How Much Noopolitik Do You Want For That Realpolitik?: Nauru’s Recognition of Abkhazia

The recognition of a State by another State is usually based upon a mixture of factual and political concerns — factually, does the state meet all the traditional criteria of statehood, and politically, what are the risks and rewards of recognizing or refusing to recognize another sovereign. The tiny island nation of Nauru, however, has shown the potential of a third important consideration: raw financial compensation.

For $50 million, Nauru has effectively sold its vote in the statehood electoral college to the fledgling international entity of Abkhazia. Hat tip International Law Prof.

Nauru, an eight-square-mile rock in the South Pacific with about 11,000 inhabitants, was no pushover, according to the influential Russian daily newspaper Kommersant. In talks with Russian officials, Nauru requested $50 million for “urgent social and economic projects,” the newspaper reported, citing unnamed Russian diplomats.

This is not the first time Nauru has put a price tag on recognition of statehood. Back in 2002, in a somewhat more contentious situation, Nauru switched its recognition from Taiwan to the PRC for $130 million. So in merely 7 years, the price has already fallen dramatically, by $80 million.

This could of course be a case of price discrimination — Nauru knows China can afford to pay a lot more than Abkhazia — or perhaps it could be argued that Nauru’s recognition was more valuable to China as it was not just a vote for them it was a vote against Taiwan. But I think it is more likely that the difference in price can be attributed to a decrease in the service’s value.

State recognition is more art than science, but the specific motivations behind a State’s decision to recognize another State do affect how much weight that choice to recognize is given when it is factored into the overall statehood calculation. Now that we know Nauru is willing to give a vote of statehood to any wannabe sovereign that can meet its price, the significance of recognition by Nauru as an indicia of statehood will be severely discounted. Therefore, the more often Nauru engages in recognition-for-cash sales, the more Nauru’s recognition will decrease in value. Just like the phosphate that once sustained Nauru’s economy, recognition is a non-renewable resource, and will not sustain Nauru forever.

Essentially, for a mere $50 million, Nauru has sold off a portion of its international law making power to Abkhazia.

On the other hand, Abkhazia may benefit from the trade in other ways. Although Nauru’s recognition is worth little in itself, the fact Abkhazia was able to demonstrate its ability to acquire $50 million, engage in international diplomacy with another recognize state, and donate a sum of money as “foreign aid” could signal to other nations that Abkhazia is a serious player after all.

Under Article 1 of the Montevideo Convention, the fourth and final qualification for statehood is a “capacity to enter into relations with the other states.” The deal may have been somewhat sordid and tacky, but nevertheless, by acquiring Nauru’s recognition, Abkhazia proved it had the capacity to engage in foreign relations.

-Susan

5 thoughts on “How Much Noopolitik Do You Want For That Realpolitik?: Nauru’s Recognition of Abkhazia

  1. “Virtual state proposes to acquire physical territory from Nauru”

    Internet community “Wirtland”, which positions itself as the first internet-based sovereign country, has announced a plan to legitimately acquire real land from one (or even several) world’s countries. If realized, it will be the first case of peaceful formation of a new country “from a scratch”.

    According to official press release, Wirtland approached the government of Nauru with a formal proposal to transfer a piece of its territory to Wirtland. Nauru, one of world’s smallest island nations situated South Pacific, has vast barren terrain left over after several decades of phosphates mining. “Proposal for Monetization of Unused Land by cooperation between Republic of Nauru and Wirtland” is intended to utilize a piece of Nauru’s barren terrain left after mining. According to the Proposal, “Republic of Nauru officially assigns a piece of its territory, of any quality and size, to Wirtland. Nauru will have a major stake in future sales of land from this territory, agreed in contract”. In his letter addressed to the President of the Republic of Nauru, Chancellor of Wirtland underlined his hope that “such a plan, if realized, will make a positive effect on the economy of Nauru”.

    Thereby the virtual state would take hold of official territory, which later would be offered for sale to people willing to become citizens of new country. The quality and size of territory do not matter: Wirtland will remain virtual community, as no buyer will physically move to Nauru. However, presence of defined territory is a necessary condition for diplomatic recognition of Wirtland by international community, according to Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States. According to Article 1 of Montevideo Convention, to have sovereignty, a state must have a permanent population, a defined territory, and a government. Wirtland hopes that peaceful acqusition of even a small piece of territory by virtual community will become a unique historical precedent and will open the door towards full official recognition of Wirtland, legitimization of Wirtland passports and other documents issued by virtual state.

    For a partner country such as Nauru, the result of the barter deal is possibility to make money out of otherwise useless land. Nauru’s official reaction is not known. Wirtland reserves right to approach other governments with similar proposal.

    Wirtland describes itself as an experiment into legitimacy and self-sustainability of a country without its own soil. Founded in 2008, Wirtland represents people from all five continents. Wirtland issues plastic ID cards, mints its own gold and silver coins. Wirtland’s population is around 1,000 people. Republic of Nauru is an island nation situated in the South Pacific. Nauru’s population is around 10,000.

  2. Pingback: Sorry, Wirtland, You’re Not a Sovereign– Try Again In A Couple Centuries or So, Maybe Custom Will Have Changed Enough By Then « The View From LL2

  3. Pingback: Can the Mere Recognition of a State Be a Violation of International Law? « The View From LL2

  4. Pingback: Trades on the Sovereignty Market: Serbia Gives Iraq Weapons in Exchange For Non-Recognition of Kosovo « The View From LL2

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