How many countries are there? By most accounts, 197. There are 193 members of the United Nations (and 2 non-member observer states: the Holy See (Vatican City) and Palestine). Therefore the number 195 is too often used to represent the number of countries in the world. There are 61 dependent areas, and six disputed territories. Places commonly confused as being countries include Puerto Rico, Bermuda, Greenland, and even the components of the United Kingdom (such as Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and England - they're not countries, states, or nation-states).
The one outsider, Taiwan meets most of the requirements of independent country or state status. However, due to political reasons, it fails to be recognized by much of the world, so most count 196. The other non-UN members which can clearly be defined as country or 'sovereign' state is Kosovo. So UN full-members 193 + 2 observers + Taiwan & Kosovo = 197. Some like to include Western Sahara, Somaliland and other countries of questionable or not fully recognised status to make a round number like 200. South Sudan, Kosovo, Montenegro and East Timor are the world's youngest countries. Although another way to look at it is Uganda is the world's youngest country, since ~50% of the population are under 14. By those rights Italy is the oldest.
However, no one really knows the correct answer and it is actually a very tough question since in doing so you have to define what makes a country. Apply on-line for visa-free entry to the United States you have more than 250 choices for 'country where you live'. That is probably a pretty ambitious number as it includes the Bouvet Island, an uninhabitable icy knoll belonging to Norway in the South Atlantic (for Penguins that need a visa) and for Star Trek fans there is even a 'Neutral Zone' (a diamond-shaped bit of desert between Saudi Arabia and Iraq that vanished after the 1991 Gulf war). That is the trouble with such lists. Places that are not real countries at all end up on them and places that approximate a bit more closely to countries (at least in their own eyes) may be absent. For example, the list excludes Abkhazia and South Ossetia, self-proclaimed states that broke away from Georgia with Russian backing. Just three other countries—Nicaragua, Venezuela and the islet of Nauru—recognise those breakaway 'statelets' as independent. Private-sector lists are just as odd as those compiled by governments. We counted 242 'countries/territories' on the options Hotmail offers from which you can register an e-mail account.
Any attempt to find a clear definition of a country soon runs into a thicket of exceptions and anomalies. Diplomatic recognition is clearly not much guide to real life. As mentioned above take Taiwan for example which due to pressure from China is recognised less and less (countries with formal diplomatic ties to Taiwan has shrivelled to around 23—mostly small, cash-strapped islands). Yet Taiwan is not just a country, but a rather important one. Also note Israel, it joined the UN in 1949, but 19 of its members do not accept the Jewish state’s existence. A third of UN members do recognise Kosovo, but the UN itself does not.
A German thinker, Max Weber, defined statehood as "the monopoly of the legitimate use of violence”. That may be a practical approach but it doesn’t end the confusion. Somalia spectacularly fails to meet this criterion, yet still counts as a sovereign state. However its northern bit, Somaliland, has met this standard with increasing impressiveness since it declared independence in 1991. It has a currency, car registrations and even biometric passports. But only private firms such as DHL, a courier company, link it to the outside world. International postal service requires membership of the Universal Postal Union, which for non-members of the UN need approval by at least two-thirds of that body’s members. The African Union refuses to recognise Somaliland’s independence because it dislikes changing any African borders..... the debate goes on.
Here's the most commonly cited official list for anyone interested in counting:
|Andorra||Andorra la Vella|
|Antigua and Barbuda||Saint John's|
|Bolivia||La Paz (admin) Sucre (judicial)|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||Sarajevo|
|Brunei||Bandar Seri Begawan|
|Central African Republic||Bangui|
|Congo, Republic of the||Brazzaville|
|Congo, Democratic Republic of the||Kinshasa|
|Costa Rica||San Jose|
|Cote d'Ivoire||Yamoussoukro (official) Abidjan (de facto)|
|Dominican Republic||Santo Domingo|
|El Salvador||San Salvador|
|Federated States of Micronesia||Palikir|
|Papua New Guinea||Port Moresby|
|Saint Kitts and Nevis||Basseterre|
|Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||Kingstown|
|San Marino||San Marino|
|Sao Tome and Principe||Sao Tome|
|South Africa||Pretoria (admin) Cape Town (legislative) Bloemfontein (judiciary)|
|Tanzania||Dar es Salaam|
|Trinidad and Tobago||Port-of-Spain|
|United Arab Emirates||Abu Dhabi|
|United States||Washington D.C.|
|Vatican City (Holy See)||Vatican City|
Get your bearings.. show/hide map of the world
Here's a good brain-teaser... which country land-locks two other countries within it's borders? Answers on the back of a postcard. If you fancy taking a quiz, here's a good quick one.
It is interesting to think that on the eve of the First World War, imperialism had reduced the number of independent countries in the world to just 59. The advent of decolonisation was the leading cause to the dramatic increase in this number. In 1946 the number of independent countries was 74. In 1950, 89. And today 195, with the biggest increases coming in the 1960s mainly in Africa where 25 new states were formed in 1960-64 alone and in in Eastern Europe as the Soviet Union fell apart. Today many of the new countries are tiny. No fewer than 36 have less than 500,000 inhabitants and many are formed as a result of civil war or multi-ethic policy, which is the most common form of conflict since the Second World War.
Some may be interested in the travellers' century club, an American based travel club which does count the likes of Wales, Bermuda and Antarctica (in-fact they count that last one seven times!). Their rules established in 1970 define 320 separate destinations as being 'countries'. Visited over 100 of these so defined countries and you too can pay a $100 joining and annual membership fee ($50-60) for your own self-satisfaction and a news letter!
* According to data gathered by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, France is the most common destination for foreign tourists, with 76m visitors in 2010 - Ref..
"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscape but having new eyes."