Faculty of Law

International Law Expert Explores Solutions to Sovereignty Conflicts

On May 17, Dr Jorge Emilio Nunez, a Senior Lecturer at Manchester Law School (UK), delivered a lecture at HSE on the themes from his latest book, ‘Sovereignty Conflicts and International Law and Politics’ (Routledge 2017). While addressing members of the HSE community, he explored a solution of egalitarian shared sovereignty, evaluating what sorts of institutions and arrangements could, and would, best realize shared sovereignty, and how it might be applied to territory, population, government and law.

An expert on legal and political theory and public international law and relations, Dr Nunez spoke with the HSE News Service about several of the themes he covered in his lecture, his research interests and his work in the post-Soviet world in particular. His blog covers political theory, and he can be reached on Twitter at @London1701.

— Sovereignty conflicts have been a focus of your research for a long time. What are some of your latest findings?

— Although sovereignty conflicts around the globe are different in many ways, they all have many points in common. Indeed, it seems hard, even impossible, to compare Tibet, the Falkland/Malvinas Islands, Gibraltar, Kashmir, the Kuril Islands, Jerusalem, and Crimea, to name only a few.

After years of research in different places such as Argentina, the United Kingdom, the Russian Federation, the United States, and many others, and by following a multi-disciplinary approach, I can confidently say that all these conflicts have one thing in common: there is very little, if any, willingness to solve them, at least from a governmental perspective.

In all these sovereignty conflict cases, the populations of each involved agent – whether already sovereign states or populated non-sovereign territories – want to see an end to the disputes – and in all cases a peaceful one. Many solutions are already available in public international law and international relations, ranging from self-determination, statehood, shared sovereignty to the status quo.

— What methods do you employ in your research? Have you ever looked at conflicts on the post-Soviet territory? 

— In terms of research methods, I follow what we may call a hybrid approach. This has to do with one main reason: sovereignty conflicts are multi-level, highly complex conceptually, legally, politically, financially, socially, and psychologically.

In brief I would say that I conduct archival research, conceptual analysis (mainly jurisprudence, legal theory, political theory), and I always include a socio-legal angle. Thereafter, I conduct research on particular case studies. As a result, I am able to merge both what law, political science and international relations tell us with what the real sovereignty conflict case is about.

In relation to the conflicts on the post-Soviet territory, I have been working continuously since 2010 on issues related to the Russian Federation, with my first publication in Russian in 2011-2012. The latest of my publications in Russian about the Russian Federation, Ukraine, and Crimea is ‘Sovereignty Conflicts as a Distributive Justice Issue: The Egalitarian Shared Sovereignty and a New Mode of Governance for Crimea’ (in Russian: “Конфликты суверенитета как проблема распределяющей справедливости: уравнительно разделенный суверенитет и новый режим управления в Крыму”). I am currently working on a follow-up academic article that applies the methodology I develop and the solution I propose in my latest book for Crimea.

In terms of research methods, I follow what we may call a hybrid approach. This has to do with one main reason: sovereignty conflicts are multi-level, highly complex conceptually, legally, politically, financially, socially, and psychologically

— Public international law seems to have become a hot topic over the last decade. Is that your assessment as well?

— I completely agree. Public international law has been in high demand for years. Currently, from the rise of Islamic State to the failure/potential dismemberment of states in the Caucasus and the Middle East, contemporary events indicate that the recognition of sovereignty as a bounded legal norm is not static. The transferable notion of national sovereignty remains a major subject in international relations, law, and political science. To use a familiar example, events such as the Ukrainian crisis and Russia’s annexation of Crimea demonstrate that sovereignty is increasingly becoming dynamic and fluid, flowing at times from one country to another because of some event of political restructuring within the international community or the shifting sands of geopolitics.

— What approach do you take to train better qualified professionals in this area? What is your message to your students at Manchester Law School?

— I am currently unit leader of two modules in different programmes at Manchester Law School: Law and Society and European Union Law. My teaching approach is very simple – students have to know the theory behind the law, the law itself and how that law applies to real case scenarios. In my experience, higher education institutions around the globe either focus on only one element, often leaving the other behind.

My message to any student around the world is to do the best they can with the resources they have. I do not believe in complaining and I have never accepted excuses. If you identify a problem, offer me a solution. We can have a healthy debate about it, but before going into a debate or before tackling any issue, we have to make sure we have a common ground. To get to that point, it is essential you and I are prepared, do our independent research, and agree on some basic rules and concepts.

— What are the necessary skills for students today? Do you think your students or students at HSE differ much from you when you were a student in Argentina?

— A concept that students nowadays should reflect upon is entrepreneurship. Any entrepreneur has to be flexible, highly adaptable, resourceful, self-motivating, incredibly patient, hardworking, excellent at time management, curious, and, although it may sound as a contradiction in terms, have both ideals and be realistic.

In terms of HSE students and my students, I am certain they are very similar in many aspects. Unlike my experience at other higher education institutions around the world, students at HSE and in Argentina are able to articulate and support their own opinion assertively. True, they may not have access to the same resources I see in the in other states, but in my experience the lack of resources results in more resourceful professionals in the long term. To use a simple metaphorical example, at HSE and in Argentina I teach my students how to fish. I would not even consider fishing for them! I am there to support and foster their development, to empower them.

Unlike my experience at other higher education institutions around the world, students at HSE and in Argentina are able to articulate and support their own opinion assertively

— How did your cooperation with HSE start? Did you discuss any long-term joint projects during your visit to Moscow?

— My cooperation with HSE started many years ago at St. Petersburg State University. Originally, my focus was mainly on legal theory and more broadly, jurisprudence. At the time, I had papers in Russian on legal theory concepts such as validity and effectiveness. I have been fortunate to work closely with outstanding colleagues in St. Petersburg since then and now for over six years.

More recently, in 2016, I was the host of the first UK-Russian Symposium on Jurisprudence and Sovereignty in Manchester. The event was organized by the Juris North discussion group, of which I am a proud founding member and chair. I had the pleasure to attend presentations delivered by colleagues from HSE, as well as others from Samara, Moscow, and St. Petersburg. As a result, I am currently co-editing a collection of interesting research articles by experts on sovereignty from a variety of fields, such as law, political science, international relations, sociology and philosophy.

In terms of long-term projects, indeed there are already plans in place in St. Petersburg, Ivanovo, and Moscow that include future publications, academic events and empirical research. I believe in cooperation, in growing together, in synergy. And I have met many colleagues at HSE and elsewhere in Russia with the same openness. I would like to express my deepest gratitude to HSE for our ongoing work together.

Anna Chernyakhovskaya, Specially for HSE News service