There are 195 UN-recognised nations in the world. About 50 more have declared themselves independent. However, the count does not end here.
One of my friends asked me the other day: “Do you know how many countries there are in the world”? To my surprise, I had never given any real consideration to the question before. A gentleman sitting in front of us joined the conversation by claiming that there are 250 countries in the world. Another man sitting beside him dramatically brushed off his claim and stated that “the number of countries in the world is not fixed. It changes every year based on several conditions.”
I came home and tried to get some information from the internet. However, it seemed that similar confusion prevailed on the web. Different organizations provide various facts and claim all sorts of different numbers. Curious about the entire affair, I started to dig deeper and came across some surprising facts.
Let’s take a closer look!
Starting with the number games
The answer to our question simply depends on our point of view and how we define a ‘country’. By its formal definition, a country is a region identified by specific borders and distinct political geography. It might be a sovereign nation with a government of its own or a state that is associated with a larger one having fixed political norms.
However, many people claim that a country is only formed when it has been recognized by the United Nations. According to this theory, there are 195 countries (Source) in the world, including two observer states—The Holy See (Vatican City) and the State of Palestine. These 195 nations are affiliated with the UN and recognized by every organization in the world as independent nations.
However, if we add all the pieces of land under the jurisdiction of other countries, such as Aruba, Christmas Island, the Isle of Man, Hong Kong and many others, and also include regions like Antarctica, we could argue that there are 247 different countries (Source).
Even so, the count doesn’t stop there, as there are even more. The Minor Islands outlying theUnited States are counted as a single country, but in fact, it is a collection of 8 islands that can be considered separate entities. Furthermore, there are some uninhabited islands and atolls, such as Bassa da India.
What is an observer state?
The Non-Member States of the United Nations, which are part of one or more specialized bodies of the UN, are granted the designation of an Observer state. These nations have the privilege of attending all UN assembly meetings and have the right to speak, but they cannot cast votes on the resolutions or propose new ones. They are free to submit a petition to join as a full member at their discretion.
South Sudan became the 193rd member state of the United Nations in 2011 after their petition was passed in the General Assembly.
Nations not recognized by the UN
About 21 members of the United Nations, as well as the Vatican, recognizes Taiwan as the seat of the Republic of China, that is, as a separate sovereign nation from the People’s Republic of China. Taiwan has an operational government that is elected democratically every term. It also has its own army, a currency that is unrelated to China’s and a constitution of its own. However, whether Taiwan is an independent nation or not is still under dispute.
Kosovo is a member of several major organizations, including the International Money Fund, the World Health Organization and the World Bank. However, its statehood has been under dispute ever since it declared itself independent from Serbia in February 2008 and it is not entirely recognized by the UN security council as an independent nation.
If you’ve always had the dream of becoming the president of a nation or rule a kingdom, this might be your chance. There are several places in the world that are claimed by no one, as well as regions that are under title dispute but recognized as independent nations by many other countries.
Bir Tawil is perhaps the most famous unclaimed piece of land in the world.
The region lies between Egypt and Sudan. The issue here is that Egypt considers the border to be straight, claiming the Hala’ib Triangle along with the wealthy port city of Hala’ib as its very own, whereas Sudan suggests that the border is jagged, and Hala’ib falls into its territory, while also claiming Bir Tawil to be inside Egypt. Neither country wants Bir Tawil because it would nullify their claim to the Hala’ib triangle and thus their passage to the Red Sea.
If Egypt lays claim Bir Tawil, it will need to accept the border as jagged (as shown in the map) as historical facts suggest that only either of the two borders are possible and not any other. If Sudan claims Bir Tawil, it is faced by a similar situation.
Antarctica is governed by the Antarctic Treaty system, which was ratified by over 50 nations of the world. Some claims overlap each other, while many are not recognized by most underlying parties. Still, a large portion of the icy desert remains unclaimed, as can be seen in the figure below. Who knows… you might be its next ruler!
The People’s Republic of Podjistan
This is a weird one. Located in rural Northern Ireland, this small piece of land was declared independent from Northern Ireland in 2010. Simon Stewart, who started it all as a satirical gig, has said that the future of his micronation might be in doubt with the fear of Brexit looming large. However, the legal status of this place remains doubtful, so you might have the chance to put your name on it.
A Final Word
There are 195 UN-recognized countries, while about 50 more nations claim themselves to be independent territories. Unless we come up with some specific norms for defining a country, this number will remain hotly debated.
However, looking at the bigger picture, with people all around the world planning space expeditions to other planets in the hopes of building settlements and starting civilizations, it’s imperative that we understand the concept of boundaries and sovereignty logically and consistently.
The recent past of our planet (the last 10,000 years, which are a blink compared to the history of our planet) has been full of blood and war, all because of boundaries. An enormous amount of resources have been wasted, all of which could have been saved, along with many innocent lives, if people could understand one simple thing…. our whole planet is just one vast country!