Date of Award

Winter 2005

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


International Studies

Committee Director

Steve A. Yetiv

Committee Member

Regina Karp

Committee Member

Mona J. E. Danner


Sovereignty---the absolute and unlimited power of the state---provides independence of action. Information about actions or intentions of competitors, enemies, or even friends, arriving after extended periods of time, resulted in responses to fait accompli. When information travels nearly instantaneously, states must consider potentially rapid international reactions before the fact. This suggests that since a state's freedom of action has been abridged, the nature of their sovereignty has altered.

This study pursues the research question: In what ways does telecommunications technology affect state sovereignty? The evolution of sovereignty is compared to development of telecommunications technology over four distinct eras, each characterized by a dominant means of telecommunications.

The first era (1648 to 1844), serving a control function, covers the period from Westphalia to introduction of the electromagnetic telegraph. Information moved at the speed humans could carry it and the concept of sovereignty manifested in the guise of an international system of sovereign European states.

The second era (1845 to 1917) began with introduction of the telegraph and concluded when the Zimmerman Telegram was plucked from the electromagnetic ether and became an element in the entry of the US into World War I. At the same time, sovereignty extended far beyond its original "closed club" of European states.

Radio, telephone, telegraph, and television dominated information transfer during the third era (1917 to 1964). Sovereignty extended throughout the world while information transfer became widespread and nearly instantaneous.

The final era (1965 to present) began with the launch of the first telephone relay satellite and telecommunications approached ubiquitous. The international system of states grew to nearly 200 sovereign entities and took on the status of the "norm" throughout the world and "nations" of all types demanded their share of sovereignty.

Each era compares the development of information transfer on sovereignty by examining the dominant mass media, telecommunications systems, state territorial control, cultural cross-pollenation, and international finance. The sovereignty and the international system of sovereign states of Westphalia in 1648 differs from the sovereignty of the early twenty-first century but the sovereign state remains an organizing factor in the international system.