Joining the European Union is a long and complicated process. Applicant countries must meet specific criteria and satisfy benchmarksrelating to democracy, the rule of law, market economy, and adherence to the European Union’s goals of political and economic union. There are 35 specific “Chapters” governing membership, and countries must meet specific targets in all areas to be granted membership.
Turkey’s application for EU membership has been further complicated by its historical relations with France and Germany, which have resulted in much slower progress than other applicant countries have seen. The Turkish government’s harsh response to protests in recent days may now further delay its application.
Serbia’s accession talks have been complicated by disputes over the status of the breakaway region of Kosovo. While Kosovo has been recognized by the European Union and most Western countries, Serbia asserts that Kosovo remains part of its territory. As recently as March 2013, Serbia’s Prime Minister, Ivica Dačić, asserted that his government would never recognize Kosovo’s independence, that “Kosovo is ours,” and that Serbia retained the right to define its own borders. But two weeks ago, Kosovo and Serbia exchanged liaison officers (diplomatic officials short of formal ambassadorial staff). It remains to be seen if Serbia and Kosovo can reconcile their differences as Serbia moves forward with its application for EU membership.
What do you think? Should the European Union move forward with Serbia’s accession talks? Or does the disputed status of Kosovo undermine Serbia’s application? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know what you think.
Former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic on Trial in the Hague.
State sovereignty—the right to independence and noninterference in one’s internal affairs—is a bedrock principle of today’s international system. It is an important international norm (a widely accepted rule prescribing appropriate behavior), it is enshrined in the United Nations charter, and its history can be traced back to the genesis of the modern Westphalian system in 1648. However, as constructivists have pointed out, sovereignty is an evolving norm: at one time the powerful states of Europe—the leaders of the international system—only viewed fellow white, Christian countries as deserving of sovereignty, a view that justified imperialism in Africa, Asia, and elsewhere. The norm evolved gradually as a wider and wider group of countries was seen as deserving of sovereignty, and today the principle is widely accepted as applying universally.
While the sovereign equality of all states is a principle that today’s countries praise and claim to respect, there is growing evidence that for a certain class of countries, sovereignty has its limits.
In March 2011 the UN Security Council authorized member states to use force to protect Libya’s civilians from a brutal crackdown by Colonel Muammar Qaddafi. NATO forces have essentially taken the side of the rebels in Libya’s civil war and some leaders, including President Obama, have called for Qaddafi to step down. In a similar case a decade earlier, NATO forces bombed Belgrade, eventually forced Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic from power, and paved the way for an independent Kosovo after Milosevic had unleashed a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Albanians in Kosovo—a province of Serbia and thus ostensibly an “internal matter.” This week’s arrest of war criminal Ratko Mladic in Serbia and his extradition to the war crimes tribunal in the Hague is only the latest example of political and military officials being held accountable to supranational authorities including the International Criminal Court. The ICC, under its ambitious Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, has gone so far as to issue arrest warrants for sitting heads of state including Sudan’s Omar Al-Bashir and Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi.
In short, international norms seem to be evolving away from unconditional sovereignty and toward a “responsibility to protect” doctrine that says if governments fail to protect their own people from grave human rights abuses the international community has the right to intervene to do so. But is this high-minded doctrine applied selectively to target only those countries who lack the political clout, economic pull, or military muscle to defend their own sovereignty? Do China and Russia get away with human rights abuses because of their great power status and UN Security Council veto privileges? Does Saudi Arabia get off the hook because of its oil wealth and powerful benefactors? Does America’s superpower status render its political and military elites immune from ICC action despite allegations that the U.S.is responsible for war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan? If the answer to each of these questions is “yes,” is there anything that can be done about it, or was the historian and early realist Thucydides correct when he famously said that “the strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must”?
The South Ossetia crisis continues. Yesterday, the Russian government announced yesterday that it would recognize the two (former?) Georgian regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Nato’s Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, condemned Russia’s move, saying it was a “direct violation of numerous UN Security Council resolutions regarding Georgia’s territorial integrity” and cautioning Russia that “Nato firmly supports the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia and calls on Russia to respect these principles.”
South Ossetia and Abkhazia have long demanded independence from Georgia. But Russia’ recognition of the two has some important implications. The 1933 Montevideo Convention on Rights and Duties of States outlines the four fundamental criteria for statehood. According to the treaty,
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 requirement that a state have the “capacity to enter into relations with other states” has usually been interpreted as meaning a state is recognized by other states. Unilateral recognition is not usually sufficient. Thus, Russia’s recognition of the two regions as independent states does not necessarily make them states. And the hesitation of other countries to follow suit suggests that further movement towards statehood may not be forthcoming. Recognition by the United Nations has usually been used as shorthand for meeting this criterion. But some states may choose not to participate as members of the United Nations (e.g., Switzerland), while others may be excluded for political reasons (e.g., Taiwan).
Deciding whether a state is a state or not can be surprisingly difficult. Some states fail to meet all of the criteria, particularly if we also carry over Weber’s definition that a state “possess a monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force.” By that definition, countries like Iraq Afghanistan, and Somalia would also not qualify, despite their membership in the United Nations.
Given this difficulty, it is also difficult to get an exact count on the number of states in the world. There are currently 192 members of the United Nations. The United States, however, recognizes 194 (including the Vatican and Kosovo, which are not recognized by the United Nations). Taiwan may also be added to the list. Palestine aspires to statehood, and the Palestinian government is recognized by many countries, but is not included in the total.