Understanding microstates and international law

What are microstates? Are they legal? How are they formed? From the point of view of public international law, the State is defined as a group of individuals established on a given territory under the exclusive and effective authority of a government. There are three constituent elements of the State in international law; a population, a territory, a government or political authority.

Territory is the space within which the sovereign State exercises its powers. The State is also a human collectivity within a society. It includes land territory (soil, subsoil, internal waterways); maritime territory (internal waters, territorial seas up to twelve nautical miles, the contiguous zone, the EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) and the continental shelf; and air territory (over land and maritime territory). Within the territorial limits, State jurisdiction is full, exclusive, and complete.

The population, on the other hand, is the set of individuals who are attached to the State by a legal bond: nationality. The State has exclusive jurisdiction over the acquisition and loss of nationality. Thus, international law does not interfere with domestic law as to the modalities of the United Nations Charter (Article 2 paragraph 1) states that “the organization is founded on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its members”. Legally, independence is the criterion of sovereignty (cf. the Île de Palmas case). At the same time, the sovereignty of the State can help it to keep its independence: other States cannot interfere in the affairs of a sovereign State.

However, alongside traditional States, there are small States, still called microstates. A microstate is a sovereign State with a small population (less than five hundred thousand inhabitants) or a small area (less than one thousand square kilometers), generally with few resources. They are full members of the U.N. and major international organizations. Although today the debate on the nature of these political entities is closed or almost closed, microstates have never managed to find, in the minds of most jurists, a place equal to that occupied by other traditional States.

From the above, we will try to provide information on microstates in order to better understand the particularity of these States. Thus, in the first part, we will analyze three microstates, the State of Monaco, the Vatican and the State of Malta (Chapter 1), while in the second part we will focus on certain States that exist but are not recognized by the international community (Chapter 2).


Concerning microstates, Earth, the third planet in the Solar system, is made up of five continents made up of a total of one hundred and ninety-seven countries recognized by the United Nations. Different by their sizes, we will present here not exhaustively the smallest States of the world. The focus will be on three small States as examples, namely the State of Monaco, the Vatican and the State of Malta.


Concerning microstates, the Principality of Monaco, abbreviated as Monaco, is an independent sovereign country located in Europe. It is located in the south of France. Except for the southern coastline of the Mediterranean Sea, the whole territory is surrounded by France on the north, west and east sides, with an area of two square kilometers, of which about half a square kilometer is reclaimed from the sea. As one of the most densely populated countries in the world, Monaco has a resident population of only more than thirty-two thousand people, of which more than six thousand are natives of Monaco.

Monaco is a typical microstate, ruled by the Grimaldi family, and a country with a constitutional monarchy. The name Monaco derives from the ancient Greek Monoikos: according to legend, Monoikos is the name of a temple built near the area by the Greek Phocis in the sixth century B.C.; because Hercules had passed through the local area, the Phocis people built the temple Monoch, which means temple, to commemorate Hercules. Later, this name gradually evolved and became what is now Monaco.

In 1215, Monaco was once again established as a colony of Genoa. Since 1297, after François Grimaldi disguised as a Franciscan monk occupied the fortress, Monaco has always been under the Grimaldi family. The only exception is that from 1793 to 1814, Monaco came under French control. From 1815 to 1860, the Vienna Conference designated the Kingdom of Sardinia as the protectorate of Monaco. It was only in 1861 that Monaco’s sovereignty was confirmed through the French-Monaco Treaty.

Since 1911, Monaco has implemented a constitutional monarchy, with the prince as the head of State. The current Prince Albert II, succeeded to the throne on April 6, 2005. The Monaco administration is a four-member government committee chaired by the Prime Minister. The Prime minister is a French citizen, who is selected and appointed by the prince from a number of candidates submitted by the French government. According to the 1962 Constitution, the prime minister shares power with the unicameral national assembly. The twenty-four members of this legislature are elected from the list by universal suffrage and serve a term of five years.

In a sense, Monaco has an indissoluble bond with France. This is not only because most of its land is surrounded by France, but also because the two countries signed a treaty in 1918, stipulating that France provides a limited amount of money in Monaco. Protection, and Monaco’s policy should be adjusted in accordance with France’s political, military and economic interests. According to a treaty signed between the two countries in 1919, once the Monaco head of State dies without leaving a male heir, Monaco will be merged into France. However, in 2002, the two countries entered into a new treaty, which changed this clause. Monaco will always maintain its independent State status, while France will continue to provide defense.

Concerning microstates, to this day, although Monaco is an independent sovereign country, although the Grimaldi family is the monarch of Monaco and the head of State, in fact Monaco is still the protectorate of France and is greatly influenced by France. The Prime minister is a French citizen; economic, foreign and social policies are mostly coordinated with France, and the French military is also responsible for national defense.


Concerning microstates, the Vatican City is located on the northwest of Rome, the capital of Italy. It is an independent sovereign State. Excluding private countries, the Vatican is the smallest sovereign country in the world, with a territory of only half a square kilometer and a permanent population of about eight hundred people. Its predecessor was the Papal State. Since 1929, it has been identified as a sovereign State by the Lateran Treaty, accepting the direct rule of the Holy See, and implementing a political system that combines church and State. As a small country, how did the Vatican avoid being annexed and become a State?

When the Western Roman Empire fell, the bishop of Rome took the opportunity to plunder the land. Later, the Eastern Roman Empire unified the whole of Italy and handed over the actual rule of the entire Roman city to the bishop of Rome. The bishop of Rome called himself the Pope and established many religious temples. Saint Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Palace were both built during this period. With the expansion of the power of the bishops of Rome, a papal State with the bishop of Rome as the monarch and the city of Rome as the capital gradually emerged in Italy. The territory once reached forty thousand square kilometers, about one seventh of the current area of Italy. At that time, the main residence of the Pope was in the Vatican Palace, and the Vatican became the center of national political and religious activities.

Concerning microstates, after the establishment of the Kingdom of Italy, the Pope’s rights were threatened. The previously expanded territories were taken back. In the end, even Rome was occupied by Italy as the capital. The bishop of Rome was forced to retreat to the Vatican Palace. The rights granted before were also Deprived, the Papal State disappeared. For this reason, the relationship between the Bishop of Rome and Italy were tense, even reaching the point of hostility. Under various circumstances, on February 11, 1929, the Italian government of Mussolini and Pope Pius XI signed the Lateran Treaty. Italy recognized the Vatican as an independent sovereign State. Since then, the Vatican has become a city-State that is integrated with politics and religion. Although the Vatican is an independent sovereign country, it relies heavily on Italy. At present, the main residents of the Vatican are Italians, and all the necessities of production and life of its citizens, such as tap water, electricity, food, fuel, and gas, are all supplied by Italy.


Concerning microstates, a member country of the European Union, the State of Malta is one of the smallest independent countries on planet Earth. Geographically, the State of Malta is three hundred and fifty kilometers away from the African coast and one hundred kilometers away from Sicily. Malta is an archipelago made up of three islands and around twenty islets. Said State is an independent microstate recognized by the United Nations. According to the Maltese constitution of 1964, revised in 1974, 1987 and 1989, the State of Malta is a parliamentary democracy headed by a president appointed by parliament for a five year term. The Prime minister, appointed by the President, is here members of parliament made up of sixty-five members elected by universal suffrage. This is what can be said concerning microstates.



The history of Palestine is central to the history of international law. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, born out of the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 and the various Arab-Israeli wars, has been the occasion of many U.N. sessions, many resolutions. The 1947 U.N. partition plan was never implemented. The origin of the question of Palestine is rooted in the establishment of mandates created by the League of Nations (SDN) following the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire and its division into zones of influence between France and Great Britain.

If the preceding events, and in particular the decision of the first Zionist congress in Basel in 1897 to establish a Jewish national home in Palestine, were the bases of the project, the Balfour declaration of 1917 enabled the Zionist movement to obtain the support he needed so that the Jewish presence in Palestine was a right and not a tolerance. By integrating the Balfour declaration into the very text of the mandate on Palestine in 1922, the League of Nations did not take into consideration the wishes of the Palestinian population expressed during the various European congresses, namely the support of the populations until the establishment of an independent nation.

In 1945, when Great Britain handed over its mandate to the newly created United Nations Organization, the latter faced the consequences linked to this non-application of the mandates, in particular the incompatibility of two contradictory promises, that made to the Zionist movement. With the Balfour declaration and that made orally to the Palestinians of a future autonomy in an independent State, like neighboring States. Thus was born the question of Palestine. As a response to this situation, the U.N. recommended dividing Palestine in two with an economic union. Thus, Great Britain would have to leave the area on August 1, 1948, while liberating on February 1, 1948, the territory allocated to the Jews, including a port, in order to allow them to welcome significant immigration. From November 1, 1948, the United Nations was to gradually take over the administration in order to return it to the two countries created on the day of their independence, scheduled for October 1, 1948 at the latest.

Internationally, the question of Palestine has for many years been viewed solely from the perspective of the refugee problem, without taking into account the reality of the Palestinian identity of this region. In doing so, the non-application of U.N. Resolution 194 (III) by Israel, in particular on the key issues of the status of Jerusalem, due to return and the right to compensation, as well as its rejection of the Lausanne Protocol, allowed the situation to deteriorate and Israel to strengthen its potential in order to pursue the pattern desired by the Zionist movement, namely more land and fewer Arabs. Indeed, a debate took place in the weeks following the war for the mention of the occupied territories. In the end, in the face of American pressure, it will be nothing, the notion of territories once again leaving the possibility of an interpretation that Israel will not fail to use.

On December 10, 1969, the United Nations noted the failure to comply with the provisions of paragraph 11 of U.N. Resolution 194 (III), and that the refugee situation therefore continued to be a matter of serious concern. In this same resolution, and for the first time, the notion of the people of Palestine is underlined. It wasn’t until fifty-two years after the Balfour Declaration, where the only mention was that of the Jewish people and the Palestinians were reduced to being represented as non-Jewish communities in Palestine, then later as refugees or displaced persons, so that the mention of inalienable rights of the people of Palestine appears.

Recognition of the question of Palestine would not be confirmed until Yasser Arafat’s reception at the U.N. on November 13, 1974, following a request from fifty-six States to put the question of Palestine on the agenda. Arafat delivered, to the ovations of the room, a speech in which a phrase will become famous: “I came today with an olive branch and a revolutionary rifle. Don’t let the twig fall from my hand. I repeat do not let the branch fall from my hand”. The question of Palestine was raised during the first extraordinary session of the General Assembly of the United Nations opened on April 28, 1947. This session decided the creation of the United Nations Special Commission on Palestine, whose work was carried out.


We can’t talk about South Sudan without talking before of the SUDAN Federation to which it was born in the 2000s: from its historical name NUBIA, Sudan will go down in history as Kush, Meroe, Nobatie, Markurie, Dju, Sultanate of Sennar, Sultanate of Darfur and Sudan. In the 1820s, Egypt conquered Sudan, which broke free from this domination in 1885 under the aegis of the religious leader Muhammad Ibn Abdallah. To regain independence from Egypt, the country will wage battles against British and Egyptian troops through fierce guerrillas. It will end up besieging Khartoum which it will take into the hands of British General GORDON.

In 1956, independence was proclaimed, but the government in Khartoum reneged on promises made to the southern provinces to create a federal State, which led to a mutiny led by officers from the south, which was the start of a war (1955-1972). In 1965, the Sudanese managed to organize elections which will hardly resolve the situation because the country will be undermined by wars between Marxists and non-Marxists and again between Christians and Muslims. Before its break-up, Sudan was a federation of fourteen States. The impossibility of uniting all these peoples in one and the same State results from the great differences, especially the religious differences of the peoples who compose it. These wars will forever mark the split of Sudan into two: the Muslim North Sudan and the Christian South Sudan.


Country to the legend of DRACULA, Transylvania was in Prehistory the region, corresponding among other things to pottery; in Antiquity, its history corresponds to the history of Dacia. The development of the region will continue during the period of peoples’ migration until the founding of the Principality of Transylvania, a thousand years ago. Today, the region seeks independence.

This article was written by Mariam CHERIF, Zineb EL AATIQI, Gassama Babacar FARY, Wu CUIYI and Ismail SOW (Paris-Saclay).