Wolfgang Danspeckgruber, ed. The Self-determination of Peoples: Community, Nation, and State in an Interdependent World. Boulder and London: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2002. xvi + 467 pp. $59.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-55587-793-4.
Reviewed by Stefan Wolff (Department of European Studies, University of Bath)
Published on H-Diplo (February, 2003)
The concept of self-determination has exercised the hearts and minds of scholars and politicians for most of the twentieth century, and there is no indication that the beginning of the new millennium has brought about any fundamental change in this respect. Self-determination, even though conceptually it has both an internal and an external dimension, is often seen as a threat to two other fundamental concepts of international relations, namely the territorial integrity and sovereignty of existing states. To find a solution to this problem is the laudable aim of the editor of this volume and his contributors, and they do that in a three-step process: following a conceptual discussion of self-determination and the different ways in which different actors at various levels of the international system have responded to the challenges it poses for them, seven chapters examine in detail cases of self-determination crises that were avoided or solved, or that escalated into violence. A final assessment by the editor brings together the findings of the individual chapters and assesses the potential of two discrete "mechanisms to address and anticipate issues of self-determination in a given state: the introduction of modes and mechanisms in a national constitution and the elaboration of a new option to satisfy communal aspirations of freedom and equality with the longings and needs of the individual citizen in our interdependent world--communal self-governance plus regional integration" (p. 9). A series of appendices--including the "Liechtenstein Draft Convention on Self-determination through Self-administration," a commentary on it by Sir Arthur Watts, a list of self-determination and interstate conflicts since 1990, and a list of the principal treaties and agreements relating to self-determination--add further value to this timely contribution to the ongoing debate in political science and international law on how best to prevent and resolve the numerous self-determination crises that have engulfed the contemporary international system.
The conceptual discussion in part 1 of the book is very thorough and goes well beyond a historical examination of the development of self-determination into a unique tool for the political mobilisation of ethnically (or otherwise) distinct groups in their quest for independent statehood. Jeffrey Herbst, in his chapter, assesses the future of the nation-state, as both a concept and an existing reality. He observes correctly that the rise to dominance of nation-states was primarily grounded in their "unique ability to unite a market and population under sovereign rule [which] provided leaders in successive centuries with important economies of scale in military, economic, and political affairs that could not be achieved any other way" (p. 17). However, throughout the last several decades significant changes in the international political economy in particular have resulted in "powerful political, economic, and military forces that fully support the geographer's view of a world with an increasing number of small nation-states" (p. 30). Herbst concludes that nation-states, albeit more of them and smaller in size, will continue to dominate the international system, but simultaneously warns that "if new security threats emerge, many of the economic and political advantages of smallness will have to be reconsidered" (p. 30).
Richard Falk traces the origins and development of the right to self-determination in international law and contends that, on the basis of international law doctrine and practice, it is not possible to rule out secession as a specific way for a people to exercise its right to self-determination. Instead, any such decision must be based on an assessment of "the merits and overall reasonableness of such a claim in its particular context" (p. 47).
Michael Doyle approaches self-determination from the perspective of the international community's responses to recent self-determination crises and proposes that the United Nations "seek out a consensual basis for a restoration of law and order in domestic crises and try to implement its global human rights and self-determination agenda in a way that produces less friction and more support" (p. 85). This is an incredibly high standard to set, but Doyle does not leave things in the abstract of normative demands. Rather, he proposes very concrete strategies regarding how to achieve such "enhanced consent" in the areas of peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding. Drawing on the examples of UN engagement in Cambodia, El Salvador, and Eastern Slavonia, Doyle's chapter is extremely relevant at a time when the United Nations faces an increasing number of similar challenges around the globe.
The last two chapters in part 1, one by Emilio Cardenas and Maria Fernanda Canas, and the other by John Waterbury, take a more critical view at the concept of self-determination. Cardenas and Canas argue against the abuse of the principle of self-determination due to the fragmentation of existing states and the balkanisation of entire regions, and against the ethnic (and other) intolerance in which they often result. Their attempt to redefine self-determination "does not include the right to secede but, instead, the right to autonomy and democracy" (p. 115). This runs counter to Richard Falk's earlier argument that secession cannot and should not be ruled out as one way to exercise the right to self-determination. Perhaps too radical in its absolute opposition to secession, this examination by Cardenas and Canas is nevertheless intriguing as they conclude, rightly in my view, that the "road to a lasting world peace and the well-being of all peoples is through interconnected communities, not through fragmentation" (p. 117). John Waterbury's critique of the concept of self-determination is, in many ways, more fundamental, as he takes issue with the fact "that we have very weak guides as to what constitutes ... groups and that in trying to protect them we may endow certain of them with a factitious reality that is neither historically nor dynamically grounded" (p. 199). Drawing on case studies of Southern Sudan, Lebanon and the Kurds, Waterbury argues against the institutionalisation of group claims (e.g., in the form of autonomy), and suggests that it may be "more important to introduce sound democratic practice than to focus on autonomy or independence, for such practice is a better guarantee of renewable consent than are units erected on claims of historical injustice and group righteousness" (p. 141). This is problematic in as much as it implies that autonomy and sound democratic practice would be mutually exclusive. >From a more practical point of view, it also seems unlikely that manyg (minority) groups, especially in the early post-conflict days, would be satisfied with "sound democratic practice" alone, as this always bears the danger of majoritarianism and discrimination unless there are proper safeguards in place that can be found in many stable autonomy systems.
The case studies in part 2 of the volume provide some fascinating comparative material in their global coverage of (actual and potential) self-determination crises. Since space limitations do not permit me to engage with each one of them in detail, I just want to draw the reader's attention to a small number of particularly noteworthy issues.
Danspeckgruber's own analysis of regionalization in western Europe addresses the important issue that regional integration can very well take the heat out of many potentially violent self-determination conflicts, because "integration brings enhanced autonomy, decentralisation, and devolution of power" (p. 173) to sub-state entities. In the final assessment, these entities would hardly be any more sovereign as independent states in a context where they remain members of the same supra-national organisation and are subject to many of the same regulations, and even continue to use the same currency.
Ian Lustick makes the important point that talking about self-determination is necessarily connected with the "contraction in scope and range of authority exercised by existing states" (p. 223). This leads him to contend that state contraction might be a way of productively addressing contemporary self-determination conflicts, that is, "adding state contraction as an alternative to expansion, assimilation, annihilation, expulsion, collapse or forcible dismemberment would seem not only intellectually necessary but downright useful" (p. 226).
William Wohlforth and Tyler Felgenhauer, too, make a well-informed and considered contribution in their discussion of the Russian Federation, observing that the "key feature of Russian regional politics is the frequent fusion of political, economic, and national or ethnic claims such that the relative importance of each motivation is hard to disentangle" (p. 229). They reach a two-part conclusion. First, that "state-shattering forms of self-determination are unlikely to be at the forefront of the agenda in Russia" (p. 251), but that the "real issues are governance, economic development, democratization, and, in several crucial cases, self-determination through self-administration" (p. 251). The other, and perhaps equally important, part of their conclusion is about the interaction of internal and external factors in Russia's development. Here the authors, correctly, emphasise the predominance of internal factors and the need to keep external factors at a level that "they remain unthreatening to the core security of Russia" (p. 252), but also that the international community needs to offer Russia assistance in developing "a coherent set of rules and norms for governing ... interactions" between the central government and subnational units, including those "where outsider play important roles: Kaliningrad, Karelia, and the Far East, for example" (p. 252).
Atul Kohli addresses the question whether democracies can accommodate ethnic nationalism. His main hypothesis is that "all other things being equal, the more the authority of the central state is institutionalized and the more accommodating the ruling strategy, the more likely it is that self-determination movements will traverse the shape of an inverse U-curve" (p. 293), i.e., it will be possible to accommodate ethnic nationalism in the long run. The case studies of self-determination movements in India generally support this hypothesis. Nevertheless, I wonder whether the institutionalisation of central state authority is the best variable to use. Rather, I would contend, it may be more persuasive to pair it up with the degree of institutionalisation of authority that the self-determination movement has, and then to arrive at the resulting power differential between the two as a variable. This would still allow the "direct macrofocus on state and societal conditions" that, Kohli argues, makes it possible to derive "generalizations about the conditions that help explain the rise and decline of ethnic movements" (p. 313).
Minxin Pei, in his analysis of self-administration and local autonomy in China addresses an extremely important issue for a country that has almost 100 million people who belong to ethnic minorities, many of whom live in areas that are of strategic political and economic importance to the central government. While not all of the many challenges arising from this situation have been addressed successfully or satisfactorily, Pei sees the example of Hong Kong as encouraging, so far, and its potential success "will have far-reaching implications for the solution of the difficult problems posed by Tibet and Taiwan" (p. 332).
In his conclusion, Wolfgang Danspeckgruber, aptly prefaces his summary of the main findings by emphasising "that the single most important dimension [of self-determination conflicts] is the effect on the individual human being" and that therefore the "primary objective is to find mechanisms and policies to help avoid the danger of bloodshed and destruction for the future, to search for new avenues to satisfy both the aspirations of the communities and peoples concerned while maintaining stability and peace in the state and the region" (p. 335). This, he underlines, is not becoming any easier, given that self-determination conflicts have become linked to a number of emerging issues that complicate their resolution and make it all the more necessary at the same time. These emerging issues concern frequent and intense international media coverage, the involvement of diaspora communities, the internationalization of organised crime, and easy global access to scientific and military information. The policy options Danspeckgruber subsequently spells outin great detail, for communal and state leaders as well as for the international community in the increasingly complex web of factors in which self-determination crises are played out, set a very high standard and require a genuine commitment of skills and resources that will not be easy to achieve. However, without at least aspiring to meet these standards because the price to pay for prevention and resolution of actual and potential self-determination crises seems too high in the short term, a much higher price in human suffering is certain to be paid in the longer term.
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Stefan Wolff. Review of Danspeckgruber, Wolfgang, ed., The Self-determination of Peoples: Community, Nation, and State in an Interdependent World.
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