Changes in statehood and sovereignty of modern states

Why has the modern nation state changed since 1945?

Term Paper, 2007

12 Pages, Grade: 1,6


Definition of variables:

DV: changes in statehood and sovereignty of modern state today since 1945

IV: Globalisation causes changes

Operationalization –indicators for the variables:

DV: definition of state and short abstract of the development of the modern state since 1648, focus on the time after 1945

IV: definition of the term, looking at the dimensions of globalization, especially at the economic (technical progress) and political (new actors) dimensions


IV: the end of the Cold War gave rise to a strong push-forward of Globalization, i.e. in particular the economic (liberalization) and political dimensions pushed a modification of the modern state

From modern to post-modern state

Panta rhei – all things flow – philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus once stated, and so it is with the state system and the modern (Westphalian) state as such. We live in a dynamic and continuously changing world, where “forms of state, meanings of sovereignty and conceptions of territoriality are neither fixed nor constant across time and place” (Biersteker 2002, p.157). In the course of history the world of states has changed, and with it the above mentioned core concepts.

The state system underwent a fundamental change during the second half of the 20th century: The Westphalian state has become globalized. After the end of the Second World War, when a new post-war order was established by the victorious allies, the world formed into a territorial world of independent nation states, with the number of sovereign states having more than doubled between 1945 and the beginning of the new millennium: from approximately 75 states in 1945 to nearly 195 (Wikipedia 2007).

But also the state itself experienced changes of primary importance. While “the idealized Westphalian state has distinct boundaries, and the Westphalian idea of sovereignty stresses the principle of the inviolability of those borders” (Biersteker 2002, p. 157), both aspects are now basically challenged in the 21st century – largely by the processes of the globalization.

On this account, I want to illuminate globalization as an important factor for causing significant changes with regard to several elements that characterize the modern state – in this case territoriality and sovereignty. By means of a literature analysis (primarily journal articles and database research) I will focus through a rather liberal “lens” on two significant sub-areas of globalization: initially on the economic dimension, which in turn accounts for the second, i.e. the political dimension. But previously, I will define the foundation pillars of the modern Westphalian state, which I will look at.


What is a modern state? The Peace of Westphalia, which was made up in 1648 to end the Thirty Years War, marks the composition of a new state architecture, and hence of the international system as a whole. It is broadly regarded as the origin of the modern state system, as the origin of a new political order.

In essence, the new Westphalian conception led among others to the establishment of the core principles territoriality and sovereignty, outlined by Caporaso as follows: “The basic idea is one of a system of territorially organized states operating in an anarchic environment. These states are constitutionally independent (sovereign) and have exclusive authority to rule within their own borders” (2000, p. 2).

On this note, territoriality can be understood in terms of clearly defined physical borders that separate one state from another, protecting it from outside threats (see Biersteker 2002, p. 165). This concept was articulated most explicitly in the decades after 1945, when the end of the Second World War entailed the foundation of a wide number of explicitly demarcated nation states.

Out of the physical space of a state (territory) evolves the abstract core concept of sovereignty as a further characteristic. Georg Sorensen differentiates between constitutive and regulative rules. This means that there are core aspects, which consider the continuity in the concept of sovereignty, while others consider change. In terms of constitutional independence the former regard its unchangeable nature, while the latter relate to the alterable characteristics of sovereignty, which have often changed over time, like e.g. the rules of admission to it (see Sorensen 1999, p. 591 and p. 596).

In short: territoriality and sovereignty are the core foundation pillars of the modern (Westphalian) nation state.

Economic dimension of globalization

The core elements of territoriality and sovereignty have recently come under pressure. These conceptions are being eroded by the processes of globalization, which influence in particular the meaning of borders and of state sovereignty.

But what exactly is globalization? Comprehensively, we understand the notion as “the growing interdependence of the world’s people. And globalization is a process integrating not just the economy but culture, technology and governance” (UNDP HDR 1999, p. 1). It is a process developing continuously without a final destination. From my point of view, among the mentioned facets of globalization the economic aspect is the most important one, so to speak the driving force behind the other dimensions.

Economic globalization challenges the concept of territoriality of the modern state in a significant way. Therefore, I will first look at the economic dimension of globalization as a cause for changes in the modern state.

The period from 1945 onward represents a quantitatively and qualitatively new extent of globalization in terms of intensity and velocity of global cooperation and integration. As stated in the UNDP Human Development Report, “globalization is not new, but the present era has distinctive features. Shrinking space, shrinking time and disappearing borders are linking people’s lives more deeply, more intensely, more immediately than ever before” (UNDP HDR 1999, p. 1). Additionally, since the end of bipolarity in 1989, the newly created states from the former Soviet Union, which were insulated under the confronting conditions of Cold War, have been grasped by the processes of globalization. That was the time when the former socialist regions adopted market economy, and hence globalization really started to become really “global”.

Nowadays, most countries in the world are to a greater or lesser extent integrated into the world economy, and are thus stronger as ever influenced by the forces of globalization. This is notably obvious in the OECD-world, but generally, no country in the world can elude from the impacts of globalization (see Jackson / Sorensen 2007, p. 268 and p. 272). Subsequently, a few developments which are leading to exceedingly “porous” borders are illuminated on the basis of (economic) indicators.

First, ground-breaking inventions in the communication and information technology sector allow for territorial distances being overcome almost instantly: the inventions of mobile phone and internet provide for instantaneous communication in real time over long distances. Between 1994 and 2006 the number of mobile phone users in the developed world multiplicated sharply – from 5.2 to 90.9 users per 100 inhabitants (developing world: 0.19 to 32.4) (ITU 2007a), the number of internet users from 2.18 to 58.6 (developing world: 0.03 to 10.2) (ITU 2007b). These indicators implicate that a growing percentage of social activities becomes “detached from a territorial logic”, with regard to territorially defined space (Scholte 2000, p. 47). Due to shrinking costs in moving information as well as goods (e.g. music), the use of these new technologies sharply soared, and thus made borders more penetrable. Scholte identifies “deterritorialization” as the striking new phenomenon of contemporary globalization: “’transworld’ or ‘transborder’ – connections brings an end to what could be called ‘territorialism’, that is, a situation where social geography is entirely territorial” (Scholte 2000, p. 46).

Likewise, financial streams are not left to any borders any more. By means of new communication and computer technologies gigantic sums of money and bonds can be turned around the globe within a day. The worldwide trade volume of equities rose from 5.7 to 51.1 trillion US-Dollars between 1990 and 2005, whereat the five biggest stock exchanges – all located in the triad of Europe, Japan, and the US – account for a share of nearly 74 % in 2005 (BpB 2008). This leads to the conclusion that “in case of global transactions […] place is not territorially fixed, territorial distance is covered in effectively no time, and territorial boundaries present no particular impediment” (Scholte 2000, p. 48). This implies that states are not capable anymore to control all these transborder streams of money with regard to controls, checks, taxes etc. In effect, international finance is the field, where borders count least in our times. Garrett concludes that the shrinkage of time and space is most visible in the field of international finance, as the employed staff can “operate wherever and whenever they like” (Garrett 2000, p. 956). States can no longer regulate economic flows in and out of countries, as the money moves to where profit opportunities are highest.

With regard to trade borders have still more significance, as they can be controlled by states. But nevertheless, some physical goods become digitalized through the above mentioned informational progresses, e.g. music, films, or books, so that it becomes harder for state governments to regulate this area of trade and constraints become lesser (see Garrett 2000, p. 959). Moreover, inter- and in particular intraregional trade has risen enormously in the last decades, which in turn suggests an easier transcending of state boundaries. While it made up about 30 % in 1950 it grew to over 50 % in 2004. Between 1980 and 2004 import/export rates have more than doubled – in Europe from 313 billion US-Dollars to 642 billion regarding imports, and exports from 399 to 866 billion US-Dollars (BpB 2008).

To sum up: Flows of capital, goods, services, communication and people do not stop at national borders any more, or at least to a more limited extent. However, in some fields (particularly finance) the meaning of territorially defined national borders has diminished considerably and became in parts irrelevant for the economy, which in turn reduces a state’s operational authority by weakening its traditional economic and fiscal regulation instruments (like taxes and interest). But, as borders have not become fully irrelevant yet, it is more appropriate to speak of blurred borders, i.e. of the fact that various global operations “have rendered boundaries increasingly porous or ‘soft’” (Biersteker 2002, p.165).


Excerpt out of 12 pages


Changes in statehood and sovereignty of modern states
Why has the modern nation state changed since 1945?
Free University of Berlin  (Center for Global Politics)
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
475 KB
nation state, statehood, sovereignty, Souveränität, Westphalian state, territoriality, Westphälisches System, Globalisierung, globalization, EU, European Union, Europäische Union, Westphälischer Friede, Westphalian Peace Treaty
Quote paper
Natalie Züfle (Author), 2007, Changes in statehood and sovereignty of modern states , Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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