understanding the effects of state recognition

Understanding the Effects of State Recognition

State recognition is one of the coveted issues being discussed in the field of public international law today. This recognition, although seemingly a simple act, can cause many adverse and positive consequences to a certain territory or to a group of people.

Recognition can make or break a nations. It may either lead to liberty or to an unending war of a separatist groups against a state or states in pursuance of the former’s right to be independent.

Among the countries which have established their name in the international community as an independent state are Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and the Baltic States[1]. The granting of diplomatic recognition to these states has spurred the desire and interest of the international community over the topic.

Recognition Defined

Recognition, according to Philip Marshall Brown is “the determination of the nature and the extent of the relation between states”[2]. There are generally two kinds of recognition and they differ as to the extent of the effects of such recognition on the state to which it was vested.

Recognition is needed in order to acquire political and international rights. This is accorded to a separatist group which has decided to break out from the state to which it initially belongs (parent state). The people comprising this state believe that they should be accorded independence, be given the right to rule their own territory, and promulgate their own set of rules. These states are initially called as de facto states.

States which declare their independence from their parent state initially exhibit the capacity to exercise control and find support for the needs of the people within its territory, enjoy this status.

According to Scott Pegg[3], a de facto state is a secessionist body which has enjoyed popular support and has attained the capacity to provide services to the people of a defined territorial area.

The granting of recognition to a community as a state implies that such community has met all the criteria or conditions prescribed by international law on statehood. This means that the community has all the qualifications and none of the disqualifications required by law in order to be considered as a state, particularly, the exercise of control and power over a defined territory and among a specific group of people. The people in the territory should consider the regime as an authority and show or express their willingness to be under its mandate.

Existing governments have the duty to grant recognition to states which possess such character. Absent of an international body which will accord such determination of statehood, existing states are expected to complete such function in light of their capacity as organs of international law[4].

However, this does not mean that all states are compelled to give due recognition to a de facto state or to all other regimes desiring recognition. Existing de jure states also have the option to hold the granting of their recognition. They may only give out such upon being satisfied that the separatist state has the capacity and the power to control the territory that it claims and to ably govern the people within such territory. Aside from these, there are other factors which are being considered and these factors vary from one nation to another. An existing state may take into consideration its international interests and future dealings with the new state before it will relay its acknowledgment.

Kinds of Recognition

There are two kinds of recognition and they are: de jure and de facto recognition. De jure recognition means that there is a complete and full recognition of one state by another state. In contrast to de jure recognition, there is no full recognition in de facto. The de facto recognition is established through one state’s establishment of diplomatic relations or resuming the diplomatic relations already created by a state and the new state[5].

In de jure recognition, there is an overt act of expressly recognizing the new state. Before such recognition can be accorded there are certain specifications or conditions that the new state must follow or comply with. Absent such compliance, there can be no recognition. In de facto recognition, there is no clear expression made. The recognition can be deduced from the acts of the contracting states such as negotiating or entering into agreements with the new regime by a state.

Aside from the manner of according recognition, de jure and de facto also differ in effect and in the extent of their coverage. A state accorded with de jure recognition is more stable in its rights and position in the society while a state holding on a de facto recognition has tentative and limited rights in the international sphere.

Manner of Giving Recognition

            The extent of a recognition is not only dependent on the type of recognition that is provided but also on the manner of giving it. Such manner can be affected by the purpose of the recognition.

            There are states which try to heavily publicize their recognition of the powers and rights of one territory. As early  as possible, they try to make the whole world know that the are assenting the statehood of a certain territory. When this kind of recognition is given, the purpose of which is to provide stability to the new government. According to Peterson, [6] the survival of a new regime can be affected by the recognition policy given to it during its inception.

            The only problem with this type of recognition is the high possibility that it will be precarious and hasty. There is no careful study or consideration whether or not the new state has met all the requirements for statehood as provided for in international law nor if it has the sufficient power and capability to exert its mandate among the people in its territory. An example of this type of recognition is the one granted by the Soviet to the People’s Republic of China and the United States recognition of the Lon Nol’s government in the Cambodian territory.

            Another manner of giving recognition is through withholding the acknowledgment. Governments who still desire to help or extend assistance to an old regime, refuse to give their recognition to the new one and continue their transactions with the former. They treat the old regime as the subsisting power even if this has already become passé or it has lost substantial control over its people and territory.

Usually, this is given by states to their ally governments or powers in order to maintain their political standing in the international field or to preserve the principles which they would like to maintain. There are those who choose to prolong recognition in order to bolster democracy or republicanism. There are also others who prefer to withhold their recognition in order to make room for negotiations for future interests.

            Giving recognition is not as simple as it sounds. There are many considerations that are being contemplated before it can be granted. The top of the list is the preservation of government interests and second of which is eyeing for future ventures.

Effects of Recognition

UN Membership

            In the international field, a full and complete recognition accorded to one state grants political and international rights such as membership in the United Nations (UN). The UN is a body of nations which can accord almost every kind of assistance to its member countries, thus, as much as possible all countries would desire to become a part of it. Membership therein gives a sense of security and a feeling of stability.

Through UN membership, a state can claim for human rights relief, they can also seek assistance from UN member countries if in case they are being attacked by other countries, or they are in the state of calamity or poverty[7]. The UN also extends aid in order to prevent the spread of diseases and to control the number of people infected with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) or the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and other illnesses.

The basic tenet of the UN is to maintain world peace. It ensures that countries in the world do not cause chaos in each other’s territory and unduly sacrifice the lives of the citizens therein. This is the reason why the said body often times act as mediator between warring countries or between a state and the part of which that is claiming independence. They intervene in order to find peaceful solutions to difficulties.

Due to the many interests that it is trying to protect and the many governments that are involved, the organization follows certain rules with regard to the acceptance of members and the stripping of membership to countries which are already a part of it. Just like in any other organization, a desiring member should be able to present substantial reasons why it should be admitted in the group and why it should be given protection and assistance.

To date, there are already 192 member states. Taiwan or the Republic of China is one of the countries seeking membership to the said body[8].

International Recognition of Laws and Granting of International Identity

            Aside from gaining membership in the UN, the granting of recognition can also yield to the end of hostilities against the new state, the recognition of its laws and the enjoyment of an international identity.

Recognition is thee passport to the international acknowledgment of laws and policies and the ticket in the attainment of international rights. While the secessionist group are not yet granted de jure recognition, they remain to be the subject of violent attacks by the parent state and the supporters thereof. The latter will always consider the group as a secessionist or a leftist group which is going against the principles of law and thus, should be tamed.

The parent state can always claim that it is the rightful owner of the territory which they occupy as a consequence thereof, the laws and rules which its government imposes should be followed.

Non-adherence to the mandate of the parents state gives it the right to launch attacks and ensure that their power over such territory is maintained. Violent means may be resorted in order to assert political control over the territory and the people. This may mean putting to danger innocent lives or worse sacrificing them for liberty. While the new regime remains unrecognized, the battle remains to be the whole world against the belligerent regime.

            However, once a state gives its recognition to the de facto state, the tables are turned. The recognition accords the de facto state the right to seek for help from the recognizing state in case of attacks. It also subjects it to the possibility of attaining full independence and de jure recognition once it completes the international law requirements to statehood. Once there is a de jure recognition, the new state can seek refuge from international bodies and claim rights against undue attacks by other states. Recognition entitles the new state to a juridical personality which can be the source of the enjoyment of international rights and the respect for its duly implemented rules and policies.

            According to the rule on international law, there is a comity of laws among nations. The promulgated laws in one state may be recognized in other states or be given effect in foreign lands, after several conditions are met.

Economic Fall and Advancement

            State recognition also affects the economic standing of a certain territory. According to Pegg, the impact of recognition to a de facto is relatively modest[9]. Among the factors which lead to this result are the small size of the state, failure to acquire a juridical standing, and the impoverished condition due to violent attacks from the parent state and other states.

            Due to limited scope of the sovereignty in terms of demographics and geography, it is expected that the revenue that it generates from its resources is also not as lucrative as that of other states. Its mandate is only limited to the territory which its presently claims as its own and to the number of people who are following the rule on the said territory. They find difficulty in legally trading with other nations and establishing economic relations.

            The economic relations suffer because non-recognition also means non-enjoyment of international rights and protections. It means that whatever economic relations is established with the new regime, international law, treaties and conventions cannot take effect. Many countries avoid this situation because when they are placed at a disadvantaged situation, they will no other recourse but to rely on the law of the regime to which they transacted. The same principle applies to the new regime.

            Being new in the field, its laws may not yet be adequate or if not legally sound to cover protections and provide rights to its citizens in terms of contractual relations. It becomes an easy prey for established nations which are already conversant with the ins and outs of economic transactions. Their rights can easily be tampered upon or the general principles of law may easily be circumvented. The worse part of this situation is the fact that the affected regime does not have the adequate personality in order to claim remuneration for the wrong that was committed against it.

            With regard to the aspect of attacks the new regime is treated as a belligerent group and thus, subject to attack by the parent state. These attacks cause considerable strain to the funds of the new regime. Instead of utilizing their revenue for the improvement of its economy, it is utilizing its funds in order to strengthen its defenses and provide the basic needs of its people.

            Moreover, the lack of juridical standing of de facto nations prevent them from fully enjoying their resources. The parent state can always assert its lawful claim to the state and demand from foreign traders that benefit be given to them and not to the de facto state, the former being the legal owner of such property and the latter not having the international juridical personality to claim for it.

            However, not all de facto states and departing sovereigns experience this kind of sad economic fate. There are also de facto states which enjoy economic benefits and among these states is the Republic of China or Taiwan. Although the country does not enjoy diplomatic recognition, it ranks among the 15 largest trading powers. The trade volume of which exceeds US$218 billion. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LLTTE) is also among the other de facto states which is enjoying economic prowess in the world. It has attained such status through the exercise of a free market economy and the mutually acceptable business proposals or arrangement that it does with the local businessmen[10].

Adverse treatment of the International Society

            The international society treats de facto governments in three ways. They either actively oppose their existence by providing sanctions and embargoes, ignore them by not entering into negotiations with them or they accept and acknowledge their presence. Among the countries which impose international embargoes is the Northern Cyprus against the Turkish Cypriots. Other International organizations have also followed their example by refusing recognition in their fields of interest.[11]

The Provisional Government or Eritrea is among the de facto states which are being ignored. The state has been denied by the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank to qualify for any form of aid or loan. Another de facto state is the Republic of Somaliland. The UN refused to extend substantial assistance to rebuild their legal infrastructure.

Support from a Recognizing State

            Although international bodies or organizations may exercise the right to refuse assistance to starting governments or regime, such states can claim for support and assistance from the governments which have accorded them recognition. In light of the acknowledgment that states have given to new regimes, it is expected that they will extend due reinforcement in order to give them stability and to be able to cope with the challenges that it faces as a new government.

            This expectation arises from the fact that the recognition has been given for a purpose and such purpose will not be realized if the new regime will not be able to stand the test of time and political turmoil. The support, extended is tantamount to an investment. Established governments help smaller or new regimes in order to advance whatever interest they have on the territory or in the international sphere.

Non-Revocatory Character of Recognition

Another positive effect of recognition is its non-revocatory character[12]. This is the reason why governments are careful in extending recognition to other states. Nations which have already extended recognition can no longer take back such recognition and declare status quo ante. They have to stand by with the said recognition, no matter what the impact is.

Reasons for Providing Recognition

            There are several reasons why one state grants recognition for a budding state and such vary from one nation to another. It must be understood that the game of numbers play an important part in gaining stability and power among nations. Through having a substantial number of allies, it would be easy to impose whatever policies one would like to impose. In illustration, the United States tries to extend help to as many nations as it possibly can. This cannot solely be attributed to their desire to help. Aligned with this vision is the unpublished desire to establish control and gain more power in the international sphere. Aside from power and control, the establishment of alliance among other nations can also lead to economic progress. The new nation can serve as a trading partner or a source of cheaper goods or products. Allies can also join forces in order to control a specific commodity such as oil.

They can also join forces in order to press the international bodies and organizations to accept their proposals or grant international recognition to the policies and regulations that they would like to be followed. As previously indicated, numbers play an important part in the international sphere specially when involves the assertion of control or mandate.

Moreover, having a substantial number of allies also mean greater forces. When one country enters into war with another, they can seek refuge from their allies and demand additional force or subsidy.

Although the age of colonialism has already long gone, this can still be revived in a more discreet form if the alliances among nations are not tamed. The joining of forces by several countries redounds to the establishment of considerable mandate over other nations or weaker forces.


            The establishment of a nation or an international entity to which rights, lives and resources are at stake is not an easy journey. In order to surpass challenges, there should be a substantial amount of force and a strong determination to push for independence and the recognition of rights.

            Departing from a parent state can be likened to reaching the age of adulthood, the only difference is the fact that the former is attained through violent means. Just like reaching the age of majority, there are legal, physical and situational consequences that should be faced and if these are not handled properly, there is a high probability for failure.

            It is always a risk to push for independence. The future does not provide a ready forecast nor does it promise an enticing result, however, it can provide hope. Any glimpse of hope for any separating regime is enough in order to keep it running and push its visions to rule its own state and to attain its own personality.

            There are many rights and privileges that can be attained from recognition but attached therewith are also certain responsibilities and obligations to fulfill. Just like adulthood, there are many roles to play, many bills to pay, mouths to feed and no room for backing out. Once a nation desires to break out from its mother country and it is given due recognition, it cannot go back to the former and seek that it be taken back. The only way to move for a recognized state is forward, never backward.


AV Lowe and C Warbrick, ‘Recognition of States’, The International and Comparative

Law Quarterly, Vol. 41, No. 2, April 1992, pp. 473.

H Lauterpacht, “Recognition of States in International Law’, The Yale Law Journal, Vol.

53 No. 3, June 1944 p. 385.

MJ Peterson, ‘Political Use of Recognition: The Influence of the International System’,

World Politics, Vol. 34, No. 3 April 1982, pp. 324-352

PM Brown, ‘The Legal Effects of Recognition’, The American Journal of International

Law, Vol. 44, No. 4, October 1950, pp. 617-640.

S Pegg, ‘De Facto States in the International System’, Institute of Internal Relations, The

University of British Columbia, February 1998, pp. 3-5.

United Nations. History of the United Nations, 2005, retrieved 20 February 2009


United Nations. ‘Member States’, 2006, retrieved February 20, 2009,


[1] AV Lowe and C Warbrick, ‘Recognition of States’, The International and Comparative Law Quarterly, Vol. 41, No. 2, April 1992, pp. 473
[2]  PM Brown, ‘The Legal Effects of Recognition’, The American Journal of International Law, Vol. 44, No. 4, October 1950, pp. 617-640
[3] S Pegg, ‘De Facto States in the International System’, Institute of Internal Relations, The University of British Columbia, February 1998.
[4] H Lauterpacht, “Recognition of States in International Law’, The Yale Law Journal, Vol. 53 No. 3, June 1944 p. 385
[5] Op Cit.
[6] MJ Peterson, ‘Political Use of Recognition: The Influence of the International System’, World Politics, Vol. 34, No. 3 April 1982, pp. 324-352
[7] United Nations. History of the United Nations, 2005, retrieved 20 February 2009 <http://www.un.org/aboutun/unhistory/>
[8] United Nations. ‘Member States’, 2006, retrieved February 20, 2009, < http://www.un.org/members/list.shtml>
[9] Pegg, p. 3
[10] Pegg, p.4
[11] Pegg, p.4-5
[12] MJ Peterson, Political Use of Recognition: The Influence of International System, World Politics, Vol. 34, No. 3, April, 1982, pp. 324-52


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