The Cracked Foundations of the Right to Secede

Issue Date April 2003
Volume 14
Issue 2
Page Numbers 5-17
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Reinterpreting the principle of self-determination, some theorists have proposed that victimized ethnic groups ought to have a right to secede from states in which they are located. Proponents of such a right assert that, by separating antagonistic groups, secession can alleviate ethnic conflict. Secession, however, does not create homogeneous successor states or assure protection of remaining minorities, and its converts domestic ethnic conflict into more dangerous international conflict. Recognition of a right to secede would dampen attempts to adopt conciliatory policies in the undivided state, and would likely increase ultimately fruitless secessionist warfare. The best hope for severely divided societies lies not in encouraging secession or partition but in devising institutions to increase the satisfaction of minorities in existing states.

About the Author

Donald L. Horowitz, James B. Duke Professor of Law and Political Science Emeritus at Duke University, recently became a senior fellow at the International Forum for Democratic Studies. Professor Horowitz is the author of numerous books and articles, including the seminal volume Ethnic Groups in Conflict (2000) and, most recently, Constitutional Change and Democracy in Indonesia (2013).

View all work by Donald L. Horowitz