with Croatia


Functions autonomously since 1996, though supposedly still part of the Russian Federation


Breakaway ethnic Russian-dominated part of the Republic of Georgia. Situation stabilized, but unresolved by Russian peacekeepers (since 1993)

Republic of Mountainous Karabakh

Now "autonomous" republic taken from Azerbaijan in war in early 90s


Autonomous part of Azerbaijan isolated from the rest of the state. Uses Azerbaijan currency

Transdniestrian Republic (PMR)

The breakaway Russian ethnic eastern part of Moldova based on Tiraspol. Wants union with Russia though completely isolated from it by Ukraine.

The Falkland Islands (Malvinas)

A center of a dispute between the British crown and the Argentine Government over sovereignty for the 1,800 people who live there. Cause of disastrous war in 1982.

Now, more than 10 years later, the position of these states is pretty much the same. So it is a ground for a dispute, whether these countries possess sovereignty if they not recognized by international society. Baker (undated) suggests the following solution of the given problem: to use a number of criteria provided by the Montevideo Convention (1933) for deciding when a state should be recognized by the others: permanent population, a defined territory, a government and a capacity to enter into relations with other countries (Wallace-Bruce 1997, p. 453).

The present-day state and government system is not based on some eternal and fixed principles of sovereignty that never change, but it is directed to the creation of a new normative conception that binds together such notions as authority, territory, population, and “recognition in a unique way, and in a particular place” (Brahm 2004).

What are the critical factors affecting the sovereignty in its traditional understanding? Some scientists suppose it is globalization and the weakening of the traditional sovereignty concept; new ethnic and cultural resurgence; size and reach of multinational organizations; information revolution and reconfiguration in the sphere of national economics and international trade.

Together all these factors assume that the concept of sovereignty, no matter in Europe or in Central Asia, is running under the process of considerable changes and pressure. Some aspects of sovereignty have never ceased to exist and are truly respected in most circumstances, but a lot has already been changed and is going to be altered concerning such subjects as state authority, levels of decision-making and the actors involved therein present times sovereignty should not be defined so as it used to be in the Middle Ages or even a century ago. Now it is not based only on the territorial or authority recognition provided by the demonstration of power. It is a means of protection of fundamental human rights, peace and cultural and personal diversity.



  1. Baker R. (undated) Challenges to traditional concepts of sovereignty. Indianapolis: Indiana University. Available from: bakerr/challenges_to_ sovereignty.htm/ (accessed February 9, 2011).
  2. Bartelson, J. (1995) A genealogy of sovereignty. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  3. Biersteker, Th. J. and Weber C. (1996) State sovereignty as social construct. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  4. Brahm, E. (2004) "Sovereignty", Beyond Intractability, eds. G. Burgess and H. Burgess, Conflict Research Consortium. Boulder: University of Colorado, posted September 2004 [Online]. Available at: /essay/sovereignty/ (accessed 5 February 2011).
  5. Cichocki M. (2009) The Concept of Sovereignty Contemporary Europe’s Dilemma. New York: Institute for International Law and Justice, New York University School of Law.
  6. Embassy of Kazakhstan in Israel Official Website (2005) 15th anniversary of Kazakhstan’s sovereignty. Archive 2005. Available at: CategoryID=243&ArticleID=3962/ (accessed February 6, 2011).
  7. Freud, A. (1964) Of Human Sovereignty. New York: Philosophical Library Press.
  8. Gotlieb, G. (1993) Nation Against State. New York: Council on Foreign Relations.
  9. Hedetoft U. (undated) “The State of Sovereignty in Europe: Political Concept or Cultural Self-Image”, in National Cultures and European Integration: Exploratory Essays on Cultural Diversity and Common Policies [Online]. Available at: PM.qst?a = o&docId = 77304614 / (accessed February 7, 2011).
  10. Jackson, R. H. (1990) Quasi-states: sovereignty, international relations, and the Third World. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  11. Kohn, H. (1982) Nationalism: Its Meaning and History. New York: Van Nostrand.
  12. Morgenthau H. J. (2006) Politics Among Nations. New York: (s.n.)
  13. Öztiğ L. İ. (2010) “Globalization and New Medievalism: A Reconsideration of the Concept of Sovereignty”, Uluslararası Hukukve Politika, Cilt 6, Sayı: 21, pp.125139.
  14. Roskin M. G., Cord R. L., Medeiros J. A. and Jones W. S. (1994) Political Science: An Introduction. 5th edn. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
  15. Sözen A. (2002) “Emergence of nation states and problematic political concepts in four “waves”: From the French revolution to the end of the cold war”, METU Studies in Development, 29 (1-2), pp. 159-173.
  16. Tucak I. (undated) Future of the Sovereignty Concept in Europe.
  17. Umozurike, O.O. (1972) SelfDetermination in International Law. Connecticut: Archon Books.
  18. Wallace-Bruce, N. L. (1997) "Taiwan and Somalia: International legal curiosities", Queens Law Journal, vol. 22 (2), p. 450 453.
Year: 2011
City: Oskemen
Category: Economy