Secession is one of the legal manifestations of the
relationship between states and their sub-national identities, and should be
regarded as the ‘ultimate assertion of sovereignty of national groups over the
territory which they inhabit’.1 From the
perspective of international law, self-determination is the total freedom of
peoples to choose their own political, social and economic regime. It combines
the elements of nationalism and democracy: people can invoke the right to
self-determination either to create a new state through secession, or
alternatively, to achieve other objectives, such as building autonomous units
within the existing state. International law has failed to provide a coherent
framework to respond to the tensions cause by self-determination claims. The
term ‘peoples’ and its ambiguity protects states from the use of the principle
for the purpose of secession.

Self-determination was recognised as a principle of
international law at the beginning of the 20th century, after the
First World War, by Article 1 of the UN Charter, which calls for ‘friendly
relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and
self-determination of peoples’.1
According to Leni’s policy of self-determination –which was the foundation of
the internal dynamics of Soviet Russia- the socialist cause had priority over
the principle of self-determination that he strategically promoted only in the
context of ‘class struggle’. Hence to him self-determination was a tool for the
purpose of socialisation. By contrast, US President Wilson viewed the concept
of self-determination as a corollary of popular sovereignty. He popularised the
concept by granting the statehood to nations, and understood it as a fair
criterion to determine territorial changes. His application of the principle
was confined to the division of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires.
Furthermore, he recommended using the principle in settling colonial disputes,
but considered that self-determination should be reconciled with the interests
of the colonial powers.