Even after referendum results in the declaration of Independence, becoming a country is not all that straight forward. Though our right to determining our destiny and political status and right to self-determination is backed and protected by International Laws and the UN Charter, it often refers to the right to make those choices within an already existing country and not a route to a sovereign state. These laws only guarantee the right to determine how we wish to be governed and by whom.
This in part is due to the fact that these laws were written towards the end of colonisation and the purpose of these laws was within that historical context. It was a period when colonial empires were being dismantled because they had become too costly to maintain and political climate was becoming tense.
Creating a Country
The fact that an existing country must lose a portion of its territory to gives rise to a new nation present a major stumbling block to the birth of a new country as it could violate the law of territorial integrity. These laws are the bedrock of the international system.
In order to recognise a new country, it would mean legally accepting the reassignment of independence over a country from an authority to another. Doing so will be a violation of a key rule of the system of states which ensures that no international body including the United Nations is permitted to remove a territory from a Host state with its permission.
For example, since 2008, Kosovo despite declaring independence from Serbia is still not a sovereign state although its independence is recognised by more than half of the UN member states. While there are a number of other factors that deny Kosovo the right to statehood, Serbia’s hold on sovereign control is the major determinant. The same situation applies to Kurdistan with Iraq retaining sovereign control.
The principles behind these laws are competing and contradictory and in some instance, this contradiction appears within the same law. There are no clear legal backings or procedures to becoming an independent nation. Since there is no legal framework for who determines the sovereignty of a territory, a look at previous instances will help to understand how it is done.
The most recent recognised state created was South Sudan in 2011 while East Timor gained recognition in 2002. New states were created in the 1990’s as break away territories from the Soviet Union. Eritrea let Ethiopia in 1962 but only became a state in 1993. Before the 1990’s, states were only emerging due to the end of the colonial era.
For countries like East Timor, South Sudan and Eritrea, attaining statehood came as a result of trying to resolve violent conflict. In these cases, the host countries of the three nations had to hand over control of these territories as part of a peace deal.
These new states all gained independence after the end of their previous sovereign power or with their permission. The common theme here is that they were recognised as states because there were some benefits to the international communities. The process of the sovereignty of the new state is more of a political act than a legal process.
When is a State Independent?
When the independence of a territory is recognised by the United Nations, it essentially becomes a sovereign state, although there is no law that backs this up. But being the largest and most inclusive international organisation, its authorisation of State independence makes sense.
There are procedures to admit new members in the UN charter but are as regards members that are already independent nations and yet there is still vagueness in the process a territory should undergo in order to become sovereign.
Achieving sovereignty is not a clear or straightforward process. Politics and power of the international community are what determines the sovereignty of a state and as such there exist a large number of states that have not achieved sovereignty.