The Strategy of Secession

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Event details

IR Seminar Series

Date & time

Monday 23 October 2017


PSC Reading Room 4.27, Hedley Bull Centre (130), Garran Road, ANU
ANU Canberra


Dr Ryan Griffiths, University of Sydney


Bell School
6125 8533

How does a breakaway region become an internationally recognised state? This is an important question for aspiring nations. In this seminar, I outline what I call the sovereignty game, and show how it creates different perceived pathways to independence. A core feature of the game is the international recognition regime, a collection of evolving norms, rules, and practices that shape the strategies of secessionist movements, driving some to choose armed rebellion while others prefer civil resistance or the pursuit of independence referenda. I argue that secessionist movements deploy their assets and make normative appeals in different combinations depending on local conditions such as regime type, the strength of the state, and the degree to which the region is de facto independent. These efforts are aimed at not only the central government, but also the international community that can apply pressure on the central government to negotiate with the breakaway region. I develop a typology of different strategic types – Decolonial, Indigenous Legal, Democratised, De Facto, Strong Combative, Weak Combative – and I outline the perils and possibilities inherent in each type. I then develop a theoretical model and test the implications using original data on secessionist methods between 1945 and 2011.

Ryan Griffiths is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney. His research focuses on the dynamics of secession and the study of sovereignty, state systems, and international orders. He is the author of Age of Secession: The International and Domestic Determinants of State Birth (Cambridge University Press, 2016).

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