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The definition of a state

The definition of a state

According to one definition, a state is a community formed by people and exercising permanent power within a specified territory.

According to international law, a state is typically defined as being based on the 1933 Montevideo Convention. According to Article 1 of the Convention, the state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications:
1. Permanent population
2. Defined territory
3. Government
4. Capacity to enter into relations with the other states.

Attaining the status of a state

In practice, it is difficult to determine when a people exercising power within a certain territory forms not only a country and a nation but also a sovereign state. Many disputed and developing statehoods only partially fulfil the criteria laid down in the Montevideo Convention.

Currently, there are several territories that have declared themselves to be sovereign states, but whose status has not been recognised by any other state. For example, Somaliland declared independence in 1991 but it has never been recognised. In addition, there are several states that have been recognised by only a small section of the international community. The Republic of China (Taiwan) declared its independence in 1912, but due to the “One-China policy” of the People’s Republic of China, the Republic of China is currently only recognised by about 20 countries. The interests of unrecognised states are advocated by an international organisation called Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization

Attaining the status of a state requires recognition by other states. The recognition of a state depends on legal and political factors. Particularly during the Cold War, states refused to recognise new states within the enemy bloc on political grounds, although from the perspective of international law, their recognition would have been justifiable.

In practice, the recognition of a state means that an official decision is made by a government to recognise a state, that a diplomatic mission is established or an international treaty is drawn up. The recognition of a state may also take place unofficially. If a state has voted in favour of a membership application submitted to the UN by a newly independent state, this has been deemed as de facto recognition, even if the two states do not have diplomatic relations.

​Membership of the United Nations

The final confirmation of a state’s status is to be accepted as a member state of the United Nations. According to the Article 4 of the Charter of the United Nations, “Membership in the United Nations is open to all other peace-loving states which accept the obligations contained in the present Charter and, in the judgment of the Organization, are able and willing to carry out these obligations.”

The membership applications are processed both in the Security Council and in the General Assembly. All five permanent members of the Security Council are required to support a state’s membership application in addition to at last nine of the 15 other members of the Security Council. Following the approval of the Security Council, the matter will be sent to the General Assembly, where the membership of the candidate country must be supported by at least two-thirds of the existing member states.