The Developing Concept of Sovereignty: Considerations for Defence Operations in Cyberspace and Outer Space

Dan Jerker B Svantesson, Rebecca Azzopardi, Wendy Elizabeth Bonython, Jonathan Crowe, Steven R. Freeland, Samuli Haataja, Danielle Ireland-Piper, Nathan Mark

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned reportResearchpeer-review


This Report provides important insights into an important topic, and I wish to start by congratulating the authoring team on their excellent work. The Report addresses the topic of sovereignty, and in doing so, it takes particular account of sovereignty in the cyber and outer space domains – two domains of great significance for Australia’s national interests. It is written with commendable clarity and should serve the needs of strategic planners in Defence as well as strategic policy planners in government more broadly.
The Report is extremely timely since the concept of ‘sovereignty’ has recently gained new life in Australia and around the world not least in the cyber context. Increased tensions with China, a constant flow of fake news, frequent references to cyber-attacks conducted by sophisticated State actors, and public announcements on foreign espionage have placed sovereignty front and centre in the Australian psyche. We are in an era of cyber spies and cyber warriors, and with near-universal dependence on digital information and electronic devices, cybersecurity – both on our planet and in space – has become critically important for society as a whole.
The Report makes several valuable recommendations. For example, it observes that Australia must work with its partners and allies to steer the direction of definitions and delineations in international law, including in relation to the centrally important concept of sovereignty. This engagement must, as the Report argues, be broad and multifaceted and include all current formative debates about the concept of sovereignty and its related concepts.
It also emphasises the necessity of maintaining Australia’s commitment to a rules-based international order, and that ongoing militarisation and threatened weaponisation of space represents a significant national security challenge for Australia and other nations. Further, it notes that the territorial conception of sovereignty is challenged by recent developments. These include threats to sovereignty, such as global terrorism and cyber-attacks, which do not follow territorial boundaries. States can no longer preserve their internal sovereignty solely, or even primarily, by policing their geographical borders.
The Report follows a logical structure. The introductory chapter considers literature pertinent to the debate to show why it is important for Defence and policy planners to considering sovereignty in a Defence context. Chapter 2 of the Report provides readers with a critical analysis of the concept of sovereignty, how it has developed and how the concept may be constructed, informed by recent and ongoing critical debates. Chapter 3 considers how the concept of sovereignty may apply in the emerging domain of cyberspace, while Chapter 4 considers sovereignty’s application to the space domain. Chapter 5 provides some concluding thoughts and recommendations for future consideration. I strongly encourage readers to consider the complete Report, but note that each chapter may be considered as a standalone document for members of an interest-specific audience.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationRobina
PublisherTechnology and Jurisdiction Legal Research Team
Number of pages87
ISBN (Print)978-0-6452396-0-7
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021


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