Perhaps one of the most significant developments in the world today is the emergence of International Law and its formal integration within the world order. The word “formal” is used here because International Law has, in fact, existed for centuries in one way or another.
For example, the Peace of Westphalia, signed in 1648, is regarded as a watershed moment that led to the development of concepts such as state sovereignty, mediation between nations and diplomacy. However, International Law, despite influencing the world order since centuries, was heavily promulgated after the Second World War. This led to the establishment of institutions such as the United Nations, the International Court of Justice, the United Nations Security Council and the International Law Commission, which was entrusted with the task for developing and codifying International Law.
The inception of these organisations meant that international activities and interests became regulated and protected. Gone were the days when a powerful nation could easily use strong-arm methods, invade another or conduct itself in a way which was repugnant to this new “world order”. Though these were positive changes, necessary for humanity and the recovery of our world from the bleak days of the Second World War, the concept of sovereignty and sovereign nations was now subject to new regulations.
The idea of unilateral thinking was now outdated and unattractive to the world. Decisions must be made bearing in mind not just national interest, but international interest. This led to a new form of sovereignty being introduced: a form that was perhaps contrary to the original meaning of the word and how nations used it. The world welcomed the concept of “sovereign equality.” It was defined as the principle that all states are equal regardless of their size and strength, regardless of the nature of their social, political and economic systems and development. All nations would have equal status in International Law.
Good old sovereignty, however, was defined as the “supreme power or authority.” It was synonymous with words such as autonomy, independence and liberty. Nations would still have liberty and the right to self-governance, but this autonomy would now be regulated. Regulated autonomy isn’t the same as supreme power though. A nation was only sovereign – and had a right to be sovereign – so long as it followed set standards and rules. In theory, this was not a bad change. The question was, pragmatically: how effective would this be in curtailing violence and maintaining order?
The answer? Quite effective.
One of the master strokes that Europe played was the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community, which came into being in 1952. Based on the Schuman Plan, this meant that six countries signed a treaty to run their coal and steel industries under a common management, a sort of partnership. Therefore, no single country could make weapons of war and turn against others, as was the case in the past. No more “supreme authority.”
While this proposal did not stamp out the concept of sovereignty, it created dependency. Nations and their economies now depended on each other. If Germany had the coal, France had the steel. Both were inadequate commodities without each other. This led to cheaper mass production and eventually a global economy formed. One country supplied, and the other created. Gradually, all the sovereign states of the world became dependent on each other for their survival and progress.
This brings us to the question; how is a state sovereign if it is dependent? Can autonomy, liberty and sovereignty coexist with dependency? Before the world considered this, the new organisations – responsible for maintaining peace and the world order – seized the opportunity. The concept of sanctions, essentially a punishment, was introduced.
Dare to challenge the status quo established by the watchdogs? Be ready for the consequence: economic isolation.
Let us now fast forward to 2022. The former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, is ousted after he loses a vote of no confidence in the National Assembly. Mr. Khan claims he was a victim of a Western conspiracy, adding further that the US was displeased due to his visit to Russia. While Mr. Khan’s removal from office and the circumstances surrounding it are not the focus of this article, the justification he gave the world for his visit to Russia, despite its illegal invasion of Ukraine, is quite relevant.
Mr. Khan justified this trip by stating it was in the best interest of his country and people. Looking to strike a deal for purchasing oil at a discounted rate, Khan believed that Pakistan, as a sovereign nation, was entitled to an independent foreign policy and therefore, to choose who to do business with.
The former premier failed to recognise something very important, though: the old idea of sovereignty does not exist anymore. It cannot exist for a country that is not self-sufficient. And it cannot exist when a country has borrowed money from those who it supposedly wishes to stand up to. Dependency and sovereignty are not the best of friends – they cannot coexist.
As such, in the world that we live in today, a truly sovereign state is an illusion, a fantasy, a controllable and domesticated animal, a misrepresented reality, and, for developing nations: unattainable till we realise our potential and strive towards true independence.