Vrije Universiteit Brussel
// Pathways to Peace and Security. 2022. No 1(62) Special Issue: Peace Processes, Violence, and De Facto States. P. 47-66
Abstract. Sovereignty is a key concept in discourses regarding the disputes over the status of Abkhazia, Northern Cyprus, and Taiwan. It helps the conflicting parties to communicate their positions regarding their preferred status of the contested territory and indicates the limits that negotiations are not permitted to transgress. It frames a parent state’s policy of nonrecognition, intended to prevent permanent separation, and a contested state’s policy of recognition to prevent its own subordination. In defending their claims, the conflicting parties do not enjoy equal conditions. The contested state’s lack of recognition weakens its position in the international order. The parent state will make use of this asymmetry at the international level to weaken the contested state’s claims to sovereignty. The contested state, by contrast, will try to achieve legal recognition through international agreements. This is possible with regard to competences that it exercises as a de facto territorial authority. This means that the control a contested state exercises at the domestic level is transferred to the international level, to strengthen its claims to sovereignty. The distinction between domestic and international sovereignty is useful for analyzing these strategies and conflict dynamics. This article analyzes disputes over the status of a breakaway territory in terms of these two categories. In particular, it explores how nonrecognition policies by parent states and recognition policies by contested states at the international level affect the latter’s sovereignty at the domestic level.
Keywords: secession, sovereignty, contested state, Abkhazia, Georgia, Cyprus conflict, cross-Strait relations, Taiwan
Bruno Coppieters (Belgium) is Professor Emeritus at the Department of Political Science, Vrije Universiteit Brussel.