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Let's say one day, as I sail across the pacific, I come across an uncharted island.

This island is not anywhere near the borders of existing countries. It is unoccupied.

Can I put up a flag on the island, state I own this piece of land, and run my own country on top of it?

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    Later I'll dig up a great answer for this. In college a friend of mine researched it extensively. The short answer is yes, and you can also define non-sovereign nations on currently occupied soil. – New Alexandria Jun 15 '15 at 15:03
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    This has been tried; it failed (for non-legal reasons, consisting of "a country in the area sent marines and took over") – cpast Jun 15 '15 at 16:48
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    Yes, but how are you going to defend it? – ShemSeger Jun 15 '15 at 22:22
  • This same question applies to any asteroid or other celestial body. It is vague terrain largely ruled by force. In space, by comparison, there is a vague establishment of the Antarctica treaty, which would define all non-earthly spaces as common property of the whole earth. This has yet to be tested. – New Alexandria Jun 15 '15 at 22:51
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Technically you could stake such a claim in accordance with general principles of public international law, but every country has discretion about whether to recognize you as a sovereign state. Established states would likely have no interest in dealing with you until you have a certain amount of influence and resources. You might have to defend your claimed land and property by force at times from pirates, imperialists, states claiming authority by international agreement, etc. There are a number of microstates and micronations with varying degrees of recognition.

  • Hm, the microstate examples you provide through a wikipedia link do seem like some pretty big countries, and all do seem to have quite some recognition. – cnst Jun 18 '15 at 5:31
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    @cnst, There's another page "micronations" which lists less-recognized and unrecognized "states". I had decided the link to microstates was enough and would lead people to also consider micronations. I'll add a link to micronations, too. – dw1 Jun 19 '15 at 22:29
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International law is a tricky subject, because technically, the world is in anarchy, not all countries agree on everything (which is the number one reason countries exist).

If there's one thing I learned in my political science classes in University, it's that coersion enforces the law, and the law is whatever those with the powers of coersion say it is. If you can take the island, it's yours, if you can fight to keep it, it remains yours.

Yes you can have whater island you want, but you also need an army in order to keep it, whether it be your own personal army, or a contracted army (private or government). Otherwise, what's to stop a band of pirates, or nearby state from taking your island after you've built up a nice infastructure?

You also need allies. Even if country "A" says that you can go ahead and claim an island, country "B" may have a different oppinion, but despite their oppinion, they may stay their forces from running you off the island if they know country "A" has your back.

Before you go stake your claim on some uninhabited beach, I'd suggest you become familiar with what kind of policies your political neigbours might have, since they are most likely the ones you're going to have to deal with if there are any disputes over your claim of sovereignty on the island.

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