Two Rights Make a Wrong: "Self-Determination" Revisited

Publication type
Pull Quote

"In the best of worlds, self-determination should be dual and reciprocal."


A year ago, Western champions led by the United States declared Kosovo independence “sui generis,” a unique case of self-determination that sets no precedent. The case of Kosovo, however, is not (that) unique, and it did serve as a precedent. Russia was quick to counter with its own “sui generis” in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and another war ensued. The link between self-determination and mutual destruction loomed from the beginning. “Self-determination,” argued U.S. President Woodrow Wilson in 1918, “is not a mere phrase. It is an imperative principle of action, which statesmen will henceforth ignore at their peril.” Nevertheless, Wilson’s own Secretary of State, Robert Lansing, countered that the “application of this principle is dangerous to peace and stability.” Both were right.