What defines a State?

A State is defined by four characteristics: a stable and permanent population, a delimited territory and a sovereign Government that acts on its territory and population independently and possessing a monopoly on violence. Finally, in practice, the State must have international recognition from others.

The term “State” comes from Latin status and, in turn, from the verb stare (‘stand still’). From there it came to be used for political purposes in Ancient Rome to refer to the state of the public situation, with the term republican status, which alluded to that of the Republic. Modern and democratic States, on the other hand, have three independent powers: the legislative power, in charge of making laws; the executive, which exercises the administration of the State and the judicial, whose function is to enforce the law.

From primary to modern states

In early civilizations, the rise of political power was determined by a favorable environment, marked in turn by the availability of fresh water, fertile lands or mild climates. Primary States, those that were born when there were no previous developments or contact with other political organizations, appeared before the year 3,000 BC. C. in Mesopotamia, with the Sumerians, and in Egypt, in the Uruk period.

From then on, the world began to be structured and divided according to States constituted in city-States, kingdoms, empires and their colonizations. This is how Greece, Rome, the Persian Empire, the middle kingdoms of India or ancient China appeared. Also the American civilizations, the medieval kingdoms in Europe, the Islamic Golden Age or the Spanish Empire with the conquest of America.

However, it is considered that the modern State was born with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, which put an end to the confrontation between European powers of the Thirty Years’ War. This treaty established what was known as the “Westphalian system”, a balance between States in which each one was independent of the rest and all recognized common elements and basic rules for their mutual relations. Since then, the international system has been based on the sovereignty of States, defined by their territories, populations, Governments and the recognition of their peers. Since the 18th and 19th centuries they began to consolidate with the gradual separation of the executive, legislative and judicial powers.

Existing but not recognized

However, many other territories in the last century can be defined as quasi-States, since they meet part of the requirements or all of them but with deficiencies. Palestine is the quintessential example, since only a majority of States recognize it as such, it lacks stable borders and its Government does not have full capabilities over its territory and population. Other territories, such as Western Sahara, claim state status even though they do not meet the four requirements.

However, there are political entities that have territory, population and an independent Government, but are not recognized by a large number of countries, which is why they are excluded from the United Nations, such as Kosovo or Taiwan. Spain, for example, is one of the five countries in the European Union that does not recognize Kosovo since it describes its declaration of independence in 2008 as “unilateral”. Taiwan, for its part, is only recognized by fifteen countries and is losing support. that adhere to the People’s Republic of China.

Not even all 193 members of the UN meet the requirements to be States. There are member countries that are not recognized by all the others, such as China itself by a dozen States, or North Korea, which is not recognized by its neighbors South Korea and Japan.