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Multinational Conflict Management: Does the Concept Conflict with Sovereignty?

By: Saeed Kakeyi
June 15, 2008

What is conflict management and what relation does it has with sovereignty? Is conflict
management particular to interstate conflicts, or does it has to do with intrastate conflicts? How
is it that the absence of ‘World government’ affects conflict management? This short paper is an
attempt to respond to these and other related questions by exploring the logic behind conflict
management concept.

Definitions for conflict management and sovereignty
Conflict may be defined as a struggle between states with opposing goals, ideologies, values,
beliefs or interests. Therefore, conflict between states is inevitable; however, the results of
conflict are not predestined. The reason for the unpredictable outcome of a conflict rests in its
nature: a formula carrying danger and opportunity. Accordingly, a conflict might escalate and
lead to dangerous results, or a conflict can be creatively resolved and lead to quality beneficial
opportunities for competing states. Thus, managing conflict is integral to developed and
developing states.
As a defined field of study in North America and Europe, conflict management is the
theory of disclosing that all conflicts may not necessarily be resolved, but working on how to
manage conflicts can decrease the odds of war between sovereign states existing in a condition
of anarchy. But, learning that sovereignty, until recently, was generally defined as the “supreme
authority within a territory” (Philpott: 2003, 1), why then anarchy has to exist between sovereign
states? Is it because of the lack of existing world government authority, or does multinational
conflict management conflict with the concept of sovereignty?
In order to answer these leading questions, this paper attempts to provide an analytical
account for some historical events that have reshaped the contemporary world politics; and,
eventually, brought changes to the meaning of sovereignty.
According to Catherine Lu, “World government” refers to the thoughts of all people
around the globe be ruled by a universal political authority. Perhaps, it has not happened so far,
yet proposals for a unifying global political authority have existed since the dawn of history as
desires of the rulers and the great thinkers (Lu: 2006, 1). However, realist theorists hold that
world government is impractical utopian thinking; and, consequently, it is infeasible goal for an
unified political solution to global conflicts because of the unsurpassable difficulties of
establishing “authoritative hierarchies” at the multinational level (Krasner 1999, 42). Yet, even if
world government were shown to be a feasible political project, it may descend into a global
tyranny, hindering the ideal of human autonomy (Kant 1784). Instead of delivering impartial
global justice and peace, a world government may form an unavoidable tyranny that would have
the power to make humanity serve its own interests, and opposition against which might
engender intractable civil wars (Waltz 1979). In another version of this objection — the
homogeneity argument — world government may be so enveloping as to create a homogenizing
effect, obliterating distinct cultures and communities that are inherently valuable. The institution
of a world government would thus destroy the rich social pluralism that animates human life
(Walzer 2004).
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Even liberal theorists too argue mainly that world government, in the form of a global
colossal with supreme legislative, executive, adjudicative and enforcement powers, is largely
unnecessary to solve problems such as war, global poverty, and environmental catastrophe.
World government so conceived is neither necessary nor sufficient to achieve the aims of a
liberal agenda. The liberal rejection of world government, however, does not amount to an
endorsement of the conventional system of sovereign states or the contemporary international
order, “with its extreme injustices, crippling poverty, and inequalities” (Rawls: 1999, 117).
Instead, most liberal theorists envision the need for authoritative multinational institutions that
modify significantly the powers traditionally attributed to the Westphalian notion of sovereign

Conflict management does not conflict with sovereignty
Thus, with the development of multinational institutions, especially after the World War II, the
classical definition of sovereignty has changed slightly to reflect, “the legal principle that no
authority is above the state to establish or enforce rules about foreign or domestic conduct”
(Kegley and Raymond: 200, 280). However, with the expansion of supranational institutions and
multinational organizations, the manner of state domestic policy has become more and more
internationalized. As states agree to certain provisions or accept a limited amount of supervision
into their domestic policies, the idea of conflict diminishes. So the acceptance of supranational
regulation does not conflict with state sovereignty, provided the parameters of supervision
include domestic policy.
The United Nations as the world’s premier supranational institution is the only institution
with the mandate of maintaining global peace that can boast total global membership. However,
the purpose of the UN according to its Charter, is “to maintain international peace and security,
and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to
the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace…” (Janis
and Noyes: 2006, 881). However, the charter states that, “nothing contained in the present
Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within
the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit such matters to
settlement under the present Charter; but this principle shall not prejudice the application of
enforcement measures under Chapter VII” (Janis and Noyes: 2006, 882).
So, aside from vague references contained in Chapter VII with respect to threats to peace,
breaches of the peace and acts of aggression, the UN Charter makes no reference to a mandate
for the enforcement of peace within state domestic policy. But, despite the ambiguity of Chapter
VII of the UN Charter, there are multiple answers to the question of conflict between the concept
of sovereignty and multinational conflict management.
The nature of the conflict is very important, especially with regards to the parties of the
conflict. Is the nature of the conflict interstate or intrastate? If the crisis meets the criteria of
international conflict, then supranational institutions and regional collective security
organizations are justified in their actions. But what happens with regards to intrastate conflict?
The ambiguous nature of Charter VII is clearly reflects the ambiguity of the norms of
contemporary sovereignty—such as self-determination or sovereign equality within multicultural
and multiethnic states—and can be judged moral or immoral based on perception, time or place
(Acharya: 2006, 3).
Thus, against the claims of some traditional international relations students, the relative
norms of sovereignty do not contradict any moral justifications of its violation, especially if it
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relates to acts of genocide and ethnic cleansings which are clearly stated in the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the General Assembly of the UN in 1948. Therefore,
the principles of multilateral conflict management permit international conflicts to be addressed,
including the act of intervention with regards to intrastate crisis as was the case in the aftermath
of the 1991 Kurdish uprising in Northern Iraq that triggered the UN Security Council to pass
Resolution 680 protecting the Iraqi Kurds from the tyrannical regime of Saddam Hussein.
Adding to this, with the expansion of global interconnectedness, it is virtually impossible to have
intrastate conflicts not to spillover and impact their neighbors and thus transform into extrastate
and interstate conflicts. What is clear is that multinational conflict management is not only
directly applicable to international crisis, but also closely applicable to intrastate conflicts,
especially in the post-Cold War era.

In the absence of a World government, the anarchic nature of international relations requires a
conflict management system that needs to go beyond the traditional practice of conflict
management. Though sovereignty may seem conflicting with the concept of conflict
management, the nature of the contemporary global interdependence dictates that intrastate
conflict has to be managed. Otherwise, it may spillover creating extrastate and interstate conflicts
that mankind does not need to experience their implications.


Acharya, Amitav. (April 2006). “Multilateralism, Sovereignty and Normative Change in World Politics”.
Institute of Defense and Security Studies, Nanyang Technological University. Singapore.

Janis, Mark W. and Noyes, John E. (2006). International Law: Cases and Commentary, St. Paul,

Kegley, Charles W., Jr., Gregory A. Raymond. (2002). From War to Peace: Fateful Decisions in
International Politics. Bedford/St. Martin’s. Boston.

Krasner, S. (1999). Sovereignty: Organized Hypocrisy, Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Philpott, Dan. (2003). Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Lu, Catherine (2006). Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Waltz, K.N. (1979). Theory of International Politics, Toronto: McGraw-Hill Publishing Company.

Walzer, M. (2004). Arguing About War, New Haven: Yale University Press.