Pluralism of pluralisms [Post 3]

An Introduction to contexts and realms

As the previous post has briefly shown, sovereignty and territorial disputes have to do with a variety of agents and players. To better comprehend the complexity in sovereignty and territorial disputes, as well as identifying the variety of agents and players, it is necessary to refer to the contexts in which they may interact and the realms that may act as reference point for their exploration. 


While sovereignty seems to give pre-eminence to the local context because there must be a single sovereign power over the same population and territory in order to have a sovereign state, cosmopolitanism appears to bring a polar opposite view with its claims to universality and generality. These assumptions are as simplistic as erroneous. In the tension between the particular and the universal lies the ongoing nature of the most intricate territorial disputes.

Both sovereignty and cosmopolitanism have a role to play in the domestic, regional and international contexts. The local context characterizes for its centralization of power because sovereign states often concentrate their authorities in central governments. However, even the local context includes cosmopolitanism by means of plural civil societies. That is because the state defines itself locally by reference to their population territory and government, its three basic components. It is increasingly evident that civil societies around the world are cosmopolitan in their composition and at the regional level sovereignty becomes more decentralized.

There are regional attempts to keep a certain degree of cohesion by organizations such as the European Union (EU), the Organization of American States (OAS), the African Union (AU), the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) the Arab League (AL) and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). In terms of sovereignty, these attempts are in an embryo stage in most cases. They are generally limited in law and politics, in particular centered on free movement of goods. 

Conversely, cosmopolitanism gains a more central role regionally by reference to population, territory and government. The same region may include similarities in relation to these three elements (population, territory and government) and it is also possible to accommodate very different states in the same region. Consider Mexico, the United States and Canada or the Middle East with clear differences between their regional neighbors, including a variety of legal systems, from democracy to authoritarian regimes, and different levels of financial development and diverse ethnic descent.

The international context presents sovereignty with single sovereign states. In that sense, sovereignty seems to be indivisible because a population and territory can only have one superior government. This is often the case but not a rule. Consider international legal and political arrangements such as condominiums, the Åland Islands and the Antarctic treaty. In turn, it is at the international level where cosmopolitanism cannot be questioned.

Although it is more evident to accept cosmopolitanism in the international context, it is nonetheless reasonable to acknowledge its presence locally and regionally. Regardless of the relevance in the local, regional or international contexts, sovereignty and cosmopolitanism are always present to a different degree. Whether they are more concentrated or dispersed, centralized or des-centralized, it is a matter of degree, but not of lacking. 

In turn, territorial disputes characterize by including at least one sovereign state arguing about its exclusive power over a territory that is either under the umbrella of or claimed by another sovereign entity. In that sense, the domestic context has relevance to the dispute as well as the regional and, potentially, the international contexts do. Therefore, to assess a single context is to limit the analysis and, therefore, the understanding with regard to the territorial dispute in question.

Consider the Israel-Palestine difference. Evidently, there is the domestic context to be accounted for, that of the challenger and the challenged agents. Certainly, the evaluation would be partial because of its incompleteness if it did not include the Middle Eastern region. It should be self-evident that any decision about, for example, Jerusalem and other territories under dispute is important to the geopolitics of neighboring states. Moreover, the ongoing direct and indirect presence and influence in law and in fact of alien states to the region such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Russia are reason enough to include in a comprehensive analysis the international context. Not to incorporate the international context in the analysis of the Israel-Palestine dispute is to naively (maybe even intentionally) leave aside factors that can plainly change the bargaining power of any of the claiming agents.

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Introduction to contexts and realms (cont.)

Author of:

Territorial Disputes and State Sovereignty. International Law and Politics (London and New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2020).

Sovereignty Conflicts and International Law and Politics: A Distributive Justice Issue (London and New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2017).

Thursday 15th April 2021

Dr Jorge Emilio Núñez

Twitter: @DrJorge_World

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