, Volume 91, Number 2

James Ker-Lindsay

This article examines the extent to which states are able to interact at an official level with a contested or de facto state—a state that has unilaterally declared independence but is not a member of the United Nations—without being understood to have recognized it. This is an area of increasing interest and relevance to policymakers as the number of contested states has grown in recent years. In many cases, interaction may be important for ongoing peace efforts. However, there are also instances when a state is prevented from recognizing the territory in question for specific domestic or foreign policy reasons and so has to find alternative means by which to cooperate. Drawing on several key examples, notably Kosovo and the ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’, but also with reference to Abkhazia, the article explores the limits of interaction across various different forms of bilateral and multilateral diplomatic activity. As is shown, albeit with some significant provisos, legal theory and historic practice suggest that diplomatic engagement does not constitute recognition if there is no underlying intent to recognize. This means that there is in fact a very high degree of latitude regarding the limits of diplomatic engagement with contested states. This is especially the case in bilateral contexts. Indeed, in some circumstances, the level of engagement can even amount to recognition in all but name.

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