The traditional criterion for state legitimacy was very simple. If a state and its government could hold and govern territory, it was legitimate, at least in the eyes of other governments. The form of government and its behaviour did not matter in this definition – Stalin’s USSR, Mussolini‘s Italy, Hitler’s Germany – these regimes held territory and ruled as surely as did the ones in Britain, France and the United States. And, in each other’s official eyes, one state was as legitimate as the other.
State legitimacy and human rights
This outlook began to change in 1945. Just before and then during World War II, fascist behaviour in general and Nazi behaviour in particular was so shocking that many post-war governments became convinced that state legitimacy required well-defined codes of national behaviour enshrined in international law.
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