When dealing with unrecognised states, in particular if trying to reach a settlement, it is important two realise a couple of things about the character of these entities:
- There is significant variation between these entities and some have managed to create surprisingly well-functioning entities. They should consequently not automatically be dismissed as anarchical badlands.
- Unrecognised states are, however, not just like other states; the context of non-recognition comes with significant pressures and the de facto authorities are over time likely to struggle to maintain internal legitimacy.
- The image of puppets is overplayed; while external patrons often play a decisive role both in the creation and continued survival of these entities, the relationship is not one-sided and is subject to significant fluctuations and occasional conflicts.
Based on these observations, a number of policy recommendations can be made:
International mediators are, in most cases, in it for the long haul; there are no easy solutions, but we should not despair and conclude that renewed warfare or a continuation of status quo are the only options.
- Isolation and punitive actions against these entities is likely to be counterproductive. This is, for example, clearly demonstrated by the case of Republika Srpska Krajina.
1) It reinforces siege mentalities
2) The creation of something approaching ‘out of control’ areas is generally a bad strategy if the goal is a peaceful settlement.
- The vacuum created by international isolation is likely to be filled by an external patron, such as Russia in the case of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
- Compromise not impossible, even in cases that involve unrecognised states, but it is important to understand the internal constraints facing the authorities; they need to be able to sell a settlement to their followers.
- However, the contradictions of unrecognised statehood and the pressures stemming from it can act as a catalyst for compromise – if the right settlement is on the table.
- This research project therefore does not recommend international recognition of these entities, but it does recommend limited international engagement with them.
- This engagement should, however, come with certain conditions, such as democratisation, and could be seen as the first phase of a settlement process.
- Over time this process could reduce the tendency for zero-sum thinking, increase trust and increase the internal pressure on the de facto authorities to move away from the international limbo in which these entities find themselves.
For further analysis of these issues, see my forthcoming publications:
Nina Caspersen, Places That Don't Exist: The Politics of Unrecognised States (Book manuscript, current under review at a major university press)
Nina Caspersen, “Where Separatists Fear to Tread: Rethinking Independence Strategies in Nagorno Karabakh” (journal article, current under review)