There are about 190 countries today, depending on how other countries recognize those countries. Several countries claim to be sovereign, and some even have their own governments. However, they are not recognized internationally, or may only be accepted minimally, and many think that they do not exist.
The first, and perhaps most significant, unrecognized country is Palestine. While Palestine is recognized by the majority of UN Member states, it is not recognized as a Member State by the UN itself. Jewish people had long claimed the land of Palestine – the historic area of Israel before the diaspora that began in the first century – as their ancestral home. The only problem is that people were living there! A movement for the Jews to be able to return to Palestine and form their own state, known as Zionism, gained traction in the late 1800s, particularly in the face of widespread oppression and persecution of Jews who lived in Europe. That persecution culminated in the tragedy of the Holocaust, after which many Jews migrated to Palestine. An ensuing war between Jews and Palestinians led to what Palestinians call the Nakba, or catastrophe, in which they were forcibly displaced from their homes. Today, the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza have their own governments and are pressing for international recognition of statehood. However, their efforts are stymied by governments who believe that only Jews have the right to live in the land of Palestine.
Another important one that you may not have heard of but which fuels much political debate today is Kurdistan. The Kurdish people – who have their own language, religious practices, and other cultural norms – live primarily in a swathe of land that covers parts of Syria, Turkey, Iraq, and Iran. In some places, such as northern Iraq, they have their own government, while in other areas, such as Turkey, they are subject to brutal repression by the Turkish government. Calls to recognize Kurdistan’s country could lead to peace between the Kurds and governments that attempt to eradicate them. However, as with Palestine, those calls are mostly unheeded.
In 2017, the region of Catalonia, part of Spain, declared independence, which has long been a goal of many Catalan people. The effort was short-lived, and the country did not receive international recognition. However, Spain’s treatment of the Catalan independence movement received widespread condemnation, especially since it imprisoned many of the leaders who sought independence.
There are many other unrecognized countries throughout the world, and there tends to be political turmoil over their status.
Official Country Name
Other Claimants to Territory
UN Member Status
Level of Recognition
|Armenia||Republic of Armenia||1991||None||UN member||Many, but not all, UN members||Armenia, independent since 1991, supports the disputed area Artsakh's claim to independence from Azerbaijan. However, Armenia itself is not recognised by UN member Pakistan, which supports Azerbaijan's claim on the disputed area Artsakh.|
|China||People's Republic of China||1949||Taiwan (Republic of China)||UN member||Many, but not all, UN members||The People's Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of Taiwan (ROC) both claim authority over all of China and refuse to recognize one another's sovereignty. - Both China and Taiwan also enforce the One-China policy, meaning that they refuse to establish diplomatic relations with any country that recognizes the other state. - As of 26 March 2023,12 UN members and the Holy See recognize the ROC instead of the PRC.|
|Cook Islands||Cook Islands||1965||New Zealand (free association)||Associated state||At least one UN member||The Cook Islands became a state in free association with New Zealand in 1965. The Cook Islands are fully self-governing and behave as a sovereign state in international law, but their constitutional status is different from that of a fully independent state—for example, all Cook Islands nationals are New Zealand citizens, and the country's head of state is the Monarch of New Zealand. - As of April 2023, the Cook Islands had established diplomatic relations with at least 53 UN member states, as well as the Holy See, Kosovo, Niue and the European Union. - Some countries that have established diplomatic relations with the Cook Islands, such as the US, have recognized them as a fully sovereign state. Others, such as France, have not. - The Cook Islands are a member of nine United Nations specialized agencies, and the United Nations currently classifies the Cook Islands as a "non-member state", a category occupied by only Cook Islands and Niue.|
|Cyprus||Republic of Cyprus||1960||Northern Cyprus||UN member||Many, but not all, UN members||The Republic of Cyprus, independent since 1960, is not recognised by one UN member (Turkey) and one non-member (Northern Cyprus), due to the ongoing civil dispute over the island. - Turkey does not accept Cyprus' rule over the whole island and refers to it as the "Greek Cypriot Administration of Southern Cyprus"|
|Israel||State of Israel||1948||Palestine and Syria||UN member||Many, but not all, UN members||Israel, founded in 1948, is not recognised by 28 UN members. - The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which enjoys majority international recognition as sole representative of the Palestinian people, recognised Israel in 1993. - In January 2018 and October 2018, the Palestinian Central Council voted to suspend recognition of Israel, but this position has yet to be acted upon by Palestinian President Abbas.|
|Malta||Sovereign Military Order of Malta||1113||None||Non-UN member||Limited||The Sovereign Military Order of Malta (SMOM) is considered a sovereign non-state entity as it claims neither statehood nor territory. - First recognized as sovereign by Pope Paschal II in 1113, it has established full diplomatic relations with 111 UN member states as well as the European Union, the Holy See, and the State of Palestine. Additionally, it participates in the United Nations as an observer entity. - Some states, such as San Marino, recognize SMOM as a sovereign state, rather than a sovereign subject of international law. Italy's Supreme Court of Cassation decreed on 6 June 1974 that SMOM "constitutes a sovereign international subject, in all terms equal, even if without territory, to a foreign state with which Italy has normal diplomatic relations" - Italy also recognizes SMOM sovereignty within its headquarters in Italy. Italian and SMOM sovereignty uniquely coexist without overlapping.|
|Niue||Niue||1974||New Zealand (free association)||Associated state||At least one UN member||Niue became a state in free association with New Zealand in 1974 after a constitutional referendum. - Although Niue is fully self-governing and behaves as a sovereign state in international law, its constitutional status is different from that of a fully independent state. For example, all Niue nationals are New Zealand citizens, and the country's head of state is the Monarch of New Zealand. - As of April 2023, Niue has established diplomatic relations with at least 26 UN member states, as well as the Cook Islands and the European Union. - Niue is a member of eight United Nations specialized agencies. - The United Nations currently classifies Niue as a "non-member state", a category occupied by only Niue and the Cook Islands.|
|North Korea||Democratic People's Republic of Korea||1948||South Korea||UN member||Many, but not all, UN members||North Korea (officially the Democratic People's Republic of Korea), independent since 1948, is not recognised by South Korea.|
|Palestine||State of Palestine||1988||Israel||UN member||Many, but not all, UN members||Israel gained control of the Palestinian territories as a result of the Six-Day War in 1967, but has never formally annexed them. - The State of Palestine (commonly known as Palestine) was declared in 1988 by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which is recognised by a majority of UN member states and the UN itself as the sole representative of the Palestinian people. - Since the end of the first Palestinian Intifada against Israel the Israeli government has gradually moved its armed forces and settlers out of certain parts of Palestine's claimed territory, while still maintaining varying degrees of control over most of it. - The Palestinian National Authority (PNA), which performs limited internal government functions over certain areas of Palestine, was established in 1994. The 2007 split between the Fatah and Hamas political parties resulted in competing governments claiming to represent the PNA and Palestine, with Fatah exercising authority exclusively over the West Bank and enjoying majority recognition from UN member states, and a separate Hamas leadership exercising authority exclusively over the Gaza area (except for a short period from 2014 to 2016). - Palestine is currently officially recognised as a state by 138 UN member states, the Holy See, and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. - The remaining UN member states, including Israel, do not recognise the State of Palestine. - The United Nations designates the claimed Palestinian territories as "occupied" by Israel, and accorded Palestine non-member observer state status in 2012. - Palestine also has membership in the Arab League, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and UNESCO.|
|South Korea||Republic of Korea||1948||North Korea||UN member||Many, but not all, UN members||South Korea (officially the Republic of Korea), independent since 1948, is not recognised by one UN member, North Korea.|
|Taiwan||Republic of China||1912||China||Non-UN member||At least one UN member||The Republic of China (ROC) was constitutionally formed in 1912, and located primarily in Taiwan since 1949 (resulting in "Taiwan" being frequently used to refer to the state). - The ROC enjoyed majority recognition as the sole government of China until roughly the late 1950s/1960s, when a majority of UN member states started to gradually switch recognition to the People's Republic of China (PRC), which controlled a mastly larger proportion of China's territory and population. - The United Nations itself recognised the ROC as the sole representative of China until 1971, when it switched its official recognition to the PRC instead (see United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2758). - The ROC and PRC do not recognise each other's statehood. Further, each enforces its own version of the One-China policy, meaning that no state can recognise both China and Taiwan at the same time. - The ROC is currently recognised by 12 UN members and the Holy See. - Almost all the remaining UN member states, as well as the Cook Islands and Niue, recognise the PRC instead and either accept the PRC's territorial claim over Taiwan, take a non-committal position on Taiwan's status, or sidestep the Taiwan issue entirely. - A significant number of PRC-recognising UN member states, as well as the Republic of Somaliland, conduct "officially non-diplomatic" relations with the ROC, designating it as either "Taipei" or "Taiwan". - Bhutan is the only UN member state that has never explicitly recognised the ROC or the PRC. - Since the early 1990s, the ROC has sought separate United Nations membership under a variety of names, including "Taiwan".|
|Western Sahara||Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic||1976||Morocco||Non-UN member||At least one UN member||Morocco invaded and annexed most of Western Sahara in 1975. - Only Morocco and the United States have acknowledged Morocco's claim to the region. - 46 UN member nations and South Ossetia recognize Western Sahara's sovereignty|
Even though Palestine is recognized my many UN states, the UN itself does not recognize it, which makes it the most unrecognized country in the world.