Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy


Political Science


Adam Harmes


De facto states, defined as entities that possess control over a defined territory, population, and government, but without recognition from other states, have become increasingly important over the past three decades. Although the universe of cases is small (there have been 24 de facto states since the 1960s), de facto states play an important role in regional security and stability. Despite this relevance, we still know little about why de facto states emerge, how their preferences are formed, and what shapes their behaviour and decision-making. Shedding light on these overlooked issues will allow us to better understand the role of de facto states in regional and international politics. The existing literature, although insightful, does not fully explain the behaviour of de facto states. In particular, the literature has fallen short in explaining the behaviour of Iraqi Kurdistan.

In order to better understand the behaviour of de facto states, this thesis asks the following questions: what are the factors that shape and influence de facto state preferences and behaviour? What are the factors that determine if a de facto state will declare independence or preserve the status quo? More specifically, in terms of the cases under examination, why did Kosovo and South Sudan declare independence, while Iraqi Kurdistan has not? The goal of this dissertation is to identify the conditions under which a de facto state may declare independence and when it may preserve the status quo.

To address these questions, this thesis employs international relations theories and adopts a comparative analysis method to the behaviour of Kosovo, South Sudan, and Iraqi Kurdistan. Following extensive fieldwork in Iraqi Kurdistan, the thesis argues that de facto states will forgo independence when the parent state furnishes the de facto state with autonomy and offers sufficient economic incentives. Other mitigating factors include the domestic environment of the de facto state and the parent state, the role of regional and international governments, and the presence or absence of the old regime of the parent state. The main point is that the preference for independence is neither fixed nor inevitable.