Contested Sovereignty as an Opportunity: Understanding Democratic Transitions in Unrecognized States

Yaniv Voller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent studies have demonstrated that democratic transitions can take place even in political entities that lack international sovereignty, or recognition. Based upon democratic transitions in several unrecognized states, they have argued that such a process requires mainly the existence of a functioning government and basic state institutions. Other studies have further developed this argument, demonstrating that non-recognition can in fact facilitate democratization. This article develops the latter argument and provides a thorough analysis into the manner in which non-recognition can serve as a catalyst for democratic transitions. It identifies the crisis of legitimacy that results from non-recognition as a key factor in this process, arguing that this crisis often leads to extensive interaction between the unrecognized states and the international community, subsequently making the leaderships of unrecognized states more vulnerable to scrutiny and thus creating opportunity structures for transnational advocacy networks. To support this argument, this article examines the democratic transition which has taken place in the Kurdistan Regional Government since its emergence as an unrecognized state in 1991. This transition, it asserts, cannot be understood without relating to the KRG's status as an unrecognized state and its pursuit of international legitimacy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)610-630
Number of pages20
Issue number4
Early online date20 Dec 2013
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • democratization
  • sovereignty
  • recognition
  • legitamacy
  • advocacy
  • transnationalism
  • liberation
  • Kurdistan
  • Iraq


Dive into the research topics of 'Contested Sovereignty as an Opportunity: Understanding Democratic Transitions in Unrecognized States'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this