International Society, State Sovereignty, and National Self-Determination

James Mayall

in The Oxford Handbook of the History of Nationalism

Published in print March 2013 | ISBN: 9780199209194
Published online May 2013 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in History

 International Society, State Sovereignty, and             National Self-Determination

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The idea of an international society of sovereign states predates the era of nationalism and the elevation of the principle of the self-determination of people to its present status as an inalienable human right (Articles 1.2 and 55 of the UN Charter). The nationalization of the sovereignty principle immediately raised the question, however, of which groups could legitimately claim the right to self-determination and state recognition? Neither in theory nor practice has this question proved easy to answer. This chapter traces the attempts to do so in the twentieth century, the emergence of an orthodox interpretation after 1945, i.e. self-determination as decolonization, the impact of the cold war, and attempts to widen the interpretation in the context of self-determination disputes in different parts of the world that have arisen since 1989. The chapter concludes that the present situation is confused and that no new consensus has unambiguously emerged.

Keywords: Sovereignty; self-determination; international society; secession; irredentism; ethnic nationalism; civic nationalism

Article.  9287 words. 

Subjects: History ; International History

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