Supranational Stateness – International Courts and the Globalization of Political Power

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Written by Joseph A. Conti, Associate Department Chair & Associate Professor of Sociology and Law, University of Wisconsin, Madison.

The institution of sovereignty has transformed significantly since Max Weber offered his seminal definition of states as monopolies of legitimate violence. This article develops stateness as an analytical tool for assessing the transformations of sovereignty associated with global governance in general and the juridification of international affairs (the increase in treaty-based law, international legal institutions, and third-party disputes between state and nonstate actors) in particular.

Stateness refers to superordinate authority and capacities for coercion. In other words, it refers to the degree to which an entity has the final say, either due to its perceived legitimacy or its capacity to enact its will. Stateness is a parsimonious framework for empirically identifying the state-like qualities of political institutions, including global-governance actors. This framework is grounded in several propositions derived from the study of the state: (1) there is no logically necessary institutional or territorial form of state power; (2) states deploy various means of rule, including nonmartial forms of coercion; and (3) excommunication from vital resources is the ascendant modality of power in international affairs. Applied to the cases of the European Union and the World Trade Organization, two of the most elaborated international legal systems, stateness highlights their state-like qualities while also permitting that novel state formations may break radically with modern notions of territorial sovereignty.