IBRU State of Sovereignty: Day 1, Plenary Session

I am currently at the University of Durham, where the International Borders Research Unit (IBRU) is hosting their 20th anniversary conference on The State of Sovereignty. I will be blogging the material I find interesting, here is what I have for you from the plenary program. It is messy, as it is just my rough notes, so hopefully you find it interesting/useful anyway.

IBRU Conference – 20th Anniversary: The State of Sovereignty Opening Plenary

Intro: Their specialization has moved in past 5 years from boundaries & borders to more general ideas on territory, sovereignty, etc. This is the first conference w/o “borders” or “boundaries” in the title. 200 people from 50 countries?

Sovereignty & International Boundaries: A Comparative Focus on Post-Colonial Africa.

Five-fold delineation for meaning of State: 1) a distinct territory with defined boundaries, 2) a subject human population, 3) a single government, 4) sovereignty, 5) international recognition.

I drifted off during the rest of the talk. He had a very soothing voice.

Terror & Territory: The Spatial Extent of Sovereignty, by Professor Stuart Elden, IBRU, Durham University, UK.

This talk was much more relevant to seasteading, very focused on states, self-determination, violence, and territory.

“The control of territory is part of what makes a state possible…Control of territory accords a specific legitimacy to a state’s inherent violence…To control a territory is to exercise terror; to challenge territorial extent is to exercise terror…Sovereignty is at the intersection of terror and territory. Those who have sovereignty – recognized states – are able to exercise violence recognized as legitimate within their territory…”

I found this explicit acknowledgement of the connection between violence and statehood, portraying the state use of violence as something “claimed to be legitimate”, with no particular implication that it is morally so, quite surprising in this academic setting, although of course as a libertarian I completely agree. Glad to hear these ideas exist beyond our intellectual circles!

Secessionist movements, are increasingly being seen (at the very least) as dangers to local, regional, and global stability, being re-coded as terrorists, and seen as illegitimate terror. The line between secessionist and terrorist is increasingly blurred. This re-coding can come even before any violent actions are actions.

Most of the organizations on the US State Department list of terrorist groups are actually seeking self-determination. The UN Resolution 49/60, 1994, reaffirms that terror is anything that threatens state sovereignty.

‘Sovereignty’, like ‘state’, implies ‘space’, and control of a territory becomes the foundation of sovereignty (Lefebvre, 1974: 280; Foucault, 1980: 68–9; 1991: 87)

The Production of Space: H. LEFEBVRE (translated by D. Nicholson-Smith) – Looks very interesting.

Creating a bounded space is already a violent act of exclusion, to maintain it as such requires constant vigilance”

Max Weber, ‘Politics as a Vocation’ – “The state is that human community which within a certain area or territory…lays claim to a monopoly of legitimate physical violence”

US National Defense Strategy, 2005, PDF

While the security threats of the 20th century arose from powerful states that embarked onaggressive courses, the key dimensions of the21st century—globalization and the potential proliferation of weapons of mass destruction—mean great dangers may arise in and emanate from relatively weak states and ungoverned areas. The U.S., its allies, and partners must remain vigilant to those statesthat lack the capacity to govern activity within their borders. Sovereign states areobligated to work to ensure that their territories are not used as bases for attacks on others.

The state of territory in the war on terror cannot be understood straightforwardly. The dominant powers never respected territorial sovereignty, but now they are explicit about it. They violate the territorial integrity of other states, while proclaiming the inviolability of sovereignty. While the domestic/foreign division may have been eroded, that doesn’t mean we are in total flux. There is deterritorialization, but also reterritorialization.

It is no surprise that there has been far more consistency from successive US administrations than radical changes in policy, because “it is mainly structural forces, not individual actors, who shape these events”

Borders, Territory & Sovereignty: From Deterritorialization to Reterritorialization In The Post 9/11 World by David Newman, Dept of Politics and Government, Ben Gurion University, Israel.

This presentation was less relevant and so I worked on my laptop and only glanced up for the cartoons, which in Britain they call “caricatures”, apparently.

Next, on to talks about Maritime Policing and the EEZ…


2 thoughts on “IBRU State of Sovereignty: Day 1, Plenary Session”

  1. Interesting insights into the mentality of the nation state. This reinforces that seasteaders must be very humble and non-threatening, and open about our plans. If we appear strange and mysterious they are likely to freak out and destroy us just in case.

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