For over 350 years, since the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648, the international system has been fundamentally international, between nations. There are now over 190 countries in the world, and although non-state actors such as multinational corporations, media, armed groups, individuals like Bill Gates and supranational bodies such as the European Union and the United Nations are more and more players in the system, the basis of the world system remains the state, the highest legitimate control of violence.
All of this is fine, and what lawyers call the sovereign system. Besides the obvious challenges to this system by globalization and the actors below and above the state already mentioned, one of the system's inherent faults is its inability to deal with the birth and death of nations and recognition of authority within states. We congratulate the new state of South Sudan for coming into existence through a referendum and universally accepted legal process. It has become a member of the United Nations.
But what about Kosovo? The Western Sahara? Abkhazia? South Ossetia? These entities are recognized by certain countries, but not all. And now, the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) has been recognized by over 30 countries, NATO and the Arab League as the "legitimate authority" of the country. The entire international contact group co-ordinating policy on the crisis has given its benediction. The decision will allow certain countries to free up Libyan assets to the NTC, such as the United States with an estimated $30 billion held by American banks. The TNC leadership was "jubilant," it was reported by the Independent newspaper, "calling for more money to aid them in their push towards Tripoli".
There are several criteria for state recognition, including recognition by major powers. But the recognition of a government is even more political. Here is a clear example, unlike the South Sudan or even the Ivory Coast, where some major powers have decided to recognize a government for purely political reasons with little legal basis. Should we accept the justification that Colonel Gaddafi is under indictment? So is the ruler of Sudan.
Who are these people behind the NTC? And on what basis have they become "the legitimate authority" of the country? There has been no election, no referendum, and no selection process beyond a certain group deciding recognition. But, as I have already noted, the international system has great difficulty with the birth and death of nations and the recognition of legitimate authority within countries.
July 20, 2011