Photo Political Geography
Photo Political Geography

What defines a nation?

According to the Montevideo Convention, which in 1933 set out the rules for defining a state, there are 203 nations worldwide. But that figure should be taken with a pinch of salt, said Momal-Vanian.

"Every student of international law knows about the Montevideo Convention, which says a country must fulfil four criteria for it to be a state: it must have a territory, a population, a government and the ability to enter into a relationship with other states."

The Convention doesn't say what nations this applies to, Momal-Vanian said, but pointed out that lists of countries are often created based on the text of the Convention.

The difference between 192 UN member states on the one hand and 203 or maybe even more on the other is politically explosive: Taiwan, Kosovo, Palestine, Somaliland, Western Sahara, Northern Iraq and Northern Cyprus – every one of those names stands for an unsolved political conflict. And all of these 'geographic entities' have at some point unilaterally declared their independence.

Marcelo Kohen, professor for International Law at the Graduate Institute, Geneva, said the international community was sceptical about these secessionist territories.

"You have many secessionist movements around the world, and they can proclaim independence, but this is nothing but words," he said.

How Many Countries Does the United Nations Recognize - Update?

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Photo Youtube

According to the United Nations, the body organized to uphold the rights of people around the globe, a new country has to be recognized by other states who are members of the United Nations before it is considered a country.

The recognition of a new state assumes that this new state is willing and able to assume diplomatic relations with other member countries of the United Nations.

In most cases, the ultimate country count rests on the number of UN member states that are recognized by that international body. There are 193 members, which could imply that there are 193 countries.

There are 193 countries that are recognized members of the UN as well as two UN observer states. The two UN observer states are the Holy See (also known as the Vatican) and the Palestinian Authority.

Additionally, there are six countries that have obtained partial recognition from UN member states. These are Taiwan, Western Sahara, Kosovo, South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Northern Cyprus.

These territories are claimed by other countries but are not controlled by them. Depending on the type of map you look at, these countries will be surrounded by a dotted line rather than a solid one demarcating an independent nation from the countries around it.

South Sudan was recognized as a country in 2011, which is the latest member nation to be admitted to the UN.

UN Members: 193

UN Observer States: 2

Total: 195

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Photo Nomads

204-207 De Facto Sovereign States

But wait, there's more! Those six partially-recognized countries aren't the only so-called "breakaway states" with full self-governance. There are at least three more self-declared countries that aren't recognized by any UN members at all, but still operate independently from the countries that claim them. These, along with the partially-recognized countries, are often called "de facto" sovereign states - a fancy Latin way of saying they're independent countries in actual fact, even if not on paper.

UN Members: 193

UN Observer States: 2

States With Partial Recognition: 6

Unrecognized de facto Sovereign States: 3 to 5

Total: 204 to 206

206 Olympic Nations

Lots of people learn about the world's list of countries by watching the Olympic Games every two years. If that sounds like you, then you might be confused about why the Olympic Parade of Nations claims more than 200 members, even though your atlas only shows 195 countries.

That's because the Olympics didn't always require applicants to be independent countries. Dependent territories with partial self-government have sometimes been approved by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as "nations", and a couple of the partially-recognized states mentioned above have also managed it.

Olympic Nations that are UN Member States: 193

Olympic Nations that are UN Observer States: 1

Olympic Nations that are Partially-recognized States: 2

Olympic Nations that are Dependent Territories: 10

Total IOC-Recognized Olympic Nations: 206

About half of the dependent territories in the Olympics are overseas possessions of the US (like Puerto Rico) or the UK (like Bermuda). Some semi-independent "countries" like the Cook Islands (associated with New Zealand) and Aruba (a "constituent country" of the Netherlands) are included too.

Currently, every existing UN member country is also an Olympic Nation, with the latest addition, South Sudan, joining in August 2015. The one UN Observer State that participates in the Olympics is Palestine - Vatican City is happy to participate as part of the Italian team for now.

As for the two partially-recognized countries in the games, Kosovo became an Olympic Nation in 2014, and Taiwan has been a member for some time, but has to call itself "Chinese Taipei" after a deal struck with China in the 1980s.

**READ MORE: List 35 for the First in the World: First Person, First Thing and Country

249 Country Codes in the ISO Standard List

Ever been filling out an internet form, and had to choose from a surprisingly long list of countries? You were probably looking at the international standard "country code" list, technically known by the exciting name of ISO 3166-1. Lots of companies and other organizations adopt this standard list instead of spending their own time compiling one. The standard also includes convenient two-letter codes for each country, like us for the United States, de for Germany, and jp for Japan, which you might recognize from website addresses specific to those countries.

This ISO standard is based on an official list kept by the UN...but then why on Earth are there 249 country codes? That's way more than the total number of UN member and observer countries! Well, the standard list does leave out some breakaway states that aren't recognized by the UN, but then it makes up for it by listing dependent territories separately from their parent countries. In other words, the ISO list is more an answer to the question, "How many countries and territories in the world?" than "How many countries in the world?"

That means there are "country codes" not just for actual countries, but also for nearly-independent states, overseas colonies, uninhabited island territories, and even Antarctica! That's important because organizations might need an option for any piece of land in the world that a person can be located on, and many dependent territories often aren't technically part of the countries they belong to.

UN Members: 193

UN Observer States: 2

States With Partial Recognition: 2

Inhabited Dependent Territories: 45

Uninhabited Territories: 6

Antarctica: 1

Total: 249

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