The signing of the treaties of Westphalia in 1648 significantly changed the nature of international relations since it illustrated the beginning of two important principles: state sovereignty as well as the notion of non-interference. The treaties built on the 1933 Montevideo Convention, which had suggested these principles, mainly through its definition of the state, a territory that is defined by its undisputable sovereignty. That same point was also built into the United Nations’ (UN) charter which says that “the Organization’s foundation depends on the equal sovereignty of all its members.” As such, state sovereignty has been an undeniable pillar of international relations for decades and it is still essential the international community nowadays.
But it is becoming more and more common to find limitations to state sovereignty in the contemporary world, in part due to globalization. This phenomenon has now reached all four corners of the globe, which leads to the interconnection of international actors compared to the Westphalian era. Consequently, interstate relations alone are not enough to characterize international relations anymore. Unprecedented links between citizens of all over the world are developing and adding itself to the layers of interstate relations in the sense that nations’ citizens can communicate and share information like never before — mainly through the use of the Internet but additionally fueled by an incessant global media coverage.
We are also witnessing an outbreak of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) taking over state responsibilities and acting as international organizations much like the UN or the International Court of Justice attempted to do in the 20th century, mainly through their desire and ability to ensure fundamental rights within countries. And finally, international corporations see their power grow through offering services until now reserved to nation-states such as health services and communications. These three points can lead to the following question: to what extent international private actors such as NGOs, medias and corporations put state sovereignty at risk?
In Ted Levitt’s 1983 essay entitled The Globalization of Markets, the author explains that — in the context of globalization — companies are moving away from offering personalized goods and are now manufacturing “(…) globally standardized products that are advanced, functional, reliable—and low priced.” That mass production state of mind leads to Levitt’s notion that “(…) only global companies will achieve long-term success by concentrating on what everyone wants (…)”, hence the necessity of a mass production chain. To Levitt’s mind, companies will also use technology as a means to efficiently penetrate globalized markets. By securing their place within globalization, it will enable companies to provide the optimal standardized products, “(…) achieving for itself vastly expanded markets and profits.” Although Levitt published his essay 35 years ago, his ideas apply almost eerily to our consumerist and globalized societies across the world. Global companies’ marketing strategy as developed by Levitt can be applied aptly to international companies such as Facebook and Google and their way of penetrating the Indian market.
According to the Courrier International’s article The Silicon Valley Is Taking Over the World, Google and Facebook’s directors expressed their willingness to offer Internet to the Indian people for seemingly selfless reasons: “to reduce poverty, to improve education and to create jobs”. Insuring decent access to education and employment represent fields traditionally guaranteed by the state, but are here used by both multinationals in order to legitimize their will of penetrating the Indian market. They are thus infringing upon state responsibilities, which perhaps represents a threat to the Indian government. Indeed, if private companies can offer job growth and a better education, what core missions are left to the state? How can its sovereignty stand if it cannot solve problems inherent to all nation-states? Indeed, the “GAFA” companies (Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon) are overstepping on the goals of even the UN as the organization wishes to achieve a global access to the Internet here by 2030.
In spite Facebook’s efforts, the Indian government didn’t agree to the company’s offer since it didn’t, according to several NGOs, follow the principle of Internet neutrality. The company wished to implant a Free Basics Internet plan that would grant free Internet access to the Indian population but for preselected websites only; NGOs concluded that the offer did not respect the notion of Internet neutrality, where the Internet is fully accessible in its entirety and under the same conditions for all people. In response, Facebook put in place a marketing campaign in India in order to sway popular opinion against the decision of the Indian government. Billboards were put up across the country and the company started a petition. Mark Zuckergburg even wrote a compelling piece published in Times of India asserting that “In every society, there are certain basic services that are so important for people’s wellbeing that we expect everyone to be able to access them freely.”
If the government is not capable of offering basic services to its population, shouldn’t it accept the help of external actors? To insure the comfort of its population and the growth of its country, it should. Even though the traditional definition of state sovereignty does not completely apply to the modern world we live in, it gives us a chance to redefine it. Moreover, states should accept working with outside partners in order to implement new ways of offering services to its population if needs be. It can be a first step to creating a more relevant form of government suited to twenty-first century politics.
 KUCHLER Hannah, La Silicon Valley envahit le monde, 18 mars 2016, Courrier International, n°1327.
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