Balkan Strategic Studies

September 30, 1992

Fashion And Strategic Priorities Still Dictate Terms For State Recognition

Germany led the European Community in granting diplomatic recognition to an independent state of Croatia during the break-up of Yugoslavia recently. But none of the normal criteria, which have traditionally been applied to recognition of newly-independent states were, in fact, applied to the recognition of Croatia. It was difficult, then, for the rest of Europe -- and then the United States, and so on -- to withhold recognition of Croatia, and then Bosnia-Herzegovina. As a result, it can now be argued that many other states, which have an equal or greater claim to true political independence, can pursue international recognition. Are they likely to receive it? Basically, it will depend on just who is doing the asking.

The break-up of the USSR into independent republics precipitated considerable debate within NATO states before they offered diplomatic recognition initially to the three Baltic states which broke away from the USSR. Things moved rapidly once the West's recognition of the Baltic states had been accepted by the USSR, and that empire itself had begun to dismember further into a loose association of republics which mutually accepted each other's independence. The West could then freely begin to recognize the former Soviet republics without fear of alienating the former Soviet (and later Russian) leaders who had once exercised control over the "new" independent entities.

The question was never raised, however, as to whether these states complied with the nebulous criteria which the West (or the United Nations) apparently established as to what makes a state acceptable and recognizable as an independent legal entity. Indeed, by accepting the USSR as a state, the West had specifically, for some seven decades, indicated that the member "republics" of the Union were not, in fact, recognizable as states.

Marshal Tito, when he led Yugoslavia for several decades after World War II, created administrative boundaries within his country which were never intended to represent legal borders for sub-states within the state of Yugoslavia. Indeed, these administrative lines on maps which Tito drew did not even represent the geographic boundaries of the ethnic groups they which they nominally -- for administration purposes -- represented. The sub-state of Yugoslav Macedonia, for example, did not represent the ethnic Macedonia of history. The borders of Croatia, or Serbia, or Bosnia-Herzegovina, for example, were not meant by Tito to represent the boundaries of a state.

And yet Germany, followed by the European Community and the West generally, recognized these lines on the map as diplomatically acceptable borders. Greece, to its credit, hesitated and opposed the EC's recognition of the Tito lines as representing legitimate, independent states. The US, too, was cautious, as it was about the recognition of much of the former USSR as newly-acceptable, and truly independent states.

But finally, the US and others have, without imposing any true legal, moral or historical criteria, accepted and diplomatically recognized the independence of all the former Soviet republics, and the former Yugoslav administrative areas. This wave of acceptances, or diplomatic recognitions, poses a significant number of problems for the world community. The first and most obvious is the fact that a significant number of other new states (or captive old states) can legitimately demand international recognition as to their true independence. The Tatars of Russia are one of several true nations within the former USSR who are demanding such recognition.

The Skills of India's Punjab are demanding international recognition of their independence, as are Indian-controlled Kashmiris. And virtually any of a hundred Indian states could equally demand such recognition. As could the Scots, the Welsh and the Navajos. And why not? They have historical proof of their former independence and viability as independent states.

What, indeed, are the criteria for acceptance as an independent state? Control of one's own geography? Perhaps this is the strongest claim, but it may include allowance for conquest of that territory at some stage by conflict, which the tenets of the UN prohibit. Even so, the UN has ignored this tenet in the past, and will certainly do so again. Not self-determination, because most states do not meet this "requirement".

What is now more true than ever is that no state exists alone, in isolation or true independence. All are interdependent. All states, moreover, are the result of historical accretion of peoples, either by migration, evolution or conquest. The aborigines of Australia themselves displaced an earlier people.

So if today the independence of Croatia is accepted, or Azerbaijan, then so too must the independence of Transkei, Ciskei and Bophuthatswana, because they are now being threatened by renewed conquest by the African National Congress (ANC) which seeks to take over South Africa.