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Let's say someone (an individual or corporation) had enough money, could they buy an area of land and establish it as their own country?

Assuming the original country was willing to surrender this land in return for financial compensation.

There are many small countries with low GDPs who have private islands available to buy (Tonga, Seychelles etc). There are thousands of billionaires who not only have the money to purchase these private islands, but also have a net worth in excess of the country's entire GDP.

So what's stopping someone from making a significant payment to a government to surrender a private island and cooperate in establishing its independence?

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  • Are you asking if a country can sell land to someone for the purpose of founding a country? Using your example of a small private island what would be the gain of making it a country instead of just buying land in another country?
    – Joe W
    Jun 20, 2022 at 17:34
  • @JoeW Essentially yes. Well, either the country sells the land to a person, or that person purchases the land privately. Either way, can the country surrender that land and allow the owner to found their own country? Jun 20, 2022 at 17:38
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    Countries have sold parts of their land to other countries in the past, examples of this include the the Louisiana purchase and the purchase of Alaska from Russia. I see no reason why they can't sell to a non country if they chose to.
    – Joe W
    Jun 20, 2022 at 17:56
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    The United States, as we know it, acquired about 1/3 of it's land area via the real estate purchases mentioned by Joe W. Jun 20, 2022 at 18:55
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    @Trilarion A government's valuation of land I believe would be wholly determined by what price tag is attached to the current day's crisis and what someone would be willing to actually pay for it that day. The sum total private real estate market valuation may be a bargaining chip, but would ultimately be irrelevant.
    – user5155
    Jun 21, 2022 at 0:38

1 Answer 1

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Yes. But.

There's a catch. If you're imagining a rich person ponying up the dough and declaring themselves leader of the new free world, they better be able to defend it. As a new country, they'll have no protection from anyone, either other sovereign nations or just regular run of the mill bandits or cartels.

They could attempt to be recognized by the UN, or get one of the larger powers to otherwise support them, but some of those nations might just decide to annex them instead seeing as how the rich person doesn't have any anti-aircraft missiles. As a result of this, it would be incredibly foolish for countries to go off and sell their lands willy-nilly, which is one of the reasons you don't see it happen. If the U.S. decided to sell Florida to Elon Musk, he could then make a deal with either Russia or China for them to house military bases there and maybe he could make his money back in the process. Win Win Lose.

If your question is about private purchases of land between private parties, you can't create a new country that simply. If, instead of buying it directly from the Federal Government Elon Musk just bought all of the land in Florida via private transactions, he would still be charged with one of the forms of sedition in U.S. Federal Court if he declared himself Emperor of Floridistan after he was apprehended by Federal Marshals. Unless he also can defend Floridistan from the U.S. (and bandits and cartels), in which case he is Emperor there. But if he could do that I wouldn't think he would go through the trouble of actually purchasing the property to begin with.

Countries can sell their land off to other nations to raise funds also, and they have. It's generally a bit safer than selling it to some individual who may turn out to be an actual crackpot, but your mileage may vary. France sold a large portion of their claims in North America to the United States under what's become known as the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 for a cool $15,000,000. You can see other examples of these types of purchases on Wikipedia.

It used to be more common under Feudal systems for titles of nobility to be bought and sold, often carrying with them rights to land and retainers, but "countries" in that time frame were less well defined under those systems and may at times have spanned what we think of as "counties" today. It often occured more frequently when a given monarch needed some quick cash for some reason or another. King James I in 1611 created a class of 200 Baronets in order to help finance repayment of debts related to the Nine Year's War. I doubt most people would agree in the majority of these cases that it counts as the selling of sovereign land, but rather a sovereign giving someone permission to own it.

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  • Because I was curious, $15 M in 1803 is roughly $388 B in 2022. High, but still probably far less than the actual value of that land.
    – Bobson
    Jun 21, 2022 at 15:42
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    @Bobson The territory was a bit of a hot potato, France had originally colonized near the mouth of the Mississippi on up to the Great Lakes, they lost it to Spain, who sold it back to Napoleon, who sold it to the Americans. There were Native Americans located all throughout, and the cost to secure the entirety of the land from them or against other nations for further settling far outweighed whatever nominal value it may have had at that time. Besides, Napoleon had other goals in mind, more important than "New France".
    – user5155
    Jun 21, 2022 at 16:00

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