There have been a lot of articles about south Sudan becoming the world’s newest country, often with a slightly breathless tone as if it were as rare as a solar eclipse. But how often does this happen? Is it so rare to see the birth of a new country?
In some ways, yes, in others no. Yes, because there are only 190+ countries in the world or so, which means one addition is still significant numerically. No, because new countries appear more regularly than say, the Olympics, and the 20th century saw an explosion of new countries unlike any time before.
Here’s a chart of new countries since 1900. It’s got a few anomalies, such as Iraq in 2009, which seems odd as most people would consider Iraq to have been a country many generations prior to the US-UK invastion, but the data uses the year when the country is free from subordination, which works for most countries.
There are three big bursts: in 1945 after the second world war, where much of Europe was released from Nazi control; in 1960 as many African countries seceded from or were granted independence by France; and in 1991 as the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia collapsed.
So is Sudan so remarkable? It is certainly interesting, and unusual given the circumstances – it isn’t the end of a big war or collapse of a superpower. But this is not a once-in-a-generation event, and there will be more to follow. Scotland? Alaska? Who knows, but I’m sure it won’t be too long before we see the UN country count at over 200.