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National sovereignty

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National sovereignty may be defined as the exclusive and supreme control by a government over its territory and inhabitants. Under the U.S. Constitution, sovereignty in the United States is shared between the State and federal governments. The powers of the federal government are primarily those "necessary and proper" to carry out the functions listed in Article I, §8. Under the Tenth Amendment, the remainder of the power that can be exercised by government is reserved to the States.

Since the mid-1800s, the scale of technology and the scope of its impacts have changed American life; first in transportation systems (e.g., the railroad), then in manufacturing and production (the steel industry, the automobile industry), and in communications systems (telegraph and telephone lines, radio, television, the Internet). A concomitant broadening of the role of federal government and diminution of the autonomy of State governments in controlling technology has occurred in each instance. Federal power was used first to build and regulate national transportation and communications systems, then to protect health, safety, and employee welfare as manufacturing and commerce have matured. Federal power has been used to recover economic stability during the economic crisis of the 1930s, to set up a complex social security system, to deal with global wars, and to put men on the moon.

Just as the development of a national transportation and communications infrastructure in past centuries expanded the federal government role in local and State affairs, technology is today expanding the theater of commerce and politics to global dimensions. In the process, it is diminishing the degree to which any nation, including the United States, may act as an autonomous sovereign. Today, large-scale enterprises and the consequences of industrialization continue to force issues from the local to the national to the international level. Global communications networks are contracting the federal government's power by interlocking national economies, facilitating transnational business, and increasing the necessity of political and economic cooperation among nations. The worldwide nature of today's technology-oriented problems, such as pollution of air and water, depletion of natural resources, global drug traffic, and intercontinental weaponry, all combine to force cooperative actions in the international arena and surrender of some national sovereignty.

The evolution of the transnational corporation illustrates the shift of power away from sovereign nations that accompanies global technology]. Transnational enterprise is subtly but significantly different from the post-World War II multinational corporation that was or is still essentially based in and identified with one country, i.e., an "American multinational." New transportation and communications technologies, including high-speed air travel, bulk shipping facilities, flexible manufacturing and automation, distributed data processing and communications capabilities, and high-speed transmission of information], have allowed transnational corporations to shift operations between countries, depending on contingencies such as labor costs, availability of resources, and the political and economic climate of their host nation. These developments have increased the power of the transnational corporation, as economies of scale have allowed the internationalization and vertical integration of their markets.

Deregulation of the international monetary system, rapid movement of investment funds around the world, the trading of stock on foreign exchanges, and international corporate ownership and mergers make transnational businesses even more independent of national policies. In addition, the exchange of television shows, movies, fashions, music, and other forms of entertainment tends to homogenize cultures and consumer demand throughout the world, and could erode national loyalties and dependencies.

These developments parallel the rise of national corporations during the 19th and early 20th centuries, which brought about the expansion of federal power and the resulting shift from the private power of corporations to the public power of the federal government. The internationalization of economic power may now be causing at least a temporary shift back from public power to private power at the international level.

The United States has responded to the development of transnational corporate power by trying to extend the exercise of sovereignty outside of its own borders, by, for example, controlling or regulating foreign subsidiaries of U.S. corporations. But, as nationality of corporations has faded, these efforts have proved ineffective. Companies move. The nationalities or loyalties of their top management are not necessarily coincident with where they are headquartered. Some corporations become essentially independent of geographic sites, production facilities, and national charters. However, in spite of this erosion of sovereignty, national boundaries remain very real economical and political limitations. Private corporations may be caught in intolerable binds between conflicting laws and policies in the different countries in which they do business. The control of databanks and flow of information by, for example, the Council of Europe, can impact adversely on American companies doing business in Europe.

The picture of national sovereignty that emerges today is thus very different from the picture that was accepted in 1787. The challenges to national sovereignty in the future will be very different from those that were possible in the past, and will be shaped by the need for international response to continuing technological development.

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