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Latvia has been losing its population for the last 30 years, and continues to steadily lose around 2% of its population every year. And that is with steady economic growth and no wars or crises (like Venezuela or Syria), so there are opinions that such trend will not stop.

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Until of course country has no population left to sustain the country. What would happen to it in such case? Would its land be somehow taken by another country? How it would be decided?

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    Is your question about what would happen to a country with a greatly reduced population (there are precedents, such as Ireland 1850-1950) or what would happen if the population were reduced to exactly zero? – James K Nov 12 '17 at 22:01
  • In order to make a guess about this highly unlikely hypothetical scenario we would need to know why said country suddenly loses so many people. Emigration? War (civil or national)? Disaster? Low birth rate? And as we already established, Lativa is not a good example, because losing 10% population in 10 years is far from "running out of population". – Philipp Nov 13 '17 at 0:57
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's an extremely unlikely hypothetical. – user1530 Nov 13 '17 at 20:51
  • 100% of the state becomes a government. – rus9384 Nov 9 '18 at 13:14
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+200

There are answers dealing with the things that might be done to avoid this scenario or stating that this would never happen. Therefore this answer will assume that these things didn't occur or failed to work and will address what might happen if this scenarios succoured.

Firstly it may be important to think about what makes a nation state. there are two main things mentioned in other answers on this site that make a nation state. Usually both things would be the case but occasionally only one of them is required

  1. International recognition. A nation state usually has to be recognised by other states before it can be said to be a nation state. This would likely require at least some de jure territory
  2. Territorial integrity. Other than being recognised it is possible to form a state simply by forming some kind of border and holding back any resistance.

The wikipedia page on states with limited recognition lists two theories about what makes a state. As this question is about a pre-existing state all of those points should be covered. It's worth noting that the requirement of a permanent population. The declarative theory states a requirement for a government however in theory this could just be a single person carryout the functions of government

so if the population is too small what then?

A number of possibilities exist

  1. Border erosion: A point will be reached when it is not possible to protect the borders of the nation. These border will then be eroded by whoever can hold back the defensive force of a crippled nation (no people = no defensive power). Assuming that no other nations step in and why would they, other than to assert their own claim, the borders of the nation will simply disappear.
  2. Dispersion: the population diminishes 0 and the state therefore no longer exists and the territory/lands go to he persons or countries with the strongest claim, that is willing to fight the hardest, pay the most for it or is best placed to absorb it
  3. Absorption: the country agrees to become a vassal/territory/dependency of another country and this other nation will eventually assume control of it or leadership will pass over to the ruler of another country by agreement who will integrate their two nations
  4. Conquest: another country will simply take it over by force. With minimal population there would be little resistance and the international community is unlikely to intervene militarily as the state would be a none entity.
  5. Sale: the person with control of the country will simply sell off otherwise worthless territory/assets in exchange for money or other powers until what remains is not a valid nation or there is none left.

How it would be decided

This entirely depends on what happens. The options laid out above all involve someone deciding what to do although the relevant decision maker would depend on which one happened.

Potentially the deciding factor would be which one of the above the international community would allow to happen, there are some options/results that may be diplomatically impossible to achieve.

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  Nature abhors vacuum. If a population of certain country is so decadent that it cannot ensure natural replacement even if there is no natural or human made catastrophe ( earthquake, war, disease etc ...) nature will take its course. Population from other countries would gradually seize opportunity to settle in relatively prosperous conditions. Would they do it legally or illegally is irrelevant. Over time their culture, language and even genetic makeup would become dominant. Original inhabitants would slowly disappear along with their customs. And, at certain point, if borders remain same, original name of the country would disappear too.

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    Everything you say is reasonable except for your last sentence. The name may or may not be kept, but it's not a given. – curiousdannii Nov 14 '17 at 4:35
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    @curiousdannii It is almost certain, because people would like to name country in their own language, and to somehow remove memory of "previous owners" . – rs.29 Nov 14 '17 at 6:50
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    @rs.29, The kingdom and state of Prussia long outlived the Prussians. – ugoren Nov 14 '17 at 8:45
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    This answer sounds reasonnable, but I wonder how well it matches historical facts. XIXth century Ireland have not been repopulated by immigration, rather by high fertility rates. The same applies to XVth century western Europe after the Great Plague. Population is decreasing for at least 20 years in Japan, Latvia, Bulgaria, Russia... but those countries are seldom chosen as a destination by migrants. And within a country, migrants tend to head to the already overpopulated areas, not to the countryside wre population is going downwards... – Evargalo Nov 14 '17 at 15:13
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    @ugoren Old Prussians did not disappear overnight, they were forcibly converted to Christianity, and gradually germanized. Their language disappeared in 18th century, and identity lingered on until WW1 .Only when population was replaced after WW2 , Prussia was finally gone. – rs.29 Nov 14 '17 at 18:11
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There is no general answer to your question. Some states have very low population like Iceland, Monaco, Andorra.

We may draw off a few hypotheses though.

The country won't likely be taken over by another. It is a member of NATO and EU.

Many countries in Europe are declining in terms of population. So it is possible that the government will see this as natural and won't do a thing.

You may also expect a natalist politic; some countries like Denmark are doing it. They even has ads in order to incite people to make love.

Another way, would be a more lenient immigration policy. It is an immediate solution, but it may cause problems if immigrants are not well integrated. Germany is the greatest example. France to an extent, but it also has pro natality policies.

Another possibility while less realistic, would be to merge with one or both the other Baltic countries. They have been united in the past (even without accounting for USSR or Russian Empire).

Last possibility, EU could become a giant state, but this is becoming less and less realistic.

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The historical examples of near complete depopulation of a territory are extremely rare, probably Easter Island stands chiefly among them, for a combination of ecological and external factors:

It is believed that Easter Island's Polynesian inhabitants arrived on Easter Island sometime in the 12th century AD. They created a thriving and industrious culture, as evidenced by the island's numerous enormous stone moai and other artifacts. However, land clearing for cultivation and the introduction of the Polynesian rat led to gradual deforestation.[3] By the time of European arrival in 1722, the island's population was estimated to be 2,000–3,000. European diseases, Peruvian slave raiding in the 1860s and emigration to other islands, e.g.Tahiti, further depleted the population, reducing it to a low of 111 native inhabitants in 1877.[4] [...] The 2017 Chilean census registered 7,750 people on the island, of whom 3,512 (45%) considered themselves Rapa Nui.

Otherwise, there have been cycles of population boom and bust (of lesser magnitude) practically everywhere. (Not till long ago, the main concern was that population was growing too fast, and might still be the case world-wide.) The concept of population cycle is better understood in biology, for the obvious reason that the factors affecting non-human populations are simpler to study.

So it's pretty improbable that the downward trend is going to reach zero in some countries instead of a non-zero minima (and possibly rebounding). Except for the massive ecological disaster scenario, say global warming out of control, rendering some countries uninhabitable, everything else is too speculative in terms of complete depopulation, i.e. has no historical equivalent. But if we take Easter Island as example, a combination of fertility rebound and/or immigration seem to be the likely scenario.

What would happen politically is even more speculative. Easter Island was annexed, but it's not clear that that would happen to a larger country whose borders are guaranteed by international alliances etc.

A sufficiently scary scenario is many such countries becoming like Greece, i.e. long-term economic disaster zones, despite preserving their independence. However, that's not of immediate concern; despite topping the depopulation charts, most countries in Eastern Europe also top them in economic growth (at EU level), so it's not even clear when population crunch will start to affect their growth.

  • Please note that the question is not asking whether the scenario is plausible. The question is about what happens in such an unlikely scenario. While the first is also an interesting question, it is not the question that was asked here. Please only answer the question that was asked. – Philipp Jul 22 '18 at 9:56
  • @Philipp: Srsly? There's zero basis on which to actually answer it as it was asked. How about you do your mod job and close such questions instead? If you're going to be that strict with answers, what about the questions? – Fizz Jul 22 '18 at 9:57

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