Diplomatic Recognition Signals Acceptance of Independence


With seven of the Soviet Union’s 15 constituent republics now proclaiming independence, the rest of the world community has devised a whole new lexicon to describe its future relationship with the fledgling nations.

According to U.S. officials, however, the only thing that really matters is whether full diplomatic recognition is extended. There is no important difference between the various terms that have been used to describe relationships short of full diplomatic recognition.

Diplomatic recognition normally involves the establishment of embassies and the exchange of ambassadors. Sometimes, envoys below the rank of ambassador are exchanged, usually when one or both of the nations involved want to show that their relationship is civil but not very close.

A U.S. official said that the internationally accepted criteria for extending diplomatic recognition are based on whether a state controls its own territory and whether it is capable of making and keeping international agreements.


Strictly speaking, that is a definition of sovereignty. But the determination of sovereignty is a question of fact, not policy. A foreign government cannot confer sovereignty on another state. It either exists or it does not.

In today’s climate, however, states such as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and other Soviet republics declaring independence seek diplomatic recognition from as many nations as possible because they believe that it will solidify their somewhat tenuous holds on sovereignty.

An Administration official said that President Bush’s reluctance so far to extend formal recognition to the Baltic republics reflects the fact that they are not yet “free to deal with us as full international partners, because they have the Soviets controlling their borders, air traffic control, customs and the like.”

The official said that the three republics may soon regain these measures of sovereignty, which would permit Washington to move ahead to full diplomatic recognition.


Many other countries already have recognized the Baltic republics or announced their intention to do so. These governments have either determined that the three tiny republics qualify as sovereign states or decided for reasons of policy to bend the rules in this case.

Each government must decide for itself what kind of relationship it wants to have with all other governments, the U.S. official said.

“There are governments that control their territory, but we just don’t feel like dealing with them. Cuba is the best example of this,” he said. “It comes down to policy questions of how do you want to work with these governments.”

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania constitute a special case because the United States refused to acknowledge their forced annexation to the Soviet Union in 1940. Therefore, diplomats from the Baltic republics were accepted in Washington for half a century even though their nations were not free and met none of the conditions of sovereignty.


Despite that history, however, the Administration has decided to apply its usual guidelines in determining whether to upgrade the status of the Baltics to full diplomatic recognition.