In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Statehood

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • Critical Case Studies
  • Alternatives to Statehood

International Relations Statehood
Bridget L. Coggins
  • LAST REVIEWED: 02 March 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 02 March 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0032


States are the principal and most fundamental actors in world politics. Although supranational organizations and nonstate actors are growing in importance as a result of globalization, states have been the dominant form of political organization for the last two centuries. Because of the state’s centrality to modern political life, statehood is well studied, much sought after, and hotly contested. Political philosophers disagree about the rationale for the state and the nature of the international system. Political scientists debate the extent to which sovereignty influences political behavior and examine the dynamics of the beginning and end of statehood. In international law, the declaratory and constitutive nature of the state is debated both in theory and in practice. The major divide centers on the extent to which statehood depends on the intrinsic character of the actor or on its external legitimacy in the eyes of other states. Critical cases of claims to sovereignty show that, as a legal matter, statehood is not straightforward. Also, empirically statehood is not homogenous but varied; some present-day members of the international community scarcely resemble one another or, for that matter, the formal legal standards of statehood. Finally, faced with challenges to their sovereign statehood, governments have attempted a number of nonstate alternatives to accommodate diverse populations and other governance challenges.

Reference Works

The following works provide collections of nations, states, and would-be states across time. The Correlates of War dataset, arising from the project laid out in Singer 1972, provides the basis for a wealth of quantitative works in political science. Similarly, the membership rolls of intergovernmental institutions like the League of Nations and the United Nations are indicative of statehood. The Fund for Peace annual index and Foreign Policy yearly index rank states according to how well or poorly they perform the most important tasks of governance. For comparison purposes, Minahan 1996 and the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization show the variety of actors that aspire to statehood, some of which are successful and others of which are not. Whereas the Correlates of War data are best suited to scholars and professionals with data analysis in mind, the others are accessible to all audiences. Minahan 1996, in particular, provides interesting, readable vignettes on each of the nations the author catalogues.

  • Correlates of War.

    The most recent version of the data can be found on the website, along with complementary data on war, militarized disputes, alliances, diplomatic missions, material capabilities, membership in intergovernmental organizations, trade, and territorial change.

  • The Failed States Index 2010 Foreign Policy (July–August 2010).

    The 2010 Foreign Policy article accompanying the Failed States Index. The article provides useful context to the index, and the entire issue of the magazine is dedicated to state failure. An issue of the magazine accompanies the index annually.

  • Fund for Peace. Failed States Index 2010

    Produced annually since 2005, the Failed States Index has measured how well or poorly states govern. Raises important questions about the viability of many states in the international system and the potential security implications (both conventional and nontraditional) of failure. Accessible to all audiences; compelling visuals including pictures and graphs. Best used in conjunction with the scholarly works under Weak States and Failed States.

  • Minahan, James. Nations without States: A Historical Dictionary of Contemporary National Movements. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1996.

    Minahan provides an exhaustive catalogue of historical nations, many of which had aspirations to statehood. The collection has an excellent set of indexes for reference.

  • National Membership of the League of Nations

    Membership in the League of Nations and/or the United Nations is also sometimes used as an indicator of statehood. However, neither intergovernmental organization claimed universal membership; they may have excluded some states and included some nonstates. This resource provides a list of the members of the League of Nations.

  • Singer, J. David. “The ‘Correlates of War’ Project: Interim Report and Rationale.” World Politics 24.2 (1972): 243–270.

    DOI: 10.2307/2009738

    The Correlates of War’s system-membership data provide the authoritative list of states in the international system, 1816–2008 (see Fazal 2007, cited under Dynamics of Statehood, for a less well-known alternative specification). In the initial 1972 work, the author discusses the rationale for his operational definition of statehood.

  • United Nations. Member States of the United Nation.

    The current members of the United Nations, established in 1945, and their dates of accession into the organization.

  • Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization.

    A nongovernmental organization of self-identified nations and peoples without statehood. The organization’s members have committed to seek their political goals through nonviolent means. Each member is profiled on the organization’s website. Not all the groups aspire to independent states of their own, but this is the most comprehensive list of nonviolent independence movements. Note that these are the groups’ representations of themselves and, as such, should not be considered unbiased.

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