Wednesday, February 8, 2012

What is a Country?

tags: country list, United Nations

Last week I read in a newsletter that there were 195 countries in the world.  A couple of days later someone called, had read the same newsletter, and asked if I had a list of “all countries”.  I asked if they wanted, the 195 counties or a list of mailing destinations.

That 195 number includes the U.N. member countries plus Kosovo, Taiwan and Vatican City.  This number does not include the geographic entities that receive mail as though they are countries but are not.  (Hong Kong and Macau immediately come to mind.)  Some non-countries also have unique telephone country codes and some independent countries share a telephone country code.

That count of countries will change slightly depending on what is included or excluded as a country.  And that depends on who is doing the count, as well as the purpose.  Which geographic entities are countries is a complex political issue that is taken very seriously by nations and international organizations.

Here are some more places that are recognized – or not – as countries.  Kosovo is recognized by 85 U.N.-member countries (out of 193).  Western Sahara, also known as Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, is recognized by 58 U.N.-member countries.  Palestine has declared independence with the support of many U.N. members, although it is not recognized by the U.N. as a country but has a U.N. observer mission.  Abkhazia (6 recognitions), South Ossetia (5 recognitions), Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (none), and Transnistria (none) have all declared independence.  Other groups have independence movements – or rebellions – depending on which side one takes.

The United Nations lists 15 non-self governing territories, other than Western Sahara, under Global Issues, Decolonization.  They are American Samoa, Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands (Malvinas), Gibraltar, Guam, Montserrat, New Caledonia, Pitcairn , St. Helena, Tokelau, Turks and Caicos Islands, and United States Virgin Islands.

I think I will call my list geographic entities until a better term comes along.