States, nations, and colonies: The law and politics of self-determination

Research output: Chapter in book/report/conference proceedingChapter


This chapter investigates how-and how effectively-international law strikes a balance between the individual and collective rights of people, and the prerogatives of sovereign states. It begins by exploring the what, who, and where of self-determination. Self-determination is a concept that has meant different things to different people at different times. Its meaning under international law can only be understood in relation to the shifting paradigms of international politics in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The chapter discusses the Wilsonian principle of self-determination and its partial application during the interwar period. It then turns to the post-Second World War rebirth of self-determination as a right of colonized peoples to independent statehood. The chapter also considers the concept of internal self-determination, before analysing what external self-determination has come to mean in non-colonial contexts and the problem of remedial secession. Finally, it examines the law and politics of recognition of statehood.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Politics of International Law
EditorsNicole Scicluna
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages27
ISBN (Print)9780198791201
Publication statusPublished - 25 Feb 2021

User-Defined Keywords

  • international law
  • individual rights
  • collective rights
  • sovereign states
  • self-determination
  • international politics
  • statehood
  • internal self-determination
  • external self-determination
  • remedial secession


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