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Unrecognised States in The International System

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Law
Wordcount: 1460 words Published: 18th May 2020

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In legal scholarship, a discussion already exists regarding the role that recognition of statehood plays in the process of state creation, involving a divide between those that argue that recognition merely involves acknowledging that a political entity has met the criteria of statehood (the declaratory approach), and those who argue that recognition is much more than an acknowledgement of statehood, but is rather itself a central component within the formation of a state (the constitutive approach).

The declarative approach draws contrast with the constitutive approach as it maintains that recognition is almost meaningless because counties have little choice in defining the recognition of a state. The statehood position is based on circumstance and not the choice of the respective state (Brierly and Waldock, 1963).

The constitutive approach states that it is not automatic to recognize an entity as a state. A state is only a state if it is accepted as such and other countries hold the power of this decision. Thus, the new state only exists after acceptance by those other countries, at least in legal context (Oppenheim and Roxburgh, 1974). Interest has arisen from modern theorists concerning the constitutive approach as it may be considered a more definite approach to establish statehood.

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The framework of international law is bound in the rules that define what a state is and is not. A difference between two specific uses of the word ‘ sovereignty’ is instructive in knowing international law concerning statehood and its importance for acceptance. Eli Lauterpacht explained that “sovereignty is…more commonly used in its…meaning to describe the jurisdiction and control which a state may exercise over territory, regardless of the question of where ultimate title to the territory may lie” ( Lauterpacht, 1956).

How important is international recognition in theoretical terms? By looking at entities that are not internationally recognised, or de facto states, a better understanding can be achieved on how recognition benefits a state. These de facto states have retained sovereignty over an extended timespan with a degree of inner legality but not at an international level.

Despite the fall of the constitutive concept of acceptance within international law, understanding of states and governments holds legitimate power. Entities that are not acknowledged as states may not remain entitled to these complete legitimate benefits granted distinguished governments and states, including jurisdictional and additional immunities. As Mikulas Fabry describes, “recognition is an indispensable precondition for a political community’s status as a sovereign state in international relations and law” (Visoka, 2018). This understanding exists as the very foundation of a state’s composition. Modern politics has been influenced considerably by the need or demand for recognition for marginalized states.

State recognition proves valuable in the sense that member states engage freely with international organisations and institutions (Wilde, 2010). De facto states live in a state of limbo, of grey lines and unclear borders. Political progressions are simply dismissed, and athletes are unable to participate in international events representing the flag they deem their own.

It is evident that international recognition has a strong significance in global acceptance and is probable to have excellent impact, for instance in aspects of identification or presumed safety. It is obvious that being an autonomous state is kept in high esteem in the contemporary world, if not for any other purpose, because it is the stated objective of significant components of culture in regions around the globe, including in representative Western countries (e.g. Scotland). 

Russia’s recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia’s autonomy in August 2008 marked a significant shift in the countries’ internal ties. This growth had an important effect on these organizations’ state capacity and political economy, as well as on their citizens ‘ livelihood opportunities. It was only in 2007 that Transnistria began to ratify its exercise of securing income from its portfolio by not charging for the gas it bought from Gazprom; within a few years, Russian aid has risen to encompass the majority of Transnistria’s expenditure, thus becoming a main enabler of the local welfare state.

When countries administer territory, they often do so on the grounds that the region concerned is their own sovereign territory, or a shift to the present circumstances e.g. Iraq’s claim to title over Kuwait following its invasion in 1990, and Kosovo’s claim to statehood in territory creating part of Serbia on declaring independence in 2008 (Wilde, 2010.

The vast opportunities that are associated with independent statehood and being a contributing member into international organizations are difficult to obtain (Visoka, 2018). From Kosovo declaring independence, it has since earned diplomatic recognition by 111 UN member states. While the United States, Britain and a portion of Europe have recognised Kosovo’s independence directing aid towards the state, other influential members such as Serbia, the USSR and China have not recognised this declaration (The Economist, 2010).

States work and are capable when a critical mass of officials and citizens think that state institutions exist for good reasons and that state action is based on justified institutions (Risse, Börzel and Draude, 2018).

In the light of international law, after its recognition by six UN member-states, Abkhazia can be regarded as a fully-ledged independent State and subject of international law. Its broad international recognition, which, in my view, is imminent, will undoubtedly serve the achieving of political stability in Western Transcaucasia and will create more favourable conditions for the economic and social development of this part of Europe.” : http://abkhazworld.com/aw/Pdf/2014-libre.pdf

There is no linear relationship between degrees of statehood and effective governance.

Effective governance in terms of both service delivery and rule-making is possible in areas of limited statehood where state institutions are too weak to implement and enforce decisions.

Statehood is essential for “building islands of governance, particularly when it comes to broadening access to collective goods and services”. P14& 15

[External state governors & non-state actors] contribute to state-building in the sense that international as well as violent non-state actors uphold a monopoly over the means of violence in the areas they control.



  • Risse, T., Börzel, T. and Draude, A. (2018). The Oxford handbook of governance and limited statehood. 1st ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p.48.
  • Visoka, G. (2018). Acting Like a State: Kosovo and the Everyday Making of Statehood, 1st Edition (Hardback) – Routledge. [online] Routledge.com. Available at: https://www.routledge.com/Acting-Like-a-State-Kosovo-and-the-Everyday-Making-of-Statehood-1st-Edition/Visoka/p/book/9781138285330 [Accessed 20 Jul. 2019].
  • The Economist. (2010). In quite a state. [online] Available at: https://www.economist.com/international/2010/04/08/in-quite-a-state [Accessed 20 Aug. 2019].
  • Church, J. (2012). G.W.F. Hegel on Self-Determination and Democratic Theory. American Journal of Political Science, 56(4), pp.1021-1039.
  • Oppenheim, L. and Roxburgh, R. (1974). International law. London: Longmans, Green, p.71.
  • Brierly, J. and Waldock, C. (1963). The Law of Nations. 6th ed.
  • Wilde, R. (2010). [online] Chathamhouse.org. Available at: https://www.chathamhouse.org/sites/default/files/field/field_document/Meeting%20Summary%20Recognition%20of%20States.pdf [Accessed 20 Aug. 2019].
  • E Lauterpacht, ‘The Contemporary Practice of the United Kingdom in the Field of International Law—Survey and Comment’, 5 (1956) ICLQ 405, at 410.



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