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Sovereign Government: Definition & Overview

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  • 0:00 What Is a Sovereign…
  • 0:57 What Does It Take to…
  • 1:37 Challenges to Sovereignty
  • 3:12 Sovereignty in the…
  • 4:01 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David White
Through this lesson, you will learn what defines a sovereign government and gain an understanding of how sovereignty effects global politics. When you are through, test your new knowledge with the quiz.

What Is a Sovereign Government?

Imagine if you woke up tomorrow to find that you no longer had the right to make your own decisions or defend yourself. Instead, your neighbor from two doors down will be making all of your day-to-day decisions for you. It's unlikely that this will happen to you, since most adults possess varying degrees of autonomy and personal sovereignty. If you were a country, on the other hand, it is far more likely that your sovereignty could be lost if an invader was to overpower you.

In the context of global politics, a sovereign government is a government that operates its own independent nation without interference from foreign powers. Based on international law, sovereign governments possess the unquestionable right to act on their nation's behalf, make decisions about domestic policies and practices, and defend against foreign invasion. In global politics, sovereignty is critically important for ensuring peaceful negotiations between countries, and is rarely challenged.

What Does It Take to be Sovereign?

It can be difficult to determine when, exactly, a nation reaches sovereignty. Much of the confusion stems from the fact that there are no clearly defined criteria for what qualifies a nation as sovereign. In most cases, a nation that wants to be acknowledged as a sovereign entity must gain that recognition from the United Nations or the larger international community.

These bodies expect a nation to possess certain elements before being recognized. For example, if a nation wants to be recognized as a sovereign government, most would expect the nation to have clearly drawn borders, citizens living within those borders, and legal and social systems that can accommodate their citizens.

Challenges to Sovereignty

Governmental sovereignty becomes much more complicated if the attempts to gain recognition are challenged militarily or constitutionally. For example, if I wanted to declare the state of Texas as a sovereign government deserving of U.N. recognition, it is unlikely that this would happen. Though Texas has many of the elements of other sovereign governments (borders, residents, legal system), the United States Constitution forbids the establishment of an independent government within its own borders, and the federal government would probably thwart my attempts.

In this Texas example, the U.S. government would challenge (and win) the claims of sovereignty on constitutional grounds. However, legal challenges are not the only way to obtain or prevent governmental sovereignty.

Throughout World War II, Germany invaded several neighboring countries, such as Poland and France, with the intention of taking them over. Though they were ultimately defeated, Germany was violating the sovereignty of these countries by invading and occupying them. Had Germany succeeded, the governments of Poland and France would no longer have the right to make their own decisions and would, instead, have had to do whatever the Nazi Party told them to do.

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