The de facto can be a very powerful force in international politics--when things are a certain way, it is usually the burden of the party that wants to change it to justify that change, even if we all agree that the status quo is a bad idea. For some folks, it's a really bad deal. Others take advantage of it. Today, we'll review some of the interesting current status quo kinks in the world.
1) Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The status quo of South Ossetia and Abkhazia were tenuously against the Russians' favor one year ago--they had peacekeepers in both regions, but they were recognized as Georgian, despite the Georgians not having administrative control. But the Russians performed a masterful swap--their war was a shock, certainly, but one that they (probably) had the political capital to bear, largely due to European forgiveness of the US invasion of Iraq. Russia is insisting on the same forgiveness, particularly given the plausibility of the story that Georgia provoked them by moving (themselves unprovoked) into South Ossetia. The Europeans and Americans were not happy, but had very little to yell about. With weak justification for their anger, the EU and US mostly agreed that they'd been duped, and lost. Now, Russian de facto presence in--and support of--the breakaway states is the new status quo that the EU and US will have to fight to overcome... if they care enough.
2) Kurdistan. It's tough to dispute that the Kurds were left the short end of the stick in the post-WWI division of the Middle East; they were the largest nationality without their own state. After decades of fighting, the Turks, Iraqis, and Iranians--for all their mutual irritation--are working together to keep them suppressed. Nobody in the Middle East wants to give them independence. The fact that they don't have independence creates enough inertia that they simply won't.
3) US Attacks on Pakistan. The power of de facto has allowed the US to slowly creep up the boldness of its attacks in Pakistan--now, they're just lobbing missiles into Waziristan to take out Talibani leadership. While this is certainly the militarily sound strategy, it's risky--it is alienating a weak--but once dedicated--ally in the GWoT. And while the Pakistani leadership will continue to protest--they must, if they are to be re-elected--but ultimately tolerate it. What else can they do?
4) Taiwan. An oldie but a goodie. While the US (and every other darn country in the world) agree that there is One China, not Two Chinas, the international community would not tolerate any force on the part of the Chinese to take Taiwan back. The de facto independence of Taiwan is China's burden to overcome, even though nobody officially supports formal independence. The fact that it is the way it is continues to be compelling, even though no government argues that it's the way things should be.
When something looks odd or wrong in international politics, think whether some odd de facto force is present. It may be quite revealing.