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The Journey Embassy


Nations and states

The Nowhereisland Declaration

The Nowhereisland Declaration

“Nowhereisland aims precisely to get away from the traditional structures of nation-states, which have failed to tackle the crises facing the earth and humanity. It aims to get away from existing models of international cooperation, too, which – while we respect their achievements – also struggle to address global emergencies. That’s why we won’t be joining the UN.

“So Nowhereisland is a nation but not a nation-state. We’re in good company: England, Scotland and Wales are all examples of nations in precisely this sense. We offer open citizenship to anyone who supports our vision or wants to take part in an exciting exploration of what a nation can be, and how we can rethink the earth’s affairs.”

Barrister and legal blogger, Carl Gardner. Nowhereisland logbook (Day 10: 20 September 2011)

When selecting an expedition team to journey to the Arctic to establish Nowhereisland, we decided to take with us individuals who possessed the knowledge, skills and experience to advise on the declaration of a new nation. Carl Gardner, barrister and legal blogger, was vital in advising us on the processes and histories of the declaration of nation-states.

Firstly, we looked at the process by which new countries and states are declared and recognized.

Step One: Declare independence
To establish a new country, the country must first satisfy the international laws – rules that all free countries generally acknowledge and follow – established by the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States, adopted in 1933. The Montevideo Convention requires that a country must declare its intentions and has (a) a permanent population; (b) a defined territory; (c) government; and (d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states. The Convention also states “The primary interest of states is the conservation of peace.”

South Sudan is declared a new nation on 9th July 2011

A child holding the South Sudan flag on 9th July 2011

Step 2 – Gain recognition
In order to be legitimate, a new country must be recognised by existing states within the international community. Each existing state bestows recognition at its own discretion, and several entities (including Taiwan, Palestine and Kosovo) are recognized as legitimate states by some countries, but not by others and consequently are denied membership of the UN. In the U.S., the decision to grant a country recognition is made by the President.

Step 3 – Join the United Nations
The United Nations asserts that, because it itself is not a country, it does not possess any authority to recognize a state or government. But being admitted into the U.N. goes a long way toward a new country becoming recognized by the international community. In order to apply for U.N. membership, the aspiring country first needs to send an application letter, along with a declaration that it will follow the United Nations charter, to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. The application is then passed along to the Security Council, where it must get the affirmative votes of at least nine of the 15-member Council. If any of the council's five permanent members (China, France, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the U.S.) vote against the country, the application does not go forward (As in the case of Taiwan). If approved, the Council's recommendation for admission is then presented to the General Assembly for consideration, which consists of the current 192 U.N. member states. A two-thirds majority vote is needed for the new country to gain admission into the U.N.

Stephen Pax Leonard signs the Nowhereisland Declaration Photo: Max McClure

Stephen Pax Leonard signs the Nowhereisland Declaration Photo: Max McClure

New and emerging nations
Since 1990, 34 new nations have been declared, many from the dissolution of the former USSR and Yugoslavia. South Sudan is the most recent, being declared the world’s 193rd nation state on 9 July 2011.

In all cases, these nations are formed as nation-states and have received United Nations recognition. Many have emerged out of conflict and struggle. Nowhereisland recognizes its distinction from the violent struggle from which many of these nation states have emerged. However, the processes of negotiation by which it was declared and through which it has been established brings to the fore how nations disappear and emerge, creating contested boundaries and stateless citizens.

In the Embassy section concerning Writing A Constitution, you can read more about new nations, including South Sudan. When the Republic of South Sudan became the world's newest state, the world's atlases became out of date. Here's a link to The Guardian’s website to an interactive new world map.

So is Nowhereisland a state or a nation?

The Arctic expedition team recognised Nowhereisland’s potential to act as a nation of global citizens who are defined by their allegiance to the Nowhereisland nation rather than by their residence on the island. The impetus to join Nowhereisland as a citizen would not be defined by ‘access’ to a physical place due to its fragility, but by a desire to become part of a conceptual nation with values and principles symbolized by the nomadic island as it made its way from the Arctic to the south west coast of England.

“The expedition team discussed early on our voyage whether Nowhereisland should have all the trappings of statehood in international law – membership of the UN for instance – and decided it shouldn’t. We know many people will assume we made that decision because we doubt others will recognise us; but that’s not our reason, in truth.” Carl Gardner

A non-country?
Watch Advisor on Nation Branding, Simon Anholt's argues for the potential of Nowhereisland as a non-country.

Simon Anholt, Resident Thinker


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Nowhereisland is a Situations project led by artist Alex Hartley, one of 12 Artist Taking the Lead projects for the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad funded by Arts Council England. We also gratefully acknowledge the support of the University of the West of England, Bristol; Bloomberg; Nicky Wilson Jupiter Artland; the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs; the Royal Norwegian Embassy and Yellowbrick Tracking.

Identity designed by Fraser Muggeridge studio and Wolfram Wiedner, website by Wolfram Wiedner.