I'm working on a scifantasy setting that has many of the "classic" monster tropes turned on their heads a bit/adds unique biology/ that sort of thing. The metacommentary is about assimilation. The general idea is that in the past, humans were part of the general food chain, but as humans became more technologically advanced, they destroyed most of their predators by accident or by actually going after them (taking a bit from Peter Watts' Blindsight novels, about how vampires were actually destroyed by the use of right angles which triggered seizures and 'outed' them so they could be identified.). All humans have now are "legends" and "myths" of the things that used to prey on them.

The few actual 'monsters' that are left, have let humans keep that disbelief going, but are having troubles now because there are so few of them and they have to be so careful about how they hunt or maintain themselves because humans are prey animals and they get explosively aggressive and over-reactionary if someone eats half-of a kindergarten (the homeless population are much safer targets... but you have to use the whole kill to avoid getting the wrong attention or starting up a witch-hunt/wild goose chase).

There's a couple of "supernatural" factions across various continents that have adopted isolationist policies, or have integrated themselves in human society to hide in plain sight, or have actually accepted that they're going to die out. The metacommentary is about cultural assimilation and such.

There's a couple of members in an isolation-based group that because of reasons, have become retaliatory and expansionist. This was initially done by buying up properties and taking over space in a "human business" fashion. They've now butted up against another faction that wants to remain isolationist. The problem now is, both sides have their own dragon. Dragons, in this setting, are quasi-eldritch creatures with bizarre reproduction, really long life-spans if they survive to adulthood, really esoteric motives, and if two fight it tends to make very noticeable craters.

One side is really pissing off the other. They are going to fight, and human authorities are going to notice.

The Question:

One of the dragons was fully formed around the Tunguska event in 1908, this would make her 110 years old today. This is much older than the current youngest country, South Sudan (formed in 2011).

My question is a geopolitical one. Would a dragon be able to claim "herself" as an independent sovereign nation? Like how Indian Reservations are independent countries, of a sort, within the United States. And what sort of obstacles would collectives like the UN or EU throw at her?

By Wikipedia the definition for a soverign nation is:

A sovereign state is, in international law, a nonphysical juridical entity that is represented by one centralized government that has sovereignty over a geographic area. International law defines sovereign states as having a permanent population, defined territory, one government, and the capacity to enter into relations with other sovereign states. It is also normally understood that a sovereign state is neither dependent on nor subjected to any other power or state.

I know she'll get challenged for being a physical entity. But, she has a defined home range that she purchased (through intermediaries like a corporation), she's older than some current countries, she has a population (albeit of semi-thralls) that provide infrastructure. She has a government, namely, herself and her thralls act rather independently for their community, she can also qualify as her own military to protect her borders.

I already know how humans would react to these supernaturals on an individual and group basis, so this isn't a question about "how would humans to react to a dragon queen." I'm really looking for something on the country-scale here.

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – James
    Mar 2, 2018 at 21:10
  • $\begingroup$ You may wish to read the SF novel “The Incorporated Man” and its sequel, “The Incorporated Woman”. $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Jan 16, 2021 at 23:31

7 Answers 7


There's a difference between "claiming" sovereignty (lots do), realistically being able to act as a sovereign state (few do), and finally being recognized by your peers as a sovereign state (even fewer).

Since the Earth has but a single dollop of unclaimed land territory outside Antarctica anymore, the dragon must get the existing recognized country to cede some of its territory to her new country. That usually means a real fighting war that she must win, ending with a treaty ratified by all sides. Purchased property means little in this case, since it's purchased under the laws of the prior state...though it may mean fewer refugees during the war.

The next step is international recognition of her new country and its state (her regime), and this is often as difficult as the original war. Without recognition, her territory may still be considered an autonomous or rebel province of the prior country. There are many examples of this: Taiwan and South Sudan received recognition, Puntland and the Islamic State did not. She has no way to compel recognition beyond war or bribery - the international politics of the time will determine if other states are interested in recognizing her country's independence and her regime's legitimacy.

A common confusion is mixing up individual property rights with a country's territorial control. The two are not related. Here's an example: When the United States purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867, it redrew an international boundary (Look! A ratified treaty). Alaska already had lots of private property owners. The laws governing their property changed from Russian law to American law. The property owners didn't get to choose.

The point of this question seems to be about finding a reasonably peaceful method of seceding from another country. With rare exceptions, there isn't one. Countries have historically fought hard and violently to retain their full territory, regardless of whomever the local private property owners happened to be.

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    $\begingroup$ there is a small zone called Bir Tawil on the border of Egypt and Sudan that neither country claims because that would involve accepting a border that would negate their claim to a larger area, the Hala'ib Triangle, that both countries want. $\endgroup$ Feb 27, 2018 at 19:45
  • $\begingroup$ That was really fast! $\endgroup$ Feb 27, 2018 at 19:50
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ As I recall, an individual did claim Bir Tawil. I don't think that claim has been recognized by any state though. $\endgroup$ Feb 28, 2018 at 0:25
  • $\begingroup$ Ah, that's the good stuff. Thanks! That's basically what I'm asking about, since I'm not sure how country formation works on the macro or micro level. But, how about this as a hypothetical, someone buys the entire state of California, everyone was bought out and moved willingly, there are no pockets of resistance up in the mountains. The new private owner of California puts up a fence along the state-line. In the US, one is allowed to fence their private property to prevent intrusion. The private owner then declares their property to be it's own country. Thoughts? $\endgroup$
    – Amut
    Feb 28, 2018 at 0:45
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    $\begingroup$ @Amut i.e. the point is that the whole concept of private ownership only exists in framework under sovereignty, created by sovereignty, enforced by sovereignty. The normal real estate process can't buy "total ownership" of the land, you can buy what the seller has, which is a (vassal-like?) set of rights to use the land within certain limits and laws prescribed by the sovereign. If they don't allow you to secede, then that's that. If you attempt to secede and the sovereign kills you and/or takes your land, there's no "backslide on private property" - these were the terms from the very start. $\endgroup$
    – Peteris
    Feb 28, 2018 at 8:32

As I remember, for centuries popes ruled an independent state known as the Papal States until Italy conquered it in 1860 and 1870. In 1929 a tiny independent country in the city of Rome was created, the Vatican City.

The popes were the secular rulers of an independent country for centuries up to 1870, had no country to rule from 1870 to 1929, and have ruled a new independent country since 1929.

But the Holy See, the papal curia that runs the Roman Catholic Church, is considered to be a separate subject of public international law from the independent country of the Vatican City. The Holy See is considered to be equal in many respects to an independent state.

Thus the pope is the sovereign of both an independent country, the Vatican City, and of an organization that has somewhat similar status to an independent country, the Holy See.


And then there is the SMOM, The Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta, which like the Holy See, is considered by many to be a sovereign subject of international law, with diplomatic relations with 107 countries.


So possibly the "dragon" might seek to be recognzed as a sovereign subject of international law, maybe by promising Monaco and other tiny countries not to devaste them if they give it diplomatic recognition.

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    $\begingroup$ Given the context of your answer, the main theme would seem to be getting people to believe that you offer them eternal salvation, not not devastation. $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Feb 28, 2018 at 0:44
  • $\begingroup$ I completely forgot that The Vatican is the case example of an independent power inside of another independent country. Thanks, that's a good realistic way to address the issue and have a way to have it go through without it being a giant war. $\endgroup$
    – Amut
    Feb 28, 2018 at 1:02

Good news, it's not too hard for our friend Tunguska. The magic word is realpolitik

Let's get started with her strategic profile.

She's not an army - strategically, she's a walking, talking metaphor for the nuclear bomb. If her pet country were reduced to waste in a war, she could still obliterate at least one or two major cities of the offending (super)power before being brought down herself. That nearly automatically* makes her a small nuclear power in her own right, so long as she can protect herself from a first strike.

From a realpolitik perspective, that she's in fact a literal fire-breathing dragon means less than her geopolitical value. If she's politically valuable, even the staunchest dracophobe will sing her praises to high heaven and overlook even the deepest flaws. If she's a political foe, she could have spent her time in hiding as Mother Teresa herself and she'd still be a baby-eating monster for whom a swift death is the only appropriate course of action.

This provides her with a pathway to sovereign status: by making a deal with, say, Russia (since she was born there) to recognise her sovereignty in exchange for her alliance she can quickly secure her place in the world, while the superpower in question transforms a rogue nuclear weapon into a known (and allied!) quantity. She'd still make enemies, but with superpower backing and personal power a direct move against her would be foolhardy in the extreme.

The tricky bit is the fact that Tunguska is also gearing up to get into a war. That may turn her into a liability if she's not careful. Since she's at the same strategic scale as a nuclear weapon, countries will understandably get very very nervous if she starts fighting anyone; it will be very important to make sure the right people know what she's up to, lest she spark a nuclear conflict - or a pre-emptive strike to prevent one.

The plus side is that assuming her rival has the same idea (only convincing someone to ally to make dragons quietly go away), there's a good chance the whole dragon war can be kept localised - like other proxy wars geopolitics will keep the big players' hands tied for fear of sparking a more final war, and both Tunguska and her rival will probably be told in no uncertain terms to keep it that way.

If her rival doesn't, well, that only means Tunguska has a chance to convince the world that this is something they want to get involved in as a global matter and propaganda herself into a champion of humanity. She'd at least get her own ally onboard - it can't hurt for their dragon to to win that fight.

*There's a reasonable case to be made that some countries might declare her a sovereign power unilaterally, simply because diplomats and the army are the most appropriate tools to interact with her.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Heh, this is a fun reply here. I like the pragmatism. This is certainly the line of thinking a human would have regarding the situation, and it'll be quite interesting to apply it. $\endgroup$
    – Amut
    Feb 28, 2018 at 2:02
  • $\begingroup$ I think you're being a bit pessimistic (yes, really!). North Korea has been able to exist for decades but only very recently started nuclearizing. Under the right geopolitical conditions, sovereignty can be extremely flexible. I think OP's dragon would not need to ally with anybody in order to get some degree of de facto recognition, though if she wants to be more internationally influential than North Korea, allying would probably be a good idea. $\endgroup$
    – Kevin
    Mar 1, 2018 at 3:19
  • $\begingroup$ @Kevin True that, hence being near-automatically sovereign just by being a dragon. But people generally understand the risks of annoying metaphorical dragons like superpowers, less so literal dragons like Tunguska $\endgroup$
    – Pingcode
    Mar 1, 2018 at 5:21
  • $\begingroup$ "lest she spark a nuclear conflict - or a pre-emptive strike to prevent one." That's only true if it's difficult to distinguish between a nuked city and a dragon strike. Unless the author gets pretty creative, it's hard to imagine a traditional dragon's activities being confused with a nuke. There's the scale, for one thing, along with details like mushroom clouds and radioactivity. $\endgroup$ Jan 17, 2021 at 4:56

As user535733 pointed out, a sovereign nation generally requires territory to be sovereign in, and some degree of acceptance by the international community. Could your dragon get the latter without the former?

There are a couple of organizations which can act much like a state without being a state in all respects -- issue passports, participate in international conferences as a "near peer" participant, and so on. The Knights of Malta come to my mind.

So what if the dragon had the power to claim he, as an individual, was not the subject of any state and enjoys some sort of "diplomatic immunity" plus the right to move between homes (lairs?) which have been granted "extraterritoriality" by some host nations?

  • $\begingroup$ If one is not subject to any state, one is not protected by any state or protected from any state. So all the dragon has done is declare open season on themselves. $\endgroup$ Jan 17, 2021 at 6:19
  • $\begingroup$ @KeithMorrison, that's only right if the dragon doesn't have the power to make it stick. $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    Jan 17, 2021 at 6:40

She has a big leg up on the various micro nations in that she is personally powerful and she is scientifically interesting. This still isn't enough for it to be an easy or certain process.

If she can survive the US military long enough to fly to the UN building and ask for a seat it may be something could be arranged. If she is strong enough (superman is mentioned in comments) to not be ignored or conquered the humans pretty much have to negotiate.

Being the first non-human capable of negotiating there would be a lot of interest in her, and if the whole enslaving and eating people thing got glossed over enough for public opinion to be on her side in major nations it could amount to pressure on whatever nation she was inside of to recognize her, it could help if she could hold a referendum.


While not really geopolitical in nature, I was reminded of the character Raven in Neal Stephensons Snow Crash, who managed to become recognized as a sovereign.

Hiro is mortified by this idea. "Is that why everyone was telling me not to fuck with Raven? They were afraid I was going to attack him?"

Squeaky eyes the swords. "You got the means."

"Why should anyone protect Raven?"

Squeaky smiles, as though we have just crossed the border into the realm of kidding around. "He's a Sovereign."

"So declare war on him."

"It's not a good idea to declare war on a nuclear power."


"Christ," Squeaky says, shaking his head, "if I had any idea how little you knew about this shit, I never would have let you into my car. I thought you were some kind of a serious CIC wet-operations guy. Are you telling me you really didn't know about Raven?"

"Yes, that's what I'm telling you."

"Okay. I'm gonna tell you this so you don't go out and cause any more trouble. Raven's packing a torpedo warhead that he boosted from an old Soviet nuke sub. It was a torpedo that was designed to take out a carrier battle group with one shot. A nuclear torpedo. You know that funny-looking sidecar that Raven has on his Harley? Well, it's a hydrogen bomb, man. Armed and ready. The trigger's hooked up to EEC trodes embedded in his skull. If Raven dies, the bomb goes off. So when Raven comes into town, we do everything in our power to make the man feel welcome."

In this universe the threat of mutually assured destruction was apparently enough for Raven to convince the other powers of his sovereignty. So while rules and resctrictions may apply, they could be bent.

  • $\begingroup$ Hello and welcome. Can you explain how this apply to the situation in question you are supposedly answering? $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Feb 28, 2018 at 13:10
  • $\begingroup$ Sure: Rules and restrictions for becoming a sovereign may be bent at the leisure of "the other states", i.e. out of fear. $\endgroup$
    – npst
    Feb 28, 2018 at 13:20
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Well, dragon has no means to do MAD. Actually, Raven does not, either. It would be easier to just subdue him, drug him to the gills and disarm his bomb than to let him wander around. If reading entire book is required to know what you mean, it is not a good answer - if it is an answer at all. $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Feb 28, 2018 at 13:28
  • $\begingroup$ You seem to complicate things. Raven is threatening enough to convince other states to accept him as a sovereign (regardless of any rules or regulations). His method is a huge bomb, a dragons method might be different,of course. $\endgroup$
    – npst
    Feb 28, 2018 at 13:32
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ in real world terrorists gets killed, not sovereignty. This is it without overcomplicating. $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Feb 28, 2018 at 13:37

Your question requires a whole lot of rewriting/ignoring established law, some of which you are already aware of but do not address. From your own quote from Wikipedia,

A sovereign state is, in international law, a nonphysical juridical entity

Lady Tunguska is a very physical entity, so that pretty well answers your question.

But let's get legalistic here, and dig into some implications. Let's assume our dragon has been declared a sovreign nation.

Well, to start with, she is not a citizen of that nation - she is the nation. As a result, if a citizen of another nation wants to go for a unique trophy and tries to kill her, he or she cannot be charged with murder. An act of war, perhaps, but not murder. And issues of jurisdiction get complicated, too. If she retaliates against her attacker, it's not self-defense by an individual. It is, by definition, an action by a nation against a citizen of another nation, and at the least will cause a major diplomatic incident. For that matter, if a US national takes a potshot at the dragon and injures her, what law has he broken? Unsafe discharge of a firearm? I don't know of any laws against simply attacking another nation. You can't belong to the armed forces of another country, but that's clearly not an issue here. Since the dragon is a nation, she cannot be a citizen of that nation, and any offense against the laws of a foreign nation required extradition to that nation for prosecution.

Nationhood as an incorporeal, abstract identity, has a very large advantage - it allows a distinction between the actions of members of the nation and the nation itself. For instance, there have been cases of US soldiers committing crimes against citizens of other countries in which they are stationed (several rape/murders of girls in Taiwan, for instance). In these cases, the individuals can be punished but the US as a nation is not (immediately) held to blame. There can be longer-term blame assigned, and the diplomatic/PR fallout can be severe, but the nation is not absolutely responsible for the action of its citizens.

All this goes out the window when it comes comes to the present case. The dragon IS the nation, which means than any action by or against the dragon is an action by or against the nation. If the dragon steals gold for her hoard (and we know how much dragons like gold, right?) then that is simply not an act by an individual, it is an act of aggression by a nation.

If She is a sovreign nation, what does that make the lands which she has bought? Just saying that she bought them through intermediaries does not mean that the intermediaries had the authority to transfer ownership from one nation to another. For instance, if I buy a parcel of land in Canada which adjoins the US, I cannot sell (or transfer ownership in any sense) that land to the US. Similarly, her "home range" cannot be hers simply because she is granted sovreignity. It remains the territory of the original nation until a treaty is signed which formalizes the transfer. She can claim it and try to protect it, but that constitutes an act of war.

Any conflict with our dragon then becomes a military operation - there is no such thing as a police operation. Dragons are tough, it is well-known, and their scales shrug off arrows, but how will she stand up to a .50 caliber armor-piercing round? Or how about a black-market Stinger heat-seeking missile making a literal "down-the-throat" shot? With the ability to breathe fire, you'd think the mouth would make a pretty good target for a heat-seeker.


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