What are the essential elements of a State?

The state has four essential elements:

  1. Population
  2. Territory
  3. Government
  4. Sovereignty

What follows now is a brief elaboration of these elements.

1. Population

The State is a human institution. Hence population is it’s first and foremost element. No state can be imagined without the people, as there must be some to rule and others to be ruled. The people constitute its "personal basis".

It is however, difficult to fix the size of the population of a state. For the Greek Philosopher Plato, the ideal state should not contain more than 5040 people. But Rousseau the French Philosopher would treat 10,000 inhabitants as the ideal population.

Modern states greatly vary in population. While some modern states (e.g. the USA, Russia and Canada) are still under populated relating to area, resources and similar factors, others (e.g., China, India, Egypt) are confronted by the problem of population which is expanding too rapidly for their natural and technological resources. There is no such hard and first rule as to the number of people required to make a state. The population of a state must be large enough to preserve the political independence and to exploit its natural resources and small enough to be well governed.

But it is the kind of people that matters more than their numbers. What kind of people comprises a particular state? Are they literate, well educated, culturally advanced? Aristotle rightly has said that a good citizen makes a good state. So what is important is the quality of people, their character, their culture and their sense of belonging to the state.

2. Territory

People cannot constitute a state, unless they inhabit in a definite territory When they reside permanently in a fixed place, they develop a community of interests and a sense of unity. It becomes easy to organise them into a political unit and control them. So the state requires a fixed territory, with clearly demarcated boundaries over which it exercises undisputed authority. Territory is its "material basis". The territory of a state comprises:

i) Land, mountains, rivers and lakes within its frontiers,

ii) Territorial water, extending six miles into the sea from the coast,

iii) Air space, lying above its territory.

The state has full rights of control and use over its territory. Any interference with the rights of one state by others may lead to war.

But how much territory is necessary for the maintenance of state? There is no accepted rule as to the size of a state's territory. In the modern world, we find states of all sizes and shapes. More important than the size are the nature resources and the location of the state. A geographically contiguous territory is an asset; otherwise it creates problems of administration and control.

3. Government

Government is the important- indeed, indispensable machinery by mean of which the state maintains its existence, carries on its functions and realise its policies and objectives. A community of persons does not form a state unless it is organised by an established government.

Government usually consists of three branches: the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary. Their respective functions are legislation, administration and adjudication. The particular form of government depends upon the nature of the state which in turn depends upon the political habits and character of the people.

4. Sovereignty

The fourth essential element of the state is sovereignty. It is that important element which distinguishes the state from all other associations. The word 'Sovereignty' denotes supreme and final legal authority and beyond which no further legal power exists.

Sovereignty has two aspects- internal and external. Internal sovereignty is the supreme authority of the state over all individuals and associations within its geographical limits. By virtue of it, the state makes- and enforces laws on persons and associations. Any violation of these laws will lead to punishment.

External sovereignty implies the freedom of the state from foreign control. No external authority can limit its power. India before 1947 was not a state because though it had the other three elements, i.e., population, territory and government, the fourth and the most important one i.e., independence was missing.

A state's sovereignty extends to its territory. The sovereignty of the state over its territory and its people must be accepted as undisputed. A state also requires recognition by other sovereign states. Such recognition is provided by the community of states; international organisations like the United Nations, which grant membership to sovereign states. The UN membership is a means of recognising state's sovereignty whenever a new state comes into existence, its recognition by other states and by UN is extremely important.

The term 'state' generally used for the units of the Indian Republic or for any of the fifty states which make the United States of America, is a misnomer. None of them enjoys sovereignty. Lack of sovereignty gives them no position or rank as states. Only by courtesy, we call them as states.

Every state must have its population, a definite territory, a duly established government and sovereignty. Absence of any of these elements denies to it the status of statehood.