Modelling Democratic Secession in International Law
Steven Wheatley, ‘Modelling Democratic Secession in International Law’ in Stephen Tierney (ed.), Nationalism and Globalisation: New Settings, New Challenges (Oxford: Hart, Forthcoming)
33 Pages Posted: 19 Oct 2014
Date Written: October 17, 2014
The objective of this chapter is to evaluate whether the emergent teleology of the international law system can accommodate a right of democratic secession: the right of a group to a State by virtue of the fact that its political leaders have been able to mobilize majority support around a nationalist case in favour of independence. The work first outlines the way in which international law responds to claims of national self-determination, concluding that the extant incoherence in the doctrine and practice suggests a requirement for a new conceptual model to make sense of this issue. In common with a long tradition in the social sciences (including law), the chapter looks to developments in the natural sciences to make sense of the social world – in this case by reference to a variant of systems theory known as complexity, which is focused on emergent systems that represent the patterned communications of networks of agents, without any central controller or guiding hand. Following the insights from complexity, we can develop an abstract model of State as the observation of the patterned communications of the coevolved and coexistent law and politics systems. The third part of the chapter relies on this abstract model to outline a right of democratic secession in three related steps: the rejection of the sovereign authority of the territorial State by certain subjects; the acceptance of the authority of emergent systems of law and politics of a new political entity; and observation (or ‘recognition’) of the political entity as possessing legitimate political authority. The work concludes by reflecting on the implications of the analysis for the events of 2014 in the Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine.
Keywords: International law, self-determination, secession, complexity theory
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