Germany unified, the Yemens merged, Kuwait seized, Namibia born - those who map it wonder what's next on the world's agenda.
The changes already have been momentous. On the eve of World War II there were 70 countries in the world; today there are at least 170. The official count varies, depending on whether controversial places such as Taiwan are recognized as sovereign states.The dramatic increase has resulted primarily from the collapse of colonialism. More than 80 percent of the new nations were once wholly or partly under British or French control.
"The decade of the '90s portends a lot of changes in the world order," says John B. Garver, chief cartographer at the National Geographic Society. "The great moment was Nov. 9, 1989, when the Berlin Wall was breached. It's symbolic that anything is possible, including the disintegration of the Soviet empire."
As the world realigns itself, cartographers and geographers are preparing checklists of at least a dozen political hot spots where international boundaries may shift or be erased, where island territories may change hands, and where nations may unify or break apart.
Without making predictions, mapmakers are watching:
Iraq-Kuwait: For the moment, Kuwait doesn't exist. "That's the de facto situation," says National Geographic geographer Ted Dachtera. Since the Aug. 2 invasion, the border fence has been torn down and Kuwait has been brutally dismantled. The northern half has been annexed to Iraq's Basra Province and the southern half has become Iraq's 19th province.
Soviet Union: "This is the country where most changes are likely to happen. The Soviet map in the year 2000 will not be close to what it is now," says geographer Joseph E. Schwartzberg of the University of Minnesota.
Nearly all 15 Soviet republics have asserted their independence from Moscow in some form in 1990. In the Ukraine, even the Russian ruble has been replaced.
Yugoslavia: The six republics that the late Marshal Tito held together in a socialist federation could become six countries. Ethnic hatreds are inflamed in Slovenia, Croatia and the Kosovo province of Serbia.
Israel-Arab states: At the heart of Middle East turmoil is the unsettled issue of a Palestinian homeland. Since the state of Israel was proclaimed in 1948, it has fought four wars with its Arab neighbors, capturing old Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967.
North and South Korea: Their border still sealed at the Demilitarized Zone, the two Koreas have embarked on the first high-level talks about the last battlegrounds of the Cold War, these small, strategic islands that kept the Soviet Union and Japan from signing a peace treaty after World War II. Claimed as Japan's Northern Territories, the islands have been occupied by the Soviets since 1945.
South Africa: Easing of the strict apartheid policy may lead to reincorporation of the four black homelands, which South Africa declared independent. No other nation has recognized these homelands as separate countries.
Ethiopia: Bloodied by rebel warfare, Eritrea province may succeed in breaking away from Ethiopia after nearly 40 years.
Canada: Canadians are searching their souls about whether to continue their country's 123-year-old confederation. Two commissions on Canada's future were created after the failure last June of the Meech Lake Accord, which would have granted French-speaking Quebec province special status within Canada.
Puerto Rico: The 51st U.S. state? An expected 1991 referendum may determine whether Puerto Rico sticks with the status quo (as a U.S. commonwealth) or becomes a state or sovereign nation.
Such a checklist of potential changes is hardly complete, because pockets of disputed land can be found on every continent.