What makes a country a country? In this episode, we look at Transnistria, Taiwan, and Somaliland while exploring competing definitions of statehood.

Differing Metrics of State Sovereignty

The 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, which marked an end to Europe’s 30 Years War, established the modern western concept of statehood, or the idea that the nation-state is the ultimate authority within its territorial boundaries and has a right to non-interference from outside states.

Since this treaty, there have been differing theories as to what constitutes a nation-state. Constitutive theory is the belief that a state exists only if diplomatically recognized. Declarative theorists believe that states are states if they declare themselves as such. Monopoly theory is the idea that the only necessity for statehood is that the governing authority maintains a monopoly on the violence or power in a territory.

The 1933 Montevideo treaty defined four necessary elements of statehood: a permanent population; a defined territory; a governing body; and a capacity to participate in international relations. Many use this treaty as the metric for determining statehood.

Case Studies in Statehood

There are several examples today that illustrate these conflicting definitions of statehood.

Transnistria is an internationally unrecognized, self-declared country that lies between the borders of Moldova and Ukraine. Internationally recognized as a part of Moldova, Transnistria boasts its own government, currency, passports, and even army. Transnistria also maintains strong ties with Russia, as many of its 500,000 population are of Russian descent. Russia even provides Transnistria with natural gas exports and support for its army.

 Taiwan is the 22nd largest economy in the world, a member of several international organizations, and has embassies in several nations. However, China and numerous other nations—along with the UN—do not consider it a state. China will continue to lead the effort against Taiwan’s statehood in pursuit of its “one China” policy.

Somaliland is a self-declared independent nation that is internationally recognized as an autonomous region of Somalia. It has a working political system, government institutions, a police force, and its own currency. Although it is currently not recognized as a state, Somaliland is taking legal steps to establish legal statehood recognition.


Dig Deeper

Take a look at some of our favorite articles that we came across while researching this topic:

About the Author
John is a graduate student in International Affairs at The George Washington University and serves as the Director of Public Relations for Matters of State. Originally from Central Texas, John earned a B.A. in linguistics from the University of Texas at Austin. He lived in South Korea for nearly three years, teaching English on Jeju Island before studying Korean in Seoul. John’s academic and professional interests are international security and East Asian affairs.