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Self-determination Quest: Time for United Nations' Positive Intervention

by Olabisi Showole - 22 September 2021 47 Views
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No question about it, war is by no means endearing; it sucks the beautiful and the ugly, the royalty and the plebian, and the rich and the poor into its insatiable maw willy-nilly. Its destructiveness must be avoided. The process of war avoidance, though seemingly intractable, it should involve the activation of robust thinking acumen and a superlative and deliberate commitment of mankind to searching for peace. In this regard, we recall that it was in the wake of the never-before-experienced in history human carnage and the massive infrastructural destructions of the WW1, that the world was woken to the need to work assiduously for a process or an organisation that would prevent the recurrence or the re-enactment of the harrowing experiences of that war.


The then President of the United States of America (USA), Mr Woodrow Wilson provided the initiative for the formation of the "general association of nations", otherwise known as the League of Nations, which debuted on January 10, 1920, with the core objectives of disarmament, prevention of wars either on a worldwide or inter-state scale, and international arbitration. Despite these objectives, the world was again embroiled in the horrors of large-scale war of global reach - WWII. We may not know all the contributory factors for the failure of the League, but two factors stood out, including the lack of, ironically, the enthusiastic support of the United States of America for the League, as well as the unanimity condition (Article 5) that compelled members of the League Council to resolve whatever issues in unanimity. Unfortunately, the unanimity condition granted a veto to any member of the Council who undertook aggressive action against another member (Wikipedia).


In any case, the failure of the League of Nations led to the formation of the United Nations Organization (UNO) as its successor. The primary objective of the UN is the prevention of wars of whatever scale in terms of reaches and destructions. To the credit of UN, since its coming on stage, there had been no major war on a global scale that involved the deployment of nuclear weaponry; meaning: the world has not witnessed WWIII. But if we are generous in crediting the UN with the feat, can we honestly say that this association of world sovereign states has been active in curtailing low intensity inter-state or intra-state conflagrations and their destructive potency, thereby preventing their successful transition to major wars? Let the truth must be told, it will certainly be outlandish to credit the UN with the absence of nuclear confrontations or WW III. Indeed, it was not the efforts nor the diplomatic ingenuity of the UN, its General Assembly and the Security Council; it was the self-restraints of its members with nuclear capabilities, propelled by the natural desires for self-preservation, that informed their acknowledgement that a case of deliberate nuclear attack by any with nuclear capability will, in all probabilities, attract a disproportionately heavier response from another with the same or more capability. It was this self-preservation interest of members with nuclear capability that led to the Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) concept, otherwise called "Retaliation capability" (second strike) or "Nuclear deterrence".


With nuclear armed nations having the same capability to destroy each other, none of them will venture to launch nuclear attack on the other; that will be suicidal; it will amount to currying favour with Armageddon; reason being that if any one of these nations attacked another, for whatever reasons, that victim-nation would retaliate with equal or greater force. Of course, it was this nuclear deterrence principle that prevented the reality of the US-USSR nuclear confrontation during the Cuba missile crisis of 1962. Also, it was this self-preservation concepts of MAD, and the Strategic Arms Limitation Talk (SALT), which places moratorium on further development of nuclear weapons, that cautioned the super powers not to push their luck with respect to WWIII.


However, if for political correctness we decided, in spite of its obvious incapability, to credit the UN with the maintenance of global peace and further cloth it in the false garb of unparalleled and superlative performance or diplomatic ingenuity or exploits vis-a-vis the MAD and SALT initiatives, the discerning amongst the citizens of the world will see through the smokescreen, cry baloney, and promptly reject this false attribution as an egregious affront on their collective intelligence. They will subsequently point to the woeful failure of the UN to prevent various inter-state and intra-state flare-ups or conflicts from snowballing into low-intensity wars in almost all the continents of the world since its decolonisation success story. In that connection, the Israeli-Palestinian, Ethiopia-Eritrea and the Sudan-South Sudan wars on the continent of Africa; the wars of independence amongst nation-states of the former Yugoslavia as well as those among the Soviet satellite states after the peaceful dissolution of the USSR in 1991 will be cited as case studies of the UN ineffectiveness in preventing even low-intensity armed conflicts. Nonetheless, the world citizenry will further insist that, had the UN done the needful, by enforcing its Resolution 2625(XXV), modifying  Resolution 1514(XV), abrogating the norm of state sovereignty, or borrowing from Article 20 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights which, among others, grants the unquestionable and inalienable rights of all peoples to existence; to self-determination, to free determination of their political status, et cetera, these wars would have been avoided.


Then the conflicts between UN Self-determination Resolutions 1514(XV) and 2625(XXV), and the norm of state sovereignty declaration could count as another serious weakness of the UN. For instance, Resolution 1514(XV)  grants independence to colonial territories, countries and peoples; on the other hand, Resolution 2625(XXV specifies that "the establishment of a sovereign or independent state, the free association or integration with an independent state or the emergence into any other political status freely determined by a people constitute modes of implementing the right of self-determination", which is considered in some quarters as the "foundation of state and a political principle that recognises the inalienable right of people to shape their own political, economic and/or cultural destiny". Yet the same self-determination principle conflicts with the norm of state sovereignty and its non-interference and territorial integrity components - the sanctity or sacrosanctity of state border- that state that borders should not be altered without the consent of all relevant parties (Makinda, 1998). In view of the conflicting declarations and the informed positions on self-determination, why should the UN favour the "Norm of State sovereignty over the self-determination principle?


No doubts about it that the cruxes of the issue are the conflicts between UN Resolutions 1514(XV) & 2625(XXV), as well as those between the norm of state sovereignty and Self-determination principles. However, the seeming preference of the UN for Resolution 1514 (XV), which cast the body in the mould of a foe of Self-determination cannot be excused as one of the contributory factors of the unending conflicts, arising from the quest for Self-determination by those trapped in countries that are products of Colonialists creative disingenuity. It thus calls for an urgent need for the UN to jettison or modify the outdated resolution 1514 (XV), abrogate the norm of state sovereignty and focus due attention on operationalising the self-determination principle in order to stop conflicts, arising from quest for freedom. Perhaps in this regard, the UN should borrow and apply my "birds of a feather flocks together concept", which I strongly believe, will put a stop to the unending, though justifiable, conflicts arising from the quest for freedom from a state co-inhabited by incompatible peoples, thus save humanity the agonies, the horrors of avoidable wars that many countries had witnessed. Unfortunately, many more countries, including Nigeria, may still witness the horrors of avoidable wars if the UN fails to address the issues of Resolution 1514 (XV), and of the Norm of State Sovereignty principle, which confers sacrosanctity or inviolability on extant state's territorial integrity.


Nigeria, a product of the 1914 amalgamation by the British Colonialists, has the potential for a violent breakup, more so that the constitution that sustained this union of incompatibles, wedded in a marriage of convenience, has been breached or violated with impunity. The 1960 and 1963 constitutions which were federal in nature had been replaced with a 1999 Unitary Constitution, which puts in jeopardy the continued existence of Nigeria or makes its violent breakup probable because it is impracticable to operate a unitary constitution in a largely heterogeneous country. It will amount to currying favour with disaster.


To avoid a catastrophic end, it makes a lot of sense if the homogeneous constituent parts of a heterogeneous country are empowered by the UN to activate the principle of self-determination to assert their independence without the encumbrance of approval of state(s) from which they are seeking to exit. This is what Nigerian Indigenous Nationalities Alliance for Self-Determination (NINAS) is seeking to do by its declaration of a Constitutional Force Majeure to ensure an "Orderly Winding-Down Process for the Operation of the Repudiated and Fraudulent 1999 Constitution by the Trapped Constituent Components of Nigeria, acting in Concert".


The UN should lend its unqualified support for NINAS. In this regard, UN should modify its ambiguous position on the principle of self-determination.  Its failure to do this needful, I am afraid, will earn it the epithet of a mere Talk shop that is gradually outliving its usefulness to the world.


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