Review of International Studies

Research Article

Does democracy need sovereignty?



Non-state entities that aspire to statehood are increasingly developing democratic norms and practices, in part to enhance their claims for independence. However, the prospects for democracy in cases of ‘problematic sovereignty’ are little understood. This article seeks to explore the important but under-explored relationship between sovereignty and democracy, and in particular to assess the extent to which sovereignty is, or is not, a prerequisite for democracy. The article advances two arguments. First, it argues that there is no clear-cut relationship between sovereignty and democracy, as sovereignty is a complex concept that is comprised of several important, and distinct, constituent elements. Second, the article argues that the legal recognition of statehood (international legal sovereignty) is of marginal importance in this area, and should not be seen as a necessary condition for democratic rule. The article examines the process of democratic transition in the non-state entity of Somaliland to provide empirical support.

(Online publication September 02 2010)

Oisín Tansey is Lecturer in International Relations at the Department for Politics and International Relations at the University of Reading. He is the author of Regime-Building Democratization and International Administration (Oxford University Press, 2009). Oisín can be contacted at: { }.

* The author would like to thank Christopher Bickerton, David Chandler and Kirsten Ainley for their helpful comments on earlier versions of this article.