Have you ever wondered how many countries
there are in the world? While it may seem like a fairly straightforward question, it’s
actually quite complicated. The problem is – it depends on who you ask
as to what answer you get and there is no one generally accepted answer. Also, the word
‘country’ has no official meaning. A good place to start might be an organisation
that knows what they’re talking about – the United Nations.
There are currently 193 members of the UN. This is why this is the lowest number you’ll
ever hear to how many countries there are. Along with the 193 members, the UN also has
two permanent non-member observer states – the Holy See (representing the Vatican City State),
and the State of Palestine. Despite not being a member, the Vatican City is a country and
is recognised by everyone as such. Despite being a country within a city within
a country and small not only by country or city standards but more comparable in size
to that of a small village with a population of around 800 and a land area of less than
half a square kilometre. It is officially the smallest country in the world and compared
to the largest country, it is 38 million times smaller than Russia.
But size doesn’t matter and the fact of the matter is the Vatican City is a country. So…
logic would dictate that the State of Palestine is also a country then, right? Well… no.
Not yet anyway. The State of Palestine wants to be a full
member of the UN and submitted an application is November of 2011. However, the only reason
the Holy See isn’t a full simply because… it doesn’t want to be. Possibly because it
wants to remain neutral. It seems unlikely that Palestine will gain
full membership for one reason – the United States of America.
If you’re unaware of the situation in the Middle East, the Palestinians and the Israelis
have waging war on and off for decades. And with Israel being of close ally of the
United States, who often provide financial and military assistance to Israel, the US
has always voted against Palestine. This is despite president Obama saying he does want
a sovereign Palestinian state. The US didn’t want Palestine to even become
an observer state, but they still won an overwhelming majority. However, in order to gain full membership,
the decision lies with the UN Security Council. The Security Council is made of 15 members
– 5 permanent members (also known as The Big Five), and 10 non-permanent members who serve
for 2 years. To become a full member of the UN a country must obtain a two-thirds majority
vote. The Big Five consists of – China, Russia,
France, the United States, and the United Kingdom, all of whom has what’s known as ‘veto
power’ in which they can veto any UN resolution and it won’t get passed, even if all other
14 members are in favour of it. Therefore, the US can veto any membership application
made by the State of Palestine. The UN aside, there are others reasons why
you might hesitate to call Palestine a country. First of all, they don’t actually have any
legally defined borders and the lines used to outline their claimed territories of the
West Bank and the Gaza strip are actually lines created in 1949 as part of an armistice
agreement to end of the violence of the Arab-Israeli war and were never intended to be used as
internal borders. On top of this, the Israeli army control huge
parts of their land, although this is widely considered by the entire international community
as a breach of international law. Moving on, the US Department of State list
195 independent countries, and these are… the 193 members of the UN, the previously
discussed Vatican City, as well as… the Republic of Kosovo.
Kosovo is a partially recognised country in Eastern Europe that declared its independence
from Serbia in 2008. However, Serbia rejects their independence and claims that Kosovo
is a province of Serbia. Currently, 100 out of the 193 UN members recognise
Kosovo as a country according to kosovothanksyou.com, a website that thanks every country for recognising
them in their native language. Kosovo hasn’t made a application for UN membership.
This is because the UN Security Council is split on the issue of Kosovo independence.
While the UK, the US and France all recogsnise Kosovo and have diplomatic relations with
them, Russia and China do not. If all five were asked ‘is Kosovo a country?’, you would
get a variety of different responses but suffice to say the resolution would not get passed.
Now, according to a website I use quite a lot, about.com, there are 196 countries. They
list the same 195 as the US Department of State, plus one more – Taiwan.
The situation with Taiwan is an incredibly complex one that basically boils down to whether
Taiwan is its own country, or part of China. While it is officially officially considered
part of China by the UN, it effectively operates as its own country and China have no jurisdiction
on the island. Taiwan’s official name, by the way, is the
Republic of China, not to be confused with the PEOPLE’S Republic of China, or as they’re
more commonly know, well… China. To fully understand the situation we need
to go all the way back to 1895 when the Japanese Empire took control of the island of Taiwan
from Qing Dynasty. After the fall of the Dynasty in the early
20th century, the Republic of China was established in 1912 and the Nationalist Party were elected
government. In 1921, the Communist Party of China was
founded with very different ideological views, and in 1927 the Chinese Civil War began between
the Nationalists and the Communists. Japan took the civil war as an opportunity
to invade China in 1931. For years the civil war continued until 1937 when Japan began
a full-scale invasion of China and took control of the city of Beijing. The civil war were
temporarily put on hold so China could defend its land from the Japanese.
In 1941, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, causing immediate declaration of war on Japan by the
United States and began their involvement in World War II.
In August 1945, the United States dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima
and Nagasaki. The Allied Forces then issued Japan a surrender
ultimatum: the Potsdam Declaration. The agreement stated, among other things, that Japan must
relinquish control of land that they had acquired via force, and this included the island of
Taiwan obtained 50 years previously from the Qing Dynasty.
The Allies gave two choices to Japan – an unconditional surrender, or face (and I quote)
“prompt and utter destruction”. On September 2nd 1945 Japan signed the agreement
which put an ended to the 2nd World War. Sovereignty of Taiwan was therefore handed
over to the Republic of China. Later that year, the United Nations was founded
with the Republic of China as one its founding members and one of the permanent members of
the Security Council. The original Big Five were effectively the
same as today, except with the Republic of China and the Soviet Union instead of the
People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation respectively.
So… one year later and Chinese Civil War started up again. This time around, the Communist
forces completely overwhelmed the Nationalist forces and in 1949, the Communist Part had
total control of the mainland, forcing the Nationalists to retreat to the island of Taiwan.
This effectively ended the civil war and lead to the creation of the People’s Republic of
China, by the Communist Party. This then created an incredibly complicated
situation in which there were effectively two Chinas, both claiming the exact same land:
the whole of China. The People’s Republic of China controlled
the mainland, while the Republic of China controlled Taiwan, but both claimed each others
land. Things remained like this for two decades while the Republic of China continued to represent
China at the UN. This was until 1971 when the UN General Assembly
voted to replace the Republic of China with the People’s Republic of China as China’s
sole representative, including Taiwan, despite them never having any jurisdiction on the
island in their history. In 1991, the Republic of China opted for a
different approach and applied for UN membership under the name ‘the Republic of Taiwan’. Taiwan
repeatedly re-applied but with China’s veto power, realistically, it was never going to
happen. The current president of Taiwan, however,
does not want independence, and said in his inaugural address – “no reunification, no
independence, no war”. However has since said that actually he DOES want unification with
China. Relations between the Chinese and Taiwanese
presidents is good, they both agree Taiwan should not be an independent country, they
both adhere to the one-China policy, unfortunately, they still can’t agree on who actually has
sovereignty over China. Still, Taiwan is pretty much like any country
– they have their own passports, their own president, their own government, their own
military, they even take part in sporting events such as the Olympics and the FIFA World
Cup, albeit under the pseudonym ‘Chinese Taipei’, to keep China happy. Taipei being the capital
of Taiwan. So while very few countries officially recognise
Taiwan as a country or the Republic of China as the legitimate government of all of China,
most countries do recognise Taiwan unofficially and have Taiwan Embassies in their country.
Countries tend to avoid officially recognising Taiwan as a country as it pisses off China.
This is the reason why the US Department of State list 195 countries and excluded Taiwan,
because the United States really wouldn’t want to piss of China, for uh… let’s just
say political reasons…. So… everyone clear on the situation with
Taiwan? No? Well, no-one really is but let’s move on…
To the place where I live: the United Kingdom. More specifically Scotland but it’s the United
Kingdom I want to talk about. The United Kingdom is generally referred to as a “country of
countries” consisting of: Scotland, England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
So… is the United Kingdom one country… or four countries?
Well, first of all, it’s actually a misconception that there are four countries in the UK. There’s
actually only three. See, while Scotland and England both have
a history of being independent countries, and Wales is a little more complicated as
it was previously considered a principality, but is now a country, Northern Ireland is
not, nor has it ever been, a country. Northern Ireland is technically considered a province
of the United Kingdom. This newsletter from the International Organisation
for Standardisation clearly lists Northern Ireland as a province, as well as the status
of Wales being upgraded from principality to country. Although it could be argued the
principality of Wales ended in 1542 and that Wales has been a country for centuries.
A very brief British history lesson… In 1707, the Kingdom of Scotland and the Kingdom
of England (which included Wales) joined to create the Kingdom of Great Britain. In 1801,
the Kingdom of Ireland joined to create the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
Then, in 1922, after the Irish War of Independence Ireland succeeded from Britain and formed
the Republic of Ireland. Believe it or not, very briefly, the whole
island of Ireland succeeded from Britain, but Northern Ireland quickly and expectedly
re-joined to create the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Which
is what it’s known as today. So, Northern Ireland was part of Ireland and
is now part of the UK, but has been a country in its own right. Northern Ireland doesn’t
even have its own official flag! The St. Patrick’s solitaire is sometimes used
unofficially to distinguish Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK. The Ulster Banner
is also used and is the flag that FIFA use to represent their national football team.
But the one and only flag that is used officially is… the Union Jack.
So, the UK is made up of three countries and one province. And while the three countries
are not independent countries or sovereign states, they are still countries.
The term for a country within a country is a “constituent country” and is not unique
to the UK. The Netherlands is constituent country with
the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which contains three other countries: Aruba, Curacao, and
Sint Maartin. The Netherlands is in Europe, while the other
three are island countries in the Caribbean some 5000 miles away.
To further complicate matters, the Netherlands is made up of 12 provinces in Europe, as well
as three special municipalities – also in the Caribbean. These are: Bonaire, St. Eustatius,
and Saba, collectively referred to as the Caribbean Netherlands. And the term Dutch
Caribbean is used to refer to all of the Caribbean islands within the kingdom of the Netherlands.
All 4 countries within the Kingdom are considered equal, but in reality, 98% of both the population
and the land area of the within the 12 European provinces.
Another example would be the Kingdom of Denmark, which holds sovereignty of the two autonomous
countries of Greenland and the Faroe Islands. Greenland being the world’s largest island
that’s not a continent and the Faroe Islands are a small archipelago north of Scotland.
But despite Greenland being over 1500 times the size of the Faroe Islands, they both have
similar populations of around 50,000. There’s also French Polynesia, which is an
overseas country of the French Republic, made up of several islands in the South Pacific,
most notable of which is the island of Tahiti. Then we come to a slightly more complicated
situation with New Zealand and the countries of Niue and the Cook Islands who are in a
agreement known as free association. There are only three other countries in the
world under free association, and they are: the Marshall Islands, the Federated States
of Micronesia, and Palau. All in free association with the United States.
The major difference is that all three of these countries are members of the UN while
Niue and the Cook Islands are not. Freely associated states can either be thought
of as independent or not, or even… both? It’s kind of like a Schrodinger’s cat situation
in which the cat can be thought of as both dead and alive simultaneously.
Niue and the Cook Islands can be considered independent or not simultaneously, so we can
call these two…. Schrodinger’s countries. And finally, we come to a category of countries
(and I use the term loosely), that have received little or no recognition. One example would
be Somaliland, part of Somalia that has declared itself an independent country but thus far
received absolutely no recognition whatever ever… from any country, UN member or otherwise.
Of course there are other examples, all of whom have received at least some recognition,
albeit extremely limited, and in some cases, not by any UN members.
External recognition is a key attribute to considered a country and therefore it would
be a bit of a stretch to call any of them countries at the moment.
So… how many countries are there in the world? Well, there really are no right or
answers. Well, I mean, there are wrong answers… five… for example, is a wrong answer.
But because of the ambiguity of the word ‘country’, there isn’t one generally accepted answer.
Hopefully you understand that the point of this video is that I provided you with the
necessary information, so that you could apply your own judgement to get the answer.
But if you really want some numbers, some possible answers would be…
Just the members of the UN, counting the Vatican City since it’s also a country, counting Kosovo
– the most recognised country not in the UN, counting Taiwan – the unofficial country, counting the State of Palestine – the UN observer state, then we could count the unrecognised
countries, the constituent countries, and Niue and the Cook Islands. Then things could get a bit out of hand and we could start calling everything a country. For example: Hong Kong, Puerto Rico and Bermuda. None
of which are countries but given the dictionary definition it wouldn’t seem too far-fetched
to call them countries. Then we could come up with a near infinite
number of answers depending on how you apply the use of the word ‘country’. But it seems
that the most widely accepted answer is 196. But it’s important that you understand the
answer of 196 so that if something changes you can adjust the number accordingly, or
not. For example, if Kosovo hypothetically became
the 194th member of the UN, there would still be 196 countries, but if you used 194 as your
answer then you would need to add one. An important note to is that everything in
this video is correct at the time it was uploaded in late June of 2013, and things may have changed depending on when you’re watching this. Well, thank you very much for watching my
very first YouTube video, and be sure to subscribe as I’ve got dozens more ideas for videos that I can’t wait to start making. Thanks again!