The Break-up of Yugoslavia and International Law.

AuthorLalonde, Suzanne N.
PositionBook Review

London: Routledge, 2002. Pp. ix, 278.

For centuries, the attribution of territory and the determination of boundaries has been one of the major threats to world peace and stability. These thorny and divisive issues, with their potential for violence, are of critical importance in the context of the dissolution of a state or secession by a group within a state. In The Break-up of Yugoslavia and International Law, Peter Radan, a senior lecturer at Macquarie University in New South Wales Australia, tackles the difficult question of boundary determination through a critical analysis of a recent precedent, namely the break-up of the former Yugoslavia.

At the heart of Radan's study lies the question of why claims to statehood by four of Yugoslavia's constituent republics were recognized by the international community while similar claims advanced by national groups within those republics were categorically rejected. On what grounds were the internal federal borders of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Macedonia deemed sacrosanct, effectively trumping any claim to revision from within, when these same republics had themselves, by their actions, called into question and radically transformed the borders of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia ("SFRY")?

According to Radan, historical events (e.g., the Enlightenment, the French and American Revolutions) bequeathed to international law not one but two theoretical versions of the right of self-determination--the "classical" and "romantic" theories--deriving from a differing understanding of the term "the people", those endowed with the right of self-determination.

Radan insists that the implications of these two distinct theories of self-determination are highly significant for state creation. If an individual's identity is tied to the state or territorial unit (the "classical theory"), self-determination will take place within the territorial confines of that state or unit. The classical theory therefore supports the principles of territorial integrity and the inviolability of state borders. But if an individual's loyalty is to the cultural group or nation (the "romantic" theory)--the two expressions being synonymous in much of the literature on the topic (11)--self-determination will take place when that nation obtains its own state. Consequently, the romantic theory admits the alteration of existing state borders and clearly contemplates secession as well as irredentism.

Radan claims that "most of the recent and current claims to self-determination are based on the romantic theory of self-determination, including those relating to the former Yugoslavia" (15). He rejects the widely held view that "a people" must be defined as the total population of a political unit, such as a colonial entity or an independent state. Radan argues, rather, that UN and other international documents, as well as international practice, support the view that a nation or national groups are included within the meaning of "a people". The conclusion that a nation is "a people" leads Radan to argue that secession from an internationally recognized state pursuant to the right of self-determination of peoples is legally and practically possible. He does, however, concede that this right to secede is limited by the strict condition that it can only occur when a state discriminates against, and thereby denies selfdetermination to, a group within that state. (1)

Having insisted that a fight to secession flows from the right of self-determination of peoples, Radan then tackles the critical issue of the determination of the precise territorial parameters of the seceding entity. Confronted with the break-up of the former Yugoslavia, the international community held that in the context of secession from a federal state, secession must occur within the confines of existing federal borders. The legal justification for this conclusion was the principle of uti possidetis. (2)

Radan begins by presenting an historical analysis of the...

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