Phantom States

My colleagues Dan Byman and Charles King have a great and instructive piece in the New York Times on phantom states, which they describe as:

[..] places that field military forces, hold elections, build local economies and educate children, yet inhabit the foggy netherworld between de facto existence and international legitimacy.

They use Taiwan as an example of how a phantom state could work well and argue that lessons can be learned from this experience:

A similar approach could work elsewhere. Phantom governments are often corrupt, run by warlords and plagued by drug trafficking and other illicit trade. But transparent government, free elections and a peaceful foreign policy are as vital for phantom states as they are for real ones. If phantom governments behave well, they should be offered a path toward legitimacy by the world’s major powers. Economic and political reforms can proceed parallel to, and even bolster, discussions over sovereignty.

It is not so difficult to come up with a list of reasons why their other examples are quite different from Taiwan in consequential ways. Yet, the idea of providing some path to legitimacy (if not necessarily sovereignty) conditional on “behavior” is provocative. It is interesting that they both blame the U.S. and others for insisting on territorial integrity (although see Kosovo) and phantom states for being overly obsessed with sovereignty. The implication is that the the world needs a kind of formal “second division” of entities that are not quite states but that could be promoted to the big leagues if they behave well (although the Taiwan example suggests that life in the second division can be persistent and reasonably pleasant, though if we go the promotion route, perhaps rules for relegation should be discussed too.) Now let me say that I am rather skeptical of rule-based arguments about sovereignty but interesting and important to think about nonetheless.

7 Responses to Phantom States

  1. Dan Nexon August 17, 2011 at 12:49 pm #

    See Roeder, Where Nation-States Come From.

  2. Jonathan Bernstein August 17, 2011 at 12:50 pm #

    All well and good, and interesting, but ducks the main question: can you sue the NYT over the headline they slap on your op-ed? What was the runner-up, Waterworld?

  3. Dan Nexon August 17, 2011 at 12:52 pm #

    And yeah, a great piece, but Taiwan really seems like something of an outlier here. Still, Alex Cooley and Lincoln Mitchell have a strategy paper for dealing with Abkhazia that advocates similar steps.

  4. Daniel Núñez August 17, 2011 at 1:04 pm #

    Interesting concept. Compare to the concept of “Hollow States” put forward by John Robb:

  5. Anita August 18, 2011 at 2:47 am #

    Here an another interesting piece on Phantom states

    UN Membership: Recognition of Things as They Are, by Rene Wadlow

    I’ts time to think.

  6. andrew August 19, 2011 at 12:55 am #

    Taiwan has also already gone through a relegation process.

  7. Joshua Tucker August 19, 2011 at 12:58 am #

    I like this idea of relegation! But we need to flesh it out a bit. How about the bottom 4 states on TI’s corruption list each year go down to the second division, which will now include losing your UN seat and Olympic delegation?