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36 Colum. J. Transnat'l L. 7 (1998)
The Decline of the Nation-State and its Implications for International Law

handle is hein.journals/cjtl36 and id is 13 raw text is: The Decline of the Nation-State and its
Implications for International Law
Louis Henkin has been a friend for a half-century and a valued
colleague for much of that time. As one who has benefited greatly from
his wisdom and encouragement, I am especially pleased to join in this
tribute to him.
My subject, the decline of the nation-state, goes to the heart of
international law-its character as a system of discrete autonomous
entities based on their defined territories, each exercising plenary
authority over persons and things in that territory. That this juridical
conception falls short of reality is well recognized. No state, not even
the most powerful, is wholly autonomous, free of constraints and
influences from outside its borders. Nor is its autonomy (or sover-
eignty) absolute in law.' It is limited by international law, which in the
prevalent positivist conception is viewed as the collective expression of
sovereign wills. States are equal in law, with the same rights and duties,
but they of course vary widely in size, power, and values. There have
always been weak and strong states.
The idea that the nation-state is generally declining in power and
authority is a complex proposition based on a variety of factors.
Economists, political scientists,journalists, and even businessmen have
produced a spate of books and articles on various aspects of that theme.2
The state, long seen as steadily amassing power, is now being viewed
as increasingly vulnerable, even on its way out. The trends in that
* Hamilton Fish Professor of International Law and Diplomacy Emeritus. Copyright
© Oscar Schachter, 1997. The author wishes to thank Yen Chu for her assistance in preparing
this paper.
1. In deference to Professor Henkin, who regards sovereignty as a bad word which
should be expunged, I will use autonomy in this paper. See Louis Henkin, International
Law: Politics, Values, Functions, 216 RECUEIL. DES COURS [REC. DES COuRs] 13, 24-25
(1990). See generally Oscar Schachter, Sovereignty-Then and Now, in ESSAYS IN HONOUR OF
WANG TIEYA 671 (R. St. J. Macdonald ed., 1993) (providing an analysis of sovereignty).
2. See, e.g., JEAN-MARiE GuENENO, THE END OF THENATION-STATE (V. Elliot trans.,
OF SOVEREIGNTY (1992). See generally, 124(2) DAEDALUS (Spring 1995) (special volume,
What Future for the State); cf SUSAN STRANGE, STATES AND MARKETS (2d ed. 1994);
BENJAMIN BARBER, JIHAD V. MCWORLD (1995) (deploring the erosion of state authority,
especially in the economic sphere). International law is largely ignored in most of these

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