International recognition, religion, and the status of Western Sahara

Abstract

How do countries decide whether or not to recognize an aspiring state? We examine such decisions in the context of contested recognition, which we define as a claim to statehood that is recognized by a large number of countries, but remains unrecognized by many others. We suggest that religion—both at the domestic level via religious regulation and discrimination against minority religions and at the international level via transnational religious ties—shapes recognition decisions. In cases where the two parties to a recognition dispute share the same dominant religious tradition (as in Western Sahara), transnational religious ties are expected to lead to external support for the side that emphasizes its religious identity and that has access to more resources. Moreover, we show that countries with higher levels of religious regulation are less likely to extend recognition. We assess these two conjectures for why some countries—but not others—have recognized the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic as an independent state using data on the recognition decisions of all 192 United Nations member states.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    Coggins (2011) is an exception that we discuss in more detail below.

  2. 2.

    There is another subset of states with minimal recognition, often by one or a few states (e.g., Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia, Northern Cyprus), which provide a set of cases that are amenable to qualitative analysis but not statistical methods.

  3. 3.

    General Assembly of the United Nations, Rules of Procedure, XIV. Admission of New Members to the United Nations. Available at: https://www.un.org/en/ga/about/ropga/adms.shtml. Last accessed: June 5, 2019.

  4. 4.

    The Anonymous (2002) article was published anonymously because the author was a serving official of an international organization, in order not to compromise the neutrality of that organization (Anonymous 2002, p. 247).

  5. 5.

    E.g., see Berkhout and Ruedin (2017) on religion and politics of immigration.

  6. 6.

    The correlation in our data between these two predictors is less than 0.30.

  7. 7.

    Saideman (1997, p. 728) hypothesizes that “[s]tates will be neutral or ambivalent toward those conflicts where decision makers’ supporters have ties to both sides” with regard to ethnic ties in international relations. One could extend this to religion, and suggest that countries with shared religious ties to both the incumbent state and the aspiring state would remain neutral, which would most likely result in non-recognition, the default position.

  8. 8.

    Available at: https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2014/western-sahara#.Vbu0xvnlw4I.

  9. 9.

    Zunes and Mundy (2010) argue that there is broad international consensus that the status of Western Sahara is a matter of decolonialization.

  10. 10.

    Some recognitions were later retracted, but we are not focused on retractions in this article, which we believe would require a separate and full analysis beyond the scope of this study.

  11. 11.

    The source of recognition data is: https://www.worldstatesmen.org/Western_Sahara.html [Last Accessed: November 21 2015]. A list of recognitions that occurred prior to 1994 is available in Pazzanita and Hodges (1994, pp. 378–379). We view this decision as zero-sum, so recognition of the aspring state implies not supporting the parent state and vice versa.

  12. 12.

    We agree with Fox (2011, p. 6) that “the indexes provide a more accurate and nuanced analysis of religious phenomena” than single variables.

  13. 13.

    The source of the percent Muslim variable is the ARDA data.

  14. 14.

    Cheibub et al. (2010). We use the average democracy score from 2000–2010 in the final models. Using the 1990s or 1980s did not change the main results.

  15. 15.

    Marshall et al. (2014).

  16. 16.

    The source for this variable is Alesina et al. (2003).

  17. 17.

    Bureau of Economic Analysis, Balance of Payments and Direct Investment Position Data, (https://www.bea.gov/iTable/index.cfm), accessed on Jan 3 2014.

  18. 18.

    Gleditsch (2002).

  19. 19.

    Weidmann et al. (2010).

  20. 20.

    We also compared Models 1 and Model 4 using separation plots, and did not observe any large differences in models with and without these controls.

  21. 21.

    The classification accuracy without the controls is slightly worse, and the accuracy without the two religion variables is significantly worse.

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Mirilovic, N., Siroky, D.S. International recognition, religion, and the status of Western Sahara. Acta Polit (2020). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41269-020-00166-4

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Keywords

  • Sovereignty
  • International recognition
  • Religion
  • North Africa