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

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Book Review

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Israel Law Review


secession, sovereignty, self-determination, plebiscites


Professor Waters begins his intriguing book by announcing his proposal for a new right to secession: ‘Groups of people may form a new state by holding a referendum on part of an existing state's territory’ (p 1). He thus posits his argument in both provocative and almost simplistically convincing terms. In fact, announcing any ‘right’ to secession is provocative in itself, and framing this right in such simple terms appears particularly convincing: many would agree that ‘groups’ should be allowed to express their wishes through a referendum. Stating this ‘right’ in such straightforward terms, without mentioning the territorial integrity of states, sovereignty, uti possidetis or any other relevant norms, allows the reader to focus on the ‘right’ itself and not on any of its limitations. According to Professor Waters, secession – which for decades, if not centuries, had been viewed as a dangerous phenomenon as it undermines the territorial integrity of existing states – ought to be let out of its Pandora's box. In fact, as opposed to boxing secession in order to preserve the existing system, Professor Waters suggests that we rethink the latter in the light of all of its inadequacies, and that we embrace a right to secession according to an ambitious framework which he develops in this thought-provoking book.

This review focuses on some of the most innovative and provocative features of Professor Waters’ proposal before turning to an overall assessment of the book. In sum, Waters has written an excellent and innovative piece of scholarship, which adds significant value to existing debates on the ‘legality’ of secession.


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