Admission to the sovereignty club: the past, present, and future of the international recognition regime

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Admission to the sovereignty club: the past, present, and future of the international recognition regime. Territory, Politics, Governance. The rules and practices of sovereign recognition are basic elements of the territorial design of the international system, but our understanding of these processes is under-theorized. This paper first conceptualizes sovereignty as a club good–excludable and non-rival–and specifies the threat that secession poses to existing states. It then examines the ways in which the club of sovereign states has limited membership in the past, including: (1) the pre-1816 European order in which liberal norms were absent and states colluded to deny independence to aspiring nations; (2) the age of de facto statehood from 1816 to 1918 in which self-determination came to be perceived as a negative right; and (3) the post-1945 era in which an evolving constitutive order has attempted to define which nations are eligible for independence. The paper then explores three potential futures of the international recognition regime, including an exclusive emphasis on sovereign consent, the consolidation of a remedial right to secede and the implementation of a primary right to choose independence. Throughout the discussion it is shown how each regime has balanced the competing demands of the sovereign and liberal traditions, and the strengths and weaknesses of each for international order are highlighted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)177-189
Number of pages13
JournalTerritory, Politics, Governance
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 3 2017
Externally publishedYes



  • independence
  • recognition
  • secession
  • sovereignty

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Political Science and International Relations

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