Recognized and Unrecognized States: Formula of Interrelations

Chairman of the Public Council of Foreign and Security Policy

The lack of legitimate and comprehensive ties between unrecognized states and the rest of the world or the UN member states remains a problem not only for the same unrecognized states; the world power centers also feel that the problem is becoming more telling.

International actors display some interest in interacting with unrecognized territories; they are occupied with the search of a formula to let a possible non-conflict engagement and cooperation with governments and societies of the new state entities. The interest of the actors is mainly rising due to the fact that the unrecognized states have become special factors in their regions, controlling quite large, sometimes strategically important lands, possessing substantial military and economic potentials, capable of developing in the conditions of limited possibilities, etc.

The western society, having several reasons for the interest in the soonest possible legitimization of Kosovo, in 2003 put forward the following formula: “standards before the status.” The UN Security Council supported that policy.[1] However, the efforts have not brought the expected results.[2] But that did not prevent the United States,[3] most of the EU countries[4] and other states from recognizing the independence of the country with weak institutes of governance and human rights problems in 2008. Actually “standards” and “status” exchanged their places, as far as the political reasonability prevailed.

The international practice shows that legal procedures (national independence referendums, democratic elections, passing civilized laws, etc.) are important for obtainment of recognition, however, the dominating factor in making the decision on recognition is still the political reasonability. Making a political decision, the external actors assume as basis the legal acts, adopted within the concrete state entity, reflecting the will of the self-determined population. Thus, the available legal base is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for recognition.

The East Timorwith its weak and failed state institutes, unlike Kosovo, is a member of the UN. Before 1975 the East Timor was a Portugalcolony. Afterwards it was occupied by Indonesia. The Timorpeople’s armed struggle for independence lasted 24 years. In 1999 Indonesiaunder the international pressure recognized the right of the East Timorfor self-determination. Legally, the independence was fixed in 2002. Remarkably, Portugalundertook the moral commitment to support the struggle of the East Timorpeople for independence up to the end. That commitment was included into the Constitution of the Portugal Republic of 1976 (Article 293). Vatican’s role in the process of recognition of the East Timor independence was also substantial.[5] The East Timor political figures and statesmen believe that their success was reached thanks to the consistent work in three directions: military, diplomatic and information.

The political approach in the recognition of the new states, adopted by world centers, raises public discourses in the unrecognized states, questioning the necessity of the initially chosen democratic way of development. Conservatively thinking figures wonder “whether democracy is really needed, if everything is solved in the political field.” Such a situation is also in the interests of the authoritarian regimes, avoiding democratic reforms.

As for Artsakh, we think that development of democracy has two vital functions. First,  building of a democratic state is necessary most of all for the NKR citizens. Artsakh people would find it comfortable living in the conditions while human rights are fully respected and the rule of law is real. Second, the democracy has also an external political function for the NKR. The developed democracies, out of their own system of values, understand that a democratically more developed country cannot be governed by the authoritarian regime of another state. That is, carrying out democratic reforms for its own citizens, a country gets an additional argument that gaining independence is an irreversible process.

Following the accepted “rules of the game”, politicians and experts in the region are search of common interests with big actors, trying to collate political interests to get the international recognition or recognition by one of the key poles of the multi-polar world.

Taking into account the interests of the global centers, which, having different motivations, at the same time all as one are concerned with stability in the Caucasus, it is necessary to plainly explain and substantiate that the international recognition of NKR is capable to provide for a long-term regional stability.[6]  However, the signals from Artsakh and Republic of Armenia that peaceful solution is preferable for them should not be taken as weakness and fears of the new war[7]. In case of resumption of the military aggression against our country, the NKR Army of Defense will undoubtedly prove the inviolability of its main guarantor of the Artsakh and its citizens’ security.

The political analyst Gayane Novikova thinks that the Armenian diplomacy and politicians should gradually bring the international community to understanding that Nagorno Karabakh can be a kind of a strategic barrier on the way of strengthening Islamist moods and activity of their organizations in the enlarged region of the South Caucasus; as a de-facto state with some democracy building  experience, it cannot be put under the jurisdiction of the authoritarian Azerbaijan; that any resumption of hostilities against the background of the regional processes and arms race, in which Azerbaijan involves the region, will lead to an economic and humanitarian catastrophe that will hurt not only the immediate parties to the conflict, but also the neighboring countries. The expert proposes to try engaging Nagorno Karabakh into international development programs, at the same time not laying down a precondition of the legal recognition of the independence, but stimulating the peace process within the format of the OSCE Minsk Group.[8]

The above proposal fully fits the formula “Engagement without recognition/ status of the neutral engagement,” which was used by the European Union in Kosovo, and one cannot rule out that such a policy would be implemented in our region as well.[9] Unlike Kosovo, where state institutes and/or governance standards were actually created within the “Engagement without recognition,” implementation of the mentioned policy in Artsakh can be aimed at strengthening of the civil society institutes.[10] State institutes have already been created and they are now functioning in NKR, but some of them may be supported within the frameworks of that policy (trainings for judges and the Ombudsman’s office, expertise of draft laws, etc.)

It is necessary to note that the EU, other international structures and individual countries have been helped Azerbaijan and Armenia for more than 20 years in the democratic development. The application of the “engagement without recognition” policy can become a possibility for de-isolation of the NKR and enlargement of opportunities for its full-fledged development. The even development of democracy in all conflicting parties has a vital importance, as far as the imbalance in development can become a new challenge, even if the current conflict is settled.

Thus, there are possibilities for the effective interaction between the recognized and unrecognized states in the contemporary international relations. The transparent state governance, free elections and peaceful foreign policy have the same vital significance for unrecognized states, just as for the recognized ones. American researchers Daniel L. Byman and Charles King believe that big powers of the world should propose the de-facto governments some ways to the legitimacy. The economic and political reforms may go no in parallel and even contribute to discussions on sovereignty.[11] It is also evident that the recognition of unrecognized entities will make them responsible international actors.



[1] Security Council restates support for Kosovo ‘Standards before Status’ policy,

[2] Letter dated 7 October 2005 from the Secretary-General addressed to the President of the Security Council: UN Doc. S/2005/635 ,>

[3] United States Recognizes Kosovo as Independent State,

[4] U.S. and EU powers recognize Kosovo as some opposed,

[5] M.Mayilian: “They think in Timor that they won, but at the same time Indonesia did not lose,”

[6] Международное признание может предотвратить войну в Карабахе,

[7] M.Mayilian, «The Place of Nagorno Karabakh within the Region: Prospects and Dead Ends», Caucasus Institute, Yerevan, 2008 –

[8] Gayane Novikova: “There is no exact analysis of the losses in case of handover of a part of territories, controlled by Nagorno Karabakh, to Azerbaijan,”

[9] Engagement without Recognition: A New Strategy toward Abkhazia and Eurasia’s Unrecognized States, Alexander Cooley and Lincoln A. Mitchell,

[10] EU-Artsakh. A new format for relations?, Hayk Khanumyan,

[11] The Phantom Menace, The New York Times,


Comments are closed.