Introductory remarks to Part II  pp. 171-172

Introductory remarks to Part II

By Nico Schrijver

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The principle of permanent sovereignty over natural resources developed through the political organs of the United Nations, but it was given flesh and blood in the practice of international relations. Third World States invoked it in their offensives against the application of traditional international law principles such as pacta sunt servanda, freedom of the high seas and State responsibility. In addition, it was part and parcel of the same movement that gave rise to new principles and concepts such as: a fundamental change of circumstances (clausula rebus sic stantibus); participatory equality of developing countries in international economic consultation and decision-making; preferential treatment of developing countries in international trade and financial relations; entitlement of developing countries to development assistance; common heritage of mankind in the law of the sea and outer space; and common concern and ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ in international environmental law.

Permanent sovereignty over natural resources initially played a pivotal role in efforts of developing countries to achieve ‘sovereign equality’ and often had – and still has – a protective function as a legal shield against infringement of their sovereignty by other States and foreign enterprises. This particular background and the qualification of permanent sovereignty over natural resources as ‘permanent’ and ‘inalienable’ stood for some time in the way of reshaping the principle to accommodate the realities of economic and environmental globalization.