Teilhard de Chardin might have thought the age of nations was past, but recent history suggests otherwise. The collapse of the Soviet empire and its Balkan satellites led to a new round of nation-building over the past 20 years, and it's not over yet. Nationalist movements remain active all over the world, mainly in areas where existing borders are relics of arbitrary colonial decisions. Globes and maps should come with dry-erase markers.
1. Kosovo, 2008. Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia, which still does not recognize this status. The declaration of independence was based on a UN-backed plan that Serbia did not agree to. The UN administered Kosovo from 1999 to 2008; since 1999, a NATO-led peacekeeping force (the Kosovo Force, or KFOR) has sought to maintain "a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement for all citizens, irrespective of their ethnic origin." The current force numbers just under 10,000 troops, provided by 31 countries. The capital of Kosovo is Pristina; its government is a parliamentary system headed by Prime Minister Hashim Thaçi, an ethnic Albanian. Sixty-eight members of the United Nations have recognized Kosovo's independence, including the United States, Canada, and almost all of Europe, including Turkey. Russia and China do not.
2 and 3. Serbia, 2006, and Montenegro, 2006. This is a portion of the world that has never gotten along. You and I (assuming you are not a member of a Balkan ethnic group) would not be able to look at a group of people and identify individuals as Serb, Croatian, Turkish, Albanian, Montenegran, Bosniak, etc. — but they can. Serbia was one of six republics unified under Marshal Tito as Yugoslavia; when Yugoslavia collapsed in the 1990s, the fragment of the old Yugoslavia that remained was a loose confederation of Serbia and Montenegro. Those two countries declared independence from each other in June 2006, ending "Yugoslavia" forever. The capital of Serbia is Belgrade; its government is a parliament, currently headed by Prime Minister Mirko Cvetković. Montenegro's capital is Podgorica, and its prime minister is Milo Đukanović.
4. East Timor (Timor-Leste), 2002. East Timor, known as Portuguese Timor, was a colony of Portugal from the 16th century until 1975. Nine days after East Timor declared its independence, it was invaded by Indonesia troops, and annexed as a province of Indonesia in 1976. Nationalist guerrillas fought a 23-year war for independence, culminating in a UN-backed referendum for independence in 1999. This led to further violence and the intervention of international peacekeeping forces, but the UN oversaw negotiations to create a new government, and East Timor joined the United Nations in 2002. Stability in the region remains precarious — East Timor's president, Jose Ramos-Horta, could have made yesterday's list as the survivor of a 2008 assassination attempt. The capital of East Timor is Dili. Its official languages are Tetum, a language spoken only in East and West Timor (part of Indonesia), and Portuguese.
5. Palau, 1994. Palau is a 177-square mile island nation in the Pacific Ocean, approximately 500 miles east of the Philippines and 2,000 miles south of Tokyo. The English first landed in Palau in the 18th century, and it was claimed by Britain, Spain, and the German empire. Pope Leo XIII ruled that it belonged to Spain, but gave Britain and Germany trading rights. As part of the Spanish East Indies, Palau was administered by the Philippines until 1899, when Spain ceded it to Germany after the Spanish-American War. Japan seized Palau in 1914, and kept it under a League of Nations mandate after the Great War ended. This made Palau strategically important during the Second World War; the island of Peleliu was the site of a major battle in November 1944, with the highest casualty rate of any battle in the Pacific. From 1947 to 1994, Palau was part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, administered by the United States. Palau voted for independence in 1994, while maintaining close ties to the United States under the Compact of Free Association. Its capital is Ngerulmud; its President is Johnson Toribiong, who holds J.D. and LL.M. degrees from the University of Washington.