Political Science

Start Free Trial

What does state sovereignty mean?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Sovereignty refers to the power of a state to make and apply its own laws and to control its affairs without the interference of other states. The United States is a sovereign state, as it can make and carry out laws, impose and collect taxes on its people, make treaties...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

with foreign nations, and carry out wars and declare peace. Each of the states within the United States is not entirely sovereign, as states do not have external sovereignty (such as the ability to declare war). However, the states within the United States have internal sovereignty to some degree, as they have a degree of latitude to control their own internal affairs, such as setting and collecting state taxes.

In international affairs, the idea of state sovereignty is that nations can control their external and internal affairs and that countries should not interfere with another country's internal matters. This principle was developed in the Peace of Westphalia that ended the Thirty Years' War in 1648.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

State sovereignty is the ability of the state to be independent and have autonomy and control over itself and its decisions.  The word sovereign means autonomous, or independent.

In the United States, state sovereignty means that in addition to being members of the “united” states, the country, each state also has its own government.  Each state has a legislature that passes state laws, a governor, and a court system.  States still have to follow federal laws, but they have the option of making their own laws stricter.

When states make laws that are contrary to those of the federal government, there can be clash.  For example, the medical marijuana laws can be considered a states’ right issue, because states want to have the right to make their own laws and not follow the federal law (which outlaws marijuana).  These clashes are settled by the federal United States Supreme Court.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What does "State Sovereignty" mean?

I assume that you are asking this in the context of the field of International Relations (because of other questions you have asked).  In international relations, the idea of state sovereignty is the idea that the state (the government of the country) has complete authority over what it does within its territory.

The idea of the sovereign state is one of the bases of modern international relations.  It assumes that, for example, the United States cannot simply tell China to free Tibet or to stop cracking down on internal dissent.  Because China is a sovereign state, it has the right to do whatever it wants within its borders.

State sovereignty, then, is the idea that each state is sovereign within its borders and can therefore do what it wants in terms of its domestic policies.

Last Updated on