A condominium is a territorial entity in or over which two or more sovereign powers simultaneously exercise sovereignty rights according to formally agreed procedures. This can happen in two ways: (1) ‘joint sovereignty’: joint direct rule by the condominium powers or territorial self-government of the area in question with any decisions made there subject to approval by the condominium powers (the Andorran model), and (2) ‘divided sovereignty’: a non-territorial division of the territory with each condominium power retaining supreme authority over its respective citizens/subjects while other residents either remain free to choose under whose jurisdiction they wish to fall or are subjected to the joint rule of the condominium powers (the New Hebrides model). In principle the jointly sovereign powers might agree distinct responsibilities and contributions in the management of such arrangements.
Condominia have historically not been set up to accommodate self-determination conflicts; rather, they were meant to settle territorial disputes between states (or state-like actors). They are commonly associated with the colonial period and generally seen as mechanisms used by colonial powers to avoid protracted conflict over territories often thousands of miles away from the mother country. Standard examples are the Canton and Enderbury Islands (a British–American condominium from 1939 to 1979), the New Hebrides (a French–British condominium from 1906 to 1980), the Samoan Islands (a German-British-American condominium from 1889 to 1899), Sudan (a British–Egyptian condominium to 1956), and Togoland (a French–British condominium from 1914 to 1916).
Condominia first emerged in Europe, primarily for the same reason, avoiding protracted military conflict over disputed territories. The earliest is usually considered the county of Friesland (West Frisia), which was a condominium from 1165 to 1493, with the Count of Holland and the Prince-bishop of Utrecht acting as condominium powers. Other European cases include the region of Zaporozhian Sich (a thirteen-year Russian-Polish condominium following the 1667 Treaty of Andrusovo), Neutral Moresnet (a condominium from 1816 to 1919 first with the Netherlands and Prussia as condominium powers, who were succeeded in 1830 and 1871 by Belgium and Germany, respectively), and Maastricht (a condominium of Belgium and Holland from 1830 to 1839). Northern Dobruja is the shortest-lived example of a condominium, existing under the joint rule of Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, Germany, and the Ottoman Empire) from May to September 1918, while the co-principality of Andorra is the second-oldest and longest-lasting condominium in the world. Since gaining statehood in 1278, the country has existed between France and Spain, who jointly guarantee its rights and liberties.
Elsewhere in the world, examples of condominia outside the colonial context are much rarer and relatively more recent: in the Americas, Oregon Country was an Anglo-American condominium between 1818 and 1846, while Sakhalin Island was a Russian-Japanese condominium between 1855 and 1945.
Very few scholars or policy-makers have considered the condominium model in the context of self-determination conflicts. The distinction between the ‘joint sovereignty’ and ‘divided sovereignty’ models of condominium status is elaborated by Wolff (2002) who draws on the examples of Andorra and the New Hebrides and argues that condominium status offers a potentially viable solution to self-determination conflicts where these manifest themselves as territorial disputes between ethnic groups in a given territory and between (neighbouring) states over that territory.
The ‘joint sovereignty’ model is useful when the territorial dispute is the more important one and when there is either no significant inter-ethnic conflict in the disputed territory or when it can be settled on the basis of establishing a system of territorial self-government, probably along the lines of consociational power sharing models. This is the approach taken by O’Leary et al. (1993, see below).
Where the ethnic conflict within the relevant territory is the more important of the two and where no stable and durable agreement on territorial self-governance can be achieved, the ‘divided sovereignty’ model may succeed in offering a viable settlement. If the idea of condominium status is no longer perceived strictly as territorial rule by two (or more) co-sovereign powers, it can be redefined as the group-specific integration of the population of a disputed territory into the polities of the disputant states. The major objective of the condominium then is not the administration of a disputed territory by the condominium powers, but the settlement of a local self-determination conflict by means of non-territorial separation of distinct ethnic groups through offering them the choice between two different citizenships, i.e., to enable them to exercise their right to self-determination without redrawing boundaries. By allowing distinct population groups to govern themselves under the jurisdiction of their preferred condominium power, all critical and potentially conflict-triggering or exacerbating issues can be eliminated from the joint political process in the territory, leaving only an essential minimum of common policy areas (on matters that are not of a group-specific nature or where group interests coincide) to be administered jointly by the groups in the territory and the condominium powers. (Wolff 2002)
O’Leary et al. (1993) also drew on condominium status as a mechanism for the settlement of self-determination conflicts in their proposal for shared authority in Northern Ireland. They argue for ‘a democratised autonomous condominium which combines consociational democratic institutions with a separation-of-powers regime’ (O’Leary et al. 1993: 23), seeking to ensure ‘full equality of status for the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland with regard to Northern Ireland’ and propose institutions that ‘maximise the autonomy and self-government of the peoples of Northern Ireland’ so that it becomes a ‘recognisably democratic condominium, rather than a colony’ (O’Leary et al. 1993: 21). In this proposal, Northern Ireland becomes the national territory of both states, sovereignty is vested in all peoples in Northern Ireland and their states, and there are provisions to obtain citizenship in either or both of the two co-sovereigns. Three layers of government are at the heart of the institutional design: a shared authority council (a collective presidency), an assembly and a supreme court. The shared authority council appoints ministers from within the assembly to run particular government departments, which in turn are scrutinised by committees set up in the assembly. It also retains supreme legislative power in that it has the right to veto any bill proposed by the assembly and can otherwise initiate legislation which is only subject to amendments but not to consent from the assembly. The condominial model proposed by O’Leary et al. (1993) establishes Northern Ireland as an autonomous legal personality, and consequently grants its institutions competence in the area of external relations as well, especially in the context of the European Union.
At present, there is no actual case of a self-determination conflict to which condominium status has been applied. Northern Ireland remains the closest recent example of a conflict settlement which includes elements of condominium status both in the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement and in the 1998 Belfast or Good Friday Agreement and its subsequent evolution. British-Spanish proposals for a condominium in Gibraltar were rejected by almost the entire local population (187 yes-votes against 19,700 no-votes) in a referendum in 2002. The former Argentine Foreign Minister Guido di Tella contemplated proposing condominium arrangements over the Malvinas/Falkland Islands.
Given the institutional nature of the condominium model, its future application is most likely in cases in which two sovereign states seek to resolve a territorial dispute between them. Which of the two models—joint or divided sovereignty—will be more suitable will depend largely on local conditions within the disputed territory, including its demographic structure and the dynamic of relations between the different communities living there. Potential cases in which the application of some form of condominium status could be explored to overcome existing deadlocks include Kashmir, Cyprus, and Nagorno Karabakh. The regulation of the future status of northern Mitrovica in Kosovo might also lend itself to some form of condominial arrangement. Another area of potential application may be the management of deeply disputed cities, such as Jerusalem or Kirkuk.
O’Leary, Brendan, Lyne, Tom, Marshall, Jim, Rowthorn, Bob. 1993. Northern Ireland: Sharing Authority. London: Institute of Public Policy Research.
Wolff, Stefan. 2002. Disputed Territories: The Transnational Dynamics of Ethnic Conflict Settlement. New York and Oxford: Berghahn.