Successor State
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Successor State

Succession of states is a theory and practice in international relations regarding successor states. A successor state is a sovereign state over a territory and populace that was previously under the sovereignty of another state. The theory has its root in 19th-century diplomacy.[1] A successor state often acquires a new international legal personality, which is distinct from a continuing state, also known as a continuator, which despite change to its borders retains the same legal personality and possess all its existing rights and obligations (such as a rump state).[2]

Partial and universal state succession

A state succession can be characterized as either being universal or partial. A universal state succession occurs when one state is completely extinguished and its sovereignty is replaced by that of one or more successor states. A partial state succession occurs when the state continues to exist after it has lost control of a part of its territory.[3]

An example of a partial state succession is the case of the split of Bangladesh from Pakistan, there was no challenge to Pakistan's claim to continue to exist and to retain its membership of the United Nations: it was a continuator and not a successor. Bangladesh eventually was recognized as a new state: it was a successor and had to apply for UN membership.

An example of a universal state succession is the dissolution of Czechoslovakia. Neither part claimed any continuity: both the Czech Republic and Slovakia were new successor states.

Rights and obligations of successor states

Consequent upon the acquisition of international personality, the difficult matter of succession to treaty rights and obligations arises.[4] Succession may refer to the transfer of rights, obligations, and/or property from a previously well-established prior state (the predecessor state) to the new one (the successor state). Transfer of rights, obligations, and property can include overseas assets (embassies, monetary reserves, museum artifacts), participation in treaties, membership in international organizations, and debts. Often a state chooses piecemeal whether or not it wants to be considered the successor state.

A special case arises, however, when the predecessor state was signatory to a human rights treaty, since it would be desirable to hold the successor state accountable to the terms of that treaty, regardless of the successor state's desires. Daniel Patrick O'Connell wrote, "Practice is tending towards a de facto succession to at least those conventions which have a humanitarian aim."[5]

Vienna Convention on Succession of States in respect of Treaties

In an attempt to codify the rules of succession of states, the Vienna Convention on Succession of States in respect of Treaties was drafted in 1978. It entered into force on November 6, 1996.[6] Only 23 states are currently parties to the convention.

Population and nationality

A difficult question is what the consequences are for the inhabitants of a territory undergoing state succession. If the succession is partial, the inhabitants can become nationals of a state whose territory they reside outside of. If the succession is universal, they can become stateless, as the state that they held citizenship to ceases to exist. O'Connell wrote:

In the first place, there is considerable disagreement as to the manner in which change of nationality may be brought about. One school of thought asserts that the nationality of inhabitants of absorbed territory is automatically changed at the moment of the substitution of the one State for the other. A second option considers that the inhabitants in question acquire the nationality of the successor state only by an express or tacit submission to the new sovereign. The more recent and widely accepted theory regards nationality as a matter solely of domestic jurisdiction, and contends that the successor State has a discretion as to the manner in which it extends its nationality to the inhabitants of territory which it acquires.[7]

Other scholars disagree and instead claim that the population is naturalized and receives citizenship of the new state. Charles Hyde wrote:

Whenever a State acquires from another part of its territory, the inhabitants of the area transferred, who were nationals of the former sovereign, are, in the absence of an agreement collectively naturalized.[8]

Ian Brownlie wrote:

the evidence is overwhelmingly in support of the view that the population follows the change of sovereignty in matters of nationality[9]

Rudolf Graupner wrote:

Most treaties on international law asserts that territorial change effects "automatically" a change of the nationality concerned unless there be special stipulations in the respective treaties. Which people are affected is often in dispute, but the people who are actually concerned are said to become automatically nationals of the successor State, i.e. they lose the old and immediately acquire the new nationality through the very act of annexation, cession, etc. Mostly, the existence of a rule of international law to that effect is assumed.[10]

Classification of cases

In their application to the acquisition of independence, distinctions should be drawn between different cases though the line of demarcation is not always clear:[4]

  • Bilateral and multilateral treaties necessarily give rise to different considerations.
  • There are real treaties and personal treaties. Real treaties affect the territory itself, such as boundary agreements or the grant of transit rights, which can continue irrespective of the personality of the state. The new state must take over the country in the condition in which it finds it, as the parent state cannot give more than it possesses. Such treaties can be described as "treaties creating purely local obligations."[4]

Exceptions to orderly succession

There are several recent examples where succession of states, as described above, has not been entirely adhered to. This is mostly a list of the exceptions that have occurred since the creation of the United Nations in 1945. In previous historical periods, the exceptions would be too many to list.


The Taliban state in Afghanistan (the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan) became the de facto government of nearly all the country in the mid-1990s, but the Afghan Northern Alliance was still recognised by many nations and retained the UN seat.


The People's Republic of China (PRC) was established in 1949 in Mainland China, claiming "succession" from the Republic of China (ROC). However, the succession of the PRC as the state of "China" was not initially recognized by many states because of Cold War politics and because the ROC continued to exist on the island of Taiwan and other islands, such as Penghu, Kinmen, Matsu, Pratas and Taiping. Despite this situation, the ROC in Taiwan maintained their membership as "China" in the United Nations, and a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. However, the PRC was granted the seat of "China" in the United Nations and Security Council in 1971, in place of the ROC whose recognition was withdrawn and the representatives it had sent were expelled as unlawful representatives of China. This was done through the adoption of General Assembly Resolution 2758. As of 2014, the PRC exercises sovereignty over mainland China, while the ROC continues to be unrecognised by the United Nations but exercises sovereignty over the Taiwan Area, with both claiming they are the sole legitimate government of both the mainland and Taiwan. The ROC also claims borderlands unclaimed by the PRC, most notably (Outer) Mongolia.


Ireland, then called the Irish Free State, seceded from the United Kingdom in 1922. The new state took the view that when a new state comes into being after formerly being part of an older state, its acceptance of treaty relationships established by the older state is a matter for the new state to determine by express declaration, or by conduct in the case of each individual treaty.[4] In practice, however, the Irish regarded the commercial and administrative treaties of the United Kingdom previously applying to the territory of the Irish Free State as remaining in force.[4]


Israel took the view that, by virtue of its declaration of independence in 1948, a new international personality was created and that it started with a clean slate and was bound only by such of the former international obligations affecting the territory as Israel might accept.[4]


When Democratic Kampuchea led by Pol Pot was militarily displaced by the Vietnamese-backed People's Republic of Kampuchea, the country's United Nations seat was held by Democratic Kampuchea for many years. It is now held by the Kingdom of Cambodia.


An important tenet of the modern state of Republic of Korea is that the Korean Empire's incorporation into the Empire of Japan from 1910 to 1945 constituted an illegal occupation. In 1919 when the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea was formed it claimed continuity directly from their pre-1910 status. In 1948 when the modern Republic of Korea was formed it claimed that it was identical with Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea and that the Provisional Government succeeded the Korean Empire.[11]

South Korea resumed membership to international organisations such as the Universal Postal Union and re-affirmed that pre-1910 treaties were still in force.[12]

North Korea also regards Korean Empire's incorporation into the Empire of Japan from 1910 to 1945 as constituting an illegal occupation.

Ottoman Empire/Turkey

There is some debate over whether the modern Republic of Turkey is a continuing state to the Ottoman Empire or a successor.[13] The two entities fought on opposing sides in the Turkish War of Independence (1919-23), and even briefly co-existed as separate administrative units (whilst at war with one another): Turkey with its capital in Ankara and the Ottoman Empire from Istanbul, but this type of scenario is also common in civil wars. The nationalist faction, led by Mustafa Kemal who defected from the Ottoman army, established the modern republic as a nation state (or new government regime) by defeating the opposing elements in the independence war. There remains debate whether the Turkish War of Independence was a war of independence, or a civil war that led to a regime change.


When Pakistan became independent it claimed that it was automatically a member of the United Nations, as British India had been a founding member of the United Nations despite its colonial status. The United Nations Secretariat however expressed the following opinion:[4]

From the viewpoint of International Law, the situation is one in which part of an existing State breaks off and becomes a new State. On this analysis there is no change in the international status of India; it continues as a State with all treaty rights and obligations, and consequently with all rights and obligations of membership in the United Nations. The territory which breaks off--Pakistan--will be a new State. It will not have the treaty rights and obligations of the old State and will not, of course, have membership in the United Nations. In International Law the situation is analogous to the separation of the Irish Free State from Britain, and Belgium from the Netherlands. In these cases the portion which separated was considered a new State, and the remaining portion continued as an existing State with all the rights and duties which it had before.

Soviet Union

International convention since the end of the Cold War has come to distinguish two distinct circumstances where such privileges are sought by such a successor state, in only the first of which may such successor states assume the name or privileged international position of their predecessor. The first set of circumstances arose at the dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1991. One of this federation's constituent republics, the Russian Federation has declared itself to be "the continuator state of the USSR" on the grounds that it contained 51% of the population of the USSR and 77% of its territory. In consequence, Russia agreed that it would acquire the USSR's seat as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.[14] This was also accepted by the rest of the former states of the USSR; in a letter dated 24 December 1991, Boris Yeltsin, at the time President of the Russian Federation, informed the Secretary-General that the membership of the Soviet Union in the Security Council and all other United Nations organs was being continued by the Russian Federation with the support of the 11 member countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States.[15] All Soviet embassies became Russian embassies.

On the other hand, the Baltic states represent a special case. An important tenet of the modern states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania is that their incorporation into the Soviet Union from 1940 to 1991 constituted an illegal occupation. In 1991 when each Baltic state regained their independence they claimed continuity directly from their pre-1940 status. Many other states share this view, and as such, these states were not considered either predecessor or successor states of the Soviet Union. As a consequence, the Baltic states were able to simply re-establish diplomatic relations with countries, re-affirm pre-1940 treaties still in force, and resume membership to international organisations.[16]


After four of the six constituent republics of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia seceded in 1991 and 1992, the rump state, renamed the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, stated it was the continuation of the state of Yugoslavia--against the objections of the newly independent republics. Representatives from Belgrade continued to hold the original Yugoslavian UN seat--however, the United States refused to recognize it. The remaining territory of the federation was less than half of the population and territory of the former federation. In 1992 the Security Council on September 19 (Resolution 777) and the General Assembly on September 22, decided to refuse to allow the new federation to sit in the General Assembly under the name of "Yugoslavia" on the theory that the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia had dissolved. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (later renamed Serbia and Montenegro) was admitted as a new member to the United Nations in 2000; in 2006, Montenegro declared independence and Serbia continued to hold the federation's seat. Additionally, Kosovo declared independence in 2008.


See also


  1. ^ "The Term State Succession Under International Law Signifies The Transmission of The Rights and Obligations of One State to Another in Consequence of Territorial Sovereignty". The Lawyers & Jurists. 2013-09-09. Archived from the original on 2017-08-06. Retrieved .
  2. ^ Crawford, James (2006). The Creation of States in International Law. Clarendon Press. pp. 667-72. ISBN 9780199228423.
  3. ^ "Kinds of State Succession". Archived from the original on 2017-08-07.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Commonwealth and Colonial Law by Kenneth Roberts-Wray, London, Stevens, 1966. P. 267.
  5. ^ D.P. O'Connell, The Law of State Succession, 1956, p. 435
  6. ^ "Vienna Convention on succession of States in respect of treaties". United Nations Treaty Series. 2009-01-13. Retrieved .
  7. ^ D. P. O'Connell, The Law of State Succession, 1956, p. 245
  8. ^ Charles Hyde, II INTERNATIONAL LAW 1090, 1945
  9. ^ Ian Brownlie, "The Relations of Nationality in Public International Law", 39 The British Yearbook of International Law, 284, 1963
  10. ^ Rudolf Graupner, "Nationality and State Succession General Principles of the Effect of Territorial Changes on Individuals in International Law". Archived 2018-05-12 at the Wayback Machine, 1945, p. 89. JSTOR 743190.
  11. ^ "Riss ? - ? ?".
  12. ^ "? ? ?". 1986-08-04.
  13. ^ ÖKTEM, EMRE (2011). "Turkey: Successor or Continuing State of the Ottoman Empire?". Leiden Journal of International Law. Cambridge University Press. 24 (3): 561-583. doi:10.1017/S0922156511000252.
  14. ^ Bühler, Konrad G. (2001). State Succession and Membership in International Organizations. Legal Aspects of International Organization Series. Volume 38. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. pp. 161-4. ISBN 9789041115539.
  15. ^ "Member States of the United Nations - Russia*". the United Nations. Archived from the original on 30 December 2013. Retrieved 2013.
  16. ^ Bühler, Konrad G. (2001). State Succession and Membership in International Organizations. Legal Aspects of International Organization Series. Volume 38. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. pp. 177-9. ISBN 9789041115539.


  • Burgenthal/Doehring/Kokott: Grundzüge des Völkerrechts, 2. Auflage, Heidelberg 2000 (in German)

External links

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