What Determines a ‘State’?


“A state’s culture resides in the hearts and the soul of its people.”

  • Mahatma Gandhi
  • ‘State’

A ‘state’ in the context of International Law can be described in having a specific territorial boundary, a population, common binding of such population in socio, economic, cultural aspects of society, a government to govern and safeguard the said territory and its occupants as well as to maintain international relations, namely with other ‘states’. 

As such, it can be concluded that a ‘state’ shall compose of the following;

  • Permanent population
  • Government
  • Fixed territory
  1. Capacity to maintain international relations.

Bearing the aforesaid mentioned conditions, it can be therefore implicated that if such aforementioned conditions are fulfilled, one comes under the purview to be known as a ‘state’. Let us understand the aforementioned requirements further by testing it, let’s take the example of Costa Rica, and as such, check whether Costa Rica is a ‘state’, and if one, then of what kind. As such, firstly Costa Rica must be established to be known as a ‘state’, for that;

  1. Permanent Population– By 2016, the UN estimation for the population of Costa Rice to be around 5 million, hence it can be well established that Costa Rica has a permanent population.
  2. Government – Costa Rica is known for its long-standing and stable democracy, therefore it is needless to mention here that it has a Government.
  3. Defined Territory – Costa Rica is a country in Central America, bordered by Nicaragua to the north, the Caribbean Sea to the northeast, Panama to the southeast, the Pacific Ocean to the southwest, and Ecuador to the south of Cocos Island. Lastly, it has a land area of 51,060 square kilometers, hence it is again well established that Costa Rica has a defined and fixed Territory.
  4. Capacity to Maintain International relations – Costa Rica is an active member of the United Nations and the Organization of American States. Further, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the United Nations University of Peace are based in Costa Rica. It is also a member of many other international organizations related to human rights and democracy, such as the Community of Democracies. A main foreign policy objective of Costa Rica is to foster human rights and sustainable development as a way to secure stability and growth. Hence, it is quite clear that Costa Rica has a well established and maintained International relation. It is also pertinent to mention that, Costa Rica is also member of the International Criminal Court.

Therefore, considering the aforesaid aspects, it is well established that Costa Rica falls under the purview of ‘state’.

Now that it is well established that Costa Rica is a state, it is to be further established, as such, what kind of a ‘state’ is Costa Rica;–

  • ‘State’ can be broadly divided into three kinds,
  • Sovereign States

States which are supreme in itself, both in its internal as well as external matters are known to be sovereign states.

  • Not fully sovereign States

States which are not a sovereign state, and which are dependent on other states, whether internally or externally or as such, vests its control over internal or external matters upon other states, it is said to be a not fully sovereign state.

  • Not typical States 

Few ‘states’ which possess the characteristics of a sovereign state along with possessing some unique or distinctive characteristic of its own, falls into the purview of a ‘Not typical States”.

For that, it is pertinent to mention that, in 1838, long after the Federal Republic of Central America ceased to function in practice, Costa Rica formally withdrew and proclaimed itself sovereign. Since then, it has established a long-standing and stable democracy denoting that it has total control and supremacy over its internal matters, i.e. it may create rights, enact laws, take decisions of commerce, organize its defence, set up government and administration etc. in whatever way it deems fit. 

Again, externally it has further extended its supremacy, by having control and discretion over its external matters, i.e. in maintaining and deciding international matters and relations/ties with other states, eg. on 1st June 2007, Costa Rica broke diplomatic ties with Taiwan, switching recognition to the People’s Republic of China. Costa Rica was the first of the Central American nations to do so. Further it frames its own foreign policies, namely, to foster human rights and sustainable development as a way to secure stability and growth. 

Therefore, considering its internal as well as external supremacy and sovereignty it is well established that Costa Rica is a ‘Sovereign State’.

Written by Arnab Chanda

A 6’, aspiring Advocate, Arnab Chanda, hails from the plains of Assam, currently a 4 th year B.A.
L.L.B student at Sharda University. Being a fanatic Manchester United fan, foodie and a car
enthusiast, his leisure time mostly revolves around trying out new dishes, playing football and
reviewing cars, though he also enjoys to travel and to explore new places. He is a very hard-
working, punctual and sincere person who likes to give his best in everything that he does, but
does not miss a chance to use his humour to light up the mood of his surroundings and to
spread positivity. He’s a momma’s boy who soulfully respects his elders and wants to serve the
society for its welfare.

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