The Question of Statehood: a natural right?


What is the purpose/aim of this project?

There are two main schools of thought dealing with the question of statehood: the constitutive and the declaratory theories. The constitutive theory states that a state can only be considered so if it is internationally recognized by other pre-existing states, while the declaratory theory suggests that recognition is not necessary, instead a set of criteria must be met for a nation to become a state, which are: permanent population, an effective government, defined territory, and ability to enter into international relations. There have been attempts in the past at reconciling these two theories by notable scholars and philosophers. Some have suggested that the UN membership be a determining factor of statehood. Others have dismissed the whole concept of recognition because they believe the act of recognizing a state by another threatens the purported state’s sovereignty, therefore statehood should not rely on individual state discretion. There is meager literature on this topic, in spite of the said attempts, which is why I want to address this gap.

Why is this topic important?

All in the name of FREEDOM, SOVEREIGNTY, INDEPENDENCE, SELF-DETERMINATION, but what do these words mean nowadays?

“The principle of self-determination evolved into a legal right in the twenty-first century when it became topical after the decolonization of Asia and Africa, because it was a time when self-determination rhetoric rose, favoring the idea of independence from colonial rule, […] ‘recently, the term is associated with struggles by groups within a state for greater autonomy or independence – primarily ethno-nationalist claims or counter-reactions to oppression or authoritarianism.'” I noted this transformation in a research paper on the rights of nation and discussed the implications of this transformations, which are two: the right of self-determination, and the need for a universal declaration of nations’ rights. I conducted a survey asking 30 students from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds the two questions below, to which 21 responded with the following results:

Should every nation become a state if it wanted to? Should nations have a universal, codified set of rights?

Yes: 76.19%

No: 19.05%

Other: 4.76%

Yes always: 85.71%

Yes, but only in some cases: 9.52%

Never: 4.76%

What do these results mean?

It is clear that there is a sense of responsibility shared by most respondents of the survey towards the rights of nations. One respondent explained that nations do not need a universal declaration because there formal and informal international rules that outline their rights and duties. This is true, several UN documents do so: Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples (1960s), the Montevideo Convention (1933), Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation among States (1970s). Unfortunately, none of these documents have proven to be most authoritative in the scholarship and literature on statehood, which is why states across the globe must agree one drafting one and passing it by the UN.

My survey has limitations. First of all, the sample size is very small, only 21 students responded. Secondly, this group of students is not representative of the world’s views or opinions, therefore it is only reliable to a certain extent. Thirdly, the questions aim at getting a “yes” or “no” answer only, while allowing the respondent to reply with “other” and suggest alternatives or explain their opinion.

So what?

This topic is very complicated, as its history is loaded with paradoxes, leaving you with more questions than answers, which is why I took it upon myself to make it easier to understand the problem in order to solve it. I created an infographic chart – like a crash course but in one still picture – to explain the essential questions of the topic, so that, hopefully, you understand them better. I have shared this chart with my peers, friends and family and I suggest you do the same!

Here is the link to the chart.

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  1. April 29, 2017 by Mila Tewell

    This issue goes well beyond the theoretical, Marah, as you eloquently note in your infographic highlighting the plight of populations around the world seeking recognition as states. Reaching beyond the philosophers — Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities or Ernest Gellner Nations and Nationalism? It would be interesting to survey your student population on the specific fate of a would be nation — should people X have the right to be a nation? Isn’t that the very fateful vote the global community takes, by choosing to support (or not) a inchoate nation?

    • April 30, 2017 by Marah Ajeilat

      Hey! Thank you for your feedback. This is actually the first time I hear about Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities, but I’m intrigued! Definitely checking it out. Also, I am planning on pursuing this topic further even after high school and college, so your suggestion is very helpful! Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  2. April 29, 2017 by Mousa A

    Marah, this is a really interesting take on an issue that has long been lauded as one of the central tenets of contemporary politics. I like how you’ve sort of picked at the framework of the modern nation-state concept in reference to the general public’s perception of what is understood to be the ‘right’ of self determination. Very thought provoking, great job!

    • April 30, 2017 by Marah Ajeilat

      Hey Mousa! Nice to hear from a peer =) This is something I kind of struggled with in the beginning, because the definition of self determination evolved massively since the 18th century, and it is necessary to know a little about how it has changed, ultimately, however, the comparative study of modern concepts is more directly relevant. Thanks for your feedback!

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