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Recognizing fact from fiction : a social critique of premature recognition in Libya Freedman, Joshua Meir


Lassa Oppenheim tells us that states and governments become International Persons through recognition only, and exclusively. According to this legally constitutive doctrine, the recognition of governments operates in an intricate system between established states and recipient political entities. In these circumstances existing governments have the power to create international personality and, as a result, yield a high degree of influence and coercion over nascent recipient regimes. It is not surprising, therefore, that countries have repeatedly sought to withhold the recognition of certain governments, or prematurely recognize others, as a means of influencing a recipient regime’s survival or policies. These arguments and practices have been problematic, however, because they treat recognition solely as an act of political or legal coercion, which presumes that recipient regimes may value recognition more then their own contentious domestic or foreign policies. Moreover, viewing recognition solely as an act between states, between governments, and between political entities, obscures the fact that recognition may also be a “social act” whose consequences may extend far beyond a state’s governing apparatus, and into its civil society. Using France’s 2011 recognition of the Libyan rebels as a theoretical test case, this paper analyzes the impact of recognition beyond the legal and into the social realm. In this respect, recognition is treated not simply as a constitutive act of legal rights and duties, but additionally as a symbolic endorsement by one state towards the citizens of another, on the question of the legitimacy of their government. Beginning with a critique of legal recognition’s constitutive impact, and ending with an alternative view of recognition as a social phenomena, this paper asks two central questions: a) Under what circumstances can we expect external recognition to impact a population’s conception of legitimate governance, and b) under what conditions will this impact benefit the goals of the donor and recipient entities?

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