Defining Down Sovereignty: The Rights and Responsibilities of Nations

Ethics & International Affairs, Volume 30.1 (Spring 2016)

March 10, 2016

CREDIT: Pixabay (CC)

By Amitai Etzioni

"Defining down sovereignty" refers to the normative thesis that sovereignty should not grant a state absolute protection against armed intervention in its internal affairs by other states, and that instead the international community should condition such immunity on states living up to particular standards. This essay suggests two modifications to this thesis.

First, the international community should spell out the kinds of failures to protect civilians that can justify armed interventions by other states, as well as which agency has the authority to determine when such failures have occurred. In other words, the international community should determine how low to set the bar for intervention, and who makes the rules. Second, the international community needs to establish an additional international responsibility, namely, a responsibility to prevent international terrorism. The essay treats both of these modifications as shared international normative understandings; it does not attempt to translate these changes into international law.

To read this essay in full, please click here.