Self-Determination without Secession
by Michael Jewkes
Self-determination is that rarest of things in political discourse: a concept
that enjoys almost universal assent. Enshrined in the very first article of the
United Nations Charter, it owes its broad-based support to its ability to be many
things to many people: simultaneously being associated with democracy, postcolonialism,
external sovereignty, the commensurate worth and status of nations,
and the maintenance of peaceful international relations.
As with human rights, though—one of the few other normative ideals to enjoy
such rarefied status—we find that much of this apparent consensus dissipates
once the platitudes have been dispensed with and we are attempting to fill in the
outline of self-determination with meaningful implementation. Questions over
the moral grounding, content, and relevant holder of the right, and indeed whether
it can be considered an enforceable right, have all provoked lengthy discussion,
and thus far, little consensus.