What is a sovereign nation? A sovereign nation is a nation that has one centralized government that has the power to govern a specific geographic area. Under the definition set by international law, a sovereign nation has a defined territory with just one government. These nations have a permanent population and can enter into relations with other sovereign countries. While most major sovereign nations are well known throughout the world, many smaller or less prominent nations are relatively unknown countries.
The precise number of sovereign nations in the world is almost impossible to determine. Despite the fact that the United Nations currently recognizes 206 total states—193 member nations, two observer states, and 11 "other" states, there are also nearly a hundred additional regions that are considered sovereign nations by some sources—but not by others. These regions have a wide range of classifications and labels, including unrecognized countries, disputed territories, dependent territories, autonomous regions, administrative areas, partially recognized territories, crown dependencies, and more. These regions may or may not be considered sovereign. For example, of the United Nations' 206 states, 15 have disputed sovereignty. These regions range from the relatively obscure Northern Cyprus, with a modest area of 3,355 km² (1,295 mi²) and a population of roughly 400,000, to China, the most populous country in the world:
15 United Nations States Whose Sovereignty is Disputed:
- Abkhazia — is claimed by Georgia
- Artsakh — is claimed by Azerbaijan
- China (the People's Republic of China) — is partially unrecognized and is claimed by Taiwan (the Republic of China)
- Cyprus (Republic of Cyprus) — is not recognized by Turkey
- Israel — is partially unrecognized. As of December 2019, 162 UN nations have recognized Israel as a sovereign nation
- Kosovo — is claimed by Serbia. As of March 2020, UN 115 nations have recognized Kosovo as a sovereign state. However, some have also retracted or declined to confirm their recognition due to political pressure
- North Korea (The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) — is claimed by South Korea
- Northern Cyprus (Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus) — is claimed by the Cyprus (Republic of Cyprus)
- Palestine — is partially recognized and is disputed by Israel. As of 2019, UN 138 nations have recognized Palestine as a sovereign state
- Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic — is claimed by Morocco
- Somaliland — is claimed by Somalia
- South Korea (The Republic of Korea) — is claimed by North Korea
- South Ossetia — is claimed by Georgia
- Taiwan (Republic of China) — is claimed by mainland China (the People’s Republic of China). As of 2019, only 14 UN nations have recognized Taiwan as a sovereign nation, largely due to China's interference.
- Transnistria — is claimed by Moldova
Sovereign nations around the world
As the list above demonstrates, whether a state is considered sovereign or not often depends upon the source of the information. In the opinion of the government of Somaliland, the nation is indeed a sovereign state. However, the government of Somalia, in which Somaliland is located, holds the opinion that Somaliland is not sovereign, but a disputed part of Somalia. Other instances are even more politically complex, such as both North and South Korea claiming to be the rightful government of a united Korea, or Taiwan—to which the previous Chinese government retreated when a communist revolution took over mainland China after WWII—claiming to be the rightful government of all of China.