How States Lose their Sovereignty

There are two broad ways whereby a state can lose its sovereignty, which is by voluntarily and by force or annexation by another state.

Voluntary lose of sovereignty:

A state that is independent can choose to merge with another independent state. For instance, State A may choose to merge with State B, state A will automatically assume an inferior status in the international community. It will also lose the benefit of external sovereignty. It will cease to maintain a separate seat at the UN or the AU.

It will not be able to have a separate national flag or currency. It will also cease to conduct an independent foreign policy. It will surrender all the attributes of sovereignty to the new enlarged state B. The most successful merge between two sovereign states in Africa is between Tanganyika and Zanzibar, which in 1964 formed the United Republic of Tanzania.

Additionally, states have been reluctant to part with their sovereignty by merging with others, even in the face of severe crippling economic and political problems or even total collapse. They tends to adopt the slogan “sovereignty in poverty” rather than prosperity within another state” like Liberia and Somalia which refused to merge with any other state and instead, preferred to be under the receivership of the United Nations and donor agencies.

One reason for this situation is that most of the state in Africa and Asia are very jealous of their “hard-won“ sovereignty and independence for them to want to sacrifice them in the name of either economic or political survival.

Loss of sovereignty through forceful Annexation:

An independent state can lose it sovereignty if it is forcibly incorporated into another state. 1940, the Ukraine, together with Baltic State of Estonia and Lithuania were annexed by the former soviet union during the Second World War and became part of the 16 states that formed the Union of Socialist Soviet Republic.

Since 1945, there was only one abortive attempt at using force to incorporate an independent state into another state. It occurred 1990 when Iraq annexed Kuwait as its 19th province.

However, the action provoked worldwide condemnation and outcry. The action was condemned by both the League of Nations and United Nations. Significantly less than a year later, America led the UN forces to push Iraq out of Kuwait in the famous Gulf war of January 1991.

Is Sovereignty still relevant in the contemporary International community?

Sovereignty is still relevant in contemporary international relations. After all, the international political system is basically a society of states with laid down rules and regulations as well as membership requirements.

One of the principle requirements for full membership of the international political system is that applicants must be sovereign entities, and only states can fulfill such conditionality at the moment.  It is to be noted in that regard that it is not just enough for an entity to have domestic or internal autonomy, which some non-state actor do have, it must also have external sovereignty before it can participate as a full member of the international community.

From such a point of view, even the most powerful and influential non-state actors are not qualified for full membership of the international community. They can only, if at all participate as observers.

It is this immutable fact of contemporary international politics and the need to correct it that forced some leaders to fight for their sovereignty or to declare their territories independent, “Unilateral Declaration of Independence”.

The former Rhodesian leader, Ian Smith in 1965 declared his Rhodesian an independent state with the hope that it would enable his country participates fully in the international community. The international community failed to recognize his phony independence and instead, imposed sanctions against his regime.

Consequently, Rhodesian remained a pariah state in the international community for many years until 1980 when it was formally became independent as Zimbabwe under the leadership of President Robert Mugabe.

Finally, even the most vulnerable sovereign state today would prefer to remain independent because such a status confers upon it a lot of advantages which non sovereign actors do not enjoy.

In spite of the proliferation of international institutions such as UN, ECOWAS, SADC, EU and AU, we must not also forget that they do not have autonomous lives other than those given to them by states.

One can indeed create a scenario whereby the members would one day decide to scrap these organizations for one reason or the other. When such a decision is taken, that would probably sign the death of such institution.

For instance, in early 2001 African leaders decided to replace the organization of African Unity (OAU), which they created in 1963, with the African Union (AU), they became the end of Organization of African Unity as we used to know.

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