HomePage | Recent changes | View source | Discuss this page | Page history | Log in |

Printable version | Privacy policy

In international law and international relations, a state is a political subdivision possessing sovereignty, i.e. not being subject to any higher politicial subdivision. The problem with this definition is that states are often subject to some extent to higher politicial subdivisions, be they international organizations (the UN, the EU, the WTO) or other dominant and more powerful states. However, although states often are in practice subject in this way, they are much stronger in relation to international organizations or other states than lower (substate) political subdivisions normally are in relation to states. But the trend at the moment is for the power of superstate levels of governance to increase, and there is no sign of this increase being abated. Many (especially those who favour constitutional theories of international law) therefore reject as outdated the idea of soverignity, and view the state as just the chief politicial subdivision of the planet.

The legal criteria statehood are generally accepted as those set out in the Montevideo Convention (article 1) "The state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications: (a) a permanent population; (b) a defined territory; (c) government; and (d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states." (The Montevideo is a regional American convention; but the principles contained in this article have been generally recognized as an accurate statement of customary international law.) However, some have questioned whether these criteria are sufficent.

A major issue is the difference between the constitutive and declarative theories of recognition of states. According to the constitutive theory, a state exists only insofar as it is recognized by other states. The declarative theory, by contrast, holds that the existence of a state is independent of its recognition by other states. Which theory is correct is a controversial issue in international law.

The word state can also refer to the political subdivisions of some states, such as the United States,Australia, Nigeria and India. Other states call these subdivisions provinces (Canada), or departments (France).