Should the U.S. Recognize Catalonia If It Secedes from Spain?

Over at Learn Liberty, I take up the question of what the rest of the world should do if Catalonia's referendum on independence on October 1 succeeds, as is expected. I apply some straightforward assumptions about justice and individual freedom to the case. Secession is hard because it always involves violating some people's rights -- … Continue reading Should the U.S. Recognize Catalonia If It Secedes from Spain?

My Testimony on National Self-Determination Movements to the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats

On March 15, I had the opportunity to testify at the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats, chaired by California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, on the topic of whether the U.S. government should change its policy toward national self-determination movements. I'm posting here my written testimony (my oral testimony had to … Continue reading My Testimony on National Self-Determination Movements to the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats

Constitutions and Secession

Constitute.org is a useful website designed by political scientists to let researchers search for and compare constitutional texts on particular topics. Here for instance is a search on secession clauses. Although one of the site's creators, Zachary Elkins, says that 22 states contemplate some process for state divorce, only three constitutions expressly authorize some part … Continue reading Constitutions and Secession

Aftermath of the Scottish Referendum

A few takeaways from the 55-45% victory for No in the Scottish independence referendum: The polls overestimated support for independence, just as in the 1995 Quebec referendum. Secession from a well-established democracy is extremely difficult due to voters' risk-aversion and status quo bias. Scotland's right to decide elicited salutary promises of decentralization from the British … Continue reading Aftermath of the Scottish Referendum

The Right to Self-Determination in International Law and Practice

I delivered this brief talk to a Model UN conference at Dartmouth on March 28. Here is the text of my remarks. ************************************************************************************************************** My topic for tonight is "The Right to Self-Determination in International Law and Practice." The right to self-determination is one of the most controversial concepts in international relations today. The government of … Continue reading The Right to Self-Determination in International Law and Practice

The Five Biggest Myths About Secession

With the ongoing tension over Russia's annexation of Crimea, now would be a good time to talk about the biggest myths people believe about the origins of secessionist movements around the world (even though Crimea is a case of irredentism not secessionism). Myth: Secession is contagious. Back in the 1990s, journalists worried a lot that … Continue reading The Five Biggest Myths About Secession

What’s Happening in Ukraine Is Irredentist Interstate Conflict, Not Secessionism (updated)

Gazeta.pl reports that the majority of the Crimean parliament did not vote in favor of a referendum on independence, but that armed men prevented a quorum from attending, allowing a pro-Russian rump to pass the measure. (For my translation, I am relying on Jacek Rostowski on Twitter.) In eastern Ukraine, pro-Russian crowds face determined Ukrainian … Continue reading What’s Happening in Ukraine Is Irredentist Interstate Conflict, Not Secessionism (updated)

“Catalonia’s March Toward Self-Determination”

That's the title of a very good article by Princeton political scientist Carles Boix and J.C. Major. The article provides background to the Catalan self-determination movement but also discusses recent developments and the reasons for them. One takeaway is the enormous role that the Spanish government's response to the last Catalan autonomy statute, essentially gutting … Continue reading “Catalonia’s March Toward Self-Determination”

For a Right of Unilateral Secession, Part Three: Design

In the third and final part of my series summarizing my working paper, "Designing a Constitutional Right of Secession" (here are parts one and two), I examine the legitimate objections we can raise to a right to secede. Some of these other scholars have previously mooted, while others are apparently original. Regardless, I will argue … Continue reading For a Right of Unilateral Secession, Part Three: Design

Persuading the Scots

The Government of Scotland has just released its 600-odd-page white paper on independence in advance of the September 18, 2014 referendum on the question. First Minister Alex Salmond and the rest of the pro-independence side have their work cut out, with the latest poll showing a 47-38% plurality in favor of "No." In part, the … Continue reading Persuading the Scots

For a Right of Unilateral Secession: Part Two

In my last post on this topic, I argued for a right of unilateral secession on the grounds that: 1) legalizing secession would reduce the risk of violence on net, and 2) codifying a plebiscitary, unilateral right to secede would reduce uncertainty without any compensating disadvantages. In this post, I consider some common objections in … Continue reading For a Right of Unilateral Secession: Part Two

For a Right of Unilateral Secession: Part One

In this three-part series of posts, I will be blogging my new SSRN working paper, "Designing a Constitutional Right of Secession: Applying Normative Principles and Empirical Findings." The paper defends a right of unilateral secession for any country in which the possibility of secessionist violence is non-negligible, or where central governments are already unwilling to … Continue reading For a Right of Unilateral Secession: Part One

Reflections on Catalan Secession

1) Polls continue to point to a significant "yes" victory in a future referendum on independence in Catalonia. 2) If the Catalan government backs down from a referendum, even if the Constitutional Court declares it illegal, as it certainly will, it will pay a heavy price at the polls. Therefore, it is locked into holding … Continue reading Reflections on Catalan Secession

Catalonia Update

The Monkey Cage is carrying an interesting update on the Catalonia situation from Duke political scientist Laia Balcells. Catalonia is heading to elections, called by the premier Artur Mas, from the Convergence and Unity (CiU) party, a moderate Catalan nationalist party on the center-right. The CiU has always favored a "right to self-determination" for Catalonia, … Continue reading Catalonia Update

My Bloggingheads Conversation with Robert Farley

Robert Farley of the University of Kentucky and Lawyers, Guns, and Money had a "diavlog" with me on bloggingheads.tv. We covered Pileus, the Conor Friedersdorf essay on why he can't vote for Obama, libertarianism and foreign policy, and secessionism. This was my bloggingheads debut, and we hope to do more of these in the future. … Continue reading My Bloggingheads Conversation with Robert Farley

The Economist on Catalan Independence

A pro-secession protest in Catalonia on September 11th brought out 8% of the region's entire population, The Economist reports. Opinion polls have support for independence at about half of the electorate, possibly more. The moderate nationalists in power in Catalonia have even radicalized their platform. In the past, Convergence and Unity was a moderate nationalist, … Continue reading The Economist on Catalan Independence

Could a Scottish Secession Referendum Bring About Salutary Decentralization?

For all the usual association of independence movements with violence and "separatism," the fact is that secessionist movements in liberal democracies usually pursue their aims peacefully, through the democratic process, and central governments resolve not to use military force to prevent secession authorized by a democratic vote (imagine that!). Such is the case in Scotland, … Continue reading Could a Scottish Secession Referendum Bring About Salutary Decentralization?

Secessionism

My first book, Secessionism: Identity, Interest, and Strategy, has been released by McGill-Queen's University Press. Secessionism is the first comprehensive, empirical study of the causes and consequences of contemporary secessionist movements worldwide. It also has a normative component, as I interpret from the empirical results a case for "legalizing secession" in order to reduce the … Continue reading Secessionism

How to Solve the Scottish Referendum Question Controversy

Scotland's upcoming independence referendum has been in the news in Britain. The Scottish government wants to hold the referendum in 2014, but UK Prime Minister David Cameron has said that Westminster holds ultimate control over the wording and timing of any legally binding referendum and wants to hold the referendum sooner. Another point of contention … Continue reading How to Solve the Scottish Referendum Question Controversy

South Sudan: Archaic Nescience Unleashed*

The South Sudan Liberation Army, apparently armed by the Sudanese government, has been attacking the government of the newly independent South Sudan. Some observations about these stories: No one thought it would be rainbows and leprechauns for South Sudan after independence. It's extremely poor, highly oil-dependent, ethnically diverse, adjacent to countries that are all in … Continue reading South Sudan: Archaic Nescience Unleashed*

Interposition: Part Nine: The Hartford Convention

Few in power find it convenient to notice inconsistencies in their own conduct. Alas, but President Madison was no exception. Federalism and decentralization exist precisely because free constitutions should not depend on the good graces of those in office, but on the checks necessary to harry them back under the law. Seeking the financial means … Continue reading Interposition: Part Nine: The Hartford Convention

Bailouts and the Optimal Size of States

Risk-pooling in an era of frequent financial crisis is not as good an argument against Scottish independence as Tyler Cowen thinks it is. First off, bailing out is a policy choice to which there are alternatives. Second, financial governance matters. Who had a worse financial crisis in 2008: the United States (population 300 million) or … Continue reading Bailouts and the Optimal Size of States

Canadian Election Post Mortem

As a neighboring, wealthy country of 35 million people, about as many as live in California, Canada certainly gets less attention from Americans than it deserves. Here are a few of my thoughts on the historic results of yesterday's Canadian election and their broader significance. The results help point up the perversities inherent in single … Continue reading Canadian Election Post Mortem

Nationalists Open Up Big Lead in Scotland

On May 5, Britain votes in a referendum on a new electoral system called "alternative vote," also used in Australia (polls show it going down to defeat), but in Scotland and Wales, there are also elections to the devolved parliaments. The Scottish National Party (SNP), which advocates independence for Scotland within the E.U., is heading … Continue reading Nationalists Open Up Big Lead in Scotland