How do you create a new country?

South Sudan, youngest country in the world, celebrates the 6th anniversary of its independence earlier this year. Image: Getty.

Within the space of a week this autumn, the people of Catalonia and Kurdistan will be asked if they want to live in an independent country. If these two referendums result in declarations of independence, what happens next? It may seem straightforward that Kurdistan, Catalonia, or even both would become the world’s newest countries. But it’s not that simple.

International law states that people have the right to determine their own destiny, including political status. Our right of self-determination is enshrined in the UN Charter, and clarified in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This could be taken as the right to have sovereign statehood recognised by the international community. However, it’s most often interpreted as the right of a population to determine how they are governed and who governs them. In other words, self-determination in today’s world most often pertains to choices within an existing country rather than as a path to new statehood.

This is partly because the laws on self-determination were mostly written during the period of decolonisation. That historical context cannot be ignored when interpreting their purpose. During that time, colonial powers were taking steps towards dismantling their empires. They had become expensive to maintain and political pressure was growing within the colonies themselves.

Creating a country

Another complicating factor in setting up a country is the fact that, for one territory to become a new state, another already existing sovereign state must lose some of its territory. That would violate the laws and norms of territorial integrity. These are some of the oldest and most steadfast rules underpinning the international system.

Recognition of a new state essentially means legally recognising the transfer of sovereignty over a territory from one authority to another. An international body, including the UN, cannot just take away territory without the permission of the original “host” state. To do so would be a violation of one of the defining rules of the system of states.

Kosovo, for example, declared independence from Serbia in 2008 but even to this day it doesn’t have sovereign statehood – despite more than half of the UN’s member states recognising its independence. This is largely because Serbia still claims sovereign control over the territory, although other factors are certainly also at play. In the same way, Iraq would have to relinquish sovereign control over territory in order for Kurdistan to become a state.

There are obvious competing and contradicting legal principles here. In at least one instance, these contradictions appear together within the same law. Indeed, what we find is that there is no clear legal path to obtaining sovereign statehood. There is also no legally established mechanism for who determines whether a territory becomes a sovereign state. So we have to look at previous examples to work out how it’s done.

The world’s most recent states are South Sudan, which was recognised in 2011, and East Timor, which was recognised in 2002. In the early 1990s, there was a wave of new states due to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the breakup of Yugoslavia. In 1993, Eritrea also became a state after a decades-long war with Ethiopia, which had annexed Eritrea in 1962. Prior to that, the world’s new states emerged out of the shifting or collapse of empires, most notable with the end of colonialism.

For East Timor and South Sudan, and in many ways Eritrea, statehood was part of attempts to resolve another problem: violent conflict. In all three cases, the host state (Indonesia for East Timor; Sudan for South Sudan; Ethiopia for Eritrea) agreed to relinquish control of the territory as part of negotiated peace agreements.

All of these new states obtained sovereignty after the disappearance of their former sovereign power, or with the permission of their former sovereign power. What they all have in common is that they became states in order to resolve some kind of problem, meaning there was some international benefit to their recognition. For the world’s newest states, their recognition was more of a political act than a legally defined process.


When is a state recognised as independent?

Although it’s not clearly laid out in law, a territory essentially becomes a sovereign state when its independence is recognised by the United Nations. As the largest and most inclusive multilateral organisation, its sanctioning of sovereign statehood makes sense.

But while procedures for admitting new members are clearly laid out in the Charter and in the rules of the UN, these rules pertain to new members that are already sovereign states. Yet again there is ambiguity in the process that aspiring states must go through in order to become sovereign.

Becoming an internationally recognised sovereign country is not a clear or straightforward process. In many ways, it is determined by power and the international political climate of the day. And a surprising number of entities exist as unrecognised states, many for decades, without recognition of sovereignty.

The ConversationIf Catalonia or Kurdistan declare their independence this autumn, they may get sovereign statehood if their host states agree. If not, though, they could choose to declare their independence, and to exist as an unrecognised state indefinitely.

Rebecca Richards is a lecturer in international relations at Keele University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

A growing number of voters will never own their own home. Why is the government ignoring them?

A lettings agent window. Image: Getty.

The dream of a property-owning democracy continues to define British housing policy. From Right-to-Buy to Help-to-Buy, policies are framed around the model of the ‘first-time buyer’ and her quest for property acquisition. The goal of Philip Hammond’s upcoming budget is hailed as a major “intervention” in the “broken” housing market – is to ensure that “the next generation will have the same opportunities as their parents to own a home.”

These policies are designed for an alternative reality. Over the last two decades, the dream of the property-owning democracy has come completely undone. While government schemes used to churn out more home owners, today it moves in reverse.

Generation Rent’s new report, “Life in the Rental Sector”, suggests that more Britons are living longer in the private rental sector. We predict the number of ‘silver renters’ – pensioners in the private rental sector – will rise to one million by 2035, a three-fold increase from today.

These renters have drifted way beyond the dream of home ownership: only 11 per cent of renters over 65 expect to own a home. Our survey results show that these renters are twice as likely than renters in their 20s to prefer affordable rental tenure over homeownership.

Lowering stamp duty or providing mortgage relief completely miss the point. These are renters – life-long renters – and they want rental relief: guaranteed tenancies, protection from eviction, rent inflation regulation.

The assumption of a British ‘obsession’ with homeownership – which has informed so much housing policy over the years – stands on flimsy ground. Most of the time, it is based on a single survey question: Would you like to rent a home or own a home? It’s a preposterous question, of course, because, well, who wouldn’t like to own a home at a time when the chief economist of the Bank of England has made the case for homes as a ‘better bet’ for retirement than pensions?


Here we arrive at the real toxicity of the property-owning dream. It promotes a vicious cycle: support for first-time buyers increases demand for home ownership, fresh demand raises house prices, house price inflation turns housing into a profitable investment, and investment incentives stoke preferences for home ownership all over again.

The cycle is now, finally, breaking. Not without pain, Britons are waking up to the madness of a housing policy organised around home ownership. And they are demanding reforms that respect renting as a life-time tenure.

At the 1946 Conservative Party conference, Anthony Eden extolled the virtues of a property-owning democracy as a defence against socialist appeal. “The ownership of property is not a crime or a sin,” he said, “but a reward, a right and responsibility that must be shared as equitable as possible among all our citizens.”

The Tories are now sleeping in the bed they have made. Left out to dry, renters are beginning to turn against the Conservative vision. The election numbers tell the story of this left-ward drift of the rental sector: 29 per cent of private renters voted Labour in 2010, 39 in 2015, and 54 in June.

Philip Hammond’s budget – which, despite its radicalism, continues to ignore the welfare of this rental population – is unlikely to reverse this trend. Generation Rent is no longer simply a class in itself — it is becoming a class for itself, as well.

We appear, then, on the verge of a paradigm shift in housing policy. As the demographics of the housing market change, so must its politics. Wednesday’s budget signals that even the Conservatives – the “party of homeownership” – recognise the need for change. But it only goes halfway.

The gains for any political party willing to truly seize the day – to ditch the property-owning dream once and for all, to champion a property-renting one instead – are there for the taking. 

David Adler is a research association at the campaign group Generation Rent.

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