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The recognition of states and governments

It is important to distinguish between the recognition of states and the recognition of governments. This distinction is based on the view that a government is an instrument in the service of the state, which is an entity composed of a territory, a population and a public authority. Since the end of the Second World War, Switzerland, as a matter of principle, recognises only states and not governments.

Recognition of states
As a general rule, newly-created states are recognised as such by other states provided their creation is considered legitimate and irreversible. According to the prevailing doctrine of three elements of statehood, recognition requires state territory, a state people and a public authority. However, there is no obligation under international law for one state to recognise another, even where these criteria are met. Conditions for recognition may also vary from state to state.

Recognition of governments
Where the recognition of governments is concerned, the central element is the exercise of sovereign authority over the state. A change of government makes no difference to statehood or state recognition as such. Switzerland is in favour of the widest possible recognition of states but does not, on the other hand, recognise governments.