Pax Populi? An Analysis of the Conflict Resolution Potential of Referendums on Self-Determination

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The international community increasingly promotes referendums as it intervenes in self-determination conflicts around the world. However, the ability of self-determination referendums to bring about peace remains uncertain. This paper develops the argument that the conflict resolution potential of self-determination referendums is conditional, depending on whether or not they are held under the mutual agreement of the relevant minority and majority groups. When mutually agreed, self-determination referendums are likely to generate shared perceptions of fair decision-making and thereby increase chances for peace. By contrast, unilateral self-determination referendums are likely to increase ethnic grievances and, therefore, the risk of separatist violence. I find support for this argument in a global statistical analysis, short case studies, and a survey experiment. Overall, this study suggests that self-determination referendums can make a positive contribution to peace, but only if the conditions for a partial compromise on a referendum, including its terms, are ripe.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)403 - 423
Number of pages21
JournalEuropean Political Science Review
Issue number3
Early online date16 May 2022
Publication statusPublished - 16 Aug 2022


  • civil war
  • ethno-nationalism
  • procedural fairness
  • referendums
  • self-determination
  • separatism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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