On the Right to External Self-Determination: "Selfistans," Secession, and the Great Powers' Rule

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Minnesota Journal of International Law


self-determination, international law, statehood, state secession


This Article will discuss, in Part II, the notion of self-determination, its history, and its recent applications. In Part III, this Article will describe how the theory of self-determination is linked to other international law concepts, such as statehood, recognition, sovereignty, and intervention. In Part IV, this Article will focus on several case studies to illustrate the discrepancy of results attached to the self-determination struggles by different peoples. This Article will describe the self-determination quests of East Timor, Kosovo, Chechnya, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia, and will show that while the first two entities achieved external self-determination, the latter three did not. Finally, in Part V, this Article will argue that each self-determination seeking entity needs to meet four different criteria in order to have its quest validated by the international community. These four criteria include a showing by the relevant people that it has been oppressed, that its central government is relatively weak, that it has been administered by some international organization or group, and that it has garnered the support of the most powerful states on our planet. This Article will conclude by positing that the fourth criterion is the most crucial one: that any self-determination seeking group must obtain the support of the most powerful states, which I (and other scholars) refer to as the "Great Powers." It is the Great Powers' support, or lack thereof, that determines the fate of numerous peoples on our planet struggling to gain independence. This Article will posit that the right to external self-determination accrues for different peoples if and when the Great Powers decide to recognize those peoples' causes. Ultimately, this Article will argue that such a result is unfortunate, as it inappropriately mixes the legal with the political realms, and that any rule by the Great Powers inherently challenges the notion of state sovereignty and equality.