BOOK PREVIEW: “Cosmopolitanism, State Sovereignty and International Law and Politics: A Theory” [Forthcoming 2023]

Cosmopolitanism, State Sovereignty and International Law and Politics:
A Theory


Jorge E. Núñez

General structure: Part Two

PART TWO introduces and characterizes the notion of pluralism of pluralisms. Both sovereignty and cosmopolitanism are complex as they encompass different agents (individuals, communities and states) that play different roles in several contexts (local, regional and international). In addition, the complexity expands with the possible facets of reference, whether purely logical or theoretical, factual or empirical or axiological. Finally, the inter-dimensional field on which these players interact, coupled with the context(s) in which they occur and science of reference, may add time and space to the intricacy as a whole. Sovereignty and cosmopolitanism are multi-subjective, multi-contextual and multi-faceted. In brief, they are multidimensional and consequently require a multidimensional analysis if the aim is to fully comprehend and utilize them to tackle crises. This section introduces and characterizes agents and players; contexts, realms and modes of existence; and dimensions, time and space.

Chapter 4 Agents and players

This chapter exposes an often-overlooked condition shared by both sovereignty and cosmopolitanism: there are several different agents and players. Therefore, to argue that a particular agent or player is the main (and at times, sole) subject to be considered in, for example, territorial disputes, pandemics or trafficking of any kind, is mistaken.

Individuals assemble in couples and families who form neighborhoods and communities, which organize into a self-governing territory, constituting a political organization, the state. At the levels of civil societies and communities, individuals have common and conflicting interests. Consider, for example, issues related to gender, minorities, internal migrations; differently-abled people; children and young adults; and other intra-community subgroups. At the international society level, these individuals and communities are a single legal and political entity (the state) that also comprise of common and conflicting interests. A classic example is the case of territorial disputes. Despite the internal individual and community differences within states, when there is a territorial dispute, internationally, states seem to be a single agent, but this is an oversimplification. Cases such Israel and Palestine or Catalonia clearly demonstrate states are not the sole agents to be taken into account. For example, the Israel-Palestine conflict includes diaspora, settlements, Hamas and other individual and community interests.

Any comprehensive analysis of the relationship between sovereignty and cosmopolitanism should therefore consider the individuality of agents as individuals, as communities and as single states. In a comprehensive study, these views, although central and relevant, should not exclude other agents and players in any given examination. It may be the case that because of the science of reference or dimension, one or more of these agents assume a more prominent role. This, however, cannot be an excuse to disregard the existence of traditional agents.

Analogous to a board-game, sovereignty and cosmopolitanism include different agents playing different roles, which this chapter classifies into hosts, participants, attendees and viewers. Consider the cases of territorial disputes in which there are at least two players, the challenger and the challenged. These two players act as hosts of the dispute because without them there would not be a quarrel. There may be additional players such as participants. For example, in the cases of the Falkland/Malvinas Islands and Gibraltar, the hosts would be the UK and Argentina and the UK and Spain, respectively. In turn, Falkland Islanders and Gibraltarians might be the participants.

There is, however, a difference between a participant and an attendee. Whilst participants generally have a certain degree of allowable interaction, disregarded or blocked by the hosts, attendees are merely present in the dispute without ample legal or political participant capability. In the case of the Falkland/Malvinas Islands, the Islanders are mere attendees for Argentina because the Argentinian government has systematically neglected their right to participate in any negotiation regarding the sovereignty over the territory in question. On the contrary, in the case of Gibraltar, the UK and Spain have moved towards accepting a certain degree of Gibraltarian participation, in light of the principle of “Two Flags, Three Voices.”[1] Finally, viewers refer to other regional players related to the territorial dispute, but without any actual or hypothetical legal and political connection such as neighboring states.

Chapter 5 Contexts and realms

Chapter Five distinguishes the contexts in which sovereignty and cosmopolitanism may operate and adds the realms where these contexts and, consequently, agents and players and their interrelations may appear as well as their different modes of existence. 

While sovereignty seems to give preeminence to the local context, as there must be a single absolute power over the same population and territory in order to have a sovereign state, cosmopolitanism appears to convey a polar opposite view with its claims to universality and generality. These assumptions are as simplistic as erroneous.

Both sovereignty and cosmopolitanism play a respective role in the domestic, regional and international contexts. The local context characterizes sovereignty as a centralization of power because sovereign states often concentrate their authority in central governments; however, because of the nature of plural civil societies, even the local context incorporates cosmopolitanism. This is because the state, at the local level, defines itself by reference to 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, in most cases these attempts are in the embryo stage, generally limited in law and politics, primarily focusing on the free movement of goods. Conversely, cosmopolitanism gains a more regionally central role by reference to population, territory and government. The same region may include similarities in relation to these three elements; however, it is also possible to accommodate different states in the same region. Consider Mexico, the United States and Canada or the Middle East. Clear differences exist between regional neighbors, including a variety of legal systems, from democracy to authoritarian regimes as well as distinct levels of financial development and diverse ethnic descent.

The international context presents sovereignty with a single state, and 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, the international level cannot question cosmopolitanism.  

On an international level, however, cosmopolitanism is more contextually acceptable and it is reasonable to acknowledge its regional and local presence. Regardless of the contextual local, regional and international relevance, sovereignty and cosmopolitanism are continually present, albeit to different degrees─whether more concentrated or dispersed, centralized or de-centralized─they retain a presence.  

A subject or an object of study may be assessed in terms of how it ought to be, how it is and how it should or could be. Realms refer to the way in which a subject or an object of study may be perceived normatively, factually or axiologically. Additional angles of the pluralism of pluralisms discussion which require extensive exploration in terms of sovereignty and cosmopolitanism are the realms in which they are evaluated and, consequently, their intentional and non-intentional concealed assumptions and inherent conceptions.

Finally, a subject or object of study may encompass distinctive modes of existence and therefore are ideal, natural, cultural or metaphysical. For example, while ideal subjects or objects are intangible, natural subjects or objects are empirical. In order to fully comprehend sovereignty and cosmopolitanism, an acknowledgment of these different modes of existence is of utmost importance. For instance, any definition of sovereignty includes the concept of the supreme and absolute territorial authority over a population. Within a territory, it means that lawmakers—i.e. the government—have the exclusive prerogative to create laws for these people. Externally, any other agent has the obligation not to interfere. This brief characterization illuminates and reinforces the ideal and cultural elements of sovereignty such as national legal order and international legal agreements as well as territory and population. To a similar extent, cosmopolitanism, for example, may refer to a moral or legal set of rules as well as sociological characteristics present in domestic, regional and international contexts.

Chapter 6 Dimensions and variables

A pluralism of pluralisms analysis embodies a variety of subjects (agents and players), domestically, regionally and internationally interrelated. These interrelations and how and where they happen may contain and consequently be explored in terms of linear and nonlinear dimensions.

In basic terms, a linear vertical dimension in regard to any agent refers to its singularity and components. For instance, at the level of the individual, a linear vertical dimension centers on one individual, their unique characteristics and the elements or components that make them unique. Similarly, at the level of the state, a linear vertical dimension pertains to territory, population and government, necessary elements that make a state legally and politically unique.

In turn, the horizontal dimension of the same agent refers to its existence in relation to others (individuals, communities and states) and the context. A linear horizontal dimension at the level of the individual refers to the individual’s relationships with their peers, communities and states. At the level of the state, a linear horizontal dimension perceives states in their relationship with other agents, whether individuals, communities or other states.

In relation to sovereignty, for example, the traditional understanding is of a linear vertical view—i.e. that one who has a superior cannot be a sovereign since sovereignty means supreme, the highest authority on a scale. In that sense, when dealing with international agents, a state is sovereign as long as it has supreme authority over its territory and population. If it does not, it may and should be characterized as something else, e.g. a colony, member of a federal state, etc., but not a sovereign state. This seemingly clear understanding of the classification fails to recognize additional linear and nonlinear dimensional interrelations, resulting in a partial or incomplete comprehension.

An individual born in Israel, regardless of sex, age, or other characteristics, can have an individual linear vertical view as a result of diaspora. Although born in Jerusalem, this agent could be situated in a separate location from his or her family and therefore subject to a different legal jurisdiction. The latter is the horizontal dimension of the same individual. This is of particular importance in territorial disputes because an understanding of challenger and challenged agents as unified and consolidated claimants fails to capture the multitude of possible inherent and divergent views and interests. A state, from Pakistan to Argentina, has a given population living in a defined territory with a common government, which constitutes the state’s linear vertical dimension. Regardless of their particular differences in terms of, for example, ethnicity, religion and liberal or non-liberal national constitution, a linear horizontal dimension assesses these differences and their interrelation. For instance, neighboring states such as India and Pakistan have bordering minorities in Kashmir and a multitude of differences─legal regimes, culture, and language─which can affect several agents in different ways.

Moreover, what sovereignty and cosmopolitanism mean and the assessment will differ depending on variables such as time and space. For instance, sovereignty, when considered as having factual existence, may exist in time and space; however, considered as having normative existence, may not necessarily constitute an actual presence in time and space and depending on time and space, it may be valued both positively and negatively. Thus, history reveals that concepts, assumptions and understandings change. Therein, any analysis of sovereignty and cosmopolitanism will need to consider time and space parameters if it seeks to offer a comprehensive and unbiased evaluation.

[1] Peter Gold, “The Tripartite Forum of Dialogue: Is this the Solution to the ‘Problem’ of Gibraltar?,” Mediterranean Politics 14 (2009): 79-97.



General structure: Part One


BOOK PREVIEW: “Cosmopolitanism, State Sovereignty and International Law and Politics: A Theory” [General Structure: PART THREE].                   

Friday 14th April 2023

Dr Jorge Emilio Núñez

Twitter: @DrJorge_World


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