Hurst Hannum

in International Relations

ISBN: 9780199743292
Published online March 2013 | | DOI:

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Self-determination implies the right of a particular group of people to determine for themselves how and by whom they wish to be governed. The principle was little known for much of human history, as groups were either small self-governing communities whose legitimacy was based on religion or culture or, within kingdoms and empires, communities that had no expectation that people could choose their rulers. In the 18th and 19th centuries, political philosophers began to assert that nations or peoples—groups possessing a shared ethnicity, history, language, and/or culture—should control their “own” government, rather than be subjected to alien or foreign rule. This principle of congruence between the “nation” and political governance became known as nationalism, although it remained only a political principle or goal, as opposed to an international legal norm (see Nationalism). The Covenant of the League of Nations proclaimed that it was a “sacred trust” for states to promote the advancement of colonial territories that had previously belonged to the countries defeated in World War I, and these territories were placed under the League’s system of international mandates. However, the League rejected calls from US President Woodrow Wilson that the Covenant include specific reference to self-determination, and there was no recognition of a general right for all peoples, nations, or colonies to be self-governing or independent. Twenty years later, the Charter of the United Nations did recognize the “principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples” and called upon states to develop “free political institutions” in non-self-governing territories under their control. In the 1960s, these general provisions gradually developed into a new international law of self-determination, based not on ethnic or national identity but on non-self-governing status; thus, colonial territories were deemed to possess the right to self-determination and independence, but not the ethnic or cultural “nations” within them. International law has largely maintained this conservative, statist perspective, which rejects the notion that distinct “peoples” within existing states have any right to secession or self-government. The primary self-determination issues debated by contemporary international lawyers, diplomats, and international relations theorists are whether there are any conditions under which groups might acquire a right to external self-determination (independence) and whether self-determination in its internal dimension could imply a right to autonomy or other devolution of power within an existing state for distinct groups within that state.

Article.  5203 words. 

Subjects: International Relations

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