There are 193 countries in the world. Or 206. Or 211. Or 233. Or 249. The Republic of Somaliland, with a population of 3,500,000 and an area of 176,000 square kilometers, is not recognized as a “country” by any United Nations member state; Nauru, with fewer than 11,000 people living on 480 square kilometers, is a UN member state.
There are also micronations recognized by no nations other than some of their peers, and while some of them are absurdist jokes like Molossia or art installations like the Republic of Kugelmugel, others have more serious origins. The most famous is the Principality of Sealand, established on a decommissioned British sea fort in international waters in 1967; while its early history included serious attempts at establishing sovereignty, these days it is primarily in the business of selling peerages.
More interesting is the half-century history of the Principality of Hutt River, which formally dissolved itself in August 2020. Farmer Leonard Casley seceded from Australia in 1970 after wheat production quotas were introduced that would have allowed him to sell just one percent of the wheat he had ready to harvest. Casley turned to an old British law that says the government is prohibited from threatening a citizen’s livelihood. Casley properly filed complaints with national and local authorities, and under Australian law, the governments had two years to respond. They ignored him. (“Prince Leonard”’s son dissolved the micronation shortly after his father’s death.)
Some of these cases border on the fantastical, but is Casley’s reason for secession much different than that espoused by the British colonies in North America that created the United States of America over a dispute about taxation and representation? Are they more bizarre than India’s 1,380,000,000 people having the same voice in the UN as Tuvalu’s 11,500?
The Montevideo Convention of 1933, agreed to by nations including the United States at the Seventh International Conference of American States and accepted as part of customary international law, states that for a country to be recognized as sovereign, it need only have a permanent population, a defined territory, a government, and a capacity to enter into relations with the other states. (Musician Frank Zappa added to the list, saying, “You can’t be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline. It helps if you have some kind of a football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer.”) A manual even exists on how to start your own country.
The system of nations on Earth is illogical, unbalanced, and undemocratic; the means of recognition are arbitrary and inconsistent. Borders drawn a century ago on another continent or following rives and mountain ranges determine the fates of millions. Isn’t it time to end the farce?