Doctrine of Sovereignty

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Doctrine of Sovereignty

Legal Issues

The doctrine of sovereignty today embraces several basic principles, such as that every state should have equal power to enter into treaties, non-interference in domestic affairs (although this has been qualified by international conventions on human rights), sovereignty over one’s territory, and state immunity (although the doctrine of restricted state immunity has dominated the international world during the last twenty years).(1)

Sovereignty of States over Territory

Sovereignty is the exclusive right to exercise supreme political authority over a defined territory
(land, airspace and certain maritime areas such as the territorial sea) and the people within that
territory. No other State can have formal political authority within that State. Therefore,
sovereignty is closely associated with the concept of political independence.

Classical international law developed doctrines by which States could make a valid claim of
sovereignty over territory. The doctrines included discovery and occupation and prescription.
During the period of Western colonial expansion new territories and islands were subject to
claims of sovereignty by discovery and occupation. Sovereignty could also be transferred to
another State by conquest (use of force) or by cession where the sovereignty over the territory
would be ceded by treaty from one State to another.

Since a State has sovereignty over its territory, the entry into its territory by the armed forces of
another State without consent is a prima facie breach of international law. Among the attributes
of sovereignty is the right to exclude foreigners from entering the territory, which is traditionally
referred to as the right to exclude aliens.

Since a State has sovereignty within its territorial sea (with some exceptions such as the right of
innocent passage), it has the exclusive authority to exercise police power within its territory sea.
For example, if foreign ships are attacked by “pirates” in the territorial sea of a State, the only
State that can exercise police power and arrest the pirates in the territorial sea is the coastal



  1. John Mo, International Commercial Law

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