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The List: Six Reasons You May Need a New Atlas Soon

Few new states have come into being since the fall of the Soviet Union. In this List, FP looks at six regions and territories that are craving international recognition. Each has its own government—even its own flag—but lacks independent status at the United Nations. Who will be next to win this coveted prize?

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Kosovo

Though still nominally under the sovereignty of Serbia, Kosovo has been functionally autonomous since the end of the violence of 1998 to 1999. Kosovo Albanians, who outnumber Serbs in Kosovo by about a 15-to-1 ratio, have been pushing for independence since the 1960s.

Why it will become a state: Earlier this year, United Nations envoy Martti Ahtisaari released a plan that allows for Kosovos independence from Serbia while providing protection for the Serbian minority. The United States and the European Union strongly support this plan. Even if Serbian or Russian rejection of the plan causes it to fail, Kosovo could unilaterally declare independence, and the United States, at least, would probably recognize and support the new state.

Why it wont: Serbians view Kosovo as the birthplace of their culture and national identity. And Moscow fears that Kosovos secession might set a dangerous precedent in Russia, where the state continues to battle secessionist groups in Chechnya and elsewhere.

Odds: Strong. A last-ditch stand by Moscow and Belgrade has put Kosovos future in doubt. Still, Kosovo is the most important foreign policy issue facing the European Union (EU), says Cristina Gallach, spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, and all sides want to prevent the resurgence of ethnic violence. The possibility of EU membership might persuade Serbia to cooperate. Russia will prove harder to win over.

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South Sudan

A 21-year civil war concluded in 2005 with a peace agreement between the North and South of Sudan; the accord included a referendum on independence for the South, slated for 2011.

Why it will become a state: The vast majority of people in South Sudan almost certainly favor independence from Khartoum. According to Sudan scholar Alex de Waal, the people of the South are waiting patiently for 2011.

Why it wont: Little has been done to prepare for a split. Contentious issues of border placement remain unsolved, and no census has been taken in the South for decades. If it doesnt go their way, lawyers in Khartoum could cook up any number of reasons to invalidate the referendum. The biggest deal-killer, however, is Sudans oil, much of which is located in the South. Given that Khartoum depends on oil for 70 percent of its export revenues, it will be loath to part with so much as a drop of crude.

Odds: Not great. The referendum will probably happen; and it will probably come out in favor of independence; and Khartoum will almost certainly find a way around the results.

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Somaliland

Since declaring independence from Somalia in 1991, this former British protectorate has stayed free of the violence and mayhem that has plagued the rest of the country over the past 16 years. Meanwhile, Somaliland has developed its own government, army, and currency; all it lacks is recognition from the rest of the world.

Why it will become a state: Somalilands de facto independence is hard to ignore. The territory has been a model of stability in a chaotic region for over a decade and a half, and most Somalilanders have left the possibility of unity behind them.

Why it wont: Southern Somalis are still attached to the idea of a united Somali Republic, so the recognition of Somaliland by the international community would likely lead to greater instability in the South and possibly war. Hence, there isnt much reason for third-party states to extend recognition.

Odds: Very good. But dont count on it happening any time soon. The African Union and other international bodies plan to establish peace and stability in the South first and worry about the status of Somaliland later.

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Iraqi Kurdistan

Spread out across four different countries, the Kurds have never had an independent country of their own. Yet as the rest of Iraq burns, they are closer than ever to statehood in their autonomous region of Kurdistan.

Why it will become a state: Iraqi Kurds overwhelmingly support independence, as they made clear in a mock referendum in 2005. And as the rest of Iraq continues to degrade, the chances rise that the Kurds will strike out on their own.

Why it wont: In a word, Turkey. An independent Iraqi Kurdistan might rejuvenate Kurdish separatism in Turkey, home to 14 million Kurds. Turkey (along with Iran, which also has a healthy population of Kurds) doesnt want to take that chance, and it might use force to forestall a change in the status quo. For now, it wont have to, as the United States maintains pressure on Kurdistan to remain in Iraq.

Odds: Fair. While expanding its trade ties with the autonomous region, Turkey has softened on the idea of an independent Iraqi Kurdistan. And if Iraq falls apart and the Kurds declare independence, Ankara may have no choice but to accept a new southern neighbor.

LEO CHANG/AFP/Getty Images

Palestine

With their territory currently in flux, its hard to know what to expect for Palestinians in the short term. One thing is certain: After decades of control by Israel, people in the West Bank and Gaza yearn to be in charge of their own destinies.

Why it will become a state: The majority of both Israelis and Palestinians are reconciled to a two-state compromise solution. There is plenty of disagreement over the detailsborder placement, right of return, Jerusalembut ultimately, they are just that: details.

Why it wont: Both the Israeli and Palestinian sides have extreme radical wings that will prevent any compromise from ever succeeding; get close, and debilitating violence is sure to erupt. Whats more, with the recent Hamas-Fatah split, its very unclear what the future holds for the relationship of the West Bank and Gaza.

Odds: Good. Ehud Barak and Yasir Arafat came very close to an accord at Camp David in 2000, and its only a matter of time before the two sides will be at the negotiating table again. Given the weakness in both camps, it probably wont happen soon, but we wont be waiting forever, either.

LEO CHANG/AFP/Getty Images

Taiwan

Chinas prosperous renegade province was once recognized by most of the world as the rightful government of the Middle Kingdom. Now, though, the Republic of China is officially recognized by just two dozen other states, and that number continues to shrink.

Why it will become a state: President Chen Shui-bian has assured the public that he will not make any unilateral declarations of independence, but he has never been on cozy terms with Beijing, and he comes from a party with a traditionally pro-independence stance. His success in the 2000 and 2004 elections largely reflects support for independence among the Taiwanese people, most of whom are from a different ethnic group than the mainlanders and dont wish to be ruled from Beijing.

Why it wont: China simply will not allow it. Maintaining Taiwan under Beijings sovereigntyeven if not under its direct controlis seen as a vital security interest by the Chinese leadership, and they would not hesitate to take military action to protect this interest.

Odds: Poor. As China gets stronger and stronger, the tide continues to move against Taiwanese independence. Sooner or later, partnership with Beijing will make more sense than hostility, and Taiwan will accept autonomous status, much like Hong Kong has. And at that point, if you happen to live in Panama, Paraguay, Palau, or another of the few states that still extend recognition to Taipei, you especially will need a new atlas that reflects Beijings authority over the island.

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