Self determination and the territorial integrity

The principles of territorial integrity and self determination are two important principles which apply to international law and politics. These principles define the relationships which a country should have with others especially regarding global politics. The principle of self determination explains that countries have the right to freely determine their international politics status and sovereignty without outside or external interference (Gudeleviciute 1-5). The principle of territorial integrity on the other hand explains that countries should avoid promoting border changes or secessionist movements in other countries. Such movements or changes are viewed as acts of aggression. Although these two principles play an important role in international politics, they sometimes come into conflict due when being applied.

It is important to assess these principles in more detail in order to understand the areas in which conflict may be experienced when implementing these two principles of international law. This paper aims at analyzing the principles of territorial integrity and self determination in more detail as well as establishing circumstances under which the two principles may come into conflict. The paper will also assess which of the principles is more important when applying international politics as well as the benefits and weaknesses of both principles. The discussed issues will be summarized at the end.

Principle of territorial integrity

The principle of territorial integrity as discussed states that countries should avoid promoting border changes or secessionist movements in other countries. This principle was developed many centuries ago due to the belief that intruding into another territory is an act of aggression which justifies war. Many wars including the First and Second World War have been fought as a result of applying the territorial integrity principle. The adoption of the UN charter by countries supported territorial integrity.

Benefits of principle

One benefit of the territorial integrity principle is that it seeks to protect states from acts of aggression by other states. The territorial integrity protects the borders of states from external aggression acts by other states, and in doing so; the people within such territories are protected (Annalisa 44-48). This principle also upholds the sovereign nature of states and prevents interference from external parties or states.

Weaknesses of principle

There are various weaknesses of the principle of territorial integrity. One weakness of this principle is that it is seen to prevent the evolution of states. States are dynamic and they have a lifecycle which begins and ends over time. The principle of territorial integrity is seen to ignore this view and it pushes for a fixed position on the territories of states. As a result, many states go into war when their territories are invaded instead of seeking mutual solutions to problems which face them. The principle of territorial integrity has been seen to cause many past and present wars which may have been avoided if the principle was implemented in a peaceful and dynamic manner (Spielvogel 17-22).

Principle of national self-determination

As earlier discussed, this principle is seeks to empower countries to freely determine their international politics status and sovereignty without outside interference. This principle can be traced to the mid-19th Century although past historical events such as the American Revolution are seen as roots of self determination principle. There are three important theories which are linked to national determination. The realist theory of liberal internationalism promotes liberty within states and supports abolition of war (Betty 23-28). The realist theory which was applied during the Cold War supports the view that territorial integrity is more important than self determination. Cosmopolitan liberalism on the other hand supports the shift of political power to a global government, which would facilitate easy changing of boundaries.

Benefits of principle

One benefit of the self determination principle is that it seeks to promote democracy. This principle advocates for the implementation of the will of the people without interference from external actors, and this is consistent with modern democracy. This principle is beneficial for modern states which aim at implementing democracy and implementing the will of people (Elizabeth 192-193).

Weaknesses of principle

One major weakness of the principle of self determination arises from the definitions associated with the principle. The principle uses words such as “peoples" which have not been defined in international law. In UN resolutions, “peoples" is seen as a territorial unit’s entire population regardless of differences in characteristics of the population. However, in international law, minorities and other ethnic groups are not recognized as separate peoples.

Conflict between the principles of territorial integrity and self determination

There is a conflict between the principles of territorial integrity and self determination. The self determination principle which advocates for countries to freely determine their international politics status and sovereignty without outside interference challenges the territorial integrity principle. This is because states are made legitimate by people, which means that people should be given freedom to choose territorial boundaries and states as they wish. Self determination therefore conflicts which territorial integrity which advocates for fixed territories among states which should be respected by the rest of the world to avoid acts of aggression (Danspeckgruber 66-73).

When both principles come into conflict, it is my opinion that the self determination principle should be upheld since it possesses superior qualities to the territorial integrity principle. The self determination principle empowers states to determine their future through internal decision making as opposed to external interference. This is a principle which is consistent with democracy which supports decision making by the majority in order to determine the future of a country. The territorial integrity principle is weaker since it defines territories as a means of determining sovereignty as opposed to the will of the people. Democracy advocates for the will of the people hence if they decide to change their territory or borders, the will should be respected. The self determination principle can be seen to be one of the roots of democracy in the modern world.

Summary and conclusion

The self determination and territorial integrity principles have been evaluated in detail. Both principles are important when defining international politics and law. The principle of self determination explains that countries have the right to freely determine their international politics status and sovereignty without outside or external interference, while the principle of territorial integrity on the other hand explains that countries should avoid promoting border changes or secessionist movements in other countries. There are various weaknesses and benefits of both laws and these have been discussed in detail.

However, there is clear conflict in the application of the two principles since the self determination principle may override the territorial integrity principle as long as it is the will of the people. In the case of conflict between the two principles, it is my opinion that the self determination principle should prevail since it promotes democracy among states. In conclusion, the UN and international community should address these two principles in order to prevent the conflict of interest and ambiguity especially when it comes to definitions of terms relating to them.