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‘States not Governments’: Reforming Britain’s Practice on Diplomatic Recognition, 1973-1980

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SummaryThe subject of recognition is basic to the way in which relations are conducted between states: they cannot easily communicate if they do not recognize one another’s existence. The question is also a difficult one in international law because, in practice, governments often adopt a pragmatic approach when specific instances of recognition arise. One important difference in practice was between countries — including Britain until 1980 — that extended recognition to particular governments and those that focused simply on the recognition of states. However, in April 1980, Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Lord Carrington, announced a change in practice, so that London would ‘recognize States in accordance with common international doctrine’. This announcement followed years of discussion within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, a discussion that was influenced by complex legal considerations over recognition and by membership of the European Community. This article investigates how and why such a change in British practice on recognition came about, showing that the British also gave consideration to a compromise solution, which would have involved tacit recognition of new governments, short of dispensing with such recognition altogether.

Affiliations: 1: School of History, University of NottinghamNottinghamUnited


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