International law and morality in the theory of secession

Journal of Ethics 2 (3):219-245 (1998)
Abstract
In order responsibly to decide whether there ought to be an international legal right of secession, I believe we need an account of the morality of secession. I propose that territorial and political societies have a moral right to secede, and on that basis I propose a regime designed to give such groups an international legal right to secede. This regime would create a procedure that could be followed by groups desiring to secede or by states desiring to resolve the issue of secession. It would give territorial political societies a legally recognized liberty to conduct a plebiscite on secession, and, assuming such a plebiscite is won by the secessionist side, a qualified right in international law to create a state without interference. Alan Buchanan has argued that proposals of this sort would create perverse incentives. I argue that there is no good reason to believe this. The point is to allow the legal regulation of secession in cases where there are active secessionist movements with legitimate moral claims, and to attempt to dampen the desire for secession in cases where secessionist sentiment is not well grounded in social and geographic reality.
Keywords international law  morality  plebiscites  rights  secession
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