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De Facto Government Essay

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The de facto state is a secessionist entity that receives popular support and has achieved sufficient capacity to provide governmental services to a given population in a defined territorial area, over which it maintains effective control for an extended period of time. This paper examines the impact that de facto states have on international society and international law and assesses how they are dealt with by those two bodies through a focus on four case studies: Eritrea before it won its independence from Ethiopia; the Republic of Somaliland; Tamil Eelam and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. A fifth de facto state, Taiwan, is also considered in some detail to help illustrate potential alternatives to the three conventional means of dealing with these entities. The de facto state’s position under international law is also evaluated. In contrast to the generally negative attitudes surrounding secessionist entities, the paper concludes that the de facto state may indeed offer some positive benefits to international society.

I. Introduction………………………………………………………………………………….2

II. The De Facto State’s impact on International Society………………………………………3

III. How does International Society deal with the De Facto State……………………………...6

IV. International Law and the De facto State…………………………………………………...10

V. Conclusion…………………………………………………………………………………..14

VI. Criticism…………………………………………………………………………………….15

VII. References…………………………………………………………………………………..15

I. Introduction

If one takes 1960 as a convenient shorthand date for the ending of the vast majority of the decolonization process, then it can be argued that the three decades which followed that year were characterized by the greatest level of territorial stability ever seen in the history of international relations. With very few exceptions, the political map of the world’s sovereign states remained unchanged during this period. James Mayall attributes this state of affairs to an ironic historical fate of the once revolutionary principle of national self-determination which, in its post-1945 variant, has emphasized the sanctity of existing territorial borders and ended up “attempting to freeze the political map in a way which has never previously been attempted.”1 Entities once had to demonstrate and maintain a certain level of military, economic, and governmental effectiveness in order to preserve their position in a competitive international system, the post-war era has witnessed the wholesale granting of statehood to large numbers of former colonies with few, if any, demonstrated empirical capabilities. Once acquired, sovereign statehood has become almost impossible to lose. Small and/or weak states which, in earlier eras, would have been carved up, colonized, or swallowed by larger powers, now have a guaranteed existence in international society. In the words of Robert Jackson, “once sovereignty is acquired by virtue of independence from colonial rule, then extensive civil strife or breakdown of order or governmental immobility or any other failures are not considered to detract from it.”2 The result is an international system characterized by large numbers of what Jackson terms “quasi-states”: states which are internationally recognized as full juridical equals, possessing the same rights and privileges as any other state, yet which manifestly lack all but the most rudimentary empirical capabilities. The quasi-state has a flag, an ambassador, a capital city and a seat at the United Nations General Assembly but it does not function positively as a viable governing entity. It is generally incapable of delivering services to its population and the scope of its governance often does not extend beyond the capital city, if even there. The same normative logic in international society that serves to support existing quasi-states also denies the legitimacy of any would-be challengers regardless of how legitimate their grievances, how broad their popular support, or how effective their governance. It thus facilitates the creation of something that is more or less the inverse of the quasi-state: the de facto state. In essence, a de facto state exists where there is an organized political leadership which has risen to power through some degree of indigenous capability; receives popular support; and has achieved sufficient capacity to provide governmental services to a given population in a defined territorial area, over which effective control is maintained for an extended period of time. The de facto state views itself as capable of entering into relations with other states and it seeks full constitutional independence and widespread international recognition as a sovereign state. It is, however, unable to achieve any degree of substantive recognition and therefore remains illegitimate in the eyes of international society. Whereas the quasi-state has recognized territorial borders and the ability to participate in intergovernmental organizations, in many cases it does not effectively control large swathes of its own countryside. Though it seeks recognition, the de facto state, on the other hand, has been denied its seat at the UN and its place at the international table. No matter how long or how effective its territorial control of a given area has been, that control is neither recognized nor is it considered legitimate. The quasi-state is legitimate no matter how ineffective it is. Conversely, the de facto state is illegitimate no matter how effective it is. The quasi-state’s juridical equality is not contingent on any performance criteria. Even if the entire state apparatus has collapsed, the quasi-state (à la Cambodia and Lebanon) will be supported and maintained through international efforts. At times, it may be more of an abstract idea than it is a hard reality. The de facto state, on the other hand, is a functioning reality with effective territorial control of a given area that is denied legitimacy by the rest of international society. At various points in time, examples of de facto states might include Biafra; Rhodesia after its unilateral declaration of independence; Charles Taylor’s “Greater Liberia”; the Karen and Shan states of Myanmar; Chechnya; Krajina; and the Bosnian Serb Republic. This working paper examines the impact that these entities have on international society and international law and how they are dealt with by those two bodies through a focus on four de facto states: Eritrea before it won its independence from Ethiopia; the Republic of Somaliland; Tamil Eelam; and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). A fifth de facto state, Taiwan, is also assessed to illustrate alternatives to the conventional methods of dealing with such entities.

II. The De Facto State’s Impact on International Society
The de facto state has had a substantive impact on international politics in two main areas: conflict and political economy. Of these two, its impact has clearly been the most apparent and readily quantifiable in the area of conflict and war. Limiting ourselves to just the four cases considered here, one finds that they have been implicated in somewhere between 160,000 to 275,000 fatalities and that they have produced somewhere between 2,345,000 - 2,795,000 refugees and internally displaced persons.3 While even approximate figures are unavailable for the number of those wounded or disabled, that figure must number in the hundreds of thousands. The number of land-mines deployed in these four areas certainly counts in the millions. As two of these cases—Somaliland and, especially, Tamil Eelam - continue to produce new fatalities and refugees today, these figures can be expected to rise. Were one to add other de facto states such as Biafra, Chechnya, and the Bosnian Serb Republic, they would clearly go much higher still. Additionally, the fact that de facto state situations are involved in three of the world’s most serious conflicts today—Chechnya, Sri Lanka, and the former Yugoslavia—illustrates the contemporary relevance of this phenomenon to war in the international system. Beyond the sheer numbers of those killed, wounded, and displaced, Zeev Maoz highlights another reason why the international community should be concerned with the de facto state. In a study of the ways in which state formation processes affect international conflict involvement, Maoz distinguishes between evolutionary and revolutionary types of state formation. He finds that State formation processes affect patterns of post-independence involvement in interstate disputes. States that emerge out of a violent struggle for independence tend to be involved in a considerably larger number of interstate disputes than states that become independent as a result of an evolutionary process.4 There are two main problems in applying Maoz’s findings to the de facto state. First, his work focuses on states that have actually won their independence or, in his phrase, “joined the club of nations.” Most de facto states never reach this level. Second, the distinction between evolutionary and revolutionary state formation is not always clear in the case of de facto states. Where, for instance, would the TRNC fall in this dichotomized distinction? Addition...

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