The More Things Stay the Same: Colonization, Resistance, and the Fractured Sovereign State

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Has the authority of the sovereign state system undergone a fundamental transformation in recent decades? This dissertation seeks to: 1) offer a critical examination of claims regarding the perceived fracture and erosion of sovereign state authority; 2) contribute to the task of building a theoretical framework to study the power and authority of the sovereign state system and its changes over time; 3) find evidence of patterns in how the nature of that power and authority changes over time and across different political organizations in the context of war. Theoretically, the characterization of the threat non-state combatants pose to the authority of the state system neglects relations of power between those who hold privilege within that system and those who are excluded from its benefits. Empirically, there has been an absence of systematic study of potential authoritative transformations that is both historically and geographically broad. This dissertation analyzes the language of justification for war - as expressions of political authority - used by political and military leaders from 1618-2008, employing a combination of fuzzy-sets qualitative comparative analysis (fsQCA) with interpretive case analysis to determine the constellations of conditions which drive the use of justification for war. Findings indicate that non-state actors are not challenging the authoritative logic underlying the sovereign state system; rather, the use of sovereign rights logics of justification in asymmetrical conflicts indicates a desire to access the benefits and privileges of that system. When interpreted through a post-colonial and critical race lens, these claims appear as a challenge to exclusion that is largely rooted in a legacy of racialized colonial subjugation. Relations of power, embedded in a state system that developed through imperial conquest and colonial domination, drive the use of justification frames. Thus, low power actors may in fact threaten the stability of the sovereign state system, but not in the manner characterized by the fracture narrative. The threat is not to the authoritative logic of the system, but rather to the uneven distribution of the powers and privileges of that system that stems from a legacy of colonization, which produced lasting divisions in power.