A number of polities have declared independence and sought diplomatic recognition from the international community as de jure sovereign states, but have not been universally recognised as such. These entities often have de facto control of their territory. A number of such entities have existed in the past.
There are two traditional doctrines that provide indicia of how a de jure sovereign state comes into being. The declarative theory defines a state as a person in international law if it meets the following criteria:
- a defined territory
- a permanent population
- a government, and
- a capacity to enter into relations with other states.
According to the declarative theory, an entity's statehood is independent of its recognition by other states. By contrast, the constitutive theory defines a state as a person of international law only if it is recognised as such by other states that are already a member of the international community.
Proto-states often reference either or both doctrines in order to legitimise their claims to statehood. There are, for example, entities which meet the declarative criteria (with de facto partial or complete control over their claimed territory, a government and a permanent population), but whose statehood is not recognised by any other states. Non-recognition is often a result of conflicts with other countries that claim those entities as integral parts of their territory. In other cases, two or more partially recognised states may claim the same territorial area, with each of them de facto in control of a portion of it (as have been the cases of the Republic of China (Taiwan) and the People's Republic of China (PRC), and North and South Korea). Entities that are recognised by only a minority of the world's states usually reference the declarative doctrine to legitimise their claims.
In many situations, international non-recognition is influenced by the presence of a foreign military force in the territory of the contested entity, making the description of the country's de facto status problematic. The international community can judge this military presence too intrusive, reducing the entity to a puppet state where effective sovereignty is retained by the foreign power. Historical cases in this sense can be seen in Japanese-led Manchukuo or the German-created Slovak Republic and Independent State of Croatia before and during World War II. In the 1996 case Loizidou v. Turkey, the European Court of Human Rights judged Turkey for having exercised authority in the territory of Northern Cyprus.
There are also entities which do not have control over any territory or do not unequivocally meet the declarative criteria for statehood but have been recognised to exist de jure as sovereign entities by at least one other state. Historically this has happened in the case of the Holy See (1870–1929), Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania (during Soviet annexation), and more recently the State of Palestine at the time of its declaration of independence in 1988. The Sovereign Military Order of Malta is currently in this position. See list of governments in exile for unrecognised governments without control over the territory claimed.
Criteria for inclusion
- satisfy the declarative theory of statehood, or
- be recognised as a state by at least one UN member state.
There are 193 United Nations (UN) member states, while both the Holy See and Palestine have observer state status in the United Nations. However, some countries fulfill the declarative criteria, are recognised by the large majority of other states and are members of the United Nations, but are still included in the list here because one or more other states do not recognise their statehood, due to territorial claims or other conflicts.
Some states maintain informal (officially non-diplomatic) relations with states that do not officially recognise them. Taiwan is one such state, as it maintains unofficial relations with many other states through its Economic and Cultural Offices, which allow regular consular services. This allows Taiwan to have economic relations even with states that do not formally recognise it. A total of 56 states, including Germany, Italy, the United States, and the United Kingdom, maintain some form of unofficial mission in Taiwan. Kosovo, Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh), Northern Cyprus, Abkhazia, Transnistria, the Sahrawi Republic, Somaliland, and Palestine also host informal diplomatic missions, and/or maintain special delegations or other informal missions abroad.
Present geopolitical entities by level of recognition
UN member states not recognised by at least one UN member state
|Name||Declared||Status||Other claimants||Further information||References|
|Republic of Korea||1948||South Korea (officially the Republic of Korea), independent since 1948, is not recognised by one UN member, North Korea.||North Korea considers itself to be the sole legitimate government of Korea, and claims all territory controlled by South Korea.||Foreign relations, missions (of, to)|||
|Armenia||1991||Armenia, independent since 1991, is not recognised by one UN member, Pakistan, which has a position of supporting Azerbaijan since the Nagorno-Karabakh War.||None||Foreign relations, missions (of, to)|||
|Republic of Cyprus||1960||The Republic of Cyprus (commonly known as Cyprus), independent since 1960, is not recognised by one UN member (Turkey) and one UN non-member (Northern Cyprus), due to the ongoing civil dispute over the island.||None||Foreign relations, missions (of, to)|||
|Democratic People's Republic of Korea||1948||North Korea (officially the Democratic People's Republic of Korea), independent since 1948, is not recognised by three UN members: France, Japan, South Korea; and one non-UN member: Taiwan.[original research?]||South Korea considers itself to be the sole legitimate government of Korea, and claims all territory controlled by North Korea.||Foreign relations, missions (of, to)|||
|People's Republic of China||1949||The People's Republic of China (PRC), proclaimed in 1949, is the more widely recognised of the two claimant governments of China, the other being the Republic of China (ROC, also known as Taiwan). The United Nations recognised the ROC as the sole representative of China until 1971, when it decided to give this recognition to the PRC instead (see United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2758).[a] The PRC and ROC do not recognise each other's statehood, and each enforces its own version of the One-China Policy meaning that no state can recognise both of them at the same time. The states that recognise the ROC (14 UN members and the Holy See as of 20 September 2019) regard it as the sole legitimate government of China and therefore do not recognise the PRC. Bhutan is the only UN member state that has never explicitly recognised either the PRC or the ROC.||The Republic of China considers itself to be the sole legitimate government of China (including Taiwan), and therefore claims exclusive sovereignty over all territory controlled by the PRC.||Foreign relations, missions (of, to) |
PRC's diplomatic relations dates of establishment
|State of Israel||1948||Israel, founded in 1948, is not recognised by 31 UN members. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which enjoys majority international recognition as sole representative of the Palestinian people, recognised Israel in 1993. In January 2018, the Palestinian Central Council voted to suspend recognition of Israel, but the decision has yet to be acted upon.||The State of Palestine considers itself to be the legitimate government of the West Bank, much of which is under de facto occupation. |
The Syrian Arab Republic considers itself to be the legitimate government of the Golan Heights, a territory which Israel claims with limited recognition.
|Foreign relations, missions (of, to) |
UN observer states not recognised by at least one UN member state
|Name||Declared||Status||Other claimants||Further information||References|
|State of Palestine||1988||Israel gained control of the Palestinian territories as a result of the Six-Day War in 1967, but has never formally annexed them. The State of Palestine (commonly known as Palestine) was declared in 1988 by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which is recognised by a majority of UN member states and the UN itself as the sole representative of the Palestinian people. Since the end of the first Palestinian Intifada against Israel the Israeli government has gradually moved its armed forces and settlers out of certain parts of Palestine's claimed territory, while still maintaining varying degrees of control over most of it. The Palestinian National Authority (PNA), which performs limited internal government functions over certain areas of Palestine, was established in 1994. The 2007 split between the Fatah and Hamas political parties resulted in competing governments claiming to represent the PNA and Palestine, with Fatah exercising authority exclusively over the West Bank and enjoying majority recognition from UN member states, and a separate Hamas leadership exercising authority exclusively over the Gaza area (except for a short period from 2014 to 2016).[b] Palestine is currently officially recognised as a state by 138 UN member states, the Holy See, and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. The remaining UN member states, including Israel, do not recognise the State of Palestine. The United Nations designates the claimed Palestinian territories as 'occupied' by Israel, and accorded Palestine non-member observer state status in 2012 (see United Nations General Assembly resolution 67/19). Palestine also has membership in the Arab League, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and UNESCO.||Israel regards the area claimed by Palestine as 'disputed' territory (that is, territory not legally belonging to any state).[b]||Foreign relations, missions (of, to) |
International recognition, Israeli–Palestinian peace process, Proposals for a Palestinian state
States that are neither UN members nor UN observers
|States recognised by at least one UN member state|
|Name||Declared||Status||Other claimants||Further information||References|
|Republic of Kosovo||2008||Kosovo declared its independence in 2008. It is currently recognised by 98 UN members, the Republic of China, the Cook Islands, Niue, and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. Ten other UN members have recognised Kosovo and subsequently withdrawn recognition. The United Nations, as stipulated in Security Council Resolution 1244, has administered the territory since 1999 through the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo, with cooperation from the European Union since 2008. Kosovo is a member of the International Monetary Fund, World Bank Group, Venice Commission, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and the International Olympic Committee, among others.||Serbia claims Kosovo as part of its sovereign territory.||Foreign relations, missions (of, to) |
International recognition; Political status
|Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic||1976||Morocco invaded and annexed most of Western Sahara after Spanish withdrawal from the territory in 1975. In 1976, the Polisario Front declared the independence of Western Sahara as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). The SADR is largely a government in exile located in Algeria, which claims the entire territory of Western Sahara, but controls only a small fraction of it. The SADR is recognised by 41 UN member states and South Ossetia. 43 other UN member states have recognised the SADR but subsequently retracted or suspended recognition, pending the outcome of a referendum on self-determination. The remaining UN member states, including Morocco, have never recognised the SADR. The SADR is a member of the African Union. United Nations General Assembly Resolution 34/37 recognised the right of the Western Sahara people to self-determination and recognised also the Polisario Front as the representative of the Western Sahara people. Western Sahara is listed on the United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories. No state other than Morocco officially recognises the latter's annexation of Western Sahara, but some states support the Moroccan autonomy plan. The Arab League supports Morocco's claim over the entire territory of Western Sahara.||Morocco claims Western Sahara (including the area controlled by the SADR) as part of its sovereign territory.||Foreign relations, missions (of, to) |
International recognition; Political status
|Republic of China||1912[c]||The Republic of China (ROC), constitutionally formed in 1912, and located primarily in Taiwan since 1949 (resulting in 'Taiwan' being frequently used to refer to the state), enjoyed majority recognition as the sole government of China until roughly the late 1950s/1960s, when a majority of UN member states started to gradually switch recognition to the People's Republic of China (PRC). The United Nations itself recognised the ROC as the sole representative of China until 1971, when it decided to give this recognition to the PRC instead (see United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2758).[a] The ROC and PRC do not recognise each other's statehood, and each enforces its own version of the One-China Policy meaning that no state can recognise both of them at the same time. The ROC is currently recognised by 14 UN members and the Holy See. Almost all the remaining UN member states, as well as the Cook Islands and Niue, recognise the PRC instead of the ROC and either accept the PRC's territorial claim over Taiwan, take a non-committal position on Taiwan's status, or sidestep the Taiwan issue entirely.[a] A significant number of PRC-recognising states nonetheless conduct officially non-diplomatic relations with the ROC. Bhutan is the only UN member state that has never explicitly recognised the ROC or the PRC. Since the early nineties, the ROC has sought separate United Nations membership under a variety of names, including 'Taiwan'.||The People's Republic of China considers itself to be the sole legitimate government of China (including Taiwan) and therefore claims exclusive sovereignty over all territory controlled by the ROC.||Foreign relations, missions (of, to) |
|Republic of South Ossetia||1991||South Ossetia declared its independence in 1991. It is currently recognised by 5 UN member states (Russia, Syria, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Nauru), and four UN non-member states (Abkhazia, Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh), Transnistria, and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic). One UN member state (Tuvalu) had recognised South Ossetia, but subsequently withdrew its recognition.||Georgia claims both Abkhazia and South Ossetia as part of its sovereign territory.||Foreign relations, missions (of, to) |
|Republic of Abkhazia||1999||Abkhazia declared its independence in 1999. It is currently recognised by 6 UN member states (Russia, Syria, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Nauru, and Vanuatu), and three UN non-member states (South Ossetia, Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) and Transnistria). One UN member state (Tuvalu) had recognised Abkhazia, but subsequently withdrawn its recognition.||Foreign relations, missions (of, to) |
|Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus||1983||Northern Cyprus declared its independence in 1983 with its official name being the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus" (TRNC). It is recognised by one UN member, Turkey. The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and the Economic Cooperation Organization have granted Northern Cyprus observer status under the name "Turkish Cypriot State". United Nations Security Council Resolution 541 defines the declaration of independence of Northern Cyprus as legally invalid. The International Court of Justice stated in its advisory opinion on Kosovo's declaration of independence in 2010 that "the Security Council in an exceptional character attached illegality to the DOI of TRNC because it was, or would have been connected with the unlawful use of force" and "general international law contains no applicable prohibition of declarations of independence".||The Republic of Cyprus claims the area controlled by the TRNC as part of its sovereign territory.||Foreign relations, missions (of, to) |
|States recognised only by other non-UN member states|
|Name||Declared||Status||Other claimants||Further information||References|
|Republic of Artsakh||1991||Artsakh (formerly known as the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic) declared its independence in 1991 (roughly at the same time as Azerbaijan itself when the Soviet Union fell). It is recognised by three UN non-members: Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transnistria.||Azerbaijan claims Artsakh as part of its sovereign territory.||Foreign relations, missions (of, to) |
International recognition, Political status
|Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic||1990||Transnistria (officially the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic) declared its independence in 1990. It is recognised by three UN non-members: Abkhazia, Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) and South Ossetia.||Moldova claims Transnistria as part of its sovereign territory.||Foreign relations, missions (of, to) |
International recognition, Political status
|States not recognised by any other state|
|Name||Declared||Status||Other claimants||Further information||References|
|Republic of Somaliland||1991||Somaliland declared its independence in 1991. It claims to be the successor to the State of Somaliland, a short lived sovereign state that existed from 26 June 1960 (when the British Somaliland Protectorate gained full independence from the United Kingdom) to 1 July 1960 (when the State of Somaliland united with Somalia to form the Somali Republic). Somaliland is internationally recognised as an autonomous region of Somalia.||Somalia claims Somaliland as part of its sovereign territory.||Foreign relations, missions (of, to)|||
- The Sovereign Military Order of Malta is a non-state sovereign entity and is not included, as it claims neither statehood nor territory. It has established full diplomatic relations with 107 sovereign states as a sovereign subject of international law, and also maintains full diplomatic relations with the European Union, the Holy See, and the State of Palestine. Additionally, it participates in the United Nations as an observer entity. Although it is not recognised as a subject of international law by France, the order maintains official, but not diplomatic, relations with France and also with four other states: Belgium, Switzerland, Luxembourg and Canada.
- Uncontacted peoples who either live in societies that cannot be defined as states or whose statuses as such are not definitively known.
- Some subnational entities and regions function as de facto independent states, with the central government exercising little or no control over their territory. These entities, however, do not explicitly claim to be independent states and are therefore not included. Examples include Galmudug and Puntland in Somalia, Gaza in Palestine, Iraqi Kurdistan, Rojava in Syria, and the Wa State in Myanmar.
- Entities considered to be micronations are not included.[d] Even though micronations generally claim to be sovereign and independent, it is often debatable whether a micronation truly controls its claimed territory.[e] For this reason, micronations are usually not considered of geopolitical relevance. For a list of micronations, see list of micronations.
- Those areas undergoing current civil wars and other situations with problems over government succession, regardless of temporary alignment with the inclusion criteria (e.g. by receiving recognition as state or legitimate government), where the conflict is still in its active phase, the situation is too rapidly changing and no relatively stable proto-states have emerged yet.
- Rebel groups that have declared independence and exert some control over territory, but that reliable sources do not describe as meeting the threshold of a sovereign state under international law. Examples include Donetsk People's Republic and Luhansk People's Republic, though both entities have received international recognition from partially-recognized states (see List of rebel groups that control territory for a more complete list of such groups).
- Those of the current irredentist movements and governments in exile that do not satisfy the inclusion criteria by simultaneously not satisfying the declarative theory and not having been recognised as state or legitimate government by any other state.
- Some states can be slow to establish relations with new UN member states and thus do not explicitly recognise them, despite having no dispute and sometimes favorable relations. These are excluded from the list.
- Community for Democracy and Rights of Nations
- Diplomatic recognition
- Exclusive mandate
- Flags of unrecognized and partially recognized states
- Frozen conflict
- Government in exile
- List of civil wars
- List of historical unrecognized states
- List of micronations
- List of rebel groups that control territory
- List of sovereign states
- List of territorial disputes
- List of rump states
- Nation state
- List of modern proto-states
- Territorial dispute
- Territorial integrity
- Unilateral declaration of independence
- Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization
- Both the Republic of China and the People's Republic of China claim sovereignty over the whole of China, stating China is de jure a single sovereign entity encompassing both the area controlled by the PRC and the area controlled by the ROC. The position of individual states on this matter varies. Several states fully accept the PRC's position that there is only one China and that the PRC is the sole legitimate representative of China. Other states merely acknowledge this position, while recognising only the PRC as a state. Some states recognise only the ROC as a state, but have expressed an interest in recognition and relations with both the ROC and the PRC.
- Israel allows the PNA to execute some functions in the Palestinian territories, depending on special area classification. Israel maintains minimal interference (retaining control of borders: air, sea beyond internal waters, land) in the Gaza strip (its interior and Egypt portion of the land border are under Hamas control), maximum in "Area C" and varying degrees of interference elsewhere. See also Israeli-occupied territories.
- Date of constitutional formation.
- Micronations are not included even if they are recognised by another micronation
- It is far from certain that micronations, which are generally of minuscule size, have sovereign control over their claimed territories, contrasted with the mere disregard and indifference toward micronations' assertions by the states from which they allege to have seceded. By not deeming such declarations (and other acts of the micronation) important enough to react in any way, these states generally consider micronations to be private property and their claims as unofficial private announcements of individuals, who remain subject to the laws of the states in which their properties are located.
- Thomas D. Grant, The recognition of states: law and practice in debate and evolution (Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 1999), chapter 1.
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...there are three other territories that have unilaterally declared independence and are generally regarded as having met the Montevideo criteria for statehood but have not been recognized by any states: Transnistria, Nagorny Karabakh, and Somaliland.
- BBC Country Profiles: Regions and territories: Nagorno-Karabakh. Retrieved 14 September 2009.
- "Abkhazia: Ten Years On". BBC 2. 2001. Archived from the original on 21 December 2009. Retrieved 16 June 2008.
- BBC Country Profiles: Regions and territories: Somaliland. Retrieved 14 September 2009.
- "La Orden de Malta y su Naturaleza Jurídica". Venezuela Analitica. 1 May 1999. Archived from the original on 1 August 2015. Retrieved 1 August 2015. English language translation "The Order of Malta, within the limits that are compatible with its actual position as a subject deprived of territory, is in the international community, a sovereign entity on par with the States, and the Prince Grand Master is comparable, from the point of view of international law, to the Heads of State."
- Permanent Observer Mission of the Order of Malta to the United Nations in New York "The admission of Order of Malta to the United Nations also further solidified its legally recognized sovereignty ..."
- Shaw, Malcolm Nathan International Law Fifth Edition Cambridge University Press 2003 ISBN 0-521-82473-7 p. 218 Searchable text, available via Amazon.com, "The Italian Court of Cassation in 1935 recognised the international personality of the Order, noting that 'the modern theory of the subjects of international law recognises a number of collective units whose composition is independent of the nationality of their constituent members and whose scope transcends by virtue of their universal character the territorial confines of any single state.' (Nanni v. Pace and the Sovereign Order of Malta 8 AD, p. 2. See also …)"
- "Reconócese a la Soberana Orden Militar de Malta como Entidad Internacionál Independiente". Boletín Oficiál de la República Argentina, Año LIX, Número 16.92. Buenos Aires. 19 June 1951. p. 1. "The Senate and Chamber of Deputies of Argentina, in Congress assembled, enact as LAW: Article 1 – The Sovereign Military Order of Malta is hereby recognized as an international independent entity."
- "La Orden de Malta y su Naturaleza Jurídica". Venezuela Analitica. 1 May 1999. Archived from the original on 1 August 2015. Retrieved 1 August 2015. English language translation "[T]he clear territorial separation of sovereign areas that exists between the Italian State and the State of Vatican City does not exist between the Order of Malta and the Italian State, but neither can it be said that the treatment given to the headquarters of the Order (Aventine, Via Condotti) is, simply, that reserved for the headquarters of diplomatic missions accredited to the Italian State. In fact, the headquarters of the Order have diplomatic extraterritoriality (authoritarian acts of any kind – executive, acts of inspection, judicial – cannot take place inside), but in addition, the Italian State recognizes the exercise, in the headquarters, of the prerogatives of sovereignty. This means that Italian sovereignty and Maltese sovereignty coexist without overlapping, because the Order exercises sovereign functions in a wider area than occurs in the diplomatic missions of the States for, although [those diplomatic missions] enjoy extraterritoriality, the guarantees deriving from the privilege of immunity are constrained to a purely administrative area; the Order, instead, makes use of extraterritoriality to meet the very acts of sovereign self-determination that are the same as the States (legislative, judicial, administrative, financial acts)."
- The Sovereign Military Order of Malta maintains embassies around the world and receives accreditations from foreign ambassadors.
- "The Sovereignty of the Order of Malta". heraldica.org.
- Ordine di Malta. "Bilateral relations". orderofmalta.org. Archived from the original on 7 August 2010.
- "Schengen States Visa Working Party – Table of travel documents". Council of the European Union. 27 June 2010. Archived from the original (Online PDF) on 20 November 2010.
- Adrian Florea, "De Facto States: Survival and Disappearance (1945–2011)." International Studies Quarterly, Volume 61, Issue 2, June 2017, Pages 337–351
- Geldenhuys, Deon (2009). Contested States in World Politics. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-230-23418-5.
- Ker-Lindsay, James (2012). The Foreign Policy of Counter Secession: Preventing the Recognition of Contested States (1st ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199698394.
- Nationalities Papers. Special Issue on the Emergence and Resilience of Parastates.