An associated state is the minor partner in a formal, free relationship between a political territory with a degree of statehood and a (usually larger) nation, for which no other specific term, such as protectorate, is adopted. The details of such free association are contained in United Nations General Assembly resolution 1541 (XV) Principle VI, a Compact of Free Association or Associated Statehood Act and are specific to the countries involved. In the case of the Cook Islands and Niue, the details of their free association arrangement are contained in several documents, such as their respective constitutions, the 1983 Exchange of Letters between the governments of New Zealand and the Cook Islands, and the 2001 Joint Centenary Declaration. Free associated states can be described as independent or not, but free association is not a qualification of an entity's statehood or status as a subject of international law.
Informally it can be considered more widely: from a post-colonial form of amical protection, or protectorate, to confederation of unequal members when the lesser partner(s) delegate(s) to the major one (often the former colonial power) some authority normally exclusively retained by a sovereign state, usually in such fields as defense and foreign relations, while often enjoying favorable economic terms such as market access.
A federacy, a type of government where at least one of the subunits in an otherwise unitary state enjoys autonomy like a subunit within a federation, is similar to an associated state, with such subunit(s) having considerable independence in internal issues, except foreign affairs and defence. Yet in terms of international law it is a completely different situation because the subunits are not independent international entities and have no potential right to independence.
|Minor partner||Associated with||Associated since||Level of association||International status|
|Cook Islands||New Zealand||4 August 1965||New Zealand acts on behalf of the Cook Islands in foreign affairs and defence issues, but only when requested so by the Cook Islands Government and with its advice and consent.||Independence in foreign relations recognised by the United Nations (non-UN member state)|
|Marshall Islands||United States||21 October 1986||United States provides defence, funding grants, and access to U.S. social services for citizens of these areas under the Compact of Free Association.||UN member state|
|Federated States of Micronesia||United States||3 November 1986||United States provides defence, funding grants, and access to U.S. social services for citizens of these areas under the Compact of Free Association.||UN member state|
|Niue||New Zealand||19 October 1974||New Zealand acts on behalf of Niue in foreign affairs and defence issues, but only when requested so by the Niue Government and with its advice and consent.||Independence in foreign relations recognised by the United Nations (Non-UN member state)|
|Palau||United States||1 October 1994||United States provides defence, funding grants, and access to U.S. social services for citizens of these areas under the Compact of Free Association.||UN member state|
The Commonwealth of the Philippines was the first associated state of the United States. From 1935 to 1946, the foreign affairs and military of the Philippine commonwealth were handled by the United States although it was otherwise constitutionally separate and independent in domestic matters.
The Federated States of Micronesia (since 1986), the Marshall Islands (since 1986), and Palau (since 1994) are associated with the United States under what is known as the Compact of Free Association, giving the states international sovereignty and ultimate control over their territory. However, the governments of those areas have agreed to allow the United States to provide defense; the U.S. federal government fund grants an access to U.S. social services for citizens of these areas. The United States benefits from its ability to use the islands as strategic military bases.
The Cook Islands and Niue have the status of "self-government in free association". New Zealand cannot legislate for them, and in some situations they are considered sovereign states. In foreign relations both interact as sovereign states, and they have been allowed to sign on as a state to UN treaties and bodies. New Zealand does not consider them to be constitutionally sovereign states due to their continued use of New Zealand citizenship. Both have established their own nationality and immigration regimes.
Tokelau (a dependent territory of New Zealand) voted on a referendum in February 2006 to determine whether it wanted to remain a New Zealand territory or become the third state in free association with New Zealand. While a majority of voters chose free association, the vote did not meet the two-thirds threshold needed for approval. A repeat referendum in October 2007 under United Nations supervision yielded similar results, with the proposed free association falling 16 votes short of approval.
Other situations exist where one state has power over another political unit. A dependent territory is an example of this, where an area has its own political system and often internal self-government, but does not have overall sovereignty. In a loose form of association, some sovereign states cede some power to other states, often in terms of foreign affairs and/or defence.
|Minor partner||Associated with||Associated since||Level of association||International status|
|Andorra|| Spain and
|1278||Responsibility for defending Andorra rests with Spain and France. Andorra is a co-principality between the head of state of France (currently the president) and the Bishop of Urgell.||UN member state|
|Kiribati|| Australia and
|Kiribati has no military. National defense is provided by Australia and New Zealand.||UN member state|
||1923||Although the head of state represents Liechtenstein in its international relations, Switzerland has taken responsibility for much of Liechtenstein's diplomatic relations. Liechtenstein has no military defense.||UN member state|
|Monaco||France||1861||France has agreed to defend the independence and sovereignty of Monaco, while the Monegasque Government has agreed to exercise its sovereign rights in conformity with French interests, which was reaffirmed by the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.||UN member state|
|Nauru||Australia||1968||Nauru has no military. Australia informally takes responsibility for its defense.||UN member state|
|Samoa||New Zealand||Samoa has no regular military. New Zealand provides defense under an informal agreement.||UN member state|
|San Marino||Italy||Responsibility for defending San Marino rests with Italy.||UN member state|
|Vatican City|| Switzerland
|1506 and 1929||According to the Lateran Treaty, anyone who loses Vatican citizenship and possesses no other citizenship automatically becomes an Italian citizen. The military defense of the Vatican City is provided by Italy and it uses the Pontifical Swiss Guard, founded by Pope Julius II and provided by Switzerland, as the Pope's bodyguards.||UN observer state|
The foreign affairs of Bhutan, a Himalayan Buddhist monarchy, were partially handled by the neighbouring republic India (from 1949), which thus in a sense succeeds its former colonizer Britain's role as protector, in a loose form of association, although Bhutan is otherwise constitutionally separate and independent in all other matters. A similar relationship existed between Sikkim and India from 1950 until 1975, when Sikkim became a state of India.
According to a law of the Republic of Tatarstan (1990–2000) and the Treaty of Mutual Delegation of Powers between it and the Russian Federation (1994), from 1994 to 2000 Tatarstan was considered a sovereign state under international law, but associated with Russia.
According to statements of officials of Abkhazia and Transnistria (self-proclaimed partially recognized republics seceded from the former USSR's constitutive republics of Georgia and Moldova), both intend after recognition of their independence to become associated states of the Russian Federation. In Transnistria a referendum took place in September 2006, in which secession from Moldova and "future free association" with Russia was approved by a margin of 97%, even though the results of the referendum were internationally unrecognized.
A formal association existed under the Associated Statehood Act 1967 between the United Kingdom and the six West Indies Associated States. These were former British colonies in the Caribbean: Antigua (1967–1981), Dominica (1967–1978), Grenada (1967–1974), Saint Christopher-Nevis-Anguilla (1967–1983), Saint Lucia (1967–1979), and Saint Vincent (1969–1979). Under this arrangement, each state had full control over its constitution. The United Nations never determined whether these associated states had achieved a full measure of self-government within the meaning of the United Nations Charter and General Assembly resolutions. Within a few years after the status of associated state was created, all six of the former associated states requested and were granted full independence, except for Anguilla within the former St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla union, which separated from the associated state before independence and remains a United Kingdom dependent territory.
The existence of free relationship based on both delegation of sovereignty and benign protection can be seen as a defining feature of microstates. According to the definition of microstates proposed by Dumienski (2014): "Microstates are modern protected states, i.e. sovereign states that have been able to unilaterally depute certain attributes of sovereignty to larger powers in exchange for benign protection of their political and economic viability against their geographic or demographic constraints." Adopting this approach permits separating microstates from both small states and autonomies or dependencies. Microstates understood as modern protected states include such states as Bhutan, Liechtenstein, San Marino, Monaco, Vatican City, Andorra, Niue, the Cook Islands or Palau.