States are the main actors in the international system. The sovereignty of the state is pivotal in the international system; it provides the state with extensive power and authority. Traditionally, sovereignty encompasses:
- Sovereign equality – states are regarded as equal in international law regardless of their size, population or wealth.
- Jurisdiction – states have authority to create laws and enforce them.
- Power – to freely use and dispose of the territory under the state’s jurisdiction and to perform activities deemed necessary to the population.
- Duty of non-intervention – no other state should intrude into the state’s territory – ius excludendi alios (the right to exclude others).
- Sovereign immunity – the right of immunity from the jurisdiction of foreign courts for acts performed by the state in its sovereign capacity.
- Diplomatic immunity – the right of state representatives acting in their official capacity to immunity from the legal system of the state in which they are operating.
- Rights – to respect for life and property of the state’s nationals and state officials abroad.
Despite being central to the operation of the international system the concept of sovereignty defies precise definition and has been the subject of wide-ranging criticism.