Meaning of Sovereignty

What is Sovereignty:

Sovereignty is the highest authority in which resides the political and public power of a people, a nation or a State over its territory and its inhabitants. It is also the independence of any State to create its laws and control its resources without the coercion of other States.

The term sovereignty comes from Latin and is formed by the term sober-, which means above, the suffix -anus, which translates as provenance, and the suffix ía. It refers to having power or authority over others.

In politics, Jean Bodin affirmed, in 1576, that the sovereign was the superior being who had the power of decision, to impose laws without receiving them from another. Therefore, he was not subject to written laws, but to divine or natural law.

In 1651, Thomas Hobbes established the sovereign as the only form of power. Therefore, the sovereignty of this did not depend on divine or natural law.

Later, in 1762, Jean-Jacques Rousseau defined sovereignty as a power of the people, that is, the so-called popular sovereignty. However, he warned that each individual was sovereign and subject at the same time, which made all citizens equal and free.

Popular sovereignty is an example of the expression of authority. So is national sovereignty (exercised by the State), internal sovereignty, (the power exercised within a territory) and external sovereignty, (the authority exercised by a State in relation to its peers).

The violation of the sovereignty of a country or a State can have tragic consequences, such as the start of a warlike conflict.

Examples of sovereignty

Sovereignty is only one, but it applies in different areas. The exercise of authority within a State, the management of its resources and diplomatic relations are just some examples of how sovereignty is applied.

Popular sovereignty

Popular sovereignty is the authority exercised by the people or group of citizens who live in a given territory. This form of sovereignty implies the exercise of individual will expressed through voting, with which decisions of public interest are made and government representatives are elected.

Although all citizens have the right to exercise their sovereignty through voting, it is necessary to meet some requirements that depend on the laws of each country. In general terms, you must be a citizen of the territory where you will vote and be of legal age.

Voting or suffrage is the mechanism that legitimizes popular sovereignty, since citizens cannot make decisions or elect their representatives on their own. For this reason, suffrage is linked to the democratic exercise of a nation.

For example, when a community votes in a referendum to approve or disapprove the construction of a new shopping center, it is exercising its popular sovereignty. When you use the vote to elect your mayors, governors or the president of the nation, you are also exercising your sovereign authority.

National sovereignty

National sovereignty is the authority exercised by a nation before the citizens that make it up and before other nations. A nation is considered as a network of institutions in which power is exercised on behalf of the people, instead of the sum of the wills of its citizens.

For example, when a nation starts a military conflict because they have invaded its territory, it is not necessarily considering the will of all its citizens. But it can make these kinds of decisions because it is exercising its national sovereignty through its official institutions (Executive Power, Armed Forces, etc.).

Internal or political sovereignty

Internal sovereignty or political sovereignty is the ability of a State to exercise authority within its territory, as established in its constitution and its formal institutions.

The organization of power (executive, legislative and judicial) and the civil code are expressions of the internal sovereignty of a nation to execute actions, order laws or make decisions.

In turn, internal sovereignty is reflected in other areas that have to do with the internal management of a State's resources:

  • Food sovereignty: it is the power that each State has to define the policies that have to do with the production of its food.
  • Economic sovereignty: it is the authority of a State to create and implement measures related to its currency (value of the currency, exchange rate, interest rates, etc.).
  • Military sovereignty: refers to the ability of the State to protect its borders using its own Armed Forces, without requiring the intervention of other States.

External sovereignty

External sovereignty is that which a State exercises in the international arena with other States. It is expressed through diplomacy and international treaties, and its limits are regulated by international law.

The clearest example of external sovereignty is when a nation protects its territory against foreign aggression. By defending itself, it is using its sovereignty to prevent another nation from interfering in its territory.

Another example would be international treaties, in which each State assumes a series of legal commitments with other peers. These treaties are framed in International Law but do not compromise the authority that each State has over its territory.

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