The External Dimensions of Constitutions

By Eyal Benvenisti & Mila Versteeg

Constitutions are traditionally seen as inherently domestic documents, written by the people, for the people, and reflecting the nation’s highest values. Yet, constitutions also have important external dimensions. Constitutions define the territory of the nation. They articulate the requirements for citizenship. They define war-powers, treaty-making powers, and structure foreign affairs. They commonly demand that governments protect nationals that reside abroad. In some cases, they extend protections to foreigners in need, especially when they are seeking admission to the country. In a globalized world, this external face of constitutions is changing, reflecting the technological, political, economic, social, and cultural changes that continuously reshape a variety of boundaries and determine their nature and level of permeability. Hence, questions arise as to whether national constitutions take account of their impact on strangers, whether they should, and if so, how they accommodate their concerns. Our aim is to draw attention to the external dimensions of constitutions, to the role constitutions play in the global sphere and, ultimately, to the question of the responsibility that constitution drafters and interpreters have to the outside world. While constitutions are traditionally understood as domestic documents, their significant and multifarious external dimensions raise moral and legal questions about the concern and respect that are due to outsiders.

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