27.1 Does the principle of national self-determination threaten stable international relations?

1. Is there a contradiction between the principle of national self-determination and that of state sovereignty?

  • Ostensibly this may appear to be a contradictory question, as sovereignty is premised on non-intervention, and consequently on self-determination.
  • However, the idea of the national as an identity marker of a closed community can, and often does, challenge the notion of sovereignty. Thus, hardly any existing state is truly 'national' in the sense of ethnic homogeneity. This is sometimes used by political elites claiming to represent a repressed national minority to raise a demand for a new state justified by NSD.

2. Is the principle of national self-determination a threat to stable international relations?

  • Sovereignty is one of the most fundamental tenets of international law and, therefore, a defining element of international order. Thus, to the extent that NSD threatens sovereignty, it threatens the stability of the international order.
  • On the other hand, there are those who argue that a world order of nation-states based on NSD is essential for stable international relations. This argument is most fundamentally embedded in a historical narrative of Imperial Europe during the world wars. It is argued that empires ceased to be sustainable due to the impact of world wars, which meant that countries could no longer impose their power overseas. Consequently, when popular political movements demanded their 'own' governments, stability could only be restored by the formation of new nation-states.

3. Is globalisation undermining national identity? If so, does that also discredit the principle of national self-determination?

  • On the one hand, it is argued that states remain the most important units of power in the modern world, where national solidarity remains the most important political loyalty.
  • On the other hand, it is argued that globalization has encouraged identity markers to be placed across borders and national culture. This camp argues that the current era of globalization is eroding territorial sovereignty and national identity. Indeed such theorists suggest that the notion of a world divided into sharply separated states, justified on the basis of national self-determination, is becoming increasingly redundant.