This chapter looks at sovereignty. Sovereignty is often defined as ‘supreme authority within a territory’. Analyses of sovereignty often operate across three domains — conceptual, descriptive-explanatory, and normative — with a view to examining the idea of sovereignty and its place in the political landscape. Since World War II, there have been significant international developments designed to consolidate the promise of an international state system committed to the principle of state sovereignty, while tempering its risks and excesses. A major landmark was the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). These developments raise questions about what sovereignty is, does, and where its limits ought to lie. The chapter then considers borders. Borders vary in the degree to which they are peaceful or contested, fortified, open or closed, and selectively open and closed to whom and what.
This chapter assesses the rights governing access to globally shared natural resources, such as fish stocks, deep seabed minerals, and clean air. The international system is based on the principle of national sovereignty, which says that each state has absolute, perpetual, and exclusive rights within its national territory. This construction does not, however, match ecological realities. There is a stark contrast between states' territorial divisions and the biosphere's ecological connectedness. The chapter explores this tension and its relationship to decision-making in natural resource management. How can sovereign states manage the earth's resources if they are fragmented in separate territories that overlap complex ecosystems? This question is often approached using the ‘tragedy of the commons’ metaphor. When the metaphor is applied to the global commons, two main policy options emerge. The first is a coordinated approach building on the notion of a ‘common heritage of humankind’. The second policy option is a decentralized approach based on states' sovereign rights.