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Who Counts as a State? De Facto States, External Legitimacy, and the Politics of Recognition

Committee: Dr. Dave Armstrong (Chair), Dr. Thomas Kwasi Tieku & Dr. Bruce Morrison

How do de facto states balance the drive for external legitimacy with their need to sustain themselves? To answer this question, I develop an original explanation of de facto state behaviour in two parts. First, I argue that a gradational understanding of the external legitimacy of de facto states more accurately captures the international interactions of these political entities.  Rather than have the same null level of non-recognition, I use an original dataset and a Bayesian latent variable model to demonstrate how 31 de facto states have different degrees of external legitimacy that often change over time. I supplement this measure with an expert conjoint survey experiment (N=133) of diplomats and academics and a convergent validity test. I also investigate the strategic calculations that guide state officials in de facto states for fulfilling their goals. Relying on dozens of elite interviews with government officials in Somaliland, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Abkhazia and Kosovo, I explore the various trade-offs and maneuverings officials in these regions undertake in relation to their varying levels of external legitimacy. My findings indicate that all de facto states face issues of security, poverty, isolation, emigration, and instability, which they attribute to their lack of UN recognition. Although UN membership is a long-term goal for these regions, my research suggests that domestic stability and the enhancement of internal legitimacy are of primary importance. In tandem, I demonstrate how de facto states rely on both formal and informal relations with recognized states to forge meaningful networks of cross-border kin, diasporas and state allies who implicitly and overtly support their continued existence.

Peer-Reviewed Articles

Kwasi Tieku, Thomas, &  Megan Payler (2021). From Paternalism to the Chambas Formula for Mediation: Conceptualizing Cooperation between the UN and Regional Organizations in Mediating Conflicts, International Negotiation (published online ahead of print 2021). doi:

Manucripts Submitted for Review

Payler, Megan. “Shouting in the Dark? External Legitimacy and De Facto States.”

Payler, Megan, Cynthia Hou, Cameron Anderson, Nandita Biswas Mellamphy and Chris Alcantara. “ Is there a Gender Gap in the Canadian Journal of Political Science?”

Tyler Girard, Nicole McMahon, and Megan Payler. “Theorizing Norm Stagnation and the Evolution of Domestic Norm Adoption.” (Manuscript available upon request).

Issa, Abdiasis and Megan Payler. “(Dis)congruencies in Regional and International Organization Responses to Ethnic Separatist: Evidence from Somaliland and South Sudan.

Working Papers

Alcantara, Chris, Allison Harell, Megan Payler and Laura Stephenson. “Scaling Indigenous Resentment and Reconciliation in Canada.”

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