How many countries are there in the world?
It may sound like a scary simple question, but answering how many countries
there are in the world is an almost impossible task.
The problem is that there is no proper unambiguous definition of what a
country agrees with.
In fact, it is as difficult as finding out what is the world's largest city.
For example, would you say that the United Kingdom is one country? Or
three? Or four? And are countries like Canada, Australia, Jamaica independent
countries, or are they really controlled by Queen Elizabeth II as part of the
What is what?
But let's try anyway:
The UN officially has 193 Member States that must be considered as their own
countries, with the last new membership being South Sudan in 2011. (In this
definition, the United Kingdom is one country - but Canada, Australia and
Jamaica are, of course, listed as independent).
It is not straightforward, however, since some of the UN member states are
also debated. For example, Turkey does not recognize Cyprus, and neither South
nor North Korea recognize each other.
On the list of member states, on the other hand, you will not find a country
"everyone" recognizes, namely the Vatican City. However, this is because they do
not want to be a full UN member state.
Kosovo will definitely claim to be a country of its own, but Serbia
is strongly opposed. They are recognized by most Western countries as a separate
country, but not by Russia and China, for example.
Then we end up in 195 countries, which is a relatively widely accepted
definition, but as we shall see at the very bottom, the UN actually uses a list
of 200 countries.
Of the more high-profile conflicts, we find the island of Taiwan, once
recognized by the United Nations as a representative of "real" China, but which
has lost that status. Unofficially has been considered a separate country for
many years by most, but with its longstanding conflict with China, few are
recognized as a country.
Countryaah, many countries have something similar to embassies in the country, and it is
currently somewhat uncertain whether the country now really wants full freedom
There are also a large number of areas that want to be their own countries,
but who simply do not receive the necessary recognition.
Palestine is a crown example, which has received much recognition, but is
still such a contentious area that its legal status is difficult to establish.
Western Sahara remains a significant source of conflict,
with Morocoo claiming to have control.
South Ossetia - the country that caused Russia to take action
against Georgia in 2008 - is recognized as its own by a handful of countries,
including Russia. The status of Abkhazia in the same area is about the same.
At the other end of the scale we find Somaliland who claims to have broken
out Somalia, without anyone acknowledging them for that at all.
Territories, administrative regions and cooperation agreements
It becomes even more complicated when you look at miniature states and small
islands that have more or less cooperation with other countries.
For example, Puerto Rico is subject to the United States as a territory, but
does not have voting rights in the United States. Indeed, the United States has
control over a large number of smaller islands and lands.
The Cook Islands are often referred to as a country, but what they call in a
"free association" with New Zealand. Yet they are UN members.
The Netherlands, for its part, has formal control over a pile of islands in
the Caribbean - and the United Kingdom still has full control over islands and
territories over much of the world - including Gibraltar, the Cayman Islands and
the Falkland Islands.
China, for its part, has half-separated two areas, Hong Kong and Macau, as
separate administrative regions with very special status.
The largest island in the world, Greenland, on the other hand, is a Danish
island with self-government.
And so you can continue almost infinitely with different forms of
almost-land. Pirate Bay even tried to gain control of Sealand - which was simply
an old rig off the coast of Northern Ireland.
The UN cooperates with 200 countries
Although the UN currently has 193 member countries, on its websites it lists
a total of 200 countries referred to as member countries.
On this list we find countries such as Kosovo, the Vatican and Cook Islands
which are not actually full UN countries.