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This article is about sovereign independent states. For subnational entities called states, see Federated state. For other uses, see State.

A sovereign state (commonly simply referred to as a state) is a political association with effective internal and external sovereignty over a geographic area and population which is not dependent on, or subject to any other power or state.[1] While in abstract terms a sovereign state can exist without being recognised by other sovereign states, unrecognised states will often find it hard to exercise full treaty-making powers and engage in diplomatic relations with other sovereign states. For a list of all 203 states, see the List of sovereign states page.Thus meaning that the HRH Queen Elizabeth I would be the head of stare for these nations.


Although the term often includes broadly all institutions of government or rule—ancient and modern—the modern state system bears a number of characteristics that were first consolidated beginning in earnest in the 15th century, when the term "state" also acquired its current meaning. Thus the word is often used in a strict sense to refer only to modern political systems.

In casual usage, the terms "country", "nation", and "state" are often used as if they were synonymous; but in a more strict usage they can be distinguished:

  • Nation denotes a people who are believed to or deemed to share common customs, origins, and history. However, the adjectives national and international also refer to matters pertaining to what are strictly sovereign states, as in national capital, international law.
  • State refers to the set of governing and supportive institutions that have sovereignty over a definite territory and population.

Because terminology has changed over time and past writers often used the word "state" in a different ways it is difficult to accurately define the concept of state. Mikhail Bakunin used the term simply to mean a governing organization. Other writers used the term "state" to mean any law-making or law-enforcement agency. Karl Marx defined the state as the institution used by the ruling class of a country to maintain the conditions of its rule. According to Max Weber, the state is an organization with an effective monopoly on the use of legitimate violence in a particular geographic area. Fascists and some nationalist ideologies view the state as an organic body synonymous with the cultural construct of the nation.

Constitutive theory of statehood

In 1815 at the Congress of Vienna the Final Act only recognised 39 sovereign states in the European diplomatic system, and as a result it was firmly established that in future new states would have to be recognised by other states, and that meant in practice recognition by one or more of the great powers.[2]

The constitutive theory was developed in the 19th century to define what is and is not a state. With this theory, the obligation to obey international law depends on an entity's recognition by other sovereign governments. Because of this, new states could not immediately become part of the international community or be bound by international law, and recognized nations did not have to respect international law in their dealings with them.[3]

One of the major criticisms of this law is the confusion caused when some states recognize a new entity, but other states do not, a situation the theory does not deal with. Hersch Lauterpacht, one of the theory's main proponents, suggested that it is a state's duty to grant recognition as a possible solution. However, a state may use any criteria when judging if they should give recognition and they have no obligation to use such criteria. Many states may only recognize another state if it is to their advantage.[3]

Declarative theory of statehood

One of the criteria most commonly cited by micronations with regard to difficulty getting international recognition is the Montevideo Convention. The Montevideo Convention was signed on December 26 1933 by the United States, Honduras, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Argentina, Venezuela, Uruguay, Paraguay, Mexico, Panama, Bolivia, Guatemala, Brazil, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Colombia, Chile, Peru and Cuba but it never received international consensus.[4] The Montevideo Convention has four conditions that an entity must meet to become a state:

  • a permanent population
  • defined territory
  • Government
  • capacity to enter into relations with other states

De facto and de jure states

Most sovereign states are states de jure and de facto (i.e. they exist both in law and in reality). However, sometimes states exist only as de jure states in that an organisation is recognised as having sovereignty over and being the legitimate government of a territory over which they have no actual control. Many continental European states maintained governments-in-exile during the Second World War which continued to enjoy diplomatic relations with the Allies, notwithstanding that their countries were under Nazi occupation. A present day example is the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, which is a United Nations observer, has bi-lateral diplomatic relations with 104 states, while having no territory and possessing only extraterritorial areas (i.e. embassies and consulates).[5] Other states may have sovereignty over a territory but lack international recognition, these are de facto states only. Somaliland is commonly considered to be such a state.[6][7][8][9] For a list of entities that wish to be universally recognized as sovereign states, but do not have complete worldwide diplomatic recognition, see the list of states with limited recognition.

See also


  1. ^ "sovereign", The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (Houghton Mifflin Company), 2004,, retrieved 21 February 2010, "adj. 1. Self-governing; independent: a sovereign state." 
    "sovereign", The New Oxford American Dictionary (Oxford: Oxford University Press), ISBN 0-19-517077-6, "adjective ... [ attrib. ] (of a nation or state) fully independent and determining its own affairs: a sovereign, democratic republic." 
    Central Intelligence Agency, "Entities", The CIA World Factbook,, retrieved 23 February 2010, "'Independent state' refers to a people politically organized into a sovereign state with a definite territory." 
    See also, the decision of the British House of Lords in Duff Development Co. v. Kelantan Government [1924] 1 AC 797.
  2. ^ Kalevi Jaakko Holsti Taming the Sovereigns p. 128
  3. ^ a b Hillier, Tim (1998). Sourcebook on Public International Law. Routledge. pp. 201–2. ISBN 1859410502. 
  4. ^ "Convention on Rights and Duties of States (inter-American); December 26, 1933". The Avalon Project. Yale University. 2008-11-17. Archived from the original on 2008-02-15. Retrieved 2008-11-20. 
  5. ^ Bilateral relations with countries, Retrieved 2009-12-22
  6. ^ Arieff, Alexis (November 2008). "De facto Statehood? The Strange Case of Somaliland". Yale Journal of International Affairs. Retrieved 2010-01-04. 
  7. ^ "The List: Six Reasons You May Need A New Atlas Soon". Foreign Policy Magazine. July 2007. Retrieved 2010-01-04. 
  8. ^ "Overview of De-facto States". Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization. July 2008. Retrieved 2010-01-04. 
  9. ^ Wiren, Robert (April 2008). "France recognizes de facto Somaliland". Les Nouvelles d'Addis Magazine. Retrieved 2010-01-04. 


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