Saturday 7 March 2009

Countries of the world

Here's an interesting question. How many countries are there in the world? This shouldn't be a difficult question to answer... after all, the world is a finite and (extremely) mapped place.

It shouldn't be, but it is... and really does seem to depend on who you ask as to what the answer is. My curiosity was roused playing a simple game which challenges you to name as many countries as you can in fifteen minutes. The total to be named 195.

So; the game has 195, the United Nations has 192 member nations and the US Government (in the CIA World Factbook) lists 194. So, what is the difference?

The UN started in 1945 with 51 member states. It took almost twenty years to double that number. Countries come (and countries go) as the political landscape changes. It took, for example, until 2002 for Switzerland to become a member of the UN; even though the Swiss Confederation was founded in the thirteenth century. So the UN maybe isn't a definitive source.

What about the CIA World Factbook; which is an amazing resource with information about countries and territories across the globe. They list two more countries than the UN member state list, these being Kosovo and  Vatican City. Vatican City is a non-member observer state and Kosovo (which declared independence from Serbia in 2008) is not yet an internationally recognised political entity with only three of the five members of the UN Security Council recognising it.

That gives 194 countries. What is the 195th on the quiz not listed by the CIA Factbook or a member of the UN. That would be Taiwan. Another complex political situation, Taiwan's sovreignty is a subject of dispute between Taiwan and China.

So the answer to the question "How many countries are there in the world?" would appear to depend on your terms of reference!