Via Legal Theory, a cool if short article on the implications of sub-state activity in the international realm, Sovereignty, Territory and Fluidity: Lessons from Hoganas.
The modern conception of statehood, with its neat division of sovereign territories along recognized and inviolable boundaries, seems sometimes to be the inevitable geopolitical structure of the world, but it is of course a relatively modern invention — sovereignty, as we recognize it today, only emerged in the past two or three centuries. There is no reason to assume it will be the perpetual condition. Probably the most frequently discussed threat to sovereignty is the emergence of supra-state entities such as a “world government,” or at least a “continental government” in the style of the European Union. A second, lesser, challenge to the state model is the uncertain status of non-governmental non-state entities, such as the Red Cross.
But often overlooked is the role of sub-state entities in undermining sovereignty. Not only are top-down systems changing the nature of international law, but so are new bottom-up patterns of behavior emerging from domestically-recognized internal sub-sovereign entities.
A high profile example of this occurred recently, with Bermuda’s resettlement of ex-Guantanamo detainees.
At the time of the Uighur transfer, the government of the United Kingdom launched public protests because neither the government of Bermuda nor the government of the United States discussed the potential transfer with it at any point prior to the actual transfer of the Uighurs. The diplomatic intricacies of the relationship between these states are beyond the scope of this paper. However, this example is important to the paper’s overall discussion of states and sub-states in that it involves an outside state – and a powerful ally of the United Kingdom at that – recognizing that a sub-state could enter into an agreement which was in direct violation of the explicit laws of the sub-state and the state of which it is a part. Further, it illustrates an instance in which a sub-state derogated from accepted law and practice in order to insert itself into an issue for which the larger state has an accepted stance and acted in contravention of the larger state’s policy in the realm of security and international relations
Under “pure” international law, the only recognizable entities are states. Sub-states — let alone individual people — are simply non-existent on the international plane. But in the U.S., individual states, not the federal government, form the bulk of the vanguard for international environmental law developments.
[M]any individual states – including powerful states such as California and New York – have thwarted these [U.S.] policies and grouped together to engage in carbon capping and trading on a regional level. Additionally, the State of California has entered into climate change related agreements with Canadian provinces and outside states, such as Brazil and China, although the United States government has not done so.
Finally, in Sweden, the town of Hogonas in bringing into sharp relief some of the complications to the sovereignty model caused by the European Union. Although by domestic law, Sweden’s Riskbank is the only entity that can declare what will be accepted as legal tender, the southern tourist town of Hogonas has simply announced and put into effect a plan for local merchants to accept Euros as well as krona. In fact, this is not merely a violation of domestic law — even under international instruments, it is unambiguously clear that such fiscal decisions are to be made at the national level.
[I]f the Swedish government had acted to stop Hoganas’ acceptance of the euro, this paper would have an entirely different discussion. However, Hoganas’ actions in defying the stance of the Swedish government regarding the euro, as well as the layers of statutory and constitutional laws which established the state as the ruling authority in matters of monetary policy, finance, and international and EU relations were not stopped or counteracted by the Swedish authorities. The mayor and merchants of Hoganas openly announced that they would be accepting the euro as of January 1, 2009, and no national efforts were made to stop them, although it was accepted that such actions were in contravention of Swedish governmental and popular policy regarding the use of the euro and the retention of the krona.
Taken together, these examples suggest that international law is becoming the site of fluidity in the relationship between sovereignty and territory. Certainly, the classic understanding of the fixed nature of sovereignty and territory continues to exist in international law, perhaps most obviously when a portion of a state’s sovereign territory is threatened or attacked by another state or group of actors. Yet outside of such extreme examples, fluidity does exist and international law is increasingly impacted by it.