While there is no lack of studies on the use of armed force by states in self-defence, its qualification as an ‘inherent right’ in article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations has received little scholarly attention and has been too quickly dismissed as having no significance. The present article fills this gap in the literature. Its purpose is not to discuss the limits to which article 51 or customary international law submit the exercise of the right of self-defence by states, but to examine what its 'inherent’ character means and what legal consequences it entails. The article advances two main arguments. The first is that self-defence is a corollary of statehood as presently understood because it is essential to preserving its constitutive elements. The second argument is that the exercise of the right of self-defence must be distinguished from the right itself: it is only the former that may be delegated to other states or submitted to limitations under customary international law and treaty law. The right of self-defence, however, cannot be alienated and it takes precedence over other international obligations, although not over those specifically intended to limit the conduct of states in armed conflict or over non-derogable human rights provisions.