Legal Regimes for Secession:
Aplying Moral Theory
and Empirical Findings
by Jason Sorens
Secessionist movements are here to stay. From Catalonia and Scotland to South
Sudan and Kashmir, popular demands for independence are found throughout
the world and in all kinds of political and economic circumstances. How should
governments treat secessionists, and in particular, when should they be willing to
suppress secession legally or militarily? To answer these questions, we must reflect
on the normative principles governments and secessionists ought to respect, as
well as on the empirical research on the consequences of particular policy choices.
Secession is a normatively difficult issue because contemporary cases of secession
always involve conflicts in which some rights-holders find their legitimate
interests frustrated. No secession referendum on a scale sufficient to create an
internationally recognized state has ever succeeded with fully 100 percent support.
Secession always brings along non-consenters, and prohibiting secession
always suppresses the desires of some citizens to govern themselves separately,
desires that are not inherently wrong. Thus, if it is morally desirable at some level
to refrain from governing without consent of the governed, both allowing and
prohibiting secession always have some morally regrettable consequences.