Secession (derived from the Latin term secessio) is the act of withdrawing from an organization, union, or especially a political entity. It is not to be confused with succession, the act of following in order or sequence.
Mainstream political theory
largely ignored theories of secession until the dissolution of the Soviet Union
in the early 1990s through secession. Theories of secession address a fundamental problem of political philosophy: the legitimacy and moral basis of the state’s authority, be it based on “God’s will,” consent of the people, the morality of goals, or usefulness to obtaining goals.
In his 1991 book Secession: The Morality of Political Divorce From Fort Sumter to Lithuania and Quebec philosophy professor Allen Buchanan outlined limited rights to secession under certain circumstances, mostly related to oppression by people of other ethnic or racial groups, and especially those previously conquered by other peoples.
In the fall of 1994 the Journal of Libertarian Studies published Robert W. McGee’s article ”Secession Reconsidered.” He writes from a libertarian perspective, but holds that secession is justified only if secessionists can create a viable, if minimal, state on contiguous territory.
In April 1995 the Ludwig Von Mises Institute sponsored a secession conference. Papers from the conference were later published in the book Secession, State and Liberty by David Gordon. Among articles included were: “The Secession Tradition in America” by Donald Livingston; “When is Political Divorce Justified?” by Steven Yates; “The Ethics of Secession” by Scott Boykin; “Nations by Consent: Decomposing the Nation-State” by Murray Rothbard; “Yankee Confederates: New England Secession Movements Prior to the War Between the States” by Thomas DiLorenzo; “Was the Union Army's Invasion of the Confederate States a Lawful Act? by James Ostrowski.
In July 1998 the Rutgers University journal “Society” published papers from a “Symposium on Secession and Nationalism at the Millennium” including the articles “The Western State as Paradigm” by Hans-Herman Hoppe, “Profit Motives in Secession” by Sabrina P. Ramet, “Rights of Secession” by Daniel Kofman, “The Very Idea of Secession” by Donald Livingston and “Secession, Autonomy, & Modernity” by Edward A. Tiryakian. In 2007 the University of South Carolina sponsored a conference called “Secession As an International Phenomenon” which produced a number of papers on the topic.
Justifications for Secession
Some theories of secession emphasize a general right of secession for any reason (“Choice Theory") while others emphasize that secession should be considered only to rectify grave injustices (“Just Cause Theory”). Some theories do both. A list of justifications may be presented supporting the right to secede, as described by Allen Buchanan, Robert McGee, Anthony Birch,, Walter Williams
, Jane Jacobs
, Frances Kendall and Leon Louw, Leopold Kohr, Kirkpatrick Sale
, and various authors in David Gordon’s “Secession, State and Liberty,” includes:
- The right to liberty, free association and private property
- Consent as important democratic principle; will of majority to secede should be recognized
- Making it easier for states to join with others in an experimental union
- Dissolving such union when goals for which it was constituted are not achieved
- Self-defense when larger group presents lethal threat to minority or the government cannot adequately defend an area
- Self-determination of peoples
- Preserving culture, language, etc. from assimilation or destruction by larger group
- Furthering diversity by allowing diverse cultures to keep their identity
- Rectifying past injustices, especially past conquest by a larger power
- Escaping “discriminatory redistribution,” i.e., tax schemes, regulatory policies, economic programs, etc. that distribute resources away to another area, especially in an undemocratic fashion
- Enhanced efficiency when the state or empire becomes too large to administer efficiently
- Preserving “liberal purity” (or “conservative purity”) by allowing less (or more) liberal regions to secede
- Providing superior constitutional systems which allow flexibility of secession
- Keeping political entities small and human scale through right to secession
Aleksandar Pavkovic, associate professor at the Department of Politics and International Studies at Macquarie University in Australia and the author of several books on secession describes five justifications for a general right of secession within liberal political theory:
- Anarcho-Capitalism: individual liberty to form political associations and private property rights together justify right to secede and to create a “viable politival order” with like-minded individuals.
- Democratic Secessionism: the right of secession, as a variant of the right of self-determination, is vested in a “territorial community” which wishes to secede from “their existing political community”; the group wishing to secede then proceeds to delimit “its” territory by the majority.
- Communitarian Secessionism: any group with a particular “participation-enhancing” identity, concentrated in a particular territory, which desires to improve its members’ political participation has a prima facie right to secede.
- Cultural Secessionism: any group which was previously in a minority has a right to protect and develop its own culture and distinct national identity though seceding into an independent state.
- The Secessionism of Threatened Cultures: if a minority culture is threatened within a state that has a majority culture, the minority group needs to be granted a right to form a state of its own which would protect its culture.
Types of Secession
Secession theorists have described a number of ways in which a political entity (city, county, canton, state) can secede from the larger or original state:
- Secession from federation or confederation (political entities with substantial reserved powers which have agreed to join together) versus secession from a unitary state (a state governed as a single unit with few powers reserved to sub-units)
- National (seceding entirely from the national state) versus local (seceding from one entity of the national state into another entity of the same state)
- Central or enclave (seceding entity is completely surrounded by the original state) versus peripheral (along a border of the original state)
- Secession by contiguous units versus secession by non-contiguous units ( exclaves)
- Separation or partition (although an entity secedes, the rest of the state retains its structure) versus dissolution (all political entities dissolve their ties and create several new states)
- Irredentism where secession is sought in order to annex the territory to another state because of common ethnicity or prior historical links
- Minority (a minority of the population or territory secedes) versus majority (a majority of the population or territory secedes)
- Secession of better off regions versus secession of worse off regions
- The threat of Secession sometimes is used as a strategy to gain greater autonomy within the original state
Arguments against Secession
Allen Buchanan, who supports secession under limited circumstances, lists arguments that might be mustered against secession :
- “Protecting Legitimate Expectations” of those who now occupy territory claimed by secessionists, even in cases where that land was stolen;
- “Self Defense” if losing part of the state would make it difficult to defend the rest of it;
- “Protecting Majority Rule” and the principle that minorities must abide by them;
- “Minimization of Strategic Bargaining” by making it difficult to secede, such as by imposing an exit tax;
- “Soft Paternalism” because secession will be bad for secessionists or others;
- “Threat of Anarchy” because smaller and smaller entities may choose to secede until there is chaos;
- “Preventing Wrongful Taking” such as the state’s previous investment in infrastructure;
- “Distributive Justice” arguments that wealthier areas cannot secede from poorer ones.
Movements that work towards political secession may describe themselves as being autonomy
, devolution decentralization
movements instead of, or in addition to, being secession movements.
See more complete lists of historical and active autonomist and secessionist movements.
During the 19th century, the single British colony in eastern mainland Australia, New South Wales (NSW) was progressively divided up by the British government as new settlements were formed and spread. South Australia (SA) was separated in 1836, Victoria (Vic) in 1851 and Queensland (Qld) in 1859.
However, settlers agitated to divide the colonies throughout the later part of the century; particularly in central Queensland (centred in Rockhampton) in the 1860s and 1890s, and in North Queensland (with Bowen as a potential colonial capital) in the 1870s. Other secession (or territorial separation) movements arose and these advocated the secession of New England in northern central New South Wales, Deniliquin in the Riverina district also in NSW, and Mount Gambier in the eastern part of South Australia.
Secession movements have surfaced several times in Western Australia (WA), where a 1933 referendum for secession from the Federation of Australia passed with a two-thirds majority. The referendum had to be ratified by the British Parliament, which declined to act, on the grounds that it would contravene the Australian Constitution.
Belgium and The Netherlands
On August 25, 1830, during the reign of William I, the nationalistic opera La muette de Portici was performed in Brussels. Soon after, the Belgian Revolt occurred, which resulted in the Belgian secession from The Netherlands.
Two southern republican states seceded from Brazil in 1835. Defeated in the War of the Farrapos
, they returned in 1845.
Throughout Canada's history, there has been tension between English-speaking and French-speaking Canadians. Under the Constitutional Act of 1791, the Quebec colony (including parts of what is today Quebec, Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador) was divided in two: Lower Canada (which retained French law and institutions, including seigneurial land tenure, and the privileges accorded to the Roman Catholic church) and Upper Canada (a new colony intended to accommodate the many English-speaking settlers, including the United Empire Loyalists, who had arrived from the United States following the American Revolution). The intent was to provide each group with its own colony. In 1841, the two Canadas were merged into the Province of Canada. The union proved contentious, however, resulting in a legislative deadlock between English and French legislators. The difficulties of the union lead to the adoption of a federal system in Canada, and the Canadian Confederation in 1867. The federal framework did not eliminate all tensions, however, leading to the Quebec sovereignty movement in the latter half of the 20th century.
Other secessionist movements have also existed from time to time in Canada, including anti-Confederation movements in 19th century Atlantic Canada (see Anti-Confederation Party), the North-West Rebellion of 1885, and various small separatism movements in Alberta particularly (see Alberta Separatism) and Western Canada generally (see, for example, Western Canada Concept).
- Currently, the Republic of China (ROC) government, which ruled mainland China from 1911 to 1949, administers Taiwan and a few surrounding islands, while the People's Republic of China (PRC) government administers mainland China. Both sides officially claim sovereignty over both mainland China and Taiwan. There is debate in Taiwan as to whether to create a new Republic of Taiwan to replace the current ROC government. This is supported by many in the Pan-Green Coalition in Taiwan, but is opposed by most in the Pan-Blue Coalition in Taiwan which supports continuing the ROC as is, and by the PRC government which regards Taiwan as a part of its territory. (The pan-blue coalition is essentially the Kuomintang party, the party of Chiang Kai-shek, which came to Taiwan in 1949 and formerly ruled China.) See Taiwan independence.
At the Third session of the Tenth National People's Congress (March 14, 2005) the Chinese government adopted the Anti-Secession Law of the People's Republic of China. It was created for the purpose of 'opposing and checking Taiwan's secession from China by secessionists in the name of "Taiwan independence"'. The Law includes that Taiwan is part of China and that the unification of China "is the sacred duty of all Chinese people, the Taiwan compatriots included".
- Within the PRC, the two western regions of Xinjiang and Tibet are also the focus of strong secessionist calls, which are strongly suppressed within the PRC. The dispute is a result of the unique ethnic, cultural, and religious characters of the two regions, as well as differences between the two sides in the interpretation of the history, political status, and human rights situation in the regions. See International Tibet Independence Movement and East Turkestan independence movement.
In 1974 the Turkish Army conquered northern Cyprus to protect the interests of the ethnic Turkish minority, who in the following year formed the Turkish Federative State of Cyprus and in 1983 declared independence as the Republic of Northern Cyprus
, recognized only by Turkey.
formerly known as East Timor successfully seceded from Indonesia
on May 20
. East Timor had been a Portuguese colony since the 16th Century. In 1975 Portugal
passed law 7/75 allowing for a transitional government with elections to be run in 1976
. Portuguese sovereignty was to be terminated in October 1978. On August 11
one of the political parties UDT staged a coup in the capital of Dili
. Other political parties responded; essentially civil war broke out and the Portuguese retreated. On November 28
FRETILIN declared unilateral independence and established the Government of the Democratic of the Republic of East Timor. The other parties dissented, and instead accepted the proposed integration to Indonesia and on July 17
it was made official by the Indonesian Parliament. After much bloodshed Indonesia allowed the Timorese to vote in 1999 on independence. The "yes" vote was overwhelming and on May 20, 2002 they were officially an independent country.
Following the 1993 victory of counterrevolutionary forces in an Ethiopian
civil war, Eritrea
, which had been united to that country by conquest by Italy, seceded in a United Nations referrendum. Secessionist forces in Tigre and elsewhere agreed to continue Ethiopia as a federation.
The Constitution of India
does not allow Indian states to declare independence, and separatist political parties have been banned. Secessionist movements in Kashmir
have been suppressed by the military.
The Kashmiri separatist movement, supported by Pakistan, allege that the state named Jammu and Kashmir has the right, under international law, to leave the Indian Union after a plebiscite. India rejects this argument, arguing that the UN resolutions on which this right is based are archaic, on three grounds: 1) Pakistan has not withdrawn its troops from its share of Kashmir - a prerequisite for a referendum; 2) the Kashmiri legislature ratified the union of Kashmir and India; 3) Indian Kashmir has been integrated into India, and secession is literally impossible.
In the 1970s and 1980s, some Sikhs began a movement to create a Sikh state known as Khalistan in the Punjab region bordering both India and Pakistan. Indian military forces crushed the violent insurgency in the 1980s, destroying part of the famous Golden Temple during one incident.
In the 1960s, the Mizo National Front also began a movement for Independence but the movement was crushed when The Government of India bombed the city of Aizawl with 'Toofani' and 'Hunter' Jet fighters. This was the first time that India had used its air force to quell a movement of any kind among its citizens.
The northern-Italian party Lega Nord
has declared in 15 September 1996 the secession of Padania
(Northern-Italy) for the differences of culture and economy between North and South, for opposition to the centralism of Rome. The politics of secession has been turned off by Lega Nord
, after the coalition with the Centre-Right parties and the proposals of devolution and federalism. Although, an ineffective Parliament has been conserved into the Party and its regional sections are named as "national".
Active secession movements include Assyrian independence
, Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI)
, Al-Ahwaz Arab People's Democratic Popular Front
, Democratic Solidarity Party of Al-Ahwaz
and Balochistan People’s Party (BPP), supporting Baloch
When racial and partisan strife
left the Malaysian federation in 1965. Agitation for secession has since been sporadic on the culturally distinct large island of Borneo
in the states of Sabah
Secession movements have surfaced several times in the South Island of New Zealand. A Premier of New Zealand, Sir Julius Vogel, was amongst the first people to make this call, which was voted on by the Parliament of New Zealand as early as 1865. The desire for South Island independence was one of the main factors in moving the capital of New Zealand from Auckland to Wellington in the same year.
The South Island Party with a pro-South agenda, fielded candidates in the 1999 General Election. While a new South Island Party was formed before the 2008 General Election.
Today, the question of South Island Independence remains a matter of public debate rather than a political issue, since no significant political party supports the idea. And, while there is no unified or official pro-independence movement as such, several internet based groups do advocate their support for an independent South Island.
Between 1967 and 1970, the unrecognised state of Biafra (The Republic of Biafra
) seceded from Nigeria, resulting in a civil war that ended with the state returning to Nigeria.
Norway and Sweden
Norway and Sweden, having left the Kalmar Union in the 16th century, entered into a loose personal union in 1814. Following a constitutional crisis, in 1905 the Norwegian Parliament declared that King Oscar II had failed to fulfill his constitutional duties on 7 June. He was therefore no longer King of Norway and because the union depended on the two countries sharing a king, it was thus dissolved. Sweden agreed to this on 26 October.
seceded from Somalia
in 1991 and has been unrecognized by the UN or any other state until recently when the United Nations put it on "Observatory Membership."
(also known as "the Kingdom of Spain") was assembled in the 15th century from various component kingdoms, of which Portugal
seceded, by war in 1640. Spain has several secessionist movements
, the most notable being in Catalonia
and the Basque Country
In 1847 seven disaffected Catholic cantons formed a separate alliance because of moves to change the cantons of Switzerland
from a confederation
to a more centralized government federation
. This effort was crushed in the Sonderbund war
and a new Swiss Federal Constitution
The United Kingdom
has a number of different secession movements:
- In Scotland the Scottish National Party (SNP) campaigns for Scottish independence and direct Scottish membership of the European Union. It has representation at all levels of Scottish politics and now forms the devolved Scottish Government after becoming the largest party in the Scottish Parliament. There are also a number of nascent pro-independence parties, which have enjoyed only limited electoral success. The Scottish Green Party, the Scottish Socialist Party and the Scottish Enterprise Party are amongst the most widely publicised.
- In Wales, Plaid Cymru (Party of Wales) stands for Welsh independence within the European Union. It is also represented at all levels of Welsh politics and is the second largest party in the National Assembly of Wales.
- In England there are a number of small movements that call for a separate devolved English parliament or full independence from the United Kingdom, among them the English Democrats and the Campaign for an English Parliament. None of these have made any significant electoral impact.
- In Northern Ireland, Irish Republicans and Nationalists in general, have long called for the secession of Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom in order to join the Republic of Ireland, this being opposed by Unionists.
- In Cornwall, supporters of Mebyon Kernow call for the creation of a Cornish Assembly and separation from England, giving the county significant self-government, whilst remaining within the United Kingdom as a fifth home nation.
- The Principality of Sealand, a small platform off the English Coast has declared its independence, although its legal status is doubtful.
The Republic of Ireland comprises the only territory that has withdrawn from the United Kingdom proper; as the Irish Free State it gained independence in 1922 (independence had been declared in 1916).
By some theories, the American Revolution
was a secession, rather than a revolution. Discussions and threats of secession have often surfaced in American politics, most notably in the case of the Confederate States of America
. A 2008 Zogby International
poll revealed that 22% of Americans believe that "any state or region has the right to peaceably secede and become an independent republic.
and South Yemen
merged in 1990; tensions led to a 1994 southern secession which was crushed in a civil war
On June 25, 1991, Croatia
seceded from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
. Others followed, the federation collapsed, and civil war ensued within Croatia and elsewhere.
Serbian attempts to repress secessionists in Albanian-majority Kosovo led to the 1999 NATO bombing of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Kosovo declared independence on February 17, 2008 and was recognized by the United States and some other countries a day later and over the next few days, but remains under United Nations administration. Montenegro peacefully separated from its union with Serbia in 2006.
- Christopher Ketcham, Most Likely to Secede, Good Magazine, January 2008.
- Michael Hirsch, How the South Won (This) Civil War, Newsweek, April 2008, article speculating on northern secession.
- Thomas DiLorenzo, Secession and Liberty, LewRockwell.com, November 28, 2000.
- Secession (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
- Secession - from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica
- Secession - from the Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia
- “Secession As an International Phenomenon,” Abstracts of Papers, 2007 Association for Research on Ethnicity and Nationalism in the Americas” conference sponsored by the University of South Carolina Richard Walker Institute for International Studies.
- Andrei Kreptul, The Constitutional Right of Secession in Political Theory and History, Journal of Libertarian Studies, Ludwig von Mises Institute, Volume 17, no. 4 (Fall 2003), pp. 39–100.
- Assistant professor Jason Sorens' writings on secession, Department of Political Science, University of Buffalo
- The Middlebury Institute for the study of separatism, secession, and self-determination
- American Secession Project
- Secession Issues web site
- The Worldwide Confederation of Independent States Treaty Organization: dedicated to the principle of the primacy of secession as a right.
- US-based Cascadian Independence Project
- Free South Carolina Republic
- Website about short-lived effort to create Jefferson State on the U.S. west coast
- New England Confederation Alliance
- New England Secession: Education and discussion of the possibilities of the New England states seceding from the union.
- Second Vermont Republic
- Texas Secession Facts
- Aleksandar Pavkovic with Peter Radan, On the Way to Statehood: Secession and Globalization with Peter Radan, Ashgate, 2008.
- Allen Buchanan, Justice, Legitimacy, and Self-Determination: Moral Foundations for International Law (Oxford Political Theory), Oxford University Press, USA, 2007.
- Aleksandar Pavkovic with Peter Radan, Creating New States, Ashgate, 2007.
- Marc Weller, Autonomy, Self Governance and Conflict Resolution (Kindle Edition), Taylor & Francis, 2007.
- Anne Noronha Dos Santos, Military Intervention and Secession in South Asia: The Cases of Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Kashmir, and Punjab (Psi Reports), Praeger Security International, 2007.
- Wayne Norman, Negotiating Nationalism: Nation-Building, Federalism, and Secession in the Multinational State, Oxford University Press, USA, 2006.
- Aleksandar Pavkovic with Igor Primoratz,Identity, Self-determination And Secession, Ashgate Publishing, 2006.
- Robert, F. Hawes, One Nation, Indivisible? A Study of Secession and the Constitution, Fultus Corporation, 2006.
- Secession And International Law: Conflict Avoidance-regional Appraisals, United Nations Publications, 2006.
- Marcelo G. Kohen (Editor), Secession: International Law Perspectives, Cambridge University Press, 2006.
- Miodrag Jovanovic, Constitutionalizing Secession in Federalized States: A Procedural Approach, Ashgate Publishing, 2006.
- Igor Primoratz, Aleksandar Pavkovic, Editors, Identity, Self-determination And Secession, Ashgate Publishing, 2006.
- Christopher Heath Wellman, A Theory of Secession, Cambridge University Press, 2005.
- Bruno Coppieters, Richard Sakwa (Editors), Contextualizing Secession: Normative Studies in Comparative Perspective, Oxford University Press, USA, 2003.
- Percy Lehning, Theories of Secession, Routledge, 1998.
- David Gordon, Secession, State and Liberty, Transactions Publishers, 1998.
- Metta Spencer, Separatism: Democracy and Disintegration, Rowan & Littlefield, 1998.
- Aleksandar Pavkovic, Fragmentation of Yugoslavia: Nationalism in a Multinational State, St. Martin’s Press, 1996.
- Hurst Hannum, Autonomy, Sovereignty, and Self-Determination: The Accommodation of Conflicting Rights, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996.
- Allen Buchanan, Secession: The Morality Of Political Divorce From Fort Sumter To Lithuania And Quebec, Westview Press, 1991.
- Leopold Kohr, The Breakdown of Nations, Routledge & K. Paul, 1957.