Constitutional Secession Rights, Exit Threats and Multinational Democracy



Are constitutional secession rights compatible with democracy in a multinational political association? Multinational political associations are political formations that allow for multiple and parallel projects of national identity promotion, and are more likely than other political formations to experience secessionist pressure. One argument against incorporating secession rights in a constitution is that rights-holders might deploy exit threats in order to strengthen their bargaining position. This article argues that opponents of secession rights have inflated the case against them. Two potentially objectionable forms of exit threat are identified – cynical exit threats and exploitative exit threats. Cynical exit threats are (nearly) impossible to execute, and the most seriously exploitative exit threats can be prevented by a sensitively designed secession clause. However, secession rights do facilitate exit threats, and in doing so may generate unfair power asymmetries and threaten political stability. Since none of the objections to secession rights are decisive, decisions about whether to include them in a constitution should be made on the basis of their likely effects on democratic solidarity.