Whether seen as state-making or state-breaking, the obvious ingredient of secession is politics. Only those holding positions of governance are able to redraw maps and make choices that affect state boundaries and human communities. Political theorists have attempted to produce coherent models of secession which identify when and where secession is permissible and justifiable (e.g., Allen Buchanan’s distinction between “primary right theories” and “just cause theories”) but the truth is that the theory and the practice of secession do not go hand in hand. The practical implication of this disconnect between abstract thinking and realpolitik is that constitutionalism, international public law, and political theory provide a piecemeal assessment of the decisions of those with power. Instead, comparative politics and international relations can be more useful in illuminating the multiple arenas where movements of secession and counter-secession compete for power, legitimacy and advantage.