The road to statehood is a complicated process. In this edition of U-talk, Kate in Dublin asked: “Basically it takes three elements to create a new country – a permanent population, a defined territory and a government. But in legal terms how does a nation become an independent state?”
Doctor of Political Science and Honorary Consul of Kosovo, Odile Perrot, responded: “We generally say that these three elements – people, government and territory – constitute a state. But these elements alone are not sufficient to account for the dynamics of the creation of a state. To become independent, a state needs other countries’ recognition.
“Let’s look at South Ossetia, Abkhazia or the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus for instance. These three countries proclaimed their independence, but only a very small number of states have recognised their independence. So the international effectiveness of these three countries is almost zero.
“Such recognition is not immediately given, it is a long and complex process. It is a long process because newly-created states have to start diplomatic relations – discussions with representatives of other countries – in order to be able, ultimately, to exchange letters with countries which recognise each other.
“It is also a complex process because there are international and regional political issues at stake. We saw this with the independence of South Sudan in 2011, with the independence of Montenegro in 2006 and also with Kosovo, which declared its independence in February 2008. So in the end, the definition of a state is as much political as legal.
“If recognition by other states is essential, it also allows the new state – under certain conditions of majority of course – to become a member of international and regional organisations.
“However, membership of international organisations, such as the United Nations, does not automatically determine the nature of a state. In fact some states, such as Taiwan, are not members of the UN even though they are unofficially treated as states by a part of the international community.
“To conclude, a state is not just a set of rules, a set of institutions, it is also a question of practice. The practice of sovereignty at home and vis-à-vis other states.”
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