What Is A Pariah State?

In the 1990s, many countries considered Sierra Leone to be a "pariah state".
In the 1990s, many countries considered Sierra Leone to be a "pariah state".

What is a Pariah State?

The term "pariah state" is used to describe a nation which is not accepted or recognized by the majority of governments around the world. This distinction has two considerations: the disadvantage of being a pariah state and the justification given by the international community.

The disadvantage of being a pariah state is that the nation is excluded from international relations, put under economic sanctions, and sometimes invaded by external military forces.

Other nations justify identifying a nation as a pariah state by claiming that the nation violates established international norms at either a domestic or international level. Pariah states may have policies that disturb the rights of the world or a large group of nations, intentions to expand its territory, abstain from diplomatic relations with neighboring countries, or be a threat to the world if it obtained nuclear arms.

Criteria of the Pariah State Distinction

The criteria for defining a pariah state has not been regulated by any international authority (such as the UN, for example). In the same vein, nothing prevents another nation or organization from calling another country a pariah state. If an economically or politically powerful state identifies another nation as a pariah state, it may apply sufficient pressure in international relations in order to gain a consensus. One example of this is when the US identified Cuba under Fidel Castro as a pariah state and used its standing within the Western Bloc to impose these views on other countries.

Despite the lack of specific criteria, some experts have proposed a set of 4 categories that qualify a country as a pariah state. The first category is nations that acquire, own, or utilize weapons of mass destruction with disregard for current international treaties. The second category is nations or governments that support acts of terrorism or terrorist groups. Countries that operate outside of the lines of democracy fall into the third category. Finally, the fourth category includes those countries with a known or documented history of human rights violations.

Examples of Pariah States

Throughout history, the world has experienced the existence of several pariah states. Because there are no internationally defined and regulated criteria, this history is not always agreed upon.

One such instance occurred between the Ottoman Empire and European states. Under the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, European States considered the Ottoman Empire an “outcast” state on the grounds of religion. This treaty went on to serve as the building block of international law.

Iraq has also been considered a pariah state on several occasions. This distinction is mainly due to the fact that it is a relatively young country that, under Saddam Hussein, operated without clearly defined and agreed upon boundaries. For many international relations experts, a clear indicator of a pariah state is one that lacks strong national identity, like borders.

Other nations that are often considered pariah states are those that violate the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Iran is one example of this. In fact, the US, Great Britain, and France have all designated Iran as a pariah state due to its nuclear acquisition program.

Several African countries came out against Sierra Leone between 1997 and 1998. Its democratically elected president was overthrown, an act that was heavily criticized. Several West African countries treated this nation as a pariah state in response.

It is important to remember that what is considered a pariah state by one nation may be the ally of another.


More in Politics