Pierre Englebert had an interesting piece in the NYT op-ed section yesterday (blogging delayed by an ultimate tourney). He uses the 50th anniversary of the independence of many African countries as the occasion to argue that the international community is doing Africans no favors by maintaining normal relations with many of Africa's flawed states. He argues that many of these countries never developed real nationhood or political institutions since they were granted independence rather than having to work for it. This, of course, suggests a testable hypothesis: have we seen better outcomes in African states where independence was a contested political process versus those countries that were dumped by their colonial masters?
Anyhow, Englebert proposes de-recognition--that the international community would deny recognition, compelling the worst performers to seek more domestic support and thus legitimacy. This is an interesting recommendation with two problems. The first is whether this would really work--would the denial of embassies and aid really compel states to get their act together? I don't know. I am not sure the exemplar of Somaliland really proves much. The second is: this would require a tremendous amount of cooperation by the international community since decisions to reverse the current status quo would require a great deal of unity. I am more confident about my answer here: not gonna happen.
I am no expert on Africa although hunks of my first book focus on a few case studies there, but my work does focus on the challenges of international cooperation. So, I am a skeptic. To de-recognize would probably mean UN Security Council resolutions. Is China not going to veto such things? The Chinese have spent the past decade or so developing good relations with any kind of regime that has natural resources, and so China has not been very helpful when it comes to Darfur, for instance. Indeed, there are two converging dynamics in Chinese foreign policy: the traditional one of limiting the ability for the international community to interfere within the domestic politics of states combined with the thirst for resources. And, of course, it is not just China. So, even if de-recognition would have the kind of effect that Englebert proposes, it is simply not going to happen because there will be enough dissension among the various countries of the world.