Contemporary global politics are marked by a renewed debate over the significance and limits of state sovereignty. In the eyes of many, the COVID-19 pandemic has reasserted the importance of territorial sovereignty as well as of national identity and citizenship. Populations have become more acutely conscious of their rights and responsibilities as members of a particular political community, and their ultimate reliance upon their governments to protect them from the virus. Well before the outbreak of this pandemic, however, many scholars, policy-analysts, and state officials had already been highlighting the ‘return’ of sovereignty, often in juxtaposition to either the transnational economic forces of globalization or liberal international norms. Powerful economic and political trends (including protectionism and populism) were casting doubt on the reach and impact of liberal ideals such as free movement and economic interdependence. In part, these trends reflected a structural shift in international order in which the relative position of the United States was declining, and the standing of non-Western powers with attachment to what is loosely referred to as “Westphalian” sovereignty was increasing. Although some IR scholars have argued that today’s great powers (Russia, China and the US) are espousing and practicing a new form of “extra-legal sovereignty” (Paris 2020), the former two states - in order to garner wider support for their respective world views - regularly appeal to an understanding of sovereignty that underscores long-standing principles of territorial integrity and political independence.
This book project takes a step back, to more critically analyse the period preceding our current debate.