Rethinking Sovereignty: a response by Arnie Saiki to What is Sovereignty?

Sometimes we view European nations as having some kind of stagnant history, as if the ebb and flow of statehood in Europe was just a ripple rather that a series of destructive tidal waves. Although unnecessary to the content of your concise posting, I feel compelled to add that some of the European states like Luxembourg, Belgium, and Switzerland either were created or restored after the First Treaty of Paris in 1815. These states achieved sovereignty as a result of the continued wars between France, England, Russia, Prussia and Austria-Hungary. Luxembourg, Belgium and Switzerland were constitutionally created to be perpetually neutral so as to provide a “buffer-zone” for the powerful states that otherwise competed for economic or territorial resources.

Arnie Saiki, coordinator of Moana Nui

Included in the creation of this “Family of Nations,” were a slew of independent states like Sardinia, for example, and other sovereign Kingdoms that surrendered their sovereignty to become absorbed into larger kingdoms. In 1868, Sardinia lost its sovereignty to become part of the Italian unification. Germany unified the regional sovereign nation-states in 1871. The reason behind this unification had mostly to do with trade and economics.  Pooling together their resources and currencies for example, gave states greater political power.  All of these independent kingdoms losing their sovereignty was messy business, and so– within international law at the time– plebiscites and referendums were carefully crafted and used to justify the integration of sovereign states into larger states, as well as to transfer citizenship. This led to a loss of a tremendous amount of cultural and linguistic identity and led to the formation of resistance movements, many of which still exist today, as is the case of the Sardinian independence activists who in 2008 declared the island of Sardinia independent from Italy.
During Europe’s 19th century, there were so many treaties signed and broken that it made the Great War inevitable. Since WWI was as devastating and traumatic as it was, the League of Nations was established to create a new kind of international peace treaty. However, as a result of massive trade imbalances, debts and unstable economies, this eventually led countries like Germany and Italy to attain more asset resources so that their economies could grow and they could create more jobs and begin to trade more fairly in the market system of the time. This drive for territories and assets led to WWII.  The argument could also be made that the competition for trade/economic cooperation in the post-war territories ignited the Cold War which followed, and why some suggest that today, we are on the brink of Cold War II with China, again over resources.
With the ratification of the UN Charter, it was thought that if we stopped competing for territories and respected our sovereign borders and listed our territories for self-governance then we could put an end to wars. This is what motivated Chapter 11 of the UN Charter, the Declaration regarding Non-Self-Governing Territories. The colonial question was intrinsically tied to the competition for resources and asset commodities by larger nations. To strengthen the movement towards peace, the economic question was the first thing that had to be settled, which may explain why Bretton Woods was signed in 1944 before the ratification of the UN Charter in 1945, and how it attempted to fundamentally reinvent the trade/currency system in an attempt to stabilize economies.
The three pillars formed under Bretton Woods were the Bank for Reconstruction (World Bank), the IMF, and the International Trade Organization (ITO). Although much more complicated than my explanation, I suggest that it was the U.S. through the 1948 Economic Cooperation Act (Marshall Plan) that co-opted the three “pillars.”  The ITO was replaced by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT); the function of the World Bank was dismissed and neither used for the reconstruction of Greece and Turkey, nor for the European Recovery Program (instead the US used capital and bonds from the US Treasury through the Washington Import-Export Bank and created a new debt cycle for reconstruction/aid); and the purpose for creating an IMF was greatly reduced as the European currencies were pegged to the dollar as a condition of the ERP.
I bring up the economic aspect because I want to suggest that we often over-emphasize 19th century treaties and the Family of Nations.  Sovereignty is arguably often secondary to the laws of international trade. It is easier to exact punishments through trade than by war, which suggests why international trade and investment laws are binding, while other customary international laws may be more prescriptive.
Myself, I believe that Pacific resources are competitive in the international market, and that an integrated Oceania made up of sovereign states without the administration of larger exploitive economies, could better manage our cultural traditions, regional environmental and labor resources more sustainably than the lingering wardship we all seem to be stuck in with the US, Australia, Indonesia and Chile.


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5 responses to “Rethinking Sovereignty: a response by Arnie Saiki to What is Sovereignty?

  1. I am a little lost at what your point is. Are you saying that Sovereignty for the Pacific is a “Messy” business that should be put aside to do something else? Are you saying Hawaiian Nationals are over emphasizing our treaties from the nineteenth century? Yes I agree the Pacific resources are great and a full rejection of a “ward” relationship is what I think is needed. Yes your culture and Polynesian culture should be free from interference in its legitimate practice in the region. I would say that treaties signed in the nineteenth century need to be examined as to the contemporary status and whether Hawaiians will let themselves be subject to United Nations charters that neither give them a seat, a voice or have them as signatories to any conventions. We need a starting point to discuss what you suggest. Where is your starting point Mr. Saiki?

    Kai landow
    Hawaiian Embassy in New York


  2. Pingback: What is mr. Saiki saying? | Kingdom of Hawaii

  3. Sovereignty for native people who are trapped against their will in settler nations is never easy to negotiate. But when Saiki points out that “Sovereignty is arguably often secondary to the laws of international trade” I do not see it as a dismissal of treaties but a recognition of actually existing power relationships.


    • To be clear, many of the treaties being dismissed were pre-WW1. Post WW2, particularly post ERP, a new set of treaties evolved that have become internationally binding in a way that erodes the sovereignty of nations. Some may be good like the Convention on Human Rights, however, post WTO treaties– trade and investment treaties– are binding and have real “punishments” that hurt peoples and governments, and the power of these trade/investment treaties is a power relationship, certainly.


  4. Sovereignty.

    The supreme, absolute, and uncontrollable power by which any independent state is govern; supreme political authority; paramount control of the constitution and frame of government and its administration; self sufficient source of political power, from which all specific political powers are derived; the international independence of a state, combined with the right and power of regulating its internal affairs without foreign dictation; also a political society, or state, which is sovereign and independent.
    Chisholm v. Georgia, 2 Dall. 455, 1 L.Ed. 440; Union Bank v. Hill, 3 Cold., Tenn 325; Moore v. Shaw, 17 Cal. 218, 79 Am.Dec. 123; State v. Dixon, 66 Mont. 76, 213 P. 227.
    Black’s Law Dictionary 4th Edition (1951) page 1568.


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