The United States recognizes 195 countries around the world. Creating a new country can be extremely difficult, as can getting other governments to recognize it. Most international law experts believe that there are certain criteria that a country must meet before it can be recognized as a sovereign state. By convention, an entity is usually recognized as a sovereign state when it is recognized by the United Nations, but this is not always the case. Moreover, just because a country is recognized by the UN, it does not mean that it will also be recognized by the US, and it is often the recognition by the latter that is more important for an entity that wants to achieve independence.
The Criteria For Becoming A Sovereign State
Most experts on international law would agree that there are certain basic criteria that a country must meet in order for it to be recognized by other governments or the UN as a sovereign state. Four criteria, to be exact. A country must have a people, a defined territory, a government, and the ability to conduct relations with other countries as a sovereign state. Some would say, however, that there is also a fifth criterion that the country seeking self-determination must have the consent of the government that currently has sovereignty over it. Others, however, contend that this fifth criterion is a contradiction of international law that supposedly gives people the right to self-determination. At the same time, though, international law also guarantees the territorial integrity of states. Thus, there is a contradiction. By convention, an entity that is recognized by the UN should formally be recognized as a sovereign state. In practice, however, recognition by the UN does not guarantee an entity’s sovereignty. But recognition, or at least support, from the US government can do just that.
The Power Of The US To Determine A Country’s Sovereignty
One exceptional case of a country that has recently managed to receive international recognition of its independence without the consent of the authority from which it tried to break away is Kosovo. Kosovo is recognized by over half of the UN’s member countries, including the US, but is not recognized by the UN itself. It is also not recognized by Serbia, the country from which it broke away. Serbia has never granted permission to Kosovo to be independent, and still claims it as its territory. But because the US is the world’s most powerful country, with the world’s biggest economy and most powerful military force, it has effectively been able to decide whether or not a country gains independence. In addition, once the US recognizes a country’s independence, it often provides assistance and protection to that country, as is the case with Kosovo.
The UN, on the other hand, lacks the power to bolster a country’s claim to sovereignty, which is one of the reasons why, for example, Palestine is not a sovereign state. Palestine declared independence in 1988, and has been recognized by both the UN and most of the world’s sovereign states. In fact, there are many more countries that recognize the State of Palestine, as it is formally known, than those that recognize Kosovo. Nevertheless, because Palestine is not recognized by the US, not to mention other important international players like Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, and France, the Palestinians continue to struggle for independence in practical terms.
One important difference between Kosovo and Palestine, however, is the fact that Kosovo has a defined territory that is recognized by the international community, even those that do not support its independence. In contrast, the borders of any future Palestinian state are not agreed upon, even by those that recognize the State of Palestine, because although most of the international community acknowledges that there should be a Palestinian state, there is also a general understanding that the final borders of Palestine should be determined by negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel, which effectively controls much of the territory that the Palestinians want as part of their future state.
Countries Seeking Independence Without US Support
There are several other entities like Palestine in the world that have proclaimed independence, but because their independence is not sanctioned or supported by the US, they cannot achieve practical sovereignty. These include self-declared states like Abkhazia, Transnistria, and Somaliland, which are recognized by both the UN and the US as part of Georgia, Moldova, and Somalia, respectively. If the US was to suddenly turn around and recognize the sovereignty of these entities, however, many other countries would likely follow, especially if the US decides to provide such entities with practical assistance in asserting their sovereignty, which it often does.
Indeed, the US may even provide assistance to entities that it does not recognize in order to defend American political interests, as is the case with Taiwan. The US does not formally recognize Taiwan as an independent country. Nevertheless, the US provides Taiwan with military aid to protect it from the People’s Republic of China, even though, in 1979, the US recognized the government in Beijing as the sole legitimate authority in China, including Taiwan, and also recognized that there could only be one China, that controlled by the Beijing-based communist regime.