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date: 17 February 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Sovereign equality—the idea that all sovereign states are formally equal—is a fundamental tenet of international law, many international institutions, and much international relations theorizing. This chapter analyzes the origins of the sovereign equality concept and its contested nature, the claim that institutions can equalize relations among otherwise disparate states, and whether and how the erosion of state sovereignty is affecting the claim of equality among states. We argue that sovereign equality is a dynamic concept composed of three constitutive components—functional, legal, and political—that stand in changing tension to one another. The degree of equality achieved on any one dimension largely depends on the nature of international institutions and how they distribute rights and privileges. The chapter identifies three patterns by which international institutions act as state equalizers and unequalizers. We conclude by considering the future of sovereign equality and its implications for a changing international system.

Keywords: state capacity, sovereign equality, international institutions, state sovereignty, functional equality, legal equality, political equality, international system

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