I saw an article about the legality of the declaration of independence. For example, when USSR broke up, several countries became independent, but for others, there is still fighting to maintain them as part of Russia. Why were some allowed to be independent and others not? One peaceful split I know of was Czechoslovakia in the 90's. How was that so peaceful while Serbia had lots of fighting?

Is there a way for countries to become legally independent without the bloodshed?

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    The UN, these days!
    – Noldorin
    Commented Oct 26, 2011 at 21:55
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    The countries that became independent never were part of Russia, they were Soviet republics themselves. USSR was a union of 15 republics, all having some degree of independence. When the USSR was dissolved each republic became an independent country, one of them (RSFRS) becoming Russia. But RSFRS itself was pretty heterogeneous which explains the conflicts that broke out later. Commented Oct 27, 2011 at 9:59
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    @WladimirPalant: They weren't part of the RSFRS, once that stabilized. They were part of the Russian Empire. Russia always has had rather fluid borders. Commented Oct 27, 2011 at 12:20
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    @DavidThornley: Yes, that was an ambiguous statement. I was talking about modern Russia that was created out of RSFSR, not Russian Empire. Commented Oct 27, 2011 at 12:54
  • This is more a law question than a history question. A historical survey of independence movements comparing the level of explicit and implicit violence is the subject of (at least one) books. A survey of the international law governing state formation is probably an even larger and less precise book. But perhaps someone will surprise me with a concise definition of the legitimacy of (new) governments)
    – MCW
    Commented Sep 12, 2015 at 2:27

7 Answers 7


You have several ways to go about it.

First, a set of powerful nations will recognise and guarantee the independence up to going to war over the state. This is generally the peaceful way as everyone comes to an agreement that this is what should happen. Some countries (such as Poland) were re-made after a war and given independence again. India could be said to be in this camp as it peacefully split from the British Empire.

Second, a country declares itself independent and forces the rest of the world to recognise them. This is what happened to the confederate states in the USA civil war... Or rather that is what they tried and failed to do. This is more risky since the rebels have clearly some difficulties in being legitimate.

Lastly, a country can force independence and not be recognised by anyone or just a few nations. They become a rather odd entity -- as was Afghanistan under the Taliban was one such nation even though it was a country its government was not recognised by the vaste majority of countries . I am unsure of their legal status but if the country does not have friends, they are doomed.

There are many international agreements and codes but there is no supreme court of law of the world. So, the legality of becoming independent is murky at best. Even international law is by agreement of countries. It is up to the club of nations signing the treaty to defend it. If they do not, then it's just ink on a page.

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    +1 for the last paragraph. It all comes down to recognition. Commented Oct 26, 2011 at 16:47
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    I have to disagree with a couple of your examples. Libya and Afghanistan are both already recognized countries that have been independent for years. What we are seeing in each of those countries is an effort to overthrow existing governments. I do, however, agree that the key is to obtain recognition from other countries. Commented Oct 26, 2011 at 21:14
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    I'm not sure that any of the above examples qualify as "without bloodshed". In particular the independence of India and the resulting partition creating Pakistan caused huge death. Commented Oct 27, 2011 at 6:44
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    @quant_dev: The Russo-Polish of 1919-1020 was neither a war of independence nor revolution and therefore irrelevant for this discussion. WW1 is a little more sketchy but the goals of WW1 never were "restore Poland as a country" and therefore I feel that it sort of fits... ^_~ Commented Mar 15, 2012 at 13:38
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    @quant_dev: ...And onward for another question Commented Mar 15, 2012 at 14:45

There is no formal process by which one country would declare its independence from another country. However, the most common form has been to simply declare your intentions to operate as an independent entity and then hope that the international community will recognize your claim.

Historically, this has been done by a number of countries. In South America, Brazil used to be a colony of Portugal until the Brazilians declared heir independence in 1822. Portugal rattled their sabres but ultimately came to a diplomatic agreement in exchange for compensation. Guyana gained independence from the UK in 1966 after becoming a repoublic. They now remain as a member of the Commonwealth of Nations.

In West Africa, the Republic of Guinea declared their independence from France in 1958. The French didn't have the means or desire to oppose it, so they were able to establish their own country.

There are no doubt other examples, but the main point is that it usually came about simply by one country declaring their independence. From there, it is a combination of things that determine their success. Primarily, there is the willingness of the "mother country" to acknowledge and accept this declaration, and secondly there is the willingness of other countries in the international community to recognize it.

  • No mention of Guyana ever leaving the Commonwealth neither in its wiki page nor in the Commonwealth's wiki page. Are you sure? (good answer, though)
    – o0'.
    Commented Mar 15, 2012 at 8:48
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    Not sure where I got that statement, but I have edited the answer to remove it. Commented Mar 15, 2012 at 13:47

Re: Is there a way for countries to become legally independent without the bloodshed?

Montenegro's recent split from Serbia would be a good point to start. Very recent and very peaceful.

After Yugoslavia broke up in 1991, the republics of Serbia and Montenegro established a federation called the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY). They established a new constitution in 1992. This new constitution abandoned the collective presidency of the former SFRY (aka former Yugoslavia) and replaced it with the system consisting of a single president, who was initially appointed with the consent of the republics of Serbia and Montenegro until 1997 after which the president was democratically elected.

From 1996, the first public signs of political discord between parts of Montenegrin leadership and the Serbian leadership began to appear. By 1998, Montenegro undertook a different economic policy by adopting the Deutsche Mark as its currency.

During autumn 1999, following the Kosovo War and the NATO bombing campaign, Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Đukanović drafted a document called Platforma za redefiniciju odnosa Crne Gore i Srbije (A platform for redefinition of relations within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) calling for major changes in the division of governing responsibilities within FR Yugoslavia. FRY Pesident Slobodan Milošević did not respond to the platform, considering it unconstitutional.

However, by October 2000 Milošević had lost power in Serbia. Contrary to expectation, Đukanović's response to the power change in Belgrade was not to further push the agenda outlined in his platform, but instead to suddenly start pushing for full independence. Subsequent governments of Montenegro carried out pro-independence policies.

On 4 February 2003, the federal parliament of Yugoslavia created a loose state union - State Union of Serbia and Montenegro. A new Constitutional Charter was agreed to provide a framework for the governance of the country.

The process of secession was regulated by that Constitutional Charter. Article 60 of the constitution required that a minimum of three years pass after its ratification before one of the member states could declare independence. The same article specified the referendum as necessary for this move. However, this constitution allowed member states to define their own referendum laws.

An independence referendum was held in Montenegro on 21 May 2006. It was approved by 55.5% of voters, narrowly passing the 55% threshold. By 23 May, preliminary referendum results were recognized by all five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, indicating widespread international recognition of Montenegro once independence would be formally declared. The Assembly of the Republic of Montenegro made a formal Declaration of Independence on Saturday 3 June 2006. Serbian president Boris Tadić accepted the results of the referendum in favor of independence.

  • If you can add some more information on this you'll have a good answer. :-)
    – Kobunite
    Commented Sep 30, 2013 at 21:10
  • @Kobunite - I've updated it! :)
    – ZeekLTK
    Commented Oct 15, 2013 at 18:10
  • Scotland almost peacefully separated from the United Kingdom recently. They just voted a few days ago and independence lost 54%-46%.
    – ZeekLTK
    Commented Sep 22, 2014 at 18:06

The least bloodshed occurs when the stronger country is willing to grant independence without a fight. As between the Czech Republic and Slovakia, when Slovakia wanted to leave, "the feeling was mutual" on the Czech side. Some divorces are "amicable."

Britain granted independence to far away Australia early in the 20th century. It had previous experiences doing so with Canada, peacefully, and the United States, after a long war. In the case of Australia and Canada, it probably helped that most people were of "British" stock who could argue for independence using British sensibilities.

The worst situations are those in which the party that is being left feels it has something to lose. This feeling may be aggravated by the fact that one group of people feels that it is "better" than the other. This may have been the case with former Yugoslavians, or Britain and India, for instance.


To put it more simply:

When a new nation declares its independence from a nation of which it was formerly a part, there will be bloodshed if and only if the parent nation is able and willing to impose bloodshed.

Slovakia seceded peacefully because the Czechoslovakian government permitted it. The US had to fight against Britain because Britain did not permit the US to secede peacefully.

(The parent nation's ability and willingness to fight may be affected by the actions of other interested nations.)


I think there are three major ways of gaining independence now.

  • Any non-self-governing territory (colony) has legal right for independence according the United Nations. Non-self-governing means not represented in central government.

  • Dissolution of a union state or federation. Upon dissolution the constituent parts become independent

  • Secessionism. Usially seceding territory gains full international recognition only if the secession recognized by the government of the country from which the territory secedes. Secessions often accompanied by wars.


A recent example of peaceful secession is in 1991 when Eritrea became independent from Ethiopia. I say peaceful, but this was at the end of a long civil war when up to 1.4 million people died. The victorious rebels who took over the government were allied to the Eritrean independence movement and they quickly recognised their allies' wishes. Sadly a border war with Ethiopia seven years later cost up to another 300,000 lives.

Nonetheless, it was, technically, a peaceful seccession as the split itself didn't involve a war.

  • Sorry -1. That's not peaceful. Commented Oct 17, 2013 at 5:40

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