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Sovereignty, survival and the Westphalian blind alley in International Relations

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 April 1999


That states are sovereign units interacting under conditions of anarchy has long been the core assumption of the discipline of International Relations. Operating largely with an anthropomorphic conceptualization of the state, 'statists' create a stunted ontology of the international system dominated by the concepts of state survival and an assumed state survival interest. By constituting sharp lines of demarcation between being and non-being, between 'life' and 'death', statists ignore a host of more subtle changes in the ontological status of states which are ill-treated by reference to 'survival'. This Westphalian ontology leads ultimately to a dead end, for such a definition rejects from the outset an ontology of overlapping political authorities in a single territory but at distinct scales which is characteristic not only of the present international system but of the so-called Westphalian era as well.

Research Article
© 1999 British International Studies Association

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