In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section State Succession in International Law

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Bibliographies
  • Judicial Decisions

International Law State Succession in International Law
Giovanni Distefano, Aymeric Hêche
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199796953-0045


The 1978 Vienna Convention on Succession of States in Respect of Treaties (hereafter, the 1978 Vienna Convention) defines state succession as “the replacement of one state by another in the responsibility for the international relations of territory” (article 2 (1)(b)). The phenomenon is protean: decolonization, unification, and separation are the possible occurrences of state succession. Decolonization is the accession to independence of a nonmetropolitan territory. Unification of states is the merger of two or more states into a new entity. The predecessor states usually disappear; if not, one of them continues to exist and the case is referred to as absorption. Separation is the creation of the successor state(s) while the predecessor state continues to exist. Dismemberment is akin to separation, but all states disappear and two or more states are created. This taxonomy of state succession constitutes the traditional analysis grid used to present and study state succession. We cannot stress enough the significance of the categories of states succession: these categories are the current starting point of codification of state succession. Thus, the taxonomy of state succession constitutes both a vital background when studying state succession and a resourceful analytical framework. A way to handle state succession is to start with abstract and general issues and then move downstream to concrete and particular issues. We will try to present state succession according to that scheme. State succession carries a lot of problems, the first of them being the disappearance or appearance of a state, also known as the identity/continuity of the state (see State Identity and Continuity). Succession in respect of treaties is the most famous field of state succession, and the Vienna Convention on Succession of States in Respect of Treaties is dedicated to this issue. The variety of treaties involves a variety of treatments in the event of state succession; for example, Humanitarian Treaties and Arms Control Treaties raise different kinds of issues. Succession to State Responsibility aims to hold the successor state responsible for its predecessor wrongs. The 1983 Vienna Convention on Succession of States deals with three topics—Debts, State Property, and Archives—and expressly reserves the application of international agreements regarding debts. The distribution and passing of state property is also delicate. States must agree on the property subject to succession and on general principles of passing and allocation. Lastly, individuals appear in the scope of state succession through Nationality and Private Rights and Concessions. The concern of international law for nationality flows mainly from the will to avoid cases of statelessness. Acquired rights of individual or companies are endangered in the event of state succession.

General Overviews

This section includes not only general overviews sensu stricto, but also works dealing in depth with every aspect of state succession. These books are best used as a reference and for guidance on state succession in general. While some of these works were published some time ago, one ought to observe that many of the same issues are still present, and that the core of state succession remains treaties, nationality, debts, and private rights (though new issues have, of course, appeared over the years). Keith 1907 delivers in about a hundred pages a complete presentation of state succession in the beginning of the 20th century. O’Connell 1956 and O’Connell 1967 address all the issues arising in the event of state succession and even deal with municipal law. Verzijl 1974 is the seventh book of International Law in Historical Perspective and is dedicated to the subject of state succession. Gruber 1986 offers a condensed and apolitical study of state succession. Menon 1991 appraises the two Vienna Conventions (1978 and 1983) in the context of state practice. Stern 1996 provides authoritative guidance through each aspect of this phenomenon. Lastly, Eisemann and Koskenniemi 2000, an impressive and significant collection of articles, deals with aspects of state succession emphasized by the practice of the 1990s and is focused on the assessment of the 1978 and 1983 Vienna Conventions codification’s success.

  • Eisemann, Pierre M., and Martti Koskenniemi, eds. State Succession: Codification Tested against the Facts. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 2000.

    DOI: 10.1163/ej.9789041113924.4-968

    This essential collection of works deals with every subject relating to state succession. The title prefigures a comparison between the Vienna Conventions and actual practice; and in each article a whole section is indeed devoted to this comparison. The range of articles goes from traditional topics (localized treaties, humanitarian treaties, international organization membership) to specific issues (nationality, debts, property).

  • Gruber, Annie. Le droit international de la succession d’états. Paris: Bruylant, 1986.

    This work, based on the author’s doctoral dissertation, aims at presenting the law of state succession as it is and not as it should be. The traditional topics are appraised (debts, clean-slate principle, public property, and acquired rights) and the succession in respect of treaties is carefully studied (customary law, state practice). The whole study is detail-oriented and condensed.

  • Keith, Arthur Berriedale. The Theory of State Succession. London: Waterlow, 1907.

    This book relates both to the taxonomy of state succession (see chapter 2, pp. 8–12; chapter 11, pp. 92–98; and chapter 12, pp. 99–101) and to specific issues such as nationality, private and acquired rights, treaties, property, and succession to the predecessor’s jurisdiction. The reference book prior to O’Connell’s work now offers us a historical account of state succession. Text available online.

  • Menon, P. K. The Succession of States in Respect to Treaties, State Property, Archives and Debts. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen, 1991.

    Offers a complete overview of the law of state succession (1978 and 1983 Vienna Conventions) in the light of state practice. The central questions are whether the successor state inherits the rights and duties of the predecessor, and to what extent they apply to it.

  • O’Connell, Daniel Patrick. The Law of State Succession. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1956.

    O’Connell discards the previous works on state succession and emphasizes the value of state practice and case law. The starting point of his vision of state succession is the protection of private investment in the event of state succession (“equity”). The book addresses the responsibility of the successor state concerning private investments, the changes in the administrative structure of the new state, and nationality.

  • O’Connell, Daniel Patrick. State Succession in Municipal Law and International Law. 2 vols. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1967.

    O’Connell’s reappraisal of state succession. The first volume addresses internal problems (e.g., acquired rights, legal and administrative change), and the significance of municipal law on state succession is underlined. The second volume is devoted to succession in respect of treaties. This study is an authoritative reference in the field and reviews conspicuous state practice.

  • Stern, Brigitte. “La succession d’états.” Collected Courses of The Hague Academy of International Law 262 (1996): 9–439.

    This impressive work is the French classic on state succession. Succession in respect of every aspect of debts, treaties, and public property is surveyed through the analysis of case law, historical accounts (mostly Germany, Ex-USSR, and Yugoslavia), and examination of the two Vienna Conventions.

  • Verzijl, J. H. International Law in Historical Perspective. Vol. 7. Leiden, The Netherlands: A. W. Sijthoff, 1974.

    This work offers a complete panorama of state succession. Treaties, property, archives, and debts are discussed, but also concessions, nationality, and succession to international organization membership. The book is divided in three parts: Territorial Shifts, Extinction of State, and Formation of a New State. Each subheading goes right to the point and is provided with cases. Includes a list of treaties pertaining to state succession.

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