Succession of states
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Succession of states is a theory and practice in international relations regarding the recognition and acceptance of a newly created sovereign state by other states, based on a perceived historical relationship the new state has with a prior state. The theory has its root in 19th century diplomacy.
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.
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.
A difficulty arises at the dissolution of a larger territory into a number of independent states. Of course, each of those states will be subject to the international obligations that bound their predecessor. What may become a matter of contention, however, is a situation where one successor state seeks either to continue to be recognised under the same federal name of that of its predecessor or to assume the privileged position in international organisations held by the preceding federation. Such states are then considered as a "continuator state".
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, was declared the USSR's continuator state on the grounds that it contained 51% of the population of the USSR and 77% of its territory. In consequence, Russia and the United Nations agreed that it would acquire the USSR's seat as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. All Soviet embassies became Russian embassies.
This resolution was in sharp contrast to the manner in which the United Nations dealt with the claim of the federation of Serbia and Montenegro to be recognised as the continuation of the state of Yugoslavia (albeit as the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia as opposed to the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia). These two republics shared in common less than half of the population and territory of the former federation and the UN refused to allow the new federation to sit in the General Assembly of the United Nations under the name of 'Yugoslavia'. This followed over a decade where the state was referred to uneasily as the Former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
There are therefore several, quite different possible connotations of successor state, in terms of the continuity implied.
- The international law term implies legal links, on rights and the recognition of legitimacy of claims, but also on continuing treaty obligations, and the status of citizens who otherwise may become stateless.
- Cultural continuity.
- As a loose organisational term for historians, it implies not much more than a plausible link of parentage in a 'family tree' of groups of rulers; there need be no specific legacy going beyond physical possession.
- Predecessors of sovereign states in Europe
- Predecessors of sovereign states in South America
- Diadochi, the successors to Alexander the Great
Exceptions to orderly succession 
There are several recent examples where succession of states, as described above, has not been entirely adhered to. This is only a list of the exceptions that have occurred since the creation of the United Nations. In previous historical periods, the exceptions would be too many to list.
- When the Democratic Kampuchea regime of Pol Pot was militarily displaced by the Vietnamese-backed People's Republic of Cambodia, the United Nations seat continued to be held by Democratic Kampuchea for many years.
- The Taliban state (the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan) in 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.
- 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, was recognized as the legal successor by the United Nations, and representatives from Belgrade continued to hold the original Yugoslavian UN seat; however, the United States refused to recognize it. In 1992, under American influence, the Security Council on September 19 (Resolution 777) and the General Assembly on September 22, retired their recognition on the theory that the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia had dissolved. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (later renamed Serbia and Montenegro) was admitted to membership in the United Nations in 2000; in 2006, Montenegro declared independence and Serbia inherited the seat.
- The People's Republic of China (PRC) was proclaimed in 1949 claiming to be the successor state of the Republic of China (ROC), despite the ROC still existing (as a state based primarily on the island of Taiwan and other islands). The ROC maintained a seat for China on the UN Security Council until the PRC was admitted to the United Nations and Security Council in 1971 in place of the ROC through the adoption of General Assembly Resolution 2758. To date, the PRC exercises sovereignty over mainland China, while the ROC exercises sovereignty over Taiwan and some minor islands, with each officially claiming to be the sole legitimate government for both mainland China and Taiwan.
See also 
- Vienna Convention on Succession of States in respect of Treaties
- Comparative history
- International law
- Translatio imperii
- Universal history
- "United Nations text"
- Buhler, Konrad G. (2001). State Succession and Membership in International Organizations. Legal Aspects of International Organization Series. Volume 38. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. p. 164. ISBN 9789041115539.
Further reading 
- Burgenthal/Doehring/Kokott: Grundzüge des Völkerrechts, 2. Auflage, Heidelberg 2000 (German)
- European Journal of International Law – State Succession in Respect of Human Rights Treaties
- Wilfried Fiedler: Der Zeitfaktor im Recht der Staatensukzession, in: Staat und Recht. Festschrift für Günther Winkler, Wien, 1997, S. 217-236. (German)
- Wilfried Fiedler: Staatensukzession und Menschenrechte, in: B. Ziemske u.a. (Hrsg.), Festschrift für Martin Kriele, München 1997, S. 1371-1391 (German)