Meaning of Confederation:
Confederation is an organisation of some sovereign states which join together for Common Defence and for other common purposes. They establish a common executive and legislature but the powers of these executives and legislatures are limited.
Hall says, “A confederation is a union strictly of independent states which consent to forgo permanently a part of their liberty of action for certain specific objects, and they are so combined under a common government that the latter appears to their exclusion as the international unity”.
According to Oppenheim, a confederation consists of a number of full sovereign states linked together for the maintenance of their external and internal independence by a recognised international treaty into a union with organs of its own, which are vested with a certain power over the member ‘states’, but not over the citizens of these states”.
It is clear from the definitions given above that some sovereign states establish a joint centre for common purposes and transfer some powers to it willingly. They can leave that union at will. The sovereignty of the states forming a federation is not in any way hampered.
This union can neither impose any tax on the citizens of the states, nor can it make any law for them. The states joining the union can contribute funds at will at the time of need. They also implement its decisions. There is an executive and legislature of this union, where the representatives of the state vote according to the instructions from their states.
Examples of Confederations:
In history, many examples of confederations are available. The reasons for this is that for Common Defence and for other common purposes the neighbouring countries join together. Many examples of confederations are available in ancient Greece which include Boeotian, Delian, Lycian, Achaean and Actolian League-many references are also available regarding confederations of ancient cities of Italy, but they were not as complete as the Greek Confederations were.
References of confederations in ancient India are also available. Thirty-six republics of the Eastern India established a confederation in 493 to 462 B.C. in order to protect themselves against the attack of Ajat Satru, the ruler of Magadha.
During the middle Ages many confederations were established in Europe among which Rhenish confederation, 1254-1350 and Hanseatic League, 1367-1669 are quite well-known. The Holy Roman Empire of 1526 to 1806 A. D. was one of the most important confederations before the nineteenth century.
The confederation comprised of several hundred states, free cities and Church-controlled states. Confederations flourished in Switzerland from 1291 to 1798 and 1803 to 1818 A. D. in U.S.A. from 1781 to 1787 A.D. There was a confederation in United Netherlands from 1576 to 1789 A.D.
During 1907, five Central American States, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua and Salvador established a confederation. The League of Nations (1919-1944) is one of the best examples of a confederation. Now the U.N. has been formed for establishing world peace.
This is also an organisation of sovereign states. In the U.N. the member-states vote according to the instructions received from their respective governments. It has a General Assembly and a Security Council whose decisions and resolutions are not binding on the member states.
Merits of Confederation:
One of the most important merits of a confederation is that it guards the weak states against a powerful enemy. It also lessens expenditure on foreign relations and the mutual political and commercial conflicts of the states are resolved. A confederation creates the spirit of unity just as it was created in the American and German confederations and ultimately paved way for the federation.
Demerits of Confederation:
The main defect in a confederation is the lack of sovereignty. Its member-states are sovereign and it depends upon their will be to implement its resolutions and decisions to any extent. It has no military force of its own and it also does not have the power to impose taxes. Sometimes powerful states indulge in conspiracy in a confederation. This is not in the interest of smaller states as it results in its early destruction.