Sunday, August 22, 2010

How many countries are there in the world?

In theory, it should be easy to count the countries in the world: an atlas or an encyclopaedia should be enough. However, many territories do not have a well-defined status or are not accepted by the international community as independent states. This is the case of Taiwan, an independent country since 1949 but not recognised as such by the UN and most countries because of the pressure exerted by the Chinese government, considering Taiwan just a rebel territory within Chinese borders.
Not even the United Nations dares to count the countries in the world --in its web site, the FAQ “How many countries are there in the world?” is answered as follows:  “We are not an authority on this topic. We suggest you visit a public library in your area, consult an encyclopaedia or a world almanac”.
And this is precisely what we did. There are 193 states with general international recognition: 192 member states of the United Nations plus the Vatican City, which is a UN permanent observer but not a member country.
Besides these 193 states, there are several other countries, be them independent or not, which claim this status. The number of non-recognised countries depends on the author, but the most generous list accounts for 50 more countries, which added to the 193 internationally recognised countries, make up a total of 243.
Out of these extra 50 countries, 9 or 10 are fully sovereign states which do not have general international recognition, including Taiwan (recognised only by 24 countries), the Turkish part of Cyprus (de facto independent state that is recognised only by Turkey), Palestinian territories in the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank (recognised by 92 countries), Kosovo (recognised by more than one third of UN members but not by Spain) and South Ossetia.
Also, there are about 40 inhabited regions subject to other countries but in the process of becoming independent states, like Greenland and the Faroe Islands (belonging to Denmark) or with a status of its own, like some former colonies of European countries which are more or less autonomous regions still belonging to the metropolis. This list also includes some special cases like the Cook Islands, in free association with New Zealand, or the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macao, recognised by international treaties.
Finally, there are many territories willing to become independent and it is possible that some of them manage to do so in the upcoming years, becoming part of this list.
Therefore, it is not surprising that the UN washes its hands when counting the countries in this world.



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