The question “How many countries are in the world?” seems to be quite simple. But the reality is it is far more complicated than it seems to be. Why? Because of political, socio-economic, and geographical complexities.
The number of countries can vary greatly depending on the source, with no global consensus on the whole. The country is the word used for a place that is considered to be an independent and sovereign county. The controversy arises on the question: Which places count as independent and sovereign countries?
The Montevideo Convention (1933) on the rights and responsibilities of countries presented four key characteristics for statehood. These four characteristics include a permanent population, a self-governing independent government, a well-defined territory, and the capacity of the country to have diplomatic relations with other countries.
Even if we consider these criteria, still disputes can arise. Because it’s possible for some regions to declare their independence and get recognition from other countries in the world. But other regions could face difficulty getting recognition as sovereign states. This could be due to territorial disputes or any political conflicts.
Since there are various perspectives and interpretations related to statehood, it makes it pretty difficult to come up with a universally accepted and definitive count like this many countries exist in the world. Therefore, it’s critical that we acknowledge all the intricacies as well as subjectivity surrounding this apparently straightforward question.
195 Countries Recognized by the United Nations
Note that it’s the United Nations that recognizes an independent country. Otherwise, the situation could have been worse with every second Islandl declaring itself as a country. According to the United Nations, there are 195 countries, out of which 193 countries are United Nations members. While 2 countries, Palestine and Holy See, are non-member permanent observers. The two states can take part in all UN activities except casting a vote in the General Assembly.
These countries mostly recognize each other as independent sovereign countries. And they are the states mostly present on the world map and countries list. Almost every state known to you is a United Nations member, or one of the two United Nations observer states.
But the figure does not include the two self-governing territories, Taiwan and Kosovo. They declare themselves as two independent countries. But the United Nations does not fully accept them due to special veto power. Many countries acknowledge Taiwan in particular for having abundant economic resources.
But the United Nations does not recognize Taiwan as a sovereign state. Simply because China considers Taiwan as a part of its territory. The same is the case with Serbia and Kosovo. Both cases are examples in which political factors are preventing a nation’s recognition as an independent state. Especially in cases when the territory is a disputed area as in the case of Palestine.
Now where are these 195 countries on the map? Well, 54 countries are located in Africa. Then comes Asia with 48 of these nations. 44 of them are in Europe. 33 countries are located in the Caribbean and Latin America. 14 in Oceania and the remaining 2 are in Northern America.
The Complicated Cases
- There are some well-established states which have not been members of the United Nations since the beginning. This further complicates the UN figures. Switzerland, for example, became a member of the UN in 2002. But its status as an independent state argued long before that date. Therefore, it may be worthwhile to look at other international institutions for collecting data. For instance, institutes like World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), and World Trade Organization, etc.
- If you observe the map of the world, certain regions of the globe seem to be countries instead. For instance, Greenland is a large island between the Arctic and Atlantic oceans. It appears to be a country on the map. However, it is not a member country of the United Nations. It’s controlled by Denmark, which is a relatively smaller European country thousands of miles away. It’s also a fact that Greenland manages and governs most of its local activities and domestic affairs.
- Even a country like the United Kingdom is a conflicted country. Despite the fact that it’s a major economic player in the world. And also a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, also known as veto power. The name United Kingdom is only a collective name that refers to the four individual countries. These are England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Each country has its own complex political history with England and territorial conflicts that even continue today.
Some Other Examples of Complicated Cases
- In addition to it, there are 39 regions that are Dependent Territories. These are the regions that lack political independence. And various controlling states govern remotely. These territories include Cook Islands, Niue, Tokelau, Ross Dependency, Bouvet Island, Peter I Island, Queen Maud Land, Bailiwick of Guernsey, Bailiwick of Jersey, Isle of Man, Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, Pitcairn Islands, Saint Helena, Ascension, and Tristan da Cunha, Turks and Caicos Islands, Akrotiri and Dhekelia, British Indian Ocean Territory, South Georgia, and the South Sandwich Islands, British Antarctic Territory, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, United States Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Baker Island, Howland Island, Jarvis Island, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, Midway Atoll, Navassa Island, Wake Atoll, Bajo Nuevo Bank, and Serranilla Bank.
The discussion above proves that it is not an easy and simple task to determine the exact and accurate number of countries in the world. The ever-changing nature of global politics further adds to the complexity of the question. As the issues of sovereignty are likely to remain unresolved completely because the meaning of nationhood is constantly undergoing redefinition.
Partially Recognized States
Other than the above-mentioned countries, there are some other grey-area states, that are not members of the United Nations but at least one of its members recognizes them. We refer to this phenomenon as diplomatic recognition in official terms. The main reason these countries are not officially accepted by the United Nations is because of Northern Cyprus, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia.
All these territories are under the claim of other states but those states do not completely govern them. The number of United Nations members who recognize them as independent countries varies from country to country. For instance, there is only one country that recognizes Northern Cyprus. However, there are around 101 countries that recognize Kosovo.
Few other sources also count the Cook Islands and Niue as partially recognized states. Although these two territories have never declared independence from New Zealand, they are highly self-governing and sometimes act as independent states.
Taiwan along with its surrounding islands is self-governing and calls itself the Republic of China (ROC), while China calls itself the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Even Taiwan ROC used to hold Chinese eat at the United Nations until the 1970s, and therefore most of the country considered the ROC as the only legitimate government of China.
However, in 1971, the United Nations replaced ROC with PRC. Since 2019, because of the diplomatic pressure and dominance of China over world politics, only 15 member countries of the United Nations along with one UN observer, the Vatican City, recognize Taiwan as a country.
In the current global scenario, the Taiwan government has no intention of controlling all of China. But rather wants recognition as an independent nation in its own right. The geopolitical situation of Taiwan is complex because mainland China claims Taiwan to be an inseparable part of it.
As it turns out, China is cutting down ties with the states having diplomatic relations with Taiwan. As a result of this pressure, the number of countries recognizing Taiwan is declining with each year.
Western Sarah, which is a former Spanish colony, is a disputed region. The Kingdom of Morocco and Polisario Front (Popular Front for the Libertarian of the Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro), both claim this region.
The dispute started from an insurgency by the Polisario Front against Spanish colonial subjugation in 1973 and escalated as a result of the Morocco-Western Sahara war from 1975 to 1991 leading towards the withdrawal of Spanish forces from Western Sahara under the Madrid Accords.
Ten African countries started to build diplomatic relations with Western Sahara by the end of 2019 under the Rabat mission. The country is being supported by a number of states all over the world including Algeria, Angola, Botswana, Belize, Libya, Iran, Guatemala, and Jamaica.
In 2008, Kosovo declared itself independent from Serbia. It’s a landlocked country that lies in the middle of the Balkans, a geographical region in Southeast Europe. After declaring its independence, 15 states cut off their diplomatic ties with Kosovo because of pressure from Serbia.
The countries that have withdrawn their recognition include Burundi, Madagascar, Papua New Guinea, Suriname, etc. In contemporary global politics, 101 out of 193 member countries of the United Nations recognize Kosovo as a sovereign state. However, the following countries don’t recognize it: Iran, Iraq, Angola, Kazakhstan, Mali, Nigeria, Turkmenistan, Syria, Russia, and Sudan.
Abkhazia and Ossetia
The two territories, Abkhazia and Ossetia are disputed lands in the Caucasus Region. As a result of the Russo-Georgian War of 2008, they both were separated from Georgia. These regions have been recognized as independent sovereign countries by Russia, Syria, Nicaragua, Syria, Nauru, Venezuela, and Vanuatu (only recognize Abkhazia).
The region of Northern Cyprus is recognized by Turkey alone. Turkey at this time is having its embassy in North Nicosia while Northern Cyprus is having an embassy in Ankara. The northern part of the island has been under the control of Turkey since 1974, a failed coup to annex the Island into the territory of Greece.
Self Declared Countries
The six partially recognized states are not the only complicating entities that have full autonomy and self-governance. Other than these six states, there are at least 3 more self-declared states operating independently of the states that claim them.
These, as well as the partially recognized countries, are mostly referred to as “de facto” sovereign countries- a Latin word used to describe their state, that they are truly independent countries, even if not in writing.
The three most commonly considered de facto independent states in spite of the United Nations’ zero recognition are Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh), Transnistria, and Somaliland. Since 2014, new territories are contending for the same purpose, the Donetsk Republic and the Lugansk Republic.
These two self-declared nations are still not as well organized and established as the others mentioned above, but now they have remained for almost seven years, and are often placed on the list of de facto states.
Major Global Players
Both the United States and the United Kingdom are the oldest major players in global politics. These are the countries that ruled almost all parts of the world for centuries. A number of states got independence from them and emerged as independent states on the map of the world in the post-colonial era.
Although in the contemporary global setting, China is also dominating world politics and has emerged as the fastest-growing economy and developing country, China is new to global politics and has not colonized a major part of the world in the past.
Therefore, the two most dominating powers that left their footprints on the culture of almost every country of the world are the United States and the United Kingdom.
The United States of America is both a very new nation and also a very old nation. About 30,000 years ago, the first Asian hunters and nomadic settlers arrived in North America; however, the United States of America was not established until 1776 with the Declaration of Independence.
The history of the US is the history of the different peoples that make up the United States of America. In 1492 when the first Europeans arrived, millions of people from all over the world came to the United States and found their new homes.
The name “America” is frequently used to refer to the United States of America, however, till the political formation of the USA after the Revolutionary War, this identification mentioned South America only. e Northeast is the most populous area. Its main urbanization corridor is called the national “metropolis”.
It is the fourth-largest country in the world, with an area of 9,529,107 square kilometers, with fifty states and a federal district, the capital of Washington, DC. Its 48 neighboring states are located in central North America.
The United States is a union of 50 independent states. It is the third-largest country in the world, with almost the third-largest population. The country is located in North America, to the west, it is bordered by the Pacific Ocean, and to the east by the Atlantic Ocean.
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the official name of a sovereign country and the London Parliament has the rule over it. The term “United Kingdom” usually includes Northern Ireland; the term “United Kingdom” refers to the Island of Great Britain and its subordinates England, Wales, and Scotland, but doesn’t include Northern Ireland.
It would be correct to call any British citizen a Briton. The land area of the United Kingdom is 89,000 square miles plus another 5,400 square miles in Northern Ireland. This makes it one of the most densely populated countries in the Western world.
The population is about 55 million:
- 46 million in England,
- 5 million in Scotland,
- 2.5 million in Wales, and
- 1.5 million in Northern Ireland.
With immigrants within the British Isles, as well as immigrants from Europe and abroad, the country’s cultural diversity has increased. Ireland became part of the United Kingdom in 1920.
Many researchers and analysts believe that there are chances of the emergence of more independent states in the future. For instance, the case of East and West Libya. This is because since the government of Qaddafi met defeat, Libya is in constant turmoil. The militants and extremists in Libya fight for power and control while different governments are also trying to take over.
With the financial center based in Barcelona, Spain, Catalonia is the central financial center of the country. The Catalans are striving to have a separate independent state for years, despite the fact that many nations oppose this separation. A part of Somalia called Somali Land considers itself an independent sovereign state that has its own government, military, currency, and finances.
It has self-proclaimed independence from Somalia and has formed informal ties and diplomatic relations with other states of the world. However, the rest of the world has not recognized it formally yet.
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