What are the important elements of the State?


These definitions draw attention to the fact that the state has four essential elements. These are: (1) population, (2) territory, (3) government, (4) sovereignty (or independence). The first two elements constitute the physical or material basis of the state while the last two form its political and spiritual basis.

1. Population:

The state is a human institution. So population is its primary element. There is no hard and fast rule about population. The ancient Greek writers like Plato and Aristotle favoured a small population. According to Plato, an ideal state should have a population of 5040.


Aristotle laid down a general principle that the population of a state should be large enough to make it sufficient and small enough to make good government possible. It must be remembered that both of them were thinking in terms of small city-states.

In modern times, Rousseau, prompted by considerations of direct democracy, fixed the number at 10,000. In modern times states vary greatly from the few thousands of Monaco or of San Marino to the crores of China or of India. The modern tendency is in favour of large states. All that can be said is that a large population is an advantage from the point of view of military defense.

However, a large population can be a liability if the resources of the state are not adequate for its maintenance. One of the main problems faced by developing countries is over-population. Thus there should be a happy balance between the size of the population and material wealth of a state.

2. Territory:


A definite and more or less permanent territory is also regarded as an essential element of the state. In modern times, the citizens are bound together by residence on a common territory. Land, water and air space comprise the territory of a state.

As in population, so in territory, no limit can be laid down. Small states and large ones exist side by side. We have tiny states like San Marino with an area of less than twenty-five square miles. On the other hand, there are giant states like the Russian Republic, China, U. S. A., and Australia with millions of square miles.

According to international law, all states are equal in status and right, no matter how unequal they are in population and area. It is claimed that small states are good for efficient administration and inculcating among the people a sense of unity and love for the state.

However, the truth is that a small state is at a disadvantage in its relations with larger ones. Small states are under the influence of one or the other large and powerful state. It is said in favour of large states that they are strong in defense and because of availability of resources they are economically self-sufficient.


It may be pointed out that the power and security of a state are not determined only by the size of its territory. Some other factors in this regard are geographical location, resources and climate.

3. Government:

A people occupying a definite territory cannot form a state unless they are politically organized i.e., unless they possess a government. Government is the political organization of the state. It is the concrete and visible instrument of state power.

According to Garner, government is the agency through which “common policies are determined and by which common affairs are regulated.” The state wills and acts through the government. Government must be effective; it must possess the capacity to maintain order and enforce obedience. Without a government there would be lawlessness and anarchy and ultimately the state would be dissolved.


Government consists of three organs, namely, legislature, executive and judiciary. The legislature makes laws; the executive enforces laws while the judiciary adjudicates cases or disputes.

There are different kinds of government in different states such as monarchy, democracy and dictatorship. Most of developed states are democracies. Many developing countries including India have democratic governments. Whatever may be the form of government, one thing is clear – there can be no state without government.

4. Sovereignty:

By far the most important characteristic of the state is its sovereignty. It is the characteristic which distinguishes the state from all other associations. It denotes the supreme power or the final authority from which there is no appeal.


Sovereignty has two aspects internal and external. Internally viewed, the state has supreme power over all individuals and associations within its fixed area. It can compel obedience of its people to its laws and commands. Externally viewed, the state is free from control of any foreign state or alien rule. Before independence India was not a state as it was ruled by the British.

Similarly, the Indian federation consists of many constituent units called ‘states’, but they are really not states in the eyes of international law, as they are not sovereign. In the same vein, the United Nations (UN) is not a state as it is not sovereign.

It should be noted, however, that absolute sovereignty is a legal concept. In actual practice no state is able to exercise unlimited power either over individuals and associations within its territorial domain or in its international relations.

A state respects and abides by international laws, treaties and the policies of the international organizations like the UN and its agencies. A number of writers who have attacked the concept of absolute sovereignty on theoretical grounds also hold that it is undesirable. H. J. Laski, for example, regards it as incompatible with the interests of humanity and world peace.

5. International Recognition:

In modern times relations among nations have grown and many international organisations and institutions have come into being. Therefore some scholars have argued that international recognition be an essential element of state. The recognition of the sovereign status of a new state by other states is called international recognition.

According to famous jurist, Oppenheim, “A state is and becomes an international person by recognition only and exclusively. But there is no agreement an how many countries would have to recognise a new state so that the latter gains statehood in the eyes of international law. Recognition has also a political dimension. China was already a full-fledged state for many years before the UN was established in 1945.

China came under communist rule in 1949. Communist China was not recognised by the US for cold war. So communist China, though ruling the mainland China, was not allowed to become the member of the UN due to America’s opposition.

Communist China took its legitimate place in the UN in 1970’s only after the establishment of rapprochement between the US and communist china. It needs to be emphasized that even when communist China was not a member of the UN, it was very much a state.

Absolute sovereignty is not feasible. A state needs to abide by international laws. Otherwise there will be international anarchy causing serious threats to international peace and security. Laski has rightly argued that unlimited sovereignty is a threat to world peace and humanity.

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