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Boxing Pandora: Rethinking Borders, States, and Secession in a Democratic World, Timothy William Waters

Reviewed by Ryan D. Griffiths

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Secessionist movements are a common feature in world affairs. From Catalonia to Bougainville, from Scotland to New Caledonia, a substantial number of nations are mobilized to seek independence from their sovereign state. How should these pressures be managed, and would the international community be better off if new solutions were adopted? That is the subject of Timothy William Waters’s new book.

The title of the book plays on the idiom of Pandora’s box and rightly notes a very real concern within the international community that secession needs to be controlled. Secession is destabilizing, sometimes violent, and potentially recursive. The accommodation of one aspiring nation may set a precedent for others and beget more secessionism. Despite these concerns, Waters argues that nations should have a right to secession via a democratic process.

In making this argument, Waters is treading familiar ground. First, he critiques the manner in which secession has been managed since 1945, which he calls the classical model of self-determination. In short, that system privileges the territorial integrity of sovereign states and limits the pathways to independent statehood to decolonization, dissolution, consensual separation, and, potentially, remedial secession. H

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