How are States Recognized?

What is recognition?

Recognition is an act by the family of nations giving States an international status. It is an act by the people of a particular territory giving their government the legitimacy of governance or their polity or association (the state) the right to exist.

Recognizing a State vs. Recognizing a Government

Recognition of States refers to recognition of all the essential elements of a state for its existence (e.g. People. Territory, Government, sovereignty, independence). Once a state is recognized, recognizing states can no longer withdraw such recognition.

Recognition of Government, on the other hand, refers to a recognition given to the government of the recognized state. Unlike Recognition of States, Recognition of Government can be withdrawn by recognizing states. But the withdrawal of such recognition will not hinder the continuity of statehood.

Two General Types of States Based on Recognition

  1. De Facto States – Refers to all the requirements of statehood except recognition from the international family of nations.
  2. De Jure States – Refers to all states possessing all the requirements of statehood including recognition from the international family of nations. Thus, a de facto state becomes a de jure state once it is recognized by the family of nations.

The term de facto means “by fact” and the terms de jure means “ by law”. De facto recognition is less formal or an indirect recognition while de jure recognition is formal and direct or recognition is done with the power of a law, which means binding to all concerned nations or recognizing states.

The Family of Nations

The Family of Nations refers to an international community composed by different nation-states interacting with each other following a set of rules or is regulated by known and accepted set of international laws.

Originally, the Family of Nations is composed by European nation-states. But gradually, after some colonial territories declared their independence (and won their independence) like the case of the United States of America, the Family of Nations started to accept non-European States. The Family of Nations can be traced in the Peace of Westphalia. After World War I, the Family of Nations was known as the League of Nations and after the Second World War, it was known as the United Nations.

Importance of Recognition

Recognition is important because of the following:

  1. Trade and commerce
  2. Information exchange in terms of Research and Development, Science and Technology.
  3. Industrialization and Modernization of States. (4.) Security and protection.

Circumstances under which Recognition is Sought

  1. De facto state long before recognition by other states.(e.g. China which is a de facto state long before its recognition in 1907).
  2. Recognition carved out by other state(s) either:
    • Peacefully – e.g. US recognition to the Philippines after WW II (1946)
    • Forcefully – e.g. USA war for independence against Great Britain in 1776.
  3. Recognition is given to states formed by the union of two or more states already members of the family of nations.(e.g. the formation of the German Empire in 1871).
  4. Recognition is given to two or more states separating to become separate entities. (e.g. the separation of Norway and Sweden, the separation and division of Germany after WW II becoming the East and West Germany, etc.)

Recognition of revolting Territories

Recognition of revolting territories is a delicate case. Nation-States go to war once a State recognition of revolting territory is prematurely given. One of the classic examples to prove this assertion is the war between Great Britain and France after the latter prematurely recognized the USA in 1778.

Thus, the question is when must recognizing states give their recognition to a revolting territory which claims statehood.

  1. The conflict between the parent state is practically decided or established as a matter of fact.
  2. When it is in the interest of the recognizing party to recognize the revolting territory.
  3. The necessity of recognition because of humanitarian reasons. (e.g. the International Community recognizing East Timor as an independent state from Indonesia.)

After considering all these, the question now becomes, Who recognizes State? For most scholars of politics, the formal answer is the Chief Executive on behalf of the people of the recognizing state.

Number of recognizing States

There is no prescribed numbers of recognizing state for “recognition” to take place. But recognition may be:

  1. General, or a collective act of the family of nations (e.g. a resolution passed and adopted in the UN General Assembly recognizing the existence of a particular State).
  2. Provided or given by at least one leading or superpower (e.g United State of America, Russia, etc.)
  3. Provided or given by the state in which the neophyte state is planning to have some dealings.

Legal Right or Duty of Recognition

Is there such a thing as a legal right or duty of recognition? The answer, as shown in the following, depends on many factors:

  1. There is no legal Right of de facto state to be recognized.
  2. There is no legal duty to recognize de facto state.


  1. There is a moral right of a de facto state to be recognized.
  2. There is a moral duty to recognize de facto state.

The question thus becomes: in international law – do moral prescriptions have the force of a law?

Methods of Recognizing States

There are two (2) general methods of recognition:

  1. Formal – When recognition is made by or through a treaty, Proclamation or official declaration by recognizing state.
  2. Informal – When recognition is implied (e.g. reception, Sending of Diplomatic agents, or official salute of the flag.

Effects Of Recognition

Once a state is recognized, it implies recognition of its essential elements (i.e. the people, its government, sovereignty and independence). It gives the recognized state the right and duties equally enjoyed by other state before the International law.