A number of polities have declared independence and sought diplomatic recognition from the international communityas de jure sovereign states, but have not been universally recognised as such. These entities often have de facto control of their territory. A number of such entities have existed in the past.
There are two traditional doctrines that provide indicia of how a de jure sovereign state comes into being. The declarative theorydefines a state as a person in international law if it meets the following criteria:
- a defined territory
- a permanent population
- a government, and
- a capacity to enter into relations with other states.
According to the declarative theory, an entity’s statehood is independent of its recognition by other states. By contrast, the constitutive theory defines a state as a person of international law only if it is recognised as such by other states that are already a member of the international community.
Proto-states often reference either or both doctrines in order to legitimise their claims to statehood. There are, for example, entities which meet the declarative criteria (with de facto partial or complete control over their claimed territory, a government and a permanent population), but whose statehood is not recognised by any other states. Non-recognition is often a result of conflicts with other countries that claim those entities as integral parts of their territory. In other cases, two or more partially recognised states may claim the same territorial area, with each of them de facto in control of a portion of it (as have been the cases of the Republic of China (Taiwan) and the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and North and South Korea). Entities that are recognised by only a minority of the world’s states usually reference the declarative doctrine to legitimise their claims.
In many situations, international non-recognition is influenced by the presence of a foreign military force in the territory of the contested entity, making the description of the country’s de facto status problematic. The international community can judge this military presence too intrusive, reducing the entity to a puppet state where effective sovereignty is retained by the foreign power. Historical cases in this sense can be seen in Japanese-led Manchukuo or the German-created Slovak Republic and Independent State of Croatia before and during World War II. In the 1996 case Loizidou v. Turkey, the European Court of Human Rights judged Turkey for having exercised authority in the territory of Northern Cyprus.
There are also entities which do not have control over any territory or do not unequivocally meet the declarative criteria for statehood but have been recognised to exist de jure as sovereign entities by at least one other state. Historically this has happened in the case of the Holy See (1870–1929), Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania (during Soviet annexation), and more recently the State of Palestine at the time of its declaration of independence in 1988. The Sovereign Military Order of Malta is currently in this position. See list of governments in exile for unrecognised governments without control over the territory claimed.
There are 193 United Nations (UN) member states, while both the Holy See and the State of Palestine have observer state status in the United Nations. However, some countries fulfill the declarative criteria, are recognised by the large majority of other states and are members of the United Nations, but are still included in the list here because one or more other states do not recognise their statehood, due to territorial claims or other conflicts.
Some states maintain informal (officially non-diplomatic) relations with states that do not officially recognise them. The Republic of China (Taiwan) is one such state, as it maintains unofficial relations with many other states through its Economic and Cultural Offices, which allow regular consular services. This allows the ROC to have economic relations even with states that do not formally recognise it. A total of 56 states, including Germany, Italy, the United States, and the United Kingdom, maintain some form of unofficial mission in the ROC. Kosovo, the Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh),the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus,Abkhazia, Transnistria, the Sahrawi Republic, Somaliland, and Palestinealso host informal diplomatic missions, and/or maintain special delegations or other informal missions abroad.
Present geopolitical entities by level of recognition
UN member states not recognised by at least one UN member state
|Name||Declared||Status||Other claimants||Further information||References|
|South Korea||1948||South Korea, independent since 1948, is not recognised by one UN member, North Korea.||North Koreaclaims to be the sole legitimate government of Korea.||Foreign relations, missions (of, to)|||
|Republic of Armenia||1991||Armenia, independent since 1991, is not recognised by one UN member, Pakistan, as Pakistan has a position of supporting Azerbaijansince the Nagorno-Karabakh War.||None||Foreign relations, missions (of, to)|||
|Republic of Cyprus||1960||The Republic of Cyprus, independent since 1960, is not recognised by one UN member (Turkey) and one UN non-member (Northern Cyprus), due to the ongoing civil dispute over the island.||Northern Cyprusclaims part of the island of Cyprus.||Foreign relations, missions (of, to)|||
|North Korea||1948||North Korea, independent since 1948, is not recognised by three UN members: France, Japan, South Korea; and one non-UN member: Taiwan.[original research?]||South Koreaclaims to be the sole legitimate government of Korea.||Foreign relations, missions (of, to)|||
|People’s Republic of China||1949||The People’s Republic of China (PRC), proclaimed in 1949, is the more widely recognised of the two claimant governments of “China”, the other being the Republic of China (ROC, also known as Taiwan). The PRC does not accept diplomatic relations with states that recognise the ROC (16 UN members and the Holy See as of 21 August 2018). Most of these states do not officially recognise the PRC as a state, though some states have established relations with the ROC while stating they do not intend to stop recognising the PRC (Kiribati, Nauru). Some states which currently recognise only the PRC have attempted simultaneous recognition and relations with the ROC and the PRC in the past (Liberia, Vanuatu). According to United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2758, the PRC is the only legitimate representative of China to the United Nations.[a]||Republic of Chinaclaims to be the sole legitimate government over all of China under the Constitution of the Republic of China.||Foreign relations, missions (of, to)
|State of Israel||1948||Israel, founded in 1948, is not recognised by 31 UN members.|| Syriaclaims the Golan Heights.
Lebanonclaims Shebaa Farms.
Palestineclaims areas controlled by Israel. Subject to the ongoing Israeli–Palestinian peace process and broader Arab-Israeli peace process.
|Foreign relations, missions (of, to)
UN observer states not recognised by at least one UN member state
|Name||Declared||Status||Other claimants||Further information||References|
|State of Palestine||1988||The Palestinian Liberation Organization(PLO) declaredthe State of Palestine in 1988. At the time the Israeli Armed Forces had control of most of the proclaimed territory. It is recognised by 137 UN member states, the Holy See,and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.Today the PLC (Palestinian Legislative Council) executes the government functions in all Palestinian territories outside of Israeli military-controlled zones. Prior to the Council’s administration, the Palestinian National Authority(PNA) was established in 1994 according to the Oslo Accords and the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement.[b]Palestine participates in the United Nations as an observer state, and has membership in the Arab League, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperationand UNESCO. It was accorded non-member observer state status at the United Nations by United Nations General Assembly resolution 67/19.||Israeldoes not recognise the state of Palestine and controls areas claimed by Palestine.[b]Subject to the ongoing Israeli–Palestinian peace process+|