Royal Geographical Society

“I’d love to have my own country!” – quite a lot of people have had this thought at some point during their lives. If you’re one of them, this article is for you. Whether you were fascinated by being a leader to millions or fancied the idea of creating a tightly knit community, a ‘personal’ country is a rather appealing thought. Regardless of your ambitions and your plan on how exactly you want to make your own country, I created this guide to help you with an essential matter: your borders. 

Naturally, if you want to make your own country you need them. You have to delimitate a certain area to exert influence over, to proclaim your laws, to establish your military, to preach your faith and to support whatever state component you deem necessary. In this regard, borders are essential. But the way you draft these borders can determine, to a certain level, the future of your nation. With the purpose of educating the leaders of tomorrow, let’s take a look at one of the greatest failures in the history of border-making. 

The Disaster of Straight Lines

At the beginning of the previous century, the territory in the Middle East was a patchwork of communities living under the control of the Ottoman Empire. As the end of the First World War marked the dismantlement of the Empire, a power vacuum took hold of the region. However, the Western world came up with a ‘solution’ – the Sykes-Picot agreement. Named after a Brittish high-ranked diplomat, Mark Sykes, and his French counterpart, François Georges-Picot, their 1916 secret agreement drew a straight line to split the Middle East. The British took the south and the French took the north, acting as a buffer zone for its southern neighbour and Russia. 

The British and the French, however, disregarded the very soul of a nation – its people. As a result, the demarcation line fractured communities and pitched opposing religious groups against each other, sowing the seeds of political instability for the next decades. Making matters worse, the British authorities had promised the local Arab population the right to self-determinacy in exchange for their support in overthrowing the Ottoman Empire. Thus, the artificial territorial division was seen as a betrayal. For the people of the Middle East, the Sykes-Picot agreement is remembered as the utmost representation of Western imperialism, a conspiracy to forever weaken the Arab world. 

The newly established areas of control persisted until the end of the Second World War. Whilst Britain and France withdrew from the Middle East, the shunned legacy of their agreement remains to this day. The ongoing conflict in Syria between the rebels and the regime, the plight of the Kurdish people seeking autonomy, the skirmishes between Israel and Palestine – these disputes are vastly different, yet they are underpinned by ethnic or territorial incongruences which can be traced, to a greater or lesser extent, to the Sykes-Picot agreement. 

It’s Not A Place, It’s A People

The straight-line disaster highlights the importance of the human element of a nation. You cannot simply draw lines wherever you see fit, as to advance your strategic objectives. That might prove sufficient for a while, but the long term consequences of such an imprudent action could cost the integrity of your nation and all those around you. 

As a border-maker yourself, you should account for the role of the community. You cannot physically divide people and expect decades – if not centuries – of ethical, cultural and spiritual heritage to vanish. Just as you cannot expect dire enemies to overcome their differences simply by virtue of enclosing them within the same state. Communities are complex entities that are next to impossible to regulate artificially. As such, it is the people who should dictate the boundaries of the state and not vice-versa. 

However, this line of thought has controversial implications for today’s world. Drawing legitimacy from the immorality of maintaining artificial borders and the importance of the community, many separatist movements around the globe could gain additional momentum. For example, Spain is, mutatis mutandis, nothing more for the Catalans than France and Britain were for the people of the Middle East – an illegitimate entity imposing a specific territorial allocation, one that has no place for an independent Catalonia. 

Rulers, Beware

All things considered, drafting frontiers remains a difficult craft. The process would, ideally, encompass all relevant factors – both the people and the territory. Failure to do so could spell disaster for the future of the region. So, for those who still want to make their own country, for the sake of the global community, please throw away your ruler before you start drawing the borders.