Within the state we have people who are different in many senses. There are some individuals that are elders and some others youngsters; some that are tall and others that are short; a few that are highly rich and the many with financial problems; and so on. The international community is exactly the same on this point. There are many states that are different in many ways. Last time we introduced the idea of pluralism both in the national and international context:



We have states that are rich in natural resources and others that are not; some with the most modern means of defence, most that cannot defend themselves; some that are financially stable, some that are not; some states that are densely populated and others in which the population is very scarce; some with vast territories, some so small that cities are bigger than them; and so on. Indeed, the world is a collage in the sense of diversity. We are all different and our states are a reflection of that fact.

Although the states are different in many ways, they are all, in principle, sovereign. Sovereignty means in this context that a certain population living in a certain territory is able to designate their own government and create law for themselves without recognising any other alien normative authority.

In very simple terms, sovereignty conflicts have to do with cases in which more than one population is claiming—for whatever reason—the same piece of land and to be able to designate the ultimate normative authority over that territory and whoever lives there.

Why do we have sovereignty conflicts? If we are to theorise all sovereignty conflicts we may find:


1.   More than one population.

2.   ONE territory being claimed by more than one party.

3.   Each party claims exclusive and ultimate sovereignty over the same territory and whoever lives there.


Two main elements can be identified here: a) self-centrism (which is not the same as selfishness); and b) scarce items (if we allocate the use and/or ownership of a given item to one individual there is no more or very little to distribute amongst others).

On the one hand, in all sovereignty conflicts we have ONE AND ONLY ONE territory being claimed by all interested parties. For example, there is one Kashmir, there is one Gibraltar, there are two Falkland/Malvinas islands, there is one Jerusalem. In these cases, if we “allocate” the sovereignty over Gibraltar to either Spain, the United Kingdom or the Gibraltarians—independence—the other parties will result in having no share at all in the internal and external affairs. And the same way of thinking can be replicated in all sovereignty conflicts or disputes.

On the other hand, all these peoples or populations are claiming to be the exclusive and ultimate sovereign over this one territory. They “want” that territory only for themselves. That is what I call “self-centrism.” It is not that people are selfish in the sense they want the other populations to be obliterated, removed, killed, wiped out, etc. To be self-centred means something different than to be selfish. To be self-centred means that between your wellbeing and my wellbeing I will prioritise my own wellbeing over yours (but that does not mean that in order to achieve my wellbeing I will harm you or that my wellbeing is at your expense). Similarly, in sovereignty conflicts each of the parties want the exclusive and ultimate sovereignty over the claimed territory but in no way, I assume, this means the annihilation of their counterparts in the conflict.


All in all, in any sovereignty conflict or dispute we have always more than one party. Each of these parties claim the exclusive and ultimate sovereignty of the same territory. Because there is only one territory—scarcity—and each party want that territory only for themselves—self-centrism—these parties are part of a sovereignty conflict or dispute.


Game theory




In game theory, and in very simple terms a zero sum game has to do with situations in which one individual’s loss is equal to another individual’s gain.

On the contrary, in a non-zero sum game, the decision make’s gain (or loss) does not necessarily imply the loss (or win) of the other party. In other words, where the winnings and losses of all parties do not add up to zero and everyone can gain: a win-win game.

Sovereignty conflicts or disputes can be seen through the lens of either zero sum game theory or non-zero sum game theory. That is to say, if Argentina gets to be the ultimate and exclusive sovereign over the Falklands/Malvinas islands, Argentina wins and both the United Kingdom and the Falklands/Malvinas islands lose. Alternatively, it may be the case in which China, India, Kashmir and Pakistan reach an agreement in which they all somehow are sovereign at the same time over Kashmir and somehow all these parties result in a win-win scenario.

Whether we think of these sovereignty conflicts or disputes as a zero sum game or a non-zero sum game, in any case the claiming parties are competing for the same item: they all want the exclusive and ultimate sovereignty of the same territory. The question is whether it could be possible the same parties reach a solution that could benefit them all, or at least, a solution in which none of the parties ends up in a position of disadvantage in relation to then others. Until such a solution is reached, it is hard to see why or how any of the parties that have to do with any sovereignty conflict or dispute around the world would change the status quo.


A conflict of interest between individuals or states can only happen when more than one agent is involved. Sovereignty conflicts or disputes are a conflict of interest. Next time we will see how a conflict of interest at the level of the individual may be addressed and may possibly be solved. Potentially, the aim is to apply the same procedure to sovereignty conflicts or disputes and see if we could achieve a similar result and solve them.


Jorge Emilio Núñez

25th September 2017

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