May 13, 2019

A new report by the Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination at Princeton University (LISD) and the Permanent Mission of Liechtenstein to the United Nations in New York, "Self-Determination in Conflict Prevention and Resolution," focuses on the linkages between self-determination and conflict, in particular with regard to conflict prevention. The report summarizes discussions from a December 2018 conference convened at Princeton University by LISD and the Permanent Mission of Liechtenstein to the UN, under the auspices of the Liechtenstein Initiative on Self-Determination, focusing on four thematic areas: definitional and conceptual issues surrounding self-determination; prevention and resolution of self-determination conflicts; selected issues in addressing self-determination conflicts; engagement with states and affected communities. This report summarizes key points and policy recommendations of those discussions.


The UN Secretary-General has placed strong emphasis on conflict prevention and enhanced UN work in the area of mediation. Preventive diplomacy provides an important opportunity to consider how to address self-determination conflicts at the earliest possible stage. To do so requires a better understanding of the relationship between self-determination and conflict, and of the potential for sustainable solutions to these conflicts, which are often founded on deep and intractable divisions.

While affected peoples and experts continue to invoke self-determination in the context of a wide range of ongoing disputes or forms of governance, discussion of self-determination claims at the United Nations focus almost exclusively on decolonization and secession claims. In addition, states often see communities that seek a greater measure of self-governance as internal threats to their sovereignty and territorial integrity, and consequently are likely to refuse dialogue and resist calls to involve external actors or mediators in the process of addressing conflicts with those communities. However, there exists a relatively rich history of cases in which states have successfully addressed self-determination claims without leading to independence and secession, from which other states facing such challenges may benefit. Mediators have often been key to these successes, and many of them have significant experience of facilitating agreement on issues that can help prevent or resolve self-determination conflicts. The December meeting was convened as part of the broader Liechtenstein Initiative on Self-Determination which draws on mediators’ experience and expertise to develop guidelines that are explicitly aimed at addressing self-determination conflicts, with the aim of reconciling self-determination claims with the territorial integrity of states.

About the Liechtenstein Initiative on Self-Determination

The Liechtenstein Initiative on Self-Determination aims to promote ways to address self-determination claims while respecting the territorial integrity of states. The initiative’s main goal is to prevent conflict between governments and communities that seek a greater measure of governance over their own affairs, with an emphasis on solutions that do not lead to secession and independence, but instead ensure appropriate levels of self-governance. In service of this goal, the approach of the Liechtenstein Initiative highlights the need for early and ongoing dialogue between governments and communities, and puts forward possible solutions for them to pursue together in order to create and sustain peaceful societies. The first meeting of the Initiative was held in 2016 in Triesenberg, Liechtenstein, “Reconciling Self-Determination and Territorial Integrity: Models of Self-Governance as Tools to Promote Peace and Stability in Europe,” co-convened by the LISD and the Permanent Mission of Liechtenstein to the UN. This conference was organized to discuss ways of realizing a community’s desire for self-determination while preserving the territorial integrity of states, with specific reference to conflicts in Eastern Europe.