Earned Sovereignty: The Future of Sovereignty-Based Conflict Resolution

By Williams, Paul R. | Denver Journal of International Law and Policy, Winter 2011 | Go to article overview

Earned Sovereignty: The Future of Sovereignty-Based Conflict Resolution


Williams, Paul R., Denver Journal of International Law and Policy


INTRODUCTION

In the coming decades, the world is likely to see continuing conflict arising from the inherent tension between self-determination and territorial integrity. In the 1950's and 1960's, the world grappled with a wave of new states emerging from decolonization. In the 1990s and 2000's, the world witnessed the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and the Sudan, as well as the separation of Eritrea from Ethiopia and East Timor from Indonesia. In the 1990's, almost half of all peace agreements failed within five years. In the 21st century, 90 percent of civil wars occurred in countries that had already endured civil war within the last 30 years. As we look toward the horizon, it is safe to say that deep-seated tension will continue to exist between groups seeking to exercise their right to internal or external self-determination, and states looking to preserve their territorial integrity. While some of these conflicts may play out peacefully, we know from experience that the clash between self-determination and territorial integrity leads in most cases to violence met by violence.

If the lessons of the past few years are any indication, it is also likely that the conflict resolution approach of earned sovereignty will be turned to as a means for bridging the impasse between self-determination and territorial integrity. Earned sovereignty is the conditional and progressive devolution of sovereign powers and authority from a state to a substate entity under international supervision. The approach, which has its roots in the Northern Ireland and Bougainville peace agreements, among others, proved successful in structuring the separation of Montenegro from Serbia, East Timor from Indonesia, Kosovo from Serbia, and South Sudan from the Sudan. Professor Ved Nanda's lifetime of work on the question of self-determination played a crucial role in the development of the approach of earned sovereignty.

During the course of advising numerous states and substate entities on questions of self-determination, I have invariably turned to the ideas and concepts developed by Professor Nanda. Professor Nanda has led the field in proposing specific criteria for resolving claims of self-determination. He has always resisted the temptation to adopt a "sovereignty first" or "self-determination first" approach. Rather, he has endeavored to paint a realistic picture of the effect that sovereignty-based conflicts have on the stability of our world, and to identify ways in which these conflicts may be better resolved.

This article will first discuss the significant impact that Professor Nanda's scholarship has had on the self-determination debate, setting the stage for the development of earned sovereignty. Next, it will trace the development of the earned sovereignty approach to its current status as a widely accepted conflict resolution approach that has been extensively utilized to resolve sovereignty-based conflicts throughout the world. This article will then revisit the elements that make up the earned sovereignty approach and will analyze the successful use of the approach to resolve the conflicts in Kosovo and South Sudan.

SETTING THE FOUNDATION FOR EARNED SOVEREIGNTY

Professor Ved Nanda first staked a role in the self-determination debate in the early 1970's when he wrote about East Pakistan's right to self-determination. (1) In that first piece, Professor Nanda argued that a set of criteria for self-determination should be developed, and he proposed a basic set of elements to jump-start the discussion. (2) At that time, he urged that claims to non-colonial self-determination were going to rise quickly and sharply, and that the international community would be wise to consider certain of these claims. (3) When Professor Nanda later looked back on the East Pakistani conflict, which had resulted in the birth of Bangladesh, he again argued for the extension of self-determination to groups "deprived of the opportunity to participate in the value processes of a body politic. …

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