Monday, December 30, 2013

2013: The Year in Political Geography Changes

By Evan Centanni

Premium members click here to view this article in the ad-free members area. Not a member yet? Subscribe now!

 Although popular for maps of territorial control in conflict zones, PolGeoNow's original mission is tracking formal changes to the world's political geography. When new countries appear, borders change, and territorial disputes arise or are settled, you'll hear about it here. As 2013 draws to a close, here's our look back at the major events of the year:

Map of the Palestinian Territories, now known in the official standard as
"State of Palestine"

Country Name Changes
This year didn't see the creation of any new countries (unless you count the failed bid of the Bangsamoro Republik), but there were a few changes to country names. In October, the African island country of Cape Verde chose to change its official English name to "Cabo Verde", with the long form being "Republic of Cabo Verde". This brings it in line with the name in Portuguese, the country's official language. Meanwhile, in January, Libya established its full name as "State of Libya," after more than a year of going without an official long-form name. Since the 2011 revolution, the new government had been calling the country anything but Muammar Gaddafi's preferred "Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya".

This year the international ISO standard for country names also made two updates based on changes that actually happened in 2012: Somalia became "Federal Republic of Somalia" after its Transitional Federal Government was replaced by a permanent one, and "the Occupied Palestinian Territory" became "the State of Palestine" to reflect official U.N. usage after Palestine was upgraded to country status by the organization's General Assembly.
Map of the European Union, new member Croatia, and prospective future member countries
Croatia joins the European Union

See also:
All articles on country name changes 
Is Palestine Really a Country?
Somalia: The Retreat of Al Shabaab

Intergovernmental Organizations
Though the membership roster of the ever-conspicuous United Nations didn't change this year, and the world's more obscure intergovernmental organizations are too many to keep up with, there were some changes to the member lists of prominent world bodies. Perhaps most notably, Croatia joined the European Union (and left CEFTA), and both Laos and Tajikistan became members of the World Trade Organization.

Map of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), including new member Saint Lucia
Saint Lucia joins ALBA
Also in 2013:

See also:  All intergovernmental organization articles

Map of all countries that recognize the Republic of Kosovo as independent
Countries recognizing Kosovo
Diplomatic Recognition
The world's partially recognized countries continued to struggle for international validation in 2013. Kosovo proved most active with eight new recognitions, bringing its total to 53% of all U.N. members. Meanwhile, Palestine has the most total recognitions for a country not in the U.N., gaining two and revealing one more in 2013 for a total of 69%. On the other hand, late in the year Taiwan lost recognition from the Gambia, bringing its number of diplomatic allies down to just 22 (11% of U.N. members).

In the messy foreign relations of Western Sahara, Haiti "withdrew" its prior recognition of the disputed state (though there are arguments this is legally invalid), while Barbados, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Panama "froze" their relations. However, Honduras re-initiated its relationship with Western Sahara after allegedly withdrawing recognition in 2000. Meanwhile, South Sudan, the world's newest country, established diplomatic relations with Benin this year, though since it's an uncontroversial member of the U.N., all the world's countries are already assumed  to recognize it by default.

Map of the former territorial dispute between Niger and Burkina Faso, resolved in a 2013 ruling of the International Criminal Court
Border dispute resolved
See also: All articles about diplomatic recognition

Disputed Territories
Many - probably most - of the world's countries maintain territorial disputes with their neighbors, disagreeing over borders or claiming key regions as their own. But this year saw the resolution of two such disputes, one over the course of the border between Niger and Burkina Faso, and the other over the land surrounding Preah Vihear temple between Thailand and Cambodia.

Meanwhile, small disputes sprung up on the Guinea-Côte d’Ivoire border and between India and Myanmar, though neither has developed into a high-level international spat. Conversely, another new claim was probably all bark and no bite: upset over an existing dispute, Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega threatened in August to "recover" an entire province of Costa Rica.

Map of the territorial seas and exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Falkland/Malvinas Islands disputed between the U.K. and Argentina
Seas of the Falkland Islands
No major disputed territories seem to have traded hands violently this year, but there have been some power shifts nonetheless. Though the dispute was legally resolved years ago, Nigeria only just this summer finished transferring the Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon's control. Meanwhile, the northern region of Kosovo, whose local government considers it part of Serbia, saw a change in status as Kosovo agreed to grant it partial autonomy. And in the hotly disputed South China Sea, China consolidated its control over the Filipino-claimed Scarborough Shoal, while also laying siege to another shoal occupied by the Philippines.
Map of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, disputed between Japan and China
The Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands

However, the two highest-profile disputes this year were probably the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea and the Falkland/Malvinas Islands in the South Atlantic, though neither experienced any real change of status. The Senkaku/Diaoyus have been the scene of escalating brinkmanship between China and Japan, while the Falklands incurred the wrath of Argentina when they voted by a margin of 99.8% to remain a U.K. territory. This year PolGeoNow published a map of the Falklands' disputed seas, a map and feature on the Senkaku/Diaoyus, and a photo-illustrated dossier on the latter group's eight different islands.

See also: All articles on disputed territories 

Air and Seas
Though neglected by most maps, maritime and airspace claims are very important to modern international relations. No changes to claims of territorial waters and exclusive economic zones (EEZs) came to our attention this year, though Somalia did reassert a claim to extensive territorial waters in contravention of a previous agreement with Kenya, and the U.S. signed a treaty with Kiribati ironing out sea borders in the Pacific. On the other hand, control over resources on the seabed beyond EEZ limits continued to be a hot topic, with Russia, Nicaragua, Micronesia, Denmark, Angola, and Canada all filing full or partial claims with the a U.N. commission this year.
Map of the dispute between North Korea and South Korea over their maritime boundary
Korea's sea border dispute

Somalia also made news about its airspace in 2013, finally taking possession of its own skies from a U.N. caretaker body that had administered them since 1994. Breakaway state Somaliland, however, objected to Somalia's federal government taking over the entire region's airspace, asserting control over its own portion and refusing to let federal government aircraft land in the territory. However, the dispute was eventually resolved, with Somalia and Somaliland establishing a joint committee for air traffic control in the region.

See also: All articles on maritime borders and jurisdiction

Happy new year, and keep coming back to PolGeoNow for more changes to geography in 2014!