Self-Determination - On the verge of the twenty-first century



At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the United States and the United Nations faced the fundamental question of how to manage demands for self-determination in a turbulent new world. The collapse of communism and the growing worldwide pressure for democracy had unleashed movements with broad public support. The number and variety of self-determination movements was growing, and bewildered governments and multilateral institutions tried to understand them and decide how to respond. Internal ethnic conflicts were proliferating, compelling national and international responses before considered policies could be developed. The United States and the world community faced the challenge of how to respond to the breakup of some nations and the restoration of others in ways that minimized violence and human suffering and maximized the chances for establishing democratic governments. The old assumption that the boundaries set after World War II were permanent had been shaken by events in the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. Although bold conditions for U.S. recognition were imposed upon the successor states of the Soviet Union, they were hurriedly signed off in an attempt to reduce the danger of nuclear proliferation and to contain Islamic expansionism in Central Asia. Regarding Yugoslavia, U.S. policy remained focused on preserving it as a state while the European Community took the lead in recognizing the new states of Slovenia and Croatia.

The United States was slow to accept collective military intervention as a response in some situations such as preventing armed conflict, delivering humanitarian assistance, defending a new state, advancing the cause of self-determination in certain limited circumstances, occasionally guaranteeing compliance with the recognition criteria, and in some cases defending an existing government from limited insurgency. The American people were reluctant to take on new international responsibilities and resisted new commitments that might drain resources from domestic needs and that could involve the United States in a new quagmire.



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