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108 | 2008
Annuaire du Collège de France 2007-2008
Résumé des cours et travaux 108e année
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Rethinking Sovereignty, Rights and International Law in the Epoch of Globalization

Résumé des conférences du Collège de France (2007-2008)
Jean Louise Cohen
p. 914-915

Texte intégral

1Two developments associated with globalization challenge the way we think about rights, sovereignty and international law. The first is the increasingly influential discourse of international human rights. This discourse has led cosmopolitan legal and moral theorists to argue that the “sovereignty” and external legitimacy of governments should be contingent on their being both non-aggressive and minimally just. A radical idea is at stake: that the international community may enforce moral principles and legal rules regulating the conduct of governments toward their own citizens. The second development is the expanding reach of global governance institutions that make authoritative policies and coercive legal rules regulating the actions of state and non-state actors. The global political system centered in the  U.N. now acts in response to the proliferation of new threats to international peace and security coming from civil wars, failing states, transnational terrorism and the risk that private individuals will acquire weapons of mass destruction. The dangers these threats pose to “human security” seem to indicate the necessity to transcend the state centric, sovereignty oriented model of international relations and international law. Indeed many have argued that we are witnessing the constitutionalisation of international law, and that the decoupling of that law from the state, means that the latter has lost legal as well as political sovereignty. Sovereignty is deemed an anachronistic concept, inadequate for understanding the new world order characterized by global politics and global law. Developments such as humanitarian intervention, transformative occupation regimes, and legislation by the United Nations Security Council to counter the “emergency” posed by global terrorism are seen as the key constitutional moments in the development of a new world order.

2This lecture series will challenge the notion that we are en route to a cosmopolitan world order without the sovereign state. Instead of defending a “state-centric” sovereigntist position, however, I will argue in favor of a dualist conception of the new world order, for which the concept of changing “sovereignty regimes” is more appropriate than cosmopolitanism. I will embrace the project of the “further constitutionalisation” of international law, as the only acceptable alternative to empire or to the disintegration of the international order into regional “grossraume”, but I will do so on the basis of a constitutional pluralist, rather than a monist perspective. The first lecture will address the theoretical issues involved in rethinking the relation between sovereignty, and the globalization/constitutionalisation of international law. The second will address the question of how to think about the relation between human rights and sovereign equality, the two key principles of the global legal order, in the epoch of humanitarian intervention, construed as the enforcement by the international community of human rights. The third will address the paradoxes involved in the transformative occupations that follow upon humanitarian intervention regarding the concepts of sovereignty, popular sovereignty and self-determination. The last will take up the dilemmas produced the fact that the Security Council has started legislating in the global war on terror, in ways that undermine human rights in the name of human security and threaten both domestic as well as global constitutionalism. In each case I will argue that the legitimacy of global governance and of global governance institutions depends now on formal legal reform involving the participation of all member states, of the new world order:

  1. Sovereignty and International Law Revisited : A Pluralist Perspective.

  2. Rethinking Human Rights and Sovereign Equality in the epoch of Humanitarian Intervention.

  3. Toward a Jus Post Bellum for Transformative and/or Humanitarian Occupations.

  4. A Global State of Emergency or the Further Constitutionalisation of International Law.

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Cours et travaux du Collège de France. Annuaire 108e année, Collège de France, Paris, décembre 2008, p. 914-915. ISBN 978-2-7226-0082-9

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Jean Louise Cohen, « Rethinking Sovereignty, Rights and International Law in the Epoch of Globalization », L’annuaire du Collège de France [En ligne], 108 | 2008, mis en ligne le , consulté le 21 avril 2018. URL :

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Jean Louise Cohen

Professeur à l’université de Columbia (États-Unis)

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Collège de France

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