Review of International Studies


Secession and the invisible hand of the international system



This article argues that 1945 constitutes an historical inflection point from a period of state expansion to state contraction and that this transformation is primarily the result of changes at the international level. Just as security and economic pressures drove lead states to expand in earlier times, changing conditions in the post-1945 period led to a contraction in state size. The change from multipolarity, the development of the territorial integrity norm, the shift to nuclear deterrence, and the burgeoning global economy contributed to the milieu in which states evaluate the costs and benefits of holding territory, and this has enabled states to permit secession more frequently. The result has been an increase in the rate of peaceful secession and a corresponding proliferation in the number of sovereign states. I test this argument both qualitatively and quantitatively using original data on secessionist movements and internal administrative regions between 1816 and 2005.

(Online publication March 20 2014)

Ryan Griffiths is Lecturer in the Department of Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney. His research examines the dynamics of secession with a particular emphasis on the international and domestic causes of secessionist conflict over time.


*  I thank the political science departments at Columbia University, the Johns Hopkins University, and the University of Sydney for funding my research. I would also like to thank Bridget Coggins, Alex Cooley, Michael Doyle, Tanisha Fazal, Graeme Gill, Elise Giuliano, Ben Goldsmith, Vsevolod Gunitskiy, Robert Jervis, Megan MacKenzie, Jack Snyder, and several anonymous reviewers for their useful comments and criticism.