This sort of thing used to happen much more often. Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

This week marks nine years since South Sudan was admitted to the United Nations, becoming the 193rd and most recent entrant into the club of internationally recognized countries.

The big picture: This is the longest period in modern history during which the world map has remained unchanged.

  • Simply relabeling three small countries — Cape Verde to Cabo Verde, Swaziland to Eswatini, Macedonia to North Macedonia — would bring a world map from Barack Obama’s first term up to date.

By the numbers: The UN added 44 members (most of them newly independent African nations) in the 1960s, 26 in the 1970s, seven in the 1980s, and 26 in the early 1990s as the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia fractured.

  • Since 1995, there have been five island countries — Tonga, Kiribati, Nauru (all 1999), Tuvalu (2000) and Timor-Leste (2002) — added to the UN roster, while Serbia and Montenegro split in two in 2006.
  • In the 2010s, South Sudan stands alone. The young country’s tumultuous history seems to reinforce the view that new countries will be inherently fragile.

How it happened: In his 2018 book “Invisible Countries,” Josh Keating writes that we're living through a period of “cartographical stasis," unique in history.

  • “When I was growing up — late '80s, early '90s — it seemed like new countries were being created all the time,” Keating told Axios in an interview.
  • “If you look back at international relations scholarship at that time, there was sort of an assumption that that would keep going. That self-determination movements would just keep succeeding and the world would keep being carved up into smaller and smaller national units.”
  • Instead, the world’s borders — many of them drawn by colonial powers and maintained after independence — have locked into place.

Existing states and multilateral institutions nearly always oppose border changes and separatist movements.

  • Even when there’s little chance of warfare or ethnic cleansing — as in Scotland or Catalonia, for example — the world tends to line up behind the status quo.
  • Other recent movements toward statehood, as in Iraqi Kurdistan, have stalled.
  • We're seeing fewer fights for independence, Keating says, and more movements for greater autonomy at a subnational level, as in Ethiopia.

The flipside: By fueling frozen conflicts and annexing Crimea, Vladimir Putin's Russia has proved a glaring exception in this age of immovable borders.

  • But elsewhere, rising nationalism has expressed itself not as "a challenge to existing borders" but an effort "to build those borders up and keep the rest of the world out," Keating says.

What to watch: The UN could gain a new member if Kosovo — already recognized by around 100 countries — ever reaches a deal with Serbia.

  • Tensions over Taiwan's status are also increasing, with the U.S. redoubling its support to the self-ruling island as China threatens reunification, by force if necessary.
  • Palestinian statehood continues to be debated and to move no further than that.

The bottom line: “I don’t see any candidates for independence on the horizon," Keating says.

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Why it matters: U.S. mail and election infrastructure are facing a test like no other this November, with a record-breaking number of mail-in ballots expected as Americans attempt to vote in the midst of a pandemic.

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The coronavirus pandemic is accelerating the development of CRISPR-based tests for detecting disease — and highlighting how gene-editing tools might one day fight pandemics, one of its discoverers, Jennifer Doudna, tells Axios.

Why it matters: Testing shortages and backlogs underscore a need for improved mass testing for COVID-19. Diagnostic tests based on CRISPR — which Doudna and colleagues identified in 2012, ushering in the "CRISPR revolution" in genome editing — are being developed for dengue, Zika and other diseases, but a global pandemic is a proving ground for these tools that hold promise for speed and lower costs.

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Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 5 p.m. ET: 18,912,947 — Total deaths: 710,318— Total recoveries — 11,403,473Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 5 p.m. ET: 4,867,916 — Total deaths: 159,841 — Total recoveries: 1,577,851 — Total tests: 58,920,975Map.
  3. Politics: Pelosi rips GOP over stimulus negotiations: "Perhaps you mistook them for somebody who gives a damn" — Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine tests positive.
  4. Public health: Majority of Americans say states reopened too quicklyFauci says task force will examine aerosolized spread.
  5. Business: The health care sector imploded in Q2More farmers are declaring bankruptcyJuly's jobs report could be an inflection point for the recovery.
  6. Sports: Where college football's biggest conferences stand on playing.