How Many Countries Are There In The World?  It seems like a straightforward question.  So, there must be a simple answer.

But that is far from the truth.  Everyone seems to have their own opinion and most of them result in a different answer.

With my podcast, Counting Countries, I interview the world’s most traveled people.  Those who have traveled to every country in the world or are in the process of completing that goal.  I have interviewed people like Gunnar Garfors, Babis Bizas, and Slawek Muturi.  These three men have traveled to every country in the world, twice.

Gunnar Garfors
Babis Bizas
Slawek Mutari

I have also interviewed Lexie Alford, the youngest person to travel to every country in the world according to the Guinness World Records, and Joss Stone, the Grammy Award winning musician who has traveled to every country in the world while performing.

Lexie Alford
Joss Stone

UN – 193

A lot of people view the United Nations as the starting point.  The UN recognizes 193 sovereign nations.  The UN was formed in 1945 with 45 original members.  It has quadrupled in size over the years with some growth spurts.  In the 1960s many African countries gained their independence.  In the 1990s, both the Soviet Union collapsed and splintered into many different countries.

United Nations

It is not a simple process to join the UN.  First, all five members of the UN Security Council must approve your application.  Those five countries are China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, and the United States.  Then at least four more members of the rotating, non-permanent members of the Security Council must also approve.  The application is then brought to the floor of the General Assembly, where two thirds of members most vote affirmatively.

The most recent country to join the UN is South Sudan, which joined in 2011.  Sudan was effectively split into two pieces, with the southern piece gaining its independence.  This ended a five-year civil war.  Sudan (in the north) is primarily Arab who practice Islam while South Sudan is mostly comprised of black citizens who practice Christianity and indigenous religions.

south sudan

(C) Pongtharin Tanthasindhu

There is always speculation of which country might become independent and attempt to join the UN.  Some envision Scotland or Catalonia.  Bougainville, an autonomous region, within Papua New Guinea affirmatively voted for independence in 2019.  So, we will see what happens.

La Sagrada Familia

Other recent countries that joined:

2006 Montenegro

2002 Switzerland, Timor-Leste

2000 Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Tuvalu

1999 Kiribati, Nauru, Tonga

1994 Palau

Palau

UN Observer States – 2

The United Nations also recognizes two Observer States; the Holy See better known as the Vatican and the State of Palestine.  These two countries have limited recognition in the UN meaning that these countries can not vote nor propose regulations.

The Vatican is the home of the Catholic church and is considered by some to be the smallest country in the world with less than 1000 people.  The Vatican is located in the city of Rome in Italy.

The Palestinian State is bisected in two with the Gaza Strip and the West Bank separated by Israel.

palestine boy
vatican

credit: عشاق الرسم و التصوير

And for you trivia buffs, Switzerland was an Observer State as recently as 2002 prior to transitioning to being a full member of the UN.

zurich switzerland

Partial UN Recognition – 6

OK, now things are getting more interesting.  We have a category of countries, which are recognized by some UN countries but not others.  So these countries are not recognized members of the UN.  These partially recognized countries mostly due to political reasons can not get full recognition.

Kosovo is recognized by 112 UN member countries.  Kosovo used to be part of Yugoslavia and after that Serbia.  Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008.  But Serbia was against Kosovo independence as well as Russia, a big brother to Serbia.  The US with Bill Clinton at the helm with Europe were pro-independence.  Regardless, today it functions as an independent country.

bill clinton statue in kosovo

Credit: Fanny Schertzer

Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic is recognized by 44 UN member countries.  SADR is not a household name but does garner a fair amount of recognition.  Western Sahara is a large piece of desert land sandwiched between Morocco and Mauritania.  Western Sahara was administered by Spain until 1975, when it passed administration to both Morocco and Mauritania.  War broke out between Morocco and Mauritania while a Sahrawi nationalist movement also took root. The Sahrawi are native to these lands.  Morocco gained de facto control over 75-80% of Western Sahara with SADR controlling a skinny strip of the interior bordering a snippet of Algeria and Mauritania.  A cease fire was signed between Morocco and SADR with the UN believing the Sahrawi people have the right to determination.  No UN member has officially recognized Morocco sovereignty over Western Sahara.

Sahrawi
sahrawi map

Credit: Michele Benericetti

Taiwan is recognized by 14 UN member countries.  Taiwan is officially known as the Republic of China, and was one of the founding members of the UN in 1945 but lost its seat in 1971 to the People’s Republic of China (PRC), when China was voted in as a member.  At one point, 117 countries recognized ROC, but over time PRC has chipped away, persuading more countries to recognize China over Taiwan.  China refuses to have any diplomatic relations with any country that recognizes Taiwan and is not shy about using its influence, whether a carrot or a stick to pry countries away from Taiwan.

taiwan


Abkhazia
and South Ossetia are recognized by 5 UN member countries each.  These two countries are found within the country Georgia, not the US state.  In 2008, there was a war between Russia and Georgia, and the end result was the birth of these two de facto countries.  Both Abkhazia and South Ossetia have a large population of ethnic Russians.  This provided Russia with a rationalization to sever these territories from Georgia.  Georgia and Russia have had a fraught relationship since Georgian independence from the USSR.  Only Russia and four of its allies (Syria, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Nauru) have recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as sovereign nations.  But at some level these two countries act as de facto nations, with their own governments, flags, borders, and required visas.  De facto mean “as a fact”, not according to law.

Abkhazia
South Ossetia

Abkhazia                                                                                      South Ossetia (Credit: Mil.ru)

Northern Cyprus is recognized by one UN member country.  Turkey is the only UN country in the world that recognizes Northern Cyprus.  A 1974 coup in Cyprus prompted the Turks to invade this sovereign nation.  The end result was the island nation was portioned in two with ethnic Greeks and Turks resettling to their respective sides of the island.  The Turks maintain a large military presence which has been denounced by the international community.  Nicosia the capital sits on the line of partition and is the only capital in the world which recognizes two different time zones.  The part of the capital that is part of Northern Cyprus reset their clocks to sync with Turkey.

cyprus border
map of cyprus

Credit: Jpakotal

Self-Declared Independent Nations – 2

There are two other countries that are self-declared independent nations but are not recognized by any UN countries.  They are only recognized by other non-UN countries.  These two countries have their own governments, flags, national anthems, borders and even visas.

Republic Of Artsakh is recognized by three other non-UN countries; Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transnistria.  Artsakh has been Armenian land for centuries yet had been placed in the territory of Azerbaijan in 1920 when this region was subsumed by the Soviet Union.  After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the Armenians of Artsakh voted for independence from Azerbaijan.  A war ensued between Azerbaijan and Artsakh.  Artsakh prevailed and became a de facto nation.  To visit Artsakh you need a visa, and you can only enter via a land crossing from neighboring Armenia.  There is no operating airport.

Gandzasar

Transnistria (Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic) is recognized by Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Artsakh.  Transnistria was a territory within Moldova which was part of the Soviet Union.  After the Soviet Union in 1991 collapsed, a civil war between the territory of Transnistria and Moldova erupted.  The de facto country of Transnistria was created after the ending of the hostilities.  Transnistria is a client state of Russia with a contingent of Russian troops acting as a tripwire in addition to financial support.  Visiting Transnistria today is like visiting communist Soviet Union.  There are many Lenin statues throughout the country.  And even Transnistria’s flag depicts a hammer and sickle.

lenin statue in transnistria