Academic journal article Global Governance

The Pursuit of International Recognition after Kosovo

Academic journal article Global Governance

The Pursuit of International Recognition after Kosovo

Article excerpt

The international recognition of Kosovo exacerbated existing uncertainties over state recognition. By its supporters it was billed as a "unique case," but others saw it as extending the right to self-determination. Unlike most literature on state recognition, this article adopts a bottom-up approach and analyzes how other aspiring states have reacted to the new politics of recognition. Drawing on the legitimation strategies observed in five de facto states since 2008, it argues that separatist strategies are not simply shaped by changes in the practice and norms of state recognition. They are constrained, both internally and externally. While there is greater divergence in official strategies since 2008 and a greater emphasis on international engagement, the substance of the strategies is much more homogenous and demonstrates a great deal of continuity. Keywords: international recognition, de facto states, Kosovo.

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What is the easiest route to international recognition? This is a question continuously asked by secessionist movements, and various strategies have been tried from making claims to independence based on self-determination or the experience of gross human rights violations, to having powerful friends, or even resorting to various forms of bribery. (1) During the Cold War, the criteria for state recognition were reasonably clear and actual state practice was relatively consistent. (2) However, the dissolution of Yugoslavia led to greater uncertainty: the right to self-determination was extended beyond the colonial context, and additional conditions, such as democracy and human rights, were added. However, these were not consistently applied and it appeared that politics had become more important than international law. (3) For other aspiring states there was thus a vague hope that international recognition would be possible, but no clear recipe for how it could be achieved. This uncertainty was deepened by the widespread international recognition of Kosovo in 2008. (4) The uniqueness of the situation was stressed, thereby again suggesting the importance of political considerations, but references were also made to self-determination, remedial secession, and democracy and minority rights.

State recognition has not been afforded much attention in the political science or international relations literature. (5) Moreover, most analyses of state recognition have adopted a top-down approach, focusing on international responses to claims of statehood and emphasizing the importance of system level factors for state recognition such as the strategic interests of great powers or a concern with the stability of the international system. (6) What has not been analyzed is how the changing normative criteria and state practice of recognition affects the strategies adopted by those seeking recognition. (7) How have they responded to Kosovo's recognition, and what do their responses tell us about changes in the politics of state recognition and the constraints under which these territories operate? Such a bottom-up analysis is important because it questions widespread assumptions that changes in the practice of state recognition will lead directly to changes in separatist behavior; that we will, for example, see a domino effect. Moreover, separatist responses matter for the conditions facing the inhabitants of the contested territories, as well as for the prospect for a peaceful solution.

In this article, I first briefly discuss the international response to secessionist demands after the end of the Cold War. I then examine how this has affected the claims made and discuss how these legitimation strategies could be affected by Kosovo's recognition. I argue that to understand this bottom-up side of state recognition, we have to consider not only how state practice is perceived by secessionist movements but also the internal and external constraints that they are facing. I outline possible separatist strategies after Kosovo's recognition: First, continued pursuit of recognition: (1) adopting a new strategy that focuses on ensuring great-power support, or (2) using the same strategy of "earned sovereignty" that has predominated in the past decade. …

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