chapter  1
16 Pages

Theorizing unrecognized states: sovereignty, secessionism, and political economy JAMES HARVEY AND GARETH STANSfIELD

Introduction Unrecognized states are anomalous features of the international system and international society. They are, in short, very odd, and their oddities present numerous challenges to the international system and those who study it. They are odd in terms of their very existence as spatial entities in a world already divided comprehensively into states and ordered by international boundaries. The awkwardness of juxtaposing unrecognized states alongside or, more accurately, ‘over’ or ‘under’ recognized states in terms of sovereignty is also clearly odd.1 Never the easiest concept to define or theorize, nothing encapsulates the ‘organized hypo­ crisy’ of sovereign states quite so much as how domestic sovereignty may be held and exercised in unrecognized states which do not have international legal sovereignty compared with those which have questionable domestic sovereignty yet are recognized as international legal sovereign entities.2 Stephen Krasner (1999) considers the ‘muddle’ that exists around the concept of sovereignty, identifying four different ways in which the term has been used: Westphalian, domestic, interdependence, and international legal. The majority of his analysis focuses on Westphalian and international legal concepts of sovereignty.3 However, in the case of unrecognized states, the confusion – and even the hypocrisy – becomes starker when domestic sovereignty is given additional weight, as it is usually the case that unrecognized states begin from a starting point of enhanced domestic sovereignty vis-à-vis the international legal sovereign entity. Yet unrecognized states are also anomalous in terms of how they exercise domestic sovereignty. With mostly limited resources and questionable legitimacy borne from political structures that had emerged under extreme circumstances, the manner in which unrecognized states exercise control over their territory can vary enormously. Often authoritarian or semi-authoritarian in nature,4 dependent on considerable patronage structures,5 yet relying on being seen as embracing democratization strategies in order to illicit support from the international community,6 while usually trying to embarrass the parent state which holds international legal sovereignty over their domains, unrecognized states are often schizophrenic in terms of how they project their authority at home and present their legitimacy abroad.