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Diplomatic recognition in international law is a unilateral political act, with domestic and international legal consequences, whereby a state acknowledges an act or status of another state or government. Recognition can be accorded either de facto or de jure, usually by a statement of the recognizing government.

Recognition of states and governments

The recognition of a government implies recognition of the state it governs, but not vice versa. De facto recognition of states, rather than de jure, is rare. De jure recognition is stronger, while de facto recognition is more tentative and relates more to recognizing that a government exercises control over a territory. An example of the difference is when the United Kingdommarker recognised the Soviet Unionmarker de facto in 1921, but de jure only in 1924. Another example is the state of Israelmarker in 1948, whose government was immediately recognised de facto by the United Statesmarker (and later Britain), and "one-upped" 3 days later by Sovietmarker de jure recognition.

Renewing recognition of a government is not necessary when it changes in a normal, constitutional way (such as an election or referendum), but is necessary in the case of a coup d'etat or revolution. Recognition of the new government by other states can be important for its long term survival. For instance, the Taliban government of the Islamic State of Afghanistan, which lasted only from 1996 to 2001, was recognised by only Pakistanmarker, the United Arab Emiratesmarker and Saudi Arabiamarker, while far more had recognised the government of ousted President Burhanuddin Rabbani. The Disputed territories of Jammu and Kashmirmarker and Arunachal Pradeshmarker as an "Integral Part" of the Republic of Indiamarker as per its claim is not recognised by both the Pakistanmarker and the People's Republic of Chinamarker.

Recognition can be implied by other acts, like the visit of the head of state, or the signing of a bilateral treaty. If implicit recognition is possible, a state may feel the need to explicitly proclaim that its acts do not constitute diplomatic recognition, as when the United States commenced its dialogue with the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1988.

The doctrine of non-recognition of illegal or immoral factual situations (e.g. territorial gains achieved by the use of force) is called the Stimson Doctrine, and has become more important since the Second World War, especially in the United Nations as a method of ensuring compliance with international law, for instance in the case of Rhodesia in 1965. Withdrawal of recognition is an even more severe act of disapproval of another state than the breaking of diplomatic relations.

Another example is the United Statesmarker non-recognition of the WWII annexation of the Baltic states by the Soviet Union. It continued to recognise the independence of these three states until the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union, these states once more came into being in fact, rather than just on paper.

In 1974 the Australian Whitlam Government recognised de jure the incorporation of the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) into the Soviet Union. Actually, the Soviet Union had control over the Baltic States since the completion of the Second World War. Prior to 1974 Australia had recognised de facto control over the Baltic States by the Soviet Unionmarker, but only at this time recognised it de jure. This recognition was withdrawn in December 1975 by the Fraser Government.

Unrecognized state

Several of the world's geo-political entities lack general international recognition, but wish to be recognized as sovereign states. The degree of de facto control these entities exert over the territories they claim varies.

Most are subnational regions with an ethnic or national identity of their own that have "broken off" (i.e. separated themselves) from their original parent state, and hence they are commonly referred to as "break-away" states. Some of these entities are in effect internally self-governing protectorates that enjoy military protection and informal diplomatic representation abroad through another state to prevent forced reincorporation into their original states.

Note that the word "control" in this list refers to control over the area occupied, not occupation of the area claimed. Unrecognized countries can be separated into those which have full control over their occupied territory (such as, for instance, Republic of Chinamarker) and those with only partial control (such as Western Saharamarker). The main difference is that in the former, the de jure governments of the areas in question have no (or nearly no) influence in the areas under question, whereas in the latter they can have varying degrees of control, and may provide essential services to people living in the areas.

Other types of recognition

Other things which can be recognised include the occupation or annexation of territory, or belligerent rights of a party in a conflict. The last does not mean that the recognizing party considers the recognized a state.

Examples of recognition of belligerent status include:

See also


  • Tozun Bahcheli, Barry Bartmann, and Henry Srebrnik; De Facto States: The Quest for Sovereignty , Routledge, (2004) online edition
  • Stefan Talmon; Recognition of Governments in International Law: With Particular Reference to Governments in Exile Clarendon Press, (1998) online edition
  • Gregory Weeks; "Almost Jeffersonian: U.S. Recognition Policy toward Latin America," Presidential Studies Quarterly, Vol. 31, 2001 online edition

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