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Manchukuo and the Self-Declared SADR International Law of Recognition and the Sahara Issue

Shoji Matsumoto | January 20, 2021

The self-declared Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic’s (SADR) declaration on the Guerguerat crisis, in November 2020, to terminate the 1991 ceasefire agreement and go to war with Morocco raises a problem regarding the legality of third States granting State recognition to the self-declared SADR. International law imposes an obligation on third States to not grant ‘premature recognition.’ Moreover, premature recognition would constitute illegal intervention in the internal affairs of the parent State.

Historically, the obligation of non-recognition was one of the main issues in the Manchukuo case at the League of Nations. The separation of Manchuria from China was enabled, and subsequently Manchuria was controlled by Japan, allegedly based on ‘the free will’ of the inhabitants. Though Manchukuo was called ‘a puppet State,’ the League of Nations could not respond quickly to the emergence of the pseudo-State and its control by Japan. Several States would not withdraw their recognition of Manchukuo as a State. The League of Nations’ decision on the non-recognition obligation came too late to effectively prevent Japan’s military advance in China.

On the basis of lessons learned from the Manchukuo case, problems of the SADR will be considered from international legal perspectives. In particular, approval by the parent State will be focused in terms of the decisive condition for Statehood. International law on State recognition involves the condition of approval by the parent State for an entity aspiring to Statehood on the one hand, and an obligation for third States to not grant ‘premature recognition’ on the other hand. Even when a parent State granted State recognition to an entity, the condition of independence would further require third States to not recognize the entity as a State. The conditions for recognition matter for third States, especially in terms of premature recognition. Outbreak of armed conflict such as the Guerguerat crisis would attest to the absence of Morocco’s approval, resulting in an international obligation on the part of third States to withdraw recognition from the self-declared SADR.