Florida State University Journal of Transnational Law & Policy


Despite the prevalence of interethnic conflict and its threat to world order, the global constitutive process offers no universal mechanism, such as an international tribunal, to adjudicate the claims advanced by non-state, ethnic minorities. This author advocates establishing such a mechanism. During our present century, the power of politicized ethnicity in international and intra-state affairs repeatedly manifests itself around the globe in countries old and new. Ethnopolitical movements involve the mobilization of people on the bases of cultural characteristics, such as language, tradition, religion, homeland, and selected physical traits. Ethnopolitics significantly affects the world order. In 1973, Walter Connor wrote: In a world consisting of thousands of distinct ethnic groups and only some one hundred and thirty-five states, the revolutionary potential inherent in self-determination is quite apparent. All but fourteen of today's states contain at least one significant minority and half of the fourteen exceptions are characterized by that so-called irredentist situation in which the dominant ethnic group extends beyond the state's borders. Connor added that about 40% of the world's states contain more than five sizable ethnic populations. Today there may be as many as 5,000 discrete ethnic or national populations in the world as compared to about 176 independent states. These demographic facts coupled with the existence of legitimized ideologies of national self-determination have created a world with ethnically-based coalitions and conflicts. Within the past two decades, about half the world's states have experienced some form of inter-ethnic strife, and it has often been more violent than class or doctrinal conflict. By the early 1980s, mostof the world's 12 to 15 million refugees had "fled their countries as a result of ethnic, tribal or religious persecution," as dominant ethnic groups attempted to maintain their political and economic power at the expense of weaker ones. The interethnic strife in the former Yugoslavia during the present decade has created more refugees than Europe has witnessed since World War II. We can expect that future population growth, competition for scarce resources, and natural disasters will exacerbate interethnic strife and create even more refugees. In our present era, ethnonationalism represents a major legitimator and delegitimator of regimes. The former Yugoslavia and the former Soviet Union both fragmented along ethnic lines, and some successor states of the Soviet Union are experiencing demands for even further ethnic fragmentation. In most states, a government's legitimacy rests, in significant degree, on its ability to convince the governed that it shares and represents their ethnic identity. Today, most people want to be ruled by their own kind. Ethnicity is a major organizing principle of the new world order. While the truth of ethnonational self-determination now appears to be self-evident, scholars trace its origins back only to the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Its intellectual seeds are found in the writings of John Locke (government's duty is to protect the inalienable rights of the individual) and of Jean Jacques Rousseau (the general will). The roots of these complementary doctrines took hold during the French Revolution. The famous 1791 Declaration of the Rights of Man declared "[t]he principle of all sovereignty rests essentially in the nation. No body and no individual may exercise authority which does not emanate from the nation expressly." Despite the nationalistic appeals of Napoleon, the linkage between ethnicity and politics in Europe remained weak until the 1848 revolutions, which were largely unsuccessful. By the end of the First World War, nationalism had swept Europe transforming its political map in the process. It received further impetus from U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, who promoted the idea of "self-determination of nations" at the Paris Peace Conference. Today, most countries are wrestling with two conflicting universal principles: (1) the right of self-determination of national peoples and (2) the inviolability and political integrity of sovereign territory. This dichotomy exists regardless of how territory may have been acquired or how ethnically diverse residential population may be. There is probably no state that does not feel the pressures of politicized ethnic assertion. Political entrepreneurs from different corners of the globe mobilize loyal followings by appealing to primordial ties. Successful national movements in one part of the world become the models and justifications for similar movements elsewhere. The ideology of ethnonationalism has validated itself with pragmatic results. Ethnonationalism's ubiquity and generality, in terms of its ideological, organizational, and symbolic dimensions, suggest that modern humankind has failed to find an equally satisfactory alternative.