Tomorrow, the United States celebrates 242 years of independence. Though the U.S. declared independence on July 4, 1776, it took more than a year before another country, Morocco, acknowledged the American claim of independence. That formula—declared independence, followed by recognition by other countries—is how all but a few countries have joined the world’s some 200 sovereign nations.

But what happens when a group of people declare independence but nobody recognizes their claim?

Slate writer, Joshua Keating, tries to answer that question in his new book, Invisible Countries: Journeys to the Edge of Nationhood. He looks at places like Kurdistan, Catalonia, and Abkhazia, where people have declared independence but are stuck in international limbo for political, economic, or legal reasons.


Very few countries have received recognized independence since the end of the Cold War.

What Makes An Independent Nation - Joshua Keating On ‘Invisible Countries’
Barkhad Dahir/AP Photo
Women march in a procession to celebrate the 25th anniversary of proclaimed independence in the capital, Hargeisa, Somaliland, on Wednesday, May 18, 2016. Somaliland is celebrating 25 years since the region proclaimed its independence and has experienced relative stability and economic prosperity over the years, even though Somalia has been wracked by deadly violence.

About the book:

Invisible Countries: Journeys to the Edge of Nationhood

Joshua Keating

What Makes An Independent Nation? - Joshua Keating On ‘Invisible Countries’A thoughtful analysis of how our world’s borders came to be and why we may be emerging from a lengthy period of “cartographical stasis”

What is a country? While certain basic criteria—borders, a government, and recognition from other countries—seem obvious, journalist Joshua Keating’s book explores exceptions to these rules, including self-proclaimed countries such as Abkhazia, Kurdistan, and Somaliland, a Mohawk reservation straddling the U.S.-Canada border, and an island nation whose very existence is threatened by climate change.

Through stories about these would-be countries’ efforts at self-determination, as well as their respective challenges, Keating shows that there is no universal legal authority determining what a country is. He argues that although our current world map appears fairly static, economic, cultural, and environmental forces in the places he describes may spark change.

Keating ably ties history to incisive and sympathetic observations drawn from his travels and personal interviews with residents, political leaders, and scholars in each of these “invisible countries.”

Joshua Keating is a foreign policy analyst, staff writer, and editor at Slate. Previously he was an editor at Foreign Policy.


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