Secession and Recognition in Foreign Policy
- James Ker-LindsayJames Ker-LindsayLondon School of Economics and Political Science
There are few questions more interesting and more important for the international community than the issue of how new states are created and accepted into the wider global system through the process of recognition. While there are thousands of ethnic groups around the world, there are just 193 member states of the United Nations. And yet, for many years, the foreign policy aspects of secession and the recognition of seceding territories have received relatively little attention by scholars in the field of politics and international relations. This was largely because the subject was seen to be a marginal interest. Few territories managed to stage a credible attempt at secession. Almost none managed to gain widespread acceptance. However, over the past decade, there has been a significant growth in the attention given to secession and recognition in international relations. This has been particularly apparent since Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia, in 2008, and because of heightened secessionist tensions in the former Soviet Union.
To date, the question of de facto states—territories that are unrecognized or partially recognized—has been at the heart of studies into secession and recognition in the field of politics and international relations. Attention in this area has tended to focus on the nature, structure, and international interaction of unrecognized territories. However, the scope of research is now widening. As well as interest in the historical development of attitudes towards secession and recognition practices, scholars are now looking at the way in which parent states—as the territories they have broken away from are generally known—attempt to prevent de facto states from being recognized or otherwise legitimized by the international community. Meanwhile, increasing attention is also being given to the role of external parties, such as great powers, as well as to the efforts of secessionist territories themselves to find ways to encourage recognition, or at least to participate more widely in the international system. Therefore, while the community of scholars working in the field of secession and recognition is still relatively small, the subject itself is undergoing rapid growth.