The Essentially Contested Nature of the Concept of Sovereignty: Implications for the Exercise by International Organizations of Delegated Powers of Government

The relationship between the concept of sovereignty and international organizations is often posed as being problematic. The establishment and subsequent operations of international organizations are often characterized as involving the ‘loss’ of a State’s sovereignty and as such have been viewed with suspicion, if not antagonism, by certain domestic commentators. The response in legal journals by supporters of international organizations has been too narrow, technical, and often simply reaffirms the fears of the domestic commentators by focusing on how the organization’s exercise of powers constrains the State in the exercise of its powers. The approach adopted herein is different. It involves a focus on the essentially contested nature of the concept of sovereignty and contends that this nature is the same whether sovereign powers are being exercised on the domestic or international planes. This unity of identity has two main consequences for our discussion of international organizations: first, it provides a cogent reason for the existence of international organizations; and second, it provides a rationale for the construction of the normative framework that governs international organizations in the exercise of their delegated powers of government by recourse, in part, to domestic public and administrative law norms.