Tag Archives: Sovereignty

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner Has It All Wrong

Today the Guardian published an open letter by Argentina’s President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, urging UK Prime Minister David Cameron to recommence talks for the handover of the Falkland Islands, which she refers to as Las Malvinas. This brief correspondence, timed to appear as an advertisement in the Guardian’s print edition (p. 25) on the 180-year anniversary of the re-establishment of British rule on the islands, rehashes tired accusations of continued colonialism but fails to mention either sovereignty or self-determination.

She props her claim upon 48-year old UN Resolution 2065, waving it as a flag of transnational support for Argentina’s claim. However, this rather old but well-meant resolution, like most UN edicts, doesn’t say much at all except to promote talks in the hope of calming the waters. Being seen to say something, whilst not saying anything of great import. The letter even copies in Ban Ki-Moon, the secretary-general of the UN. On the sovereignty question, the UN Resolution that Kirchner is clinging to like a deflating buoy explicitly states that these discussion and both governments must take into consideration “the interests of the population of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas)”. It seems the UK is alone in this particular concern.

This 212-word piece of showmanship highlights that Kirchner is clearly not insensible to the impending referendum on March 10th-11th 2013 in which the 3000-strong population of the Falklands will decide their own fate, despite Argentina’s unwillingness to recognise its validity. In between spiky remarks on the geographic distance between the Falklands and the UK (8700 miles), Kirchner fails to recognise a point made by many others in the past including myself, its not so much geographic distance as cultural difference that often matters most, and in that regard, Argentina couldn’t be further away from the islanders.


Photo credit: Expectativa Online

Monotheism’s Importance To International Relations

Christianity, Islam and Judaism, along with their own institutions, have contributed to the shape of many vital political concepts.


Corner of church and state street


The relationship between religion and international politics has been often characterized by mutual suspicion and conceptual misunderstandings as a result of unsuccessful and flawed analyses about their interaction. However, accounting for religion as an intervening variable in world politics can not be entirely dismissed: from a sociological and constructivist standpoint, the field of faith can provide us with relevant and helpful insights for explaining the evolution of some political concepts.

As far as the three Abrahamic religions are concerned (Christianity, Islam, and Judaism), historical and comparative analyses show us how religion might be a useful explanatory tool for grasping complex structural phenomena. In fact, far from suggesting any pretentious and inconsistent theory of “religion in world politics”, I will be focusing on monotheism as the basis for the exercise and theorization of sovereignty, social mobilization and civil society.

To begin with, according to Daniel Philpott, the so-called ‘Westphalian System’ of modern states, based in the modern conception of state sovereignty, was built on religious grounds in Europe. Before 1648, political Europe was characterized by deeply fragmented forms of sovereignty, although transcontinental institutions such as the Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Empire, ruled this broad geopolitical arena through what John Sidel has called the interwoven area between “non-territorial” and material power (powers over land, taxation, and local officials). As a result, the Christian authority represented the embryonic stage of a complex state system, which was later institutionalized through the thirty-year experience of inter-religious conflicts, ending with the Treaty of Westphalia.

Previously, the 16th century had marked the rise of the Protestant Reformation within the Christian world. Calvinism, in association with the structural consequences unleashed by the interaction between transcontinental institutions and pre-existing and scattered forms of sovereignty, played a meaningful role in determining the rise of the state. As Philip Gorski cleverly points out, the Protestant Reformation laid the foundations of a “disciplinary revolution”, which made available the necessary discipline for political control. More importantly, in addition to this cultural feature, the Calvinist church provided the modern state thanks to its own power relation with local communities and government.

If Christianity, and related institutions, have played a substantial role within the development of sovereignty and the modern state-system, Islam has to be mentioned as mobilizing factors in world politics. Islam laid down its bases during the 18th and 19th century. Indeed, European colonialism stretched its arms over Muslim lands, such as in the Indian Ocean where the Portuguese, Dutch and British powers intensified forms of imperial and colonial control. In these lands, the aforementioned imperial powers applied the same political and organizational tenet: the extension of Christian extra-territorial sovereignty founded on the basis of religion.

In the 20th century two remarkable occurrences took place: the creation of new networks of Islamic intellectuals and activists on one hand; and the instrumental use of Islam in domestic and foreign policy against the colonial encroachment on the other. The interaction between these two political and social consequences strengthened the rally ‘round effect of religion in the international realm, especially since the rise of new media and the improvement of communication among Muslims. As a matter of fact, both the rise of Al Qa’ida in the last thirty years (as a counter-hegemonic force against the Soviet Union during the Cold war, and more recently the United States), and the state sponsorship of Islamic movements by Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan, confirm the political clout of Islam in international affairs.

Finally, an overlooked case deserves to be taken into account: Judaism. In his latest book, Michael Walzer stresses the constraining role of Judaism in managing political power: drawing from the philosophical work of Nietzsche, even Walzer identifies the Hebrew Bible as a text against the will of power, as turned by humans against one another. Generally speaking, the Hebrew Bible is concerned with the use, abuse and justification of power by governments. Moreover, Walzer enriches the analysis of Judaism by underlying its role in elaborating a successfully theory of society, conceived as a self-help structure: indeed, the Jews have been able to survive as a society, and without formal political institutions, over the course of history. For such a reason, this religious text continues to be compelling and relevant, and further studies should be provided in order to understand evolution and interaction between civilizations.

Far from being thorough and exhaustive, this article aims at suggesting a more serious account of the role of religion in international relations. As these few words have witnessed, Christianity, Islam and Judaism, along with their own institutions, have contributed to the shape of some important political concepts. All of them, in particular, can serve as “autonomous public spaces and as a countervailing power to state power”, by creating a “particular kind of civil society and associational life.


Photo Credit: Ian Sane

The Security Implications of Arctic Sovereignty

Arctic sovereignty has long been the subject of intense debate and dispute between Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States. The outcome of the battle for it could have a significant impact on global security.


Arctic Sovereignty


Arctic sovereignty has long been the subject of intense debate and dispute between Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States.  Each country claims ownership of part of the Arctic.  In accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) countries have ten years to make claims for sovereignty over extended shelf areas.  The ten year period begins when each country ratifies the UNCLOS.  The deadlines for Norway and Russia have already passed while those of Canada and Denmark are approaching quickly (2013 and 2014 respectively.)  While the United States claims sovereignty over parts of the arctic due to its northern territory of Alaska it has yet to ratify UNCLOS.

There have already been disputes for sovereignty over particular areas of the Arctic.  Disputed areas include the Northwest Passage, the Beaufort Sea, Hans Island and the North Pole.  Canada considers the Northwest Passage to be internal waters which entitles Canada to the right to enact fishing and environmental laws, to enforce taxation and import restrictions.  The United States and others consider the Northwest Passage international waters.  This would entitle ships to a right of passage and limit Canadian authority over the area.

The Beaufort Sea covers the boundary between the Yukon (in Canada) and Alaska (in the United States.)  Canada maintains that sovereignty should be distributed based on extensions of the land border while the United States disagrees.  The United States has leased land under the sea that Canada considers to be its own to search for oil.  The issue has yet to be resolved but would probably be settled by a tribunal if the United States ratifies UNCLOS.

Denmark and Canada are currently negotiating the division of Hans Island.  The island is small and uninhabited but has received significant attention from both governments.  The maps originally used in 1967 to determine ownership of the island showed the island to be in Canadian waters but recent satellite imagery has revealed that the boundary between the countries falls directly in the middle of the island.  In 1984, 1988, 1995 and 2003 the Danish government planted flags on the island.  In 2005 the Canadian defence minister stopped on the island during a trip to the Arctic which resulted in another dispute between the governments.

Perhaps the most intense dispute in the Arctic has been and will be over the North Pole.  The North Pole has been claimed by many countries but it is yet to be determined which shelf it is attached to.  In 2007 a Russian submarine planted a Russian flag at the seabed of the North Pole and sparked a major international controversy.  Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay criticized the Russians for planting the flag as though it entitled them to sovereignty over the North Pole.  Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov responded that it was merely a celebration of national accomplishment akin to putting the American flag on the moon.  Despite this Russia’s Natural Resources Ministry claims that results from samples taken on the expedition indicate that the North Pole is an extension of Russia’s continental shelf and that Russia is entitled to the vast natural resources that it may hold.

The outcome of the battle for Arctic sovereignty could have a significant impact on global security.  According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change the shipping industry could begin to use the Arctic as a major shipping route as the ice cap continues to melt.  This has consequences for border protection and the rights to charge levees on shipments.  Beyond that the Arctic is believed to have vast reserves of natural gas and oil.  With the impending deadlines and high economic incentives to gain sovereignty there is little doubt that conflict will arise.


Photo credit: U.S. Geological Survey

Al-Libi Meets The Business End Of A Drone

Whilst the death of an al-Qaeda strategist as brilliant as al-Libi should be celebrated, it should simultaneously be mourned: he provided us with better advice than we were able to produce ourselves at the time. 



[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he death of Libyan-born Abu Yahya al-Libi, the “general manager” of al-Qaeda, has provoked a new round of debate over the use of drones by the United States. Many al-Qaeda leaders have met their end after encountering the business end of a drone (credit to John Quinn for dreaming up such a brilliant phrase), proving them a useful tool in the American military toolbox for eliminating threats in territory that they do not control.

As Andy Parsons amusingly puts it:

“We went into Afghanistan with the help of Pakistan to find al-Qaeda, now it appears that they (al-Qaeda) have left Afghanistan and gone to Pakistan. But we can’t actually go and find them in Pakistan because Pakistan is our friend and they’re still helping us look for al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.”

Pakistan has described the killing of al-Libi on Pakistani soil as “unlawful, against international law and a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty”. But Pakistani protests over the presence of American troops conducting assassinations on Pakistani soil would be far greater, as would the effect on anti-American sentiment (bin Laden’s departure as a case in point). If one adheres to the argument that to counter the extremist group one must destroy its leadership, drones are undoubtedly the lesser evil.

This debate is not constrained to issues of sovereignty however. Following confirmation of the success of the strike by American authorities, the dead Libyan’s brother, Abu Bakr al-Qayed, asserted that “the way the Americans killed him is heinous and inhumane”. “Regardless of my brother’s ideology, or beliefs, he was a human being and at the end of the day deserves humane treatment”. This aspect of the debate – that of human rights – is one that I shall (happily) leave to one side in the knowledge that others more capable than myself will be tackling it on these pages shortly.

Al-Libi’s fame was born out of his escape from Bagram in July 2005, subsequently proving his worth as an al-Qaeda strategist and theologian. The “explosive cocktail of youth, rage, arrogance and intellect that has made him a force” among Jihadis was demonstrated when he provided the sole remaining superpower with unsolicited advice on how to defeat the militant Sunni group (Brachman 2008).

Amusingly the neutralization of senior leaders was a key point in his suggestions: al-Libi was a self-appointed target. His further recommendations can only be regarded as brilliant. He argued that America should focus on promoting the voices of those who had renounced extremism, in much the way that certain countries use former extremists within their deradicalisation programmes: what better person to use to discredit the movement than one who has been through it and come out the other side. Further, mainstream Imams should be encouraged to issue fatwas against al-Qaeda and its followers. By using such a line of attack, al-Qaeda’s appeal to potential recruits is dramatically lessened and the West may start to win the war of ideas.

Building upon that foundation, al-Libi suggested that America make up stories about the organisation and exaggerate its mistakes. If America were to insinuate that these fictitious or embellished events were inherent to the movement, the group’s public support would undoubtedly drop significantly. He mentions the damage done to the image of the organisation by rumours that al-Qaeda had imposed a death penalty on those who renounced its violent ideology.

The most pertinent argument provided is that of encouraging and strengthening Islamic movements that favour democracy. As Brachman asserts, Jihadist thinkers are threatened by such groups (the Muslim Brotherhood as an example) as they utilize the same texts to legitimize their world-view and appeal to the same kind of person. The Muslim Brotherhood are, evidently, eminently preferable to al-Qaeda.

To close, whilst the death of an al-Qaeda strategist as brilliant as al-Libi should be celebrated, it should simultaneously be mourned: he provided us with better advice than we were able to produce ourselves at the time. Jarret M. Brachman’s 2008 work Global Jihadism: Theory and Practice should be consulted by those that wish to read more upon this subject – I strongly recommend it.