Lebanon is commemorating the 74th memory of its Independence in the middle of an unprecedented situation in which its independence and sovereignty are questioned like never before. Lebanon as a state has passed through various phases of violence, wars and divisions, as well as reconstruction, development and prosperity. The state was torn to pieces by national and international powers, but was able to reconcile and overcome.
The Lebanese Constitution guarantees in its fundamental provisions that “Lebanon is a sovereign, free and independent country. It is a final homeland for all its citizens. It is unified in its territory, people and institutions within the boundaries defined in this Constitution and recognized internationally. And the people are the source of authority and sovereignty; they shall exercise these powers through the constitutional institutions.”
It is essential to stop at the first sentence of the Lebanese Constitution and ask ourselves what is an independent and sovereign state?
The word “sovereignty” comes from the Latin word “superanus,” which means supreme or paramount. Although it wasn’t explicitly elaborated, the concept of “sovereignty” goes back to Aristotle who spoke of the “supreme power of the state.”
Jean Bodin was the first to define sovereignty as “the supreme power of the state over citizens and subjects unrestrained by law.”
The concept has been elaborated to be a central concept of the disciplines of politics and international relations. Sovereignty is composed of internal and external dimensions, and the absence of either compromises the sovereignty of the state.
A state has internal sovereignty when the state possesses supreme power over its territory. It has external sovereignty when its independence and freedom are not subject to any foreign power or pressure. Such sovereignty cannot be limited or constrained by international treaties and conventions.
Sovereignty has been the core of political philosophy and a main feature of the nation-state system. Throughout history we have seen how states form and collapse, such as Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Some states are also facing separatist claims, such as the U.K. and Spain.
While there are fewer than 200 independent countries in the world, there are more than 60 additional territories that are under the control of another independent country.
States are not just under pressure from the nation within the state but are also under pressure from outside since they might lose some of their sovereignty to larger regional entities or multinational and international organizations.
Sovereignty is usually linked to the field of political science rather than development. However, if we review the classification of states as underdeveloped, developing and developed, we will notice that the global mindset is for “developed” countries to give support to “developing” countries. Such support often comes in a paternalistic manner.
This has been hindering the enhancement of these states’ sovereignty. When states have development strategies and priorities to orient international support, they can have a clear trajectory toward a more developed country.
However, in most cases international support in states’ development is a temporary intervention that doesn’t cure any problem from its roots.
Indeed, it sometimes sustains the problem and may even increase its complexity.
For this reason, any future paradigm for development cannot succeed without respecting the specificities of every country, considering diagnosis before treatment and reforming the existing international institutions, or designing new ones, to guarantee an inclusive international decision-making process.
We should focus on selective, more narrowly targeted reform rather than laundry lists and “one size fits all” approaches.
For this reason, setting national strategies isn’t at all a governance luxury but a structural factor in the state related to its sovereignty and independence.
Hiba Huneini is the manager of the Youth and Civic Engagement Program at the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development. Email her at email@example.com
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 18, 2017, on page 3.