02 January, 2013

How Many Countries Are There in the World in 2014?

This post, originally from 2011, has been updated up to 2014.

A free world political map published by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency
One of the most basic questions for map lovers is, "How many countries are there in the world?" As it turns out, the answer depends on how you define "country". Here are six of the most common answers, each correct in its own way:

195 Widely Recognized Sovereign States
In most situations, "country" is taken to refer to a sovereign nation-state. Sovereignty - the idea that a country is completely and independently controlled by its own government - is a sticky issue that has been under debate for the last 2,000 years. But for convenience, most mapmakers and references bypass the sovereignty issue and just look at which countries are internationally recognized as being sovereign. This means that most of the other countries in the world officially accept them as sovereign nation-states (there's admittedly some circular logic involved here, but for the most part it works out, because the majority of recognized countries have a reasonably high level of real sovereignty).

The most common way to count "internationally recognized sovereign states", and the method used by most world maps and publications, is to first count members of the United Nations, then count non-U.N. members who are still allowed to sit in on U.N. meetings as official observer states:

U.N. Members: 193
U.N. Observer States: 2
Total: 195

These are the countries you'll see on most world maps, and on most lists of the world's countries. In addition to U.N. membership or observer status, these 195 states are also mostly recognized by all of each other's governments, with a few exceptions. The two U.N. Observer State countries are Vatican City (represented by the Holy See) and Palestine. If you want to know the names of all 195 of these countries, Wikipedia maintains a complete list.

201 States With At Least Partial Recognition
There are also several more states which have partial diplomatic recognition - acceptance by one or more U.N. participant countries, but not by the U.N. as a whole. These states, such as Taiwan and Kosovo, are usually labeled on world maps as disputed territories or special cases rather than full countries. The extent of their international recognition varies wildly, from recognition by just one other country (as in the case of Northern Cyprus) to recognition by nearly half of U.N. members (as with Kosovo).

U.N. Members: 193
U.N. Observer States: 2
States With Partial Recognition:
Total: 201

These states' level of actual real-life independence varies, but the same is true for the U.N. member countries (for example, Taiwan's sovereignty situation is nearly the same as U.N. members North Korea and South Korea). The main difference is just a matter of recognition by other countries and the U.N. The six states with partial recognition are Taiwan, Western Sahara, Kosovo, South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Northern Cyprus. Wikipedia includes these states in its list of Other Sovereign States, which also includes some countries with no recognition at all (see next paragraph).

204 Recognized or De Facto Independent States
In addition to those states with full or partial recognition, there are at least four more states that operate as independent countries without any diplomatic recognition from any U.N. members. These are often referred to as "de facto" independent states. "De facto" is a term borrowed from Latin to mean "in actual fact" (similar to "unofficially"), as opposed to "de jure", meaning "by law" (similar to "officially"). They, along with many of the partially recognized states, are also referred to as "breakaway states", because they were formed by seceding from other (usually U.N.-member) countries. However, they are in fact governed completely independently from the countries that claim them (despite news media tending to refer to them inaccurately as "semi-autonomous", a term meaning "partly self-governed").

U.N. Members: 193
U.N. Observer States: 2
States With Partial Recognition:
Unrecognized De Facto Sovereign States: 3
Total: 204

Although they are not recognized by any U.N. members, these states may be recognized by each other or by some of the partially recognized states. Despite lacking any U.N.-member recognition, they may in fact be more stable and in-control than some U.N. members (like Somalia or Afghanistan). The three unrecognized de facto independent states are Nagorno-Karabakh, Transnistria, and Somaliland. Wikipedia includes these states in its list of Other Sovereign States, which also includes the partially recognized states from the section above. Although the issue is up for debate, both Wikipedia and I have chosen not to include states that have extensive de facto sovereignty but have never claimed independence (such as Puntland), nor entities whose status as any kind of state, sovereign or not, is questionable (such as Sealand).

204 Olympic Nations
Although political scientists might not look to sporting events to define what countries are, the Olympic Games are the biggest exposure to the world's diversity of countries that many average people get. They might be confused, then, when their world atlas only lists 195 countries, while the Olympics regularly claim to represent over 200 nations. This is because the Olympics don't require all of their "nations" to be independent countries. Dependent territories belonging to other countries have sometimes been allowed to create their own National Olympic Committees (NOC), which can then be recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). States with only partial diplomatic recognition can also sometimes be recognized by the IOC.

NOCs of U.N. Member States: 192
NOCs of U.N. Observer States: 1
NOCs of Partially Recognized States: 1
NOCs of Dependent Territories: 10
Total IOC-Recognized NOCs: 204

The only U.N. member not represented in the IOC is the newly independent South Sudan, which has not yet had time to form a national committee. About half of the dependent territories that participate in the Olympics are overseas possessions of the U.S. (such as Puerto Rico) and the U.K. (such as Bermuda). Some marginally dependent territories, such as the Cook Islands and Aruba (connected to New Zealand and the Netherlands respectively), are even referred to as "countries", though they do not claim full independence. The only partially recognized state admitted to the Olympics is Taiwan (which is required to call itself "Chinese Taipei"). For more on the Olympic Nations, see Parade of Nations: Which Countries Are (and Aren't) in the Olympics.

209 FIFA Countries Eligible for the World Cup
FIFA, the international soccer organization that administers the World Cup and other tournaments, includes even more teams than the Olympics do. For most of its history, FIFA, like the IOC, didn't require independence or international recognition of its member states. Now they're a bit stricter, and rarely admit teams representing dependent territories; but any team which is already a member is allowed to stay. Based on tradition, FIFA also allows the "constituent countries" of the U.K. (England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland) to compete as separate teams, even though they aren't independent states.

Teams of U.N. Member States: 186
Teams of U.N. Observer States: 1
Teams of Partially Recognized States: 1
Teams of U.K. Constituent Countries: 4
Teams of Dependent Territories: 17
Total FIFA Member Associations: 209

You may notice that not all 193 of the U.N. member states are included. That's because there are several very small countries that aren't members, plus the U.K. (replaced by its "constituent countries"). Vatican City, one of the U.N.'s non-member observer states, also does not participate in FIFA tournaments or in the Olympics. For more information, see Which Countries Are (and Aren't) Part of FIFA?

249 Country Codes in ISO 3166-1
Many organizations use short two- or three-letter "country codes" to represent different countries or nationalities. Often, these codes are based on ISO 3166-1, a standard specification of codes published by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). These codes, like us for the United States, bz for Belize, and iq for Iraq (there's also a separate set of three-letter codes) are perhaps most famously used for internet domain names, such as http://somewebsite.jp for websites based in Japan. Based on data from the U.N., they exclude some unrecognized or partially unrecognized states, but they include pretty much everything else imaginable, from independent countries, to dependent territories, to uninhabited island territories - there's even a code for Antarctica!

U.N. Members: 193
U.N. Observer States: 2
States With Partial Recognition:
Inhabited Dependent Territories: 45
Uninhabited Territories: 6
Antarctica: 1
Total: 249

The above categories are my own - no subcategories are defined in the ISO standard. Obviously, some of the places on the list are regions that few people, if anyone, would call "countries." But if you're ever wondering why there are so many "countries" on some lists, now you know! The Wikipedia page for ISO 3166-1 has the full list, along with little colorful flags.

59 comments:

  1. Maybe in a year or two you could add Catalonia to the list. Relations between Catalonia and Spain have reached a no return point, and the last polls show that about 51% of catalans would vote yes to a independence referendum, and only 22% would vote no. I supose this isue could interest you, as a person interested in world politics and geography.

    http://independentcatalonia.blogspot.com/

    http://www.helpcatalonia.cat/

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catalan_independentism

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    1. These figures are manipulated and wrong. As a Catalan, I love Catalonia with the rest of the regions of Spain, as the majority of Catalans, who feel first Spaniards. But the present regional Government manipulates the news in their controlled TV, newspapers, radio, schools, etc. Catalan language is a minority language in Catalonia, and people like peace, But a minority wants the rupture with the rest of Spain to protect their politicians, who have stolen many thousands of millions of Euro (like ex president Pujol) in order to dscape from the Spanish Justice and the jail.

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  2. Yes, this issue is definitely of interest to Political Geography Now - if Catalonia ever does vote for independence, you'll definitely see it discussed here!

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  3. Hopefully Kurdistan will be the next U.N recognised country

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    1. For what ? Back stabbing every country helped them and being problem to all its neighbors

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    2. somebody just got their corn flakes crapped in.

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    3. They've played a clever game while outpacing, socially and politically , thier neighbours - and they are increasingly secular. Sorry they don't fit into the blood and iron or sit back and let it happen mold.

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    4. RJT are you from the UK?

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    5. who is anyonymus thing/

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    6. Even Scotland could gain independence.

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  4. Southern Sudan? A country? Not fully recognized?

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    1. there are 54 countries in africa , 47 europ , 44 asia , 23 north america , 14 ausralia , 12 south america and 0 antartica .

      54+47+44+23+14+12+0=194

      there r 194 countries in our world.

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    2. yes ,i thinku r right but austraia is consider as one country

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    3. yes ,i thinku r right but austraia is consider as one country

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    4. newzland also be the part of australia

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    5. New Zealand is a separate country to Australia. I think you mean to say Australasia, not Australia.

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    6. The most widely used term (besides Australia) for the ethnic continent would be Oceania

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  5. South Sudan is a recognized country (although not every country has made a point of individually recognizing it yet, they presumably have all accepted it, since it was admitted unanimously into the U.N.). They don't have an Olympic committee yet, but that's only because they haven't gotten around to creating one.

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  6. there are 54 countries in africa , 47 europ , 44 asia , 23 north america , 14 ausralia , 12 south america and 0 antartica .

    54+47+44+23+14+12+0=194

    there r 194 countries in our world.

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    1. Now that is a question that's somewhat difficult to answer, as there is no one right answer. Many sources offer different answers, and depending on the source, there are 189, 191, 192, 193, 194, 195 or 196 independent countries in the world today.

      so how believe that who is correct answer.

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  7. europe:44, asia:47

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  8. It is indeed an interesting issue but the UN does qualify a country straight ahead without looking at the economic capability of a country. if catalona wants to be internationally recognized, they need to have a reliable and standard economy.

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    1. I am not a Catalan nationalist, nor a Spaniard, but it is obvious that if failed states like Afghanistan and Somalia, barely functioning states like Guinea-Bissau, and ridiculously small states like Nauru, Palau, Dominica, Liectenstein, and Monaco could all be considered countries in their own right, then there should be no problem with a prosperous, large region like Catalonia being considered a nation. Catalonia has 7.5 million people, which would make it the 99th largest population in the world. It would be greater than the majority of the recognized nations- places like Serbia, Nicaragua, Denmark, Norway, Ireland, Kuwait, Jamaica, and Iceland. Their economy is strong: the second largest stock market in Spain, one of the highest per person GDP in Spain (above most areas of Europe), and has long been considered one of the two economic motors of Spain (along with the Basque Country).

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  9. Awesome info. So around 200 countries in the world i believe.

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  10. actually there are approx. 267 countries in the world!

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  11. If you consider Catalonia will be independent soon, by the same token you could consider Scotland, Brittany, Corsica, Basque Country, Galicia, Northern Italy (Padania), the French section of Belgium and Bavaria becoming independent. All of those are European regions with some degree of nationalistic independence movements. And that's just in Europe. We haven't touched on Tibet, Xinjiang, Outer Mongolia, & Manchuria in China or the Sikh region in India.

    Africa, South America and the Middle East have largely been divided by European colonial claims of Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, Spain & Portugal. Such boundaries were made to suit the colonial powers without regard to cultural & linguistic differences in the regions. Ultimately those cultural & linguistic differences will manifest themselves and bring about international boundaries based on those differences, instead of being based on the colonial powers.

    This movement has already manifested itself in the break up of the former Yugoslavia and the former Czechoslovakia. Catholic Scotland wants to break away from protestant England. Wales may follow. Prosperous Bavaria, Padania & Catalonia would break away from Germany, Italy & Spain, unless the powers that be get some sense into tax policies so the more prosperous regions are not drained of their resources to support less prosperous regions.

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    1. "Catholic Scotland"? I thought the biggest religion in Scotland was Presbyterianism.

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  12. Ignorant people! Scotland is not Catholic!

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  13. I think the guy is confusing the nothern ireland situation but scotland is by no means a catholic region.

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  14. Syria is to be split into two - Arab Syria and American Syria; Nigeria to be split into three - Northern Nigeria (Boko Harum section), Nigeria and Biafra; South Africa to be split into two - South Africa (black) and Cape Town (white); DRC to b split into six countries; Libya into two and Eqypt into two. That makes many many countries for the USA to enter into bilateral agreements with for blood OIL.

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    1. You are not making any positive contribution to these discussions. Please do not be sentimental.

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  15. be a independent humn of this world .......rather being an dependent citizen of independent country.. god possper the human who is humnholic not other illogical things..

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  16. Europe and Asia has 100 countries

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  17. confusing how many countries are?..........

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    1. The point is, there's no single correct answer. It all depends on how you define "country", and many people don't agree on the definition.

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    2. 244 countries in the world

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  18. hippidy ga ga boo boo

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  19. Is it correct to say that there are "more than 200 countries" in the world?

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    1. By some definitions? Yes. By the most common definition? No.

      There really is no one right answer.

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  20. Eelam should be separated from Srilanka. Though the movement was supressed now with genocide by Srilankan goverment... it will happen one day..

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    1. Please answer the question without seeing day dreams of Eelam which never happen.

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  21. Your polls are absolutely unofficial... And wrong... You should be more careful... or learn how to count.
    Catalonia is a beautiful traditional region of Spain. A part of the whole cannot decide to break apart based on a couple power-thirsty politicians.

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  22. For those who are interested, PolGeoNow has an article on Catalonia and the movement for it to declare independence from Spain:

    http://www.polgeonow.com/2013/02/catalonia-europes-newest-nation.html

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  23. there are 54 countries in africa , 47 europ , 44 asia , 23 north america , 14 ausralia , 12 south america and 0 antartica .

    54+47+44+23+14+12+0=194

    there r 194 countries in our world.

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  24. While thinking about watching the Olympics tonight, I casually asked my grown daughter how many countries there are in the world. My daughter said there's no need to argue about facts anymore since you can just look them up on the internet. I'll have to refer her to this website.

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  25. What about Niue and the Cook Islands? Wouldn't that bring the total to 206?

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    1. Good question! Niue and Cook Islands have a gray status in between that of dependent territories and independent countries, so it's hard to decide what to count them as. They don't usually appear on U.N.-based lists of the world's countries, and they haven't actually declared independence either, so they're most commonly counted as dependent territories.

      But it's true that they have some features of independent countries (apparently including diplomatic recognition from a few U.N. members), so you could just as well include them to bring the list of "recognized or de facto independent states" up to 206. Yet another way of counting the world's countries!

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  26. The question was how many lands are there in the world? Not how many countries are in the world!

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    1. Well one planet, One land as they are all connected in one way or another.
      As to how many countries, well.... a finite amount, as you can only break a whole up so many times.

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  27. aprx. 195 countries in the world

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  28. there are 12 months in a year

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  29. there are heaps

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  30. I THINK THERES 19

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