How can a country with open borders be sovereign?
How can a truly free market economy country be sovereign?
How can a country subjected to external global legislation be sovereign?
What is the difference between national sovereignty and personal freedom?
What exactly is sovereignty in the 21st Century?
These are all great questions, and many countries are undergoing serious political upheavals as they explore the topic, looking at many related controversial issues that include migrants, refugees, public services, nationality, national budgets, military expenditures, culture, language, the Internet, mass media and more. Some argue that national sovereignty requires control and restriction of personal freedoms, and others point to the value of democracy and participative governments. But few look at the way in that the accelerating transformation of communications between individuals of all societal sectors and places are allowing them to connect with others beyond their physical borders, in real time and with real consequences. This new phenomenon of interconnectedness goes beyond networks, data and communications, which governments and elites have already learned to manipulate and control, and individuals are actually being connected to others in ways that seem incomprehensible and uncontrollable (and even threatening) to governments and elites.
First, let me clarify that, based on my life experience and overview of history I have concluded sovereignty has to do with the ability of a people to exercise self-determination for their nation or physical community. In fact, history points out that those communities that achieved sovereignty then declared themselves independent from everyone else! This is not necessarily the case in the 21st Century, where countries recognize “Autonomous Regions” and such. Individual freedom, as the expression of personal self-determination, is actually a contributor to national sovereignty as long as there are shared goals and experiences that identify them. In the past, though, in recorded history, sovereignty was more related to might and power than to real self-determination, though dictators, kingdoms and pseudo-democracies may assert that I am wrong. Interconnectedness enhances individual freedoms because it enhances the ability of individuals to work together, and stimulates the higher level motivations of self-expression and self-discovery. As far as I am concerned, sovereignty based on coercion is part of the past, of the limited civilizations that followed the rule of the sword, of jailing and killing people who objected to the ruler’s decisions. The isolation of those that exclude the will of the people themselves, also excludes them from the new future we are creating.
Legally, sovereignty is often determined by treaties and international agreements, but let me propose that in the 21st Century it will also represent the capacity of a country’s populace to decide for themselves, without having to follow foreign orders or mandates. To clarify a commonly misunderstood concept, collaborative, friendly negotiations are an excellent exercise of sovereignty that allows the country to get other nations to follow their lead. Similarly, team work between equals is an excellent example of exercising personal freedom for greater gain. On the other hand is an exercise in opposition for opposition’s sake, makes the country and individual reactive and subject to manipulation by external interests. In the age of Interconnectedness, international negotiations actually serve to enhance the interconnected government’s ability to lead the country and speak for it. Of course many governments still practice fierce opposition and objections as a matter of honor, separating themselves from other countries that could help them. Wars and destruction are also a poor example of self-determination simply because they involve losing internal and external resources and connections, leaving leaders with no leverage to use against those who would manipulate them. On the individual level, laws tend to control individual violence and criminal acts, but this, too, is still present in our societies and communities. I admit that humanity is still learning what sovereignty is for an interconnected community of citizens: since much of the world still believes that “might makes right” and our leaders were born in an age of non-connections, where survival was an individual effort and coercion and resistance were necessary to demonstrate strength and sovereignty. Even though this might offend some leaders, I see parallels with childhood development patterns in which the toddler discovers the power of saying “NO”, and uses it as a way of demonstrating independence. As a parent and former teacher, I know the difficulty of having that child and teenagers learn the benefits of delayed gratification, of planning, or working for a goal, of cooperating, sharing, waiting for the right moment, and being part of a family and community.
In this century, self-determination has expanded to many formerly excluded populations, including women: these groups now work with others to go far beyond what they could even conceive, learning and utilizing the skills of negotiation, planning, compromise, management, compounding interest and many more to reach their goals. Though some national groups and leaders still want to separate themselves from the rest of the world by structuring laws and governance models that exclude outsiders, they simply end up creating parallel or underground economies and activities that are outside of their control, since they rely on people to people connections, not on formal hierarchies or rule based requirements. The answer is simple: as I see it, Interconnectedness is a new human condition that implies transparency and very limited secrecy, so everyone knows what everyone else is doing except for those who hide behind walls.
So, getting back to sovereignty, how can a country increase or enforce sovereignty in this new age? First of all, it must respect and follow its own laws and culture. Laws can be changed, if needed, but self-respect is needed for interconnectedness to bring forth the benefits and the wealth that sovereignty offers. Dealing constructively with conflict and opposition is critical for success, and we have seen examples of countries demonstrating the effects of both respecting, and disrespecting popular mandate, elections, agreements, etc. Interconnectedness seems to take the concept of “strength in numbers” much farther that what we had ever imagined, since interconnectedness within a country or community can create a socio-political equivalent to reinforced concrete, in which the natural tensions of inevitable conflict and opposition are handled in such a way that the country becomes stronger.
To conclude, I propose that Interconnectedness will, over time, result in greater sovereignty for nations, communities, organizations and individuals, creating greater capacity for self-determination in each. But we are presently in a period of transition in which the “us vs. them” way of thinking is interfering with the opportunities that interconnectedness offers. In the past, “us vs. them” offered clear national and security benefits, but this is no longer the case: peaceful international exchange and the interdependency of global actors are inescapable if a country wishes to prosper. Of course, we still have isolated nations that threaten war and refuse to work with other countries, focusing on matters of national pride and old rivalries, but those nations have a very low standard of living, and of education, for their populations compared to the nations whose people are interconnected. My observation is that those governments that are learning to expand their sovereignty by means of interconnectedness are thriving, too. In my experience rule of law, transparency, equality and participation (all of which are elements of interconnectedness) are much more important than secrecy, dogma, power struggles and authority, which only divide the people and weaken their collective will. Interconnectedness is already with us, and it is offering the opportunity of greater means of self-determination than humanity ever experienced in the past. I propose we support and develop it further in service of both freedom and sovereignty.
Manny Perez, MPA, CAMS Jan. 24, 2017