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Countries and Yellow PagesHow do you actually count country? There are different answers to this depending on who you ask, and it is impossible to get everyone to agree on what should be considered a country and not. Brazil is a country there is no doubt, but what about the Vatican, Palestine or Kosovo? Would you count on Svalbard, Greenland, Bermuda or the Cook Islands? Abkhasia and Transnistria? Are Wales, Scotland, England and Northern Ireland separate or just counting the UK?

Definition of a country

How to define what a country is? The Globalis website, which is an interactive world atlas run by the United Nations, provides an answer to this that I find easy to understand and logical:

There is disagreement about what can be called a country and what cannot. In a legal sense, a country will usually consist of a limited, permanently inhabited area controlled by a state power. A state power means a permanent organization that looks after the interests of the territory, both the country's inhabitants and to other countries. State power must have control over the entire land area in order for us to talk about an independent, independent country. This control must be recognized by other countries as fair and correct. In other words, it is first and foremost the recognition of other countries that makes a country a country. The terms country and state are used interchangeably and in most contexts means the same.

Globalis also writes about why it is difficult to agree on what can be called a country:

The disagreement about what can be considered a country comes from the fact that it is not always easy to determine what a state power is and what it means to have full control over a land area. In addition, different countries may disagree on who should have control over which areas, and the people living in an area may disagree on how the state power governs the country, and whether a state power has the right to control the inhabitants there.

The website about education lists eight criteria that all must be met in order for something to be considered an independent country.

  • Has space or territory which has internationally recognized boundaries (boundary disputes are OK).
  • Has people who live there on an ongoing basis.
  • Has economic activity and an organized economy. A country regulates foreign and domestic trade and issues money.
  • Has the power of social engineering, such as education.
  • Has a transport system for moving goods and people.
  • Has a government which provides public services and police power.
  • Has sovereignty. No other State should have power over the country’s territory.
  • Has external recognition. A country has been «voted into the club» by other countries.

UN Member State

The UN has 193 member countries. In addition, Palestine and the Vatican are in a special position as states with observer status.

It is not the UN as an organization that decides what is considered a country. An application to join the UN must first be considered by the UN Security Council, where nine out of fifteen members must approve the application. Five countries (USA, China, Russia, France and the UK) are permanent members of the Security Council, while the last ten countries are replaced after two years. All five permanent members can stop the application alone. They have a veto right, that is. If the country is approved by the Security Council, the application is submitted to the General Assembly, where at least two-thirds of the member states must approve the country.

Thus, it can be said that it is UN member states that decide whether or not an area should be recognized as a country.

It must be added that politics and cross-border connections play a role in this picture in various ways. Such conditions greatly affect which countries say yes or no to recognize areas as countries.

But how complicated can it be, then?

Everyone agrees that Italy, Kenya, Bolivia and Mongolia are countries. Fortunately, these countries are in good company with many other countries as there are no disagreements around. These are easy to relate to, and it goes without saying that they should be counted.

However, there is much to discuss as you begin to look more closely at areas around the world.

There is a fairly broad consensus that all the 193 UN member states should be counted as countries. However, some UN countries are not recognized by some other UN countries. For example, Turkey does not recognize Cyprus. South Korea and North Korea refuse to recognize each other. But it is still widely accepted in most of the world that all these three are actually countries.

Based on COUNTRYAAH, the Vatican is not a UN member despite the fact that everyone recognizes the country. The reason is simply that they do not want to be a full UN member state. It would therefore be strange not to count the Vatican as a country.

Some areas are recognized as their own by only a very few UN countries. An example is Abkhasia, which the UN defines as part of Georgia, but which is recognized as its own country by Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Nauru, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

Other areas, on the other hand, are recognized as countries by a large proportion of the UN countries. This applies to Western Sahara, Taiwan and Kosovo. As of 2016, 84 UN countries had recognized Western Sahara as their own. For example, Norway is clear that this is a country illegally occupied by Morocco. Taiwan is in a complicated conflict with China, and I have not been able to find an answer to how many actually recognize Taiwan as their own country. Although official recognition is lacking, there are probably enough people who recognize the country status that Taiwan is often considered a country. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008. Serbia still considers Kosovo as a Serbian province. As of December 1, 2016, 110 of the 193 UN countries had recognized independence. However, Russia will veto Kosovo if it applies for UN membership. As previously explained, they are entitled to this, and that would mean that Kosovo will not be allowed to join even if all the other 192 countries consider that they should be included in the UN.

Palestine is a chapter by itself that is impossible to summarize in a few sentences. I am content to note that widespread recognition and observer status at the UN means that many consider it natural to include Palestine in the list of world countries.

Some areas have a degree of self-government, such as Greenland, the Faroe Islands and Åland, but it is not to be inferred that the first two are actually governed by Denmark and the latter by Finland. Perhaps the independence of some of these areas will come sometime in the future - but so far they are not independent countries.

But what about England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, then? It is often heard that they are referred to as their own countries, so it is probably within them to count them as four countries? Well, despite the fact that some things are governed internally in each of these areas, there is no doubt that it is The Parliament of the United Kingdom that ultimately has power over all four. None of them meets all the eight criteria listed above, nor are they a member of the UN individually. It is the United Kingdom that is a UN member.

Some areas - or groups of people in one area - struggle for independence, as we see in, among others, Chechnya and Kurdistan. However, the fact that someone wants independence for an area does not mean that the area is to be considered an independent country. However, some areas eventually achieve independence and are also recognized as independent countries. More recent examples of this are South Sudan and East Timor.

Occasionally, I see it being argued that an area is so unlike the rest of the country that it should therefore be regarded as its own country. For example, Svalbard is unlike mainland Norway, and the Galįpagos Islands are not much like the rest of Ecuador. Nevertheless, neither Svalbard nor the Galįpagos Islands are their own countries. There is a big difference between Alaska and Florida too, but both states are just as much a part of the United States, and there are few who argue otherwise. I do not think the argument about inequality is a good criterion for counting as one's own country. Why then should some areas that stand out be considered as their own country, and not others? Where to set the boundaries? How different must an area be, and different in what way?

So what will be my facet?

There is no doubt that the answer to how many countries exist will vary depending on who gets the question. Thus, it is basically up to each individual to choose which definition seems right.

Gunnar Garfors, who describes himself as the youngest hobby traveler who has visited all the countries of the world, states that there are 198 countries in the world. In his book "198 - My Travel to the Land of All Worlds" he writes:

Why do I count 198 countries? There are many ways to count the lands in the world. FIFA has judged 209 members. The football organization does not count the UK as one, but as four (Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales). And the Vatican is not a member, while American Samoa, Tahiti and the Faroe Islands are. Looking ahead to the sports world, we see that the IOC has 204 member countries. The UN on its side has 193 member states and 2 observer countries. I have chosen to use the UN as a starting point. I count all 193 UN members. I also count the 2 UN observer states. That will win the Vatican and Palestine. Additional 3 countries are recognized by a number of the 195 mentioned above. Therefore, I also count Kosovo, Western Sahara and Taiwan. It gave a total of 198 countries.

I agree with his conclusion regarding the number of countries that should be counted on. This is a logical and easily explained way of counting countries, and based on the far too long time I've spent googling my mind for this, it seems to be a fairly common definition seen with Norwegian eyes.

A long time ago, I read a great article that dealt with the complexity of expanding the list to 198 countries. It was about the impossibility of defending logically that one area was included and not another, and that the list would eventually become infinitely long because one area would go with the other - far beyond what one would initially think was logical. It really annoys me that I do not remember who wrote it and that I have not been able to search it, because of course I do not remember all the arguments, except that it really made sense, and I should so gladly link to it.


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