Los Angeles Times
August 25, 1992

World View; The Outer Limits?
Six Geographers Brainstorm the Borders of the  21st Century.
The Changes May Be Among The Most Radical Ever.


Byline: By Robin Wright
Times Staff Writer

Imagine a world in which Scotland gains independence from Britain and Italy divides in half. Russia and China both fragment into a dizzying array of new states, while Canada disappears altogether. Along the way, a host of new states including Samiland, Pushtunistan, and Zululand are born.

And those are only a few of the possibilities that a panel of eminent political geographers predicted for the next decade as the world map is redrawn. The scope of coming changes in the world's frontiers will be among the most profound in history, they said. And the pace may set a record.

“What we're dealing with is the re-creation of countries,” said William B. Wood, the State Department's chief geographer. Over the next 25 to 30 years, the world roster may increase by 50% or more. “There'll be more than 300 countries,” predicted Saul B. Cohen, past president of the Assn. of American Geographers.

Some of the changes these geographers foresee may seem logical probabilities while others appear outlandish conjectures. But they are made by men whose profession is studying the relationship of physical geography and national borders to political culture, sociology and history.

Moreover, in context, their forecasts for the turn of the century are hardly out of line. Even before the Barcelona Games were over and the 172 teams that competed there headed for home, for example, Olympic planners had started preparing for more than 200 participating states at the 1996 Atlanta Games.

Only about 60 of the world's 190 current states were around at the turn of this century, and most have become independent just since 1944. The United Nations has admitted 22 new member countries in just the last 20 months.

The political geographers don't agree on all the details of the future world map the charts on these pages are composites based on the predictions of half a dozen experts. (See note on Page 5.)

But they do agree that recharting the globe will be the byproduct of several concurrent trends, ranging from the powerful pull of ethnicity and the spread of democracy to changes in the very concept of a modern state.

First, some borders will be altered as nations break away from traditional states, as has happened painfully in Yugoslavia over the past year and peacefully in Czechoslovakia this year.

“Borders of present countries or so-called natural boundaries will increasingly lose their importance when they do not correspond to well-recognized linguistic and territorial identities,” said Fabrizio Eva, an Italian geographer. Second, other new countries will be added, as the last colonies become independent countries the dominant trend during the second half of the 20th Century and evident most recently when the Soviet empire's collapse spawned 15 new states.

“We are now in a major new phase of demands for 'self-determination' demands which, if all are acceded to, will result in significant changes to the world's political map at both state and sub-state levels,” said David B. Knight, chairman of a special Commission on the World Political Map of the International Geographical Union (IGU).

On a third and more sweeping level, the new lines on a map will be produced by fundamental changes in the role of states, largely in response to economic and social pressures and political alienation.

Commented George Demko, a geographer and director of the Rockefeller Center at Dartmouth College, “The current changes in the political and economic geography of the world are as significant as what the world went through after the Treaty of Westphalia,” the 1648 peace accord ending Europe's Thirty Years War and a turning point in the rise of modern states. “As we're challenging the traditional ideas of state sovereignty, globalizing economies and communications, and breaking up the last empires, the geography of the world is unhooking old connections and hooking up new ones.  Along with borders, the dynamics and functions of states will change too.”

While much of the first two phases in the global reconfiguration may take place within the next decade, this part of the process is likely to last well into the 21st Century, the geographers said.

And the countries that emerge from the process may bear little resemblance to today's states. For example, “Many states won't have armies, only police. And some (new) states will allow dual citizenship with former host countries, as in the Baltics with the Russian population, or ethnic groups with their place of origin,” Cohen said.

A stratified system of governance and power is likely to replace traditional states. “At the top will be a stronger United Nations or an equivalent body responsible for peace, environment and other global issues,” explained Julian Minghi, U.S. representative to the IGU Commission on the World Political Map.

“The second tier will be regional groupings, like the European Community, but also including others dealing with issues like trade, migration and possibly even collective security arrangements at the regional level. That may include joint parliaments.”

Already, at least 17 regional blocs – from Latin America's Southern Cone Common Market to Central Asia's Economic Cooperation Organization – are reshaping the globe. The latest is the new continental pact forming the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), completed earlier this month among The United States, Canada and Mexico and awaiting confirmation by those countries' legislatures.

The lowest level will be made up of the smaller states that emerge from this round of boundary realignments – the  “Slovenias, Scotlands and Bretons, which will each have more autonomy or independence. And these governments will be closer to people where it counts on issues of culture, education, languages.”

“It's a bit radical,” Minghi conceded. “But it's what we're evolving toward.” All the major trends contributing to a new world map have one important common denominator: They reflect a new push toward devolution, or the transfer of political power from traditional states to smaller units a shift encouraged by such factors as the spread of democracy, population pressures, communications and technology innovations, and political alienation. “People want empowerment at the local level. When they feel their lives are being run by others far away who can't identify with them, they retreat into regionalism and local identities to counter the dehumanizing effect,” Knight said.

To avoid being marginalized in traditional states, for example, communities are increasingly likely to seek smaller alternatives that are more familiar, convenient and accountable to them, a trend more important in larger or densely populated states. The possibilities range from Canada's Quebec to Iraq’s Kurdistan.

Technology also facilitates fragmentation by opening more options for smaller nations.

 “It's like a circuit board. You can now move from one point to another without having to go through all the middle points. The world's going to be like that, which means the old ideas of hierarchy and hegemony will become obsolete,” Cohen said.

“Nations of all sizes, shapes and manners will be able to reach out to other nations of all sizes, shapes and manners without having to ask for permission from larger powers or without having to go through intermediaries. Even the emergence of regional blocs encourages the creation of smaller states by offering similar economic, political or strategic protection as the original nation state. Scotland could afford to break from Britain, for example, because it is a member of the European Community.

The accumulative impact of these trends is expected to touch every corner of the globe. Among just a few of the geographers' predictions:


Australia breaks up into four pieces, giving birth to new states like “Swanland,” named after the river, in the west, and “Aboland,” after the aborigines, in the north.


In Europe, the long-rebellious Basque and Catalan regions formally leave Spain. Brittany splits from France. Belgium disintegrates into the new states of Wallonia and Flanders. And Samiland is carved from the northern Lapp-populated areas of Norway, Sweden and Finland, then joins the northern regions of Canada and Russia in the new Circumpolar Arctic Confederation.


In Russia, new states emerge in the Far East, the Urals, and East and West Siberia; assorted small ethnic enclaves such as Tatarstan and Dagestan gain independence, and places like Kaliningrad, Tuva and Buryat become virtually independent autonomous zones.


In Asia, India loses Punjab and part of Kashmir. Afghanistan breaks into at least three ethnic pieces. The Philippines loses Muslim-dominated Mindanao. And a large part of Kazakhstan secedes to join Russia.


In China, despite the longstanding dominance of the Han Chinese, Tibet and Xinjiang move out on their own. Taiwan is absorbed, while Inner Mongolia merges with independent Mongolia. Three new areas, Inner, North and Southeast China, gain autonomy, while developed Guangdong and Shanghai become quasi-independent economic hubs more like present-day Hong Kong than Beijing.


In Africa, Ethiopia loses northern Eritrea and Tigre to secession and southern Ogaden to Somalia, while Kasai and mineral-rich Katanga secede from Zaire. Sudan splits into two. And South Africa splits into three pieces, creating “Azania” and “Zululand” in the process.


In the Americas, Brazil breaks up into three autonomous pieces; Canada, as it has been known, disappears altogether; Mexico separates into four or more distinct pieces, and over time, even the United States takes on different form.

The dimensions of change are almost certain to provoke an international debate over the next decade on a basic issue: Should the world's current powers give priority to the right of self-determination, thereby potentially threatening the current configuration of states? Or should they be committed to preserving territorial integrity – potentially at the expense of individual rights?

The United States was founded on the principle of self-determination, but since the onset of global change in 1989 Washington has supported territorial integrity in both Yugoslavia and Iraq -- largely due to fears of Fragmentation and its rippling effect both in the Balkans and in the Persian Gulf.

“The tendency now and in the future will be to preserve the status quo,” said the State Department's Wood. “The United Nations is the best example. Its member states are recognized governments with control over defined space.”

But experts at this month's 27th International Geographical Congress in Washington suggested self-determination will often prevail.

More than ever before, “political movements are inclined toward a sub division within states,” said Eva, the Italian geographer.

Since up to a third of the world's current states face border challenges either from neighboring nations or from minorities at home, geographers are already urging steps to prevent repetitions of the bloody conflict in what used to be Yugoslavia.

“What we will need is a U.N. commission on border modification to adjudicate and initiate negotiations before fighting erupts,” said H.J. de Blij of Georgetown University.

In the longer term, the political geographers think the importance of borders will actually wane, as economic and technological interdependence span not only states, but continents.

“The notion of boundaries as we've known them, in terms of absolute sovereignty and legalities, will in time dwindle,” Minghi said.

In the meantime, however, the number of states will grow.

“For the next decade, we cannot stop this trend,” said Eva. “Afterward, the wish for cooperation will prevail. I am a pessimist for the next decade, but I’m optimistic over the long term.”

A. Northern Kazakhstan becomes part of Russia

B. Northwestern tip of Tajikistan and part of northern Afghanistan become part of Uzbekistan

C. Northeastern part of Afghanistan joins Tajikistan

D. Pushtuns of southeastern Afghanistan join their ethnic brethrn in Pakistan, forming new country of Pushtunistan

E. Muslims in northern Kashmir gain self-rule and join their clansmen in Pakistan

H. The Chinese region of Inner Mongolia joins independent Mongolia

P. Sarawak becomes part of Indonesia.

Cities or regions becoming autonomous:

G. China's Xinjiang province

I. Chinese region of Tibet

J. Northeastern China

L. Shanghai

N. Southeast China

X. Guangdong

New states:

F. India's Punjab state gains greater autonomy and moves toward unification  with the Pakistani state of the same name in a “Greater Punjab”

Countries disappearing:

O. Papua New Guinea is absorbed into Indonesia

U. Bhutan becomes part of India

Countries dividing:

Q. Cambodia divides along Mekong River into East Cambodia and West Cambodia

 R, S & T. Myanmar divides into three separate entities - East Burma (R), Rangoon (S) and West Burma (T)


W. Mindinao breaks off from Philippines


Courtesy: LA Times

GRAPHIC: Map, COLOR, The Outer Limits? VICTOR KOTOWITZ / Los Angeles Times; Designed by PAUL GONZALES / Los Angeles Times; Map, COLOR, Regions splitting away from one country and becoming part of another, VICTOR KOTOWITZ / Los Angeles Times; Designed by PAUL GONZALES / Los Angeles Times; Photo, “What we're dealing with is the re-creation of countries,” says William B. Wood, State Department geographer. But he also sees a tendency to keep status quo.