The Path to Statehood: South Sudan Follows Precedent


"Welcome, welcome South Sudan to the community of nations," said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, as the UN General Assembly unanimously voted to recommend it into the world body earlier in July.

However, the hard work is just beginning as South Sudan still faces many immediate challenges, such as clearly defining its borders, providing security to its citizens, rapidly developing infrastructure, establishing a developing economy, and negotiating with North Sudan on pressing, unresolved issues like dividing up their lucrative oil revenues.

In light of Sudan’s past, South Sudan's entry is exciting news. Not all prospective countries enjoy such unified backing from the international community. There is no simple application or checklist for statehood, and each perspective sovereign state is unique. It is up to geopolitical entities to fight through their own challenges to earn their place in the international community.

As of July 14, there are 193 recognized member nations in the UN; however, there are numerous geopolitical entities held back by lack of diplomatic recognition. This can be a result of several factors, but there are steps prospective states can take to earn a place among nations.

De facto control is probably the most effective path towards statehood; it establishes a nation through practical methods. If a nation succeeds at gaining de facto power, they would already govern in a near comprehensive fashion and merely need official international recognition. The basic criteria of the de facto rule are territorial control, a permanent population, the capacity to provide security to citizens, and the ability to enter into relations with other states.

Israel is a perfect example of how de facto control is used to gain sovereignty. By 1948, Jewish people living in Palestine had established legal systems to govern, won military battles to establish a clearly defined territory, had a permanent population, and the capacity to police and establish international relations. Within days of Israel’s declaration as a nation state, the international community recognized its sovereignty.

The other way towards statehood is international recognition. South Sudan explicitly fits this criterion. It was unanimously recognized as a sovereign state, and now must press forward to establish territorial control.

However, between these two paths lies a myriad of circumstances and unique obstacles to overcome. This is why a standard application or checklist for statehood would not suffice.

German-created Slovakia and Croatia only achieved partial de facto control prior to World War II. Turkey’s occupying influence in Northern Cypress provided a similar situation in the 1960's. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania followed the international recognition approach, since they had no de facto control during the Soviet annexation.

Taiwan and Palestine are contemporary and interesting situations. Although the Republic of China (Taiwan) is not officially recognized by 56 nations, they utilize their Economic and Cultural Offices as a work-around to maintain regular economic relations with nations that do not formally recognize them.

Since 1974, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) has been invited to participate in the UN General Assembly and special conferences. The PLO also has delegations, missions, and offices around the world including the U.S. They are struggling toward territorial control through policing, governmental unification, and international relations.

The path to statehood is as diverse as the world’s languages and cultures. However, the two basic elements of territorial control and international recognition are customarily present in states’ developments. Each nation must struggle to forge their own path forward, until they hear the sweet words from the international community, “Welcome, welcome to the community of nations.”

Photo Credit: unpeacekeeping