This essay critically examines the somewhat controversial debate over a nation’s right to secede. There are many questions over the subject that led into more questions that I will discuss. I will look issues of secession and why or why not. Also if one agrees with secession then should they not agree with national self-determination? Whether self-determination should be believed in and does this necessarily lead to administering secession? Surely, one cannot be believed without the other. Also, if a state is different to a nation then surely this entails that there could be more than one nation within a state if there is disunity.
In addition, I will look into the theory of nations being allowed to secede and given a state of their own? To secede is to break away from and form an individual state. A more formal definition to which my essay will be based on is that secession is “a formal withdrawal from an association by a group discontented with the actions or decisions of that association… a political entity. Such withdrawal usually occurs when a territory or state believes itself justified in establishing its independence from the political entity of which it was a part.
By doing so, it assumes sovereignty”1. This essay will critically assess the conditions for which secession could be granted and when the need or desire for a secession of a people is likely to occur. Also the unfortunate consequences when trying to secede. The theory behind secession is that of the right of self-determination. This is the right to choose what is best for one’s own nation within a state. The terms ‘state’ and ‘nation’ are often used interchangeably even though they are different.
David Miller, in On Nationality, defines and distinguishes between, them. He believes a nation is “a community of people with an aspiration to be politically self-determining”, whereas a state is “the set of political institutions that they may aspire to possess for themselves”2. I conclude from this that if a nation has the state, as its legitimate structure for their self-determination then there is no need for secession. It is when a group of people feel they are part of, or identify more with, a nation within the legitimate nation, that secession is warranted.
National identity can be a powerful thing; it encompasses a group’s beliefs and mutual recognition, their history, geography, culture and more. A group may wish to continue their traditions, albeit language, religion, culture etc but feel their current state is not reflecting their needs. The practice of secession arises in my opinion, when a nation within a state does not believe that their states’ institutions act in their interests. Therefore, they themselves as a nation or a community of people do not have the ability to be self-determining.
In a democracy with majority rule, it is often the subordinate and minority group who feels this, and they are the likely candidates to want to secede. The minority, through secession would be able to focus completely on its own needs. There are different conditions under which a nation would want to secede, but I believe there is one essential element which runs through all of them: to protect ones’ own interests. When there is an imbalance in the state’s ability to do this for the sake of everyone a people may wish to secede. According to F. Hertz self-determination as an idea implies three presuppositions.
Firstly that there must be criteria for determining nationality. Secondly, that there must be a means of forming and expressing the national will and thirdly, there must be purposes and limits of the national will. I agree, but am of the opinion that for a people to wish to secede, they must not have been unified or in agreement, with their nation when F. Hertz three _ concepts were evolving and being decided. As he says, it is hard to determine one’s nationality in many contexts, not least for the Macedonians who seemingly owe their nationality to multiple sources.
Nationality can be defined in so many ways, including history, background, ethnicity and race, culture and so on. In a state where one peoples dominate it could just be that the minority were left out when their nationality was being defined, maybe due to not having an equal voice, and so they want to secede. When the majority group were forming and expressing the national will, the minority, who did not meet the criteria for the nationality of the state (Hertz first concept), now have little of their self-determination in tact.
I agree with F. Hertz when he says, “It would… be absurd to allow every province or town of a state to claim the right of secession. This would lead to a paralyzing instability in everything and to political and social disintegration”3. However, there are instances when secession is apt, and these instances I believe, could be down to Hertz three concepts not being defined in the minorities’ interest. Minority groups being left out in such a way may have been done purposefully and caused extra tensions in the nation, culminating in the demand to secede.
Buchanan believes that the right to secede can be justified by four important arguments: moral; economic; strategic; and nationalist. There are moral justifications for a right to secede. He argues this would include “protecting liberty, furthering diversity, liberal purity, the achievement of the specific goals for which a political union was forged, the preservation of a culture, self defense, rectifying past injustices, and consent as a necessary condition for legitimate political authority”. He says there are economic reasons involving “escaping discriminatory redistribution and enhancing efficiency”.
D. Miller believes that “national communities have a good claim to be politically self determining4”. An independent state is likely to provide the best means for a nation to fulfil its claim to self-determination. The pursuing of secession is usually due to being in a minority group because they either want to preserve their culture or heritage and the best way of doing this would be to be self-governing. Alternatively, they have been neglected, oppressed or exploited by the state and now find themselves in this minority group.
The democratic system may have been failing to look after the minority group’s legitimate political and economic interests, either because the peoples in power are not allowing the minority group to have their say. Or because they are ignoring their wishes on purpose, e. g. E Pakistan and Bangladesh. If a state fails to stay a democracy, and groups cannot exercise their right to self-determination through proper channels of political institution, then the state has failed. The state will have not represented the people properly or have looked-after their safety and security.
In this case, it would be justified for the group to try to secede. The state, for which has been defined earlier, institutions and framework for allowing the theory of self-determination to be carried out on the people’s behalf may have been illegitimately or at least undemocratically have a corrupt or violent government. When a state is taken over by force, some groups within the state may be justified to secede if there is no other reconcilement. When the region was included in the state by force, its people may show less than obedient behaviour and continue to refuse to give full consent to the state, e. . Algeria.
The minority group may oppositely, be a danger to the majority. Secession would avoids conflict and promote peace in this situation. Sometimes if a nation or sub-nation cannot feel unified, secession would create more states but each with a clearer distinct national identity. Liberal nationalists agree with secession on the basis that it would promote peace. Unfortunately, there are many cases where conflict occurs because of wanting to secede. In the case of Palestine and Israel they define national identity by religion, fight over territory and Palestine’s need to have its own state.
Some would argue here that because Palestine is under coercive control by Israel, they are being oppressed. They are not treated equally when in Israel especially and therefore the fighting Secession by Agreement is a clear expression of a national will on the part of the minority who wish to secede. This is a non-violent way of seceding from a state though is rarely seen. It would be perfect if all sides agree but regularly there is intense fighting and civil wars before secession is deemed the most suitable proposal.