The decade since the end of the Cold War witnessed a number of developments that challenge conventional norms concerning the nature and legitimacy of contemporary states. Those developments speak directly to the core assumptions and practices of international recognition. In some cases recognition is granted readily or, more typically, persistently maintained in spite of conditions on the ground which are tantamount to legal fiction. In other cases, recognition is stubbornly withheld even though the realities on the ground themselves expose the legal fictions which the international community supports in the defence of the principle of territorial integrity. We are thus faced with an absurd combination of states and would-be states existing in a legal fog: some widely-recognized states can claim only the rudimentary conditions for statehood; indeed, in some instances, even those minimal conditions seem ephemeral and random. In other cases, fully-functioning and self-contained states are quarantined as pariahs, excluded from the mainstream channels of international diplomacy, existing in conditions beyond the pale of normal international intercourse. In short, they have been 'sent to Coventry'!
In reviewing the developments of the late twentieth century which have raised questions about the contemporary nature of statehood, two can be said to have reinforced trends to greater universality and inclusiveness, while suggesting new perspectives on those waiting in the wings for their opportunity to be accepted as normal states in the ever-expanding network of global diplomacy. First, the process of decolonization, and particularly its extension in the late 1960s to even the smallest and most fragmentary of colonial territories, has most altered the complexion of the international system. The United Nations system is itself the most obvious and dramatic example of that change. From its beginnings in 1945, with 51 members to its present membership of 191, with the recent accession of East Timor and Switzerland, the UN reflects a dramatic shift from a largely Euro-centred state system to a genuinely universal community of states, engaged in a vast range of obligations and commitments that touch upon nearly every facet of their sovereign authority. Of course, these ties are reinforced further and often with greater depth in an astonishing number of regional agreements and institutions.
The second sea-change, as it is often cited, came in the aftermath of the collapse of communism, the end of the Soviet Union, the velvet divorce in Czechsolovakia,