In total, there are 193 countries recognized by the United Nations as member states, plus two non-member observer states – the Vatican and the State of Palestine. However, that doesn’t include all other geo-political entities with de facto control over their territories, even if they operate as independent nation states for all intents and purposes.
10. Turkish Republic Of Northern Cyprus
The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is an unrecognized state located in the northeastern part of Cyprus. In fact, it’s only recognized as a geo-political entity by Turkey, formed in the aftermath of the Turkish invasion of 1974 after a failed coup attempt to unify it with Greece.
According to the international community, northern Cyprus remains an occupied territory by Turkey that should be a part of the Republic of Cyprus, even if it continues to operate as an autonomous territory with complete control over the region. It’s a semi-presidential, largely-democratic and secular republic, with its economy heavily reliant on Turkey for support due to its lack of international recognition.
Politically, Northern Cyprus is run by politicians elected by multi party elections. Despite Turkey’s influence and allegations of discrimination against minority groups and corruption, however, there have been many democratic transfers of power between rival parties in the past, indicating some degree of political diversity and freedom of expression.
Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008, following years of political turmoil that included a brutal war in the late 1990s. While the United States and most European Union members recognized it, Serbia, Russia, and numerous other countries, including some EU members, did not. This lack of international consensus prevented Kosovo from immediate United Nations membership, which remains in question even today.
In 2010, the International Court of Justice ruled that Kosovo’s declaration of independence did not violate international law – a decision that was immediately rejected by Serbia, which claims it as its own territory. Despite the ongoing dispute, Kosovo has established itself as a self-declared independent country in the Balkan region, with Pristina as its capital.
In the past few decades, inter-ethnic tensions and periods of intense violence have been seen across the Kosovan territory, especially between ethnic Muslim Albanians and Eastern Orthodox Serbs. As of now, Kosovo remains a topic of contention among many countries in the Balkans and other international players involved in the larger conflict.
8. Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic
Also known as Transnistria and Pridnestrovie, the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic is a breakaway state in eastern Moldova. It declared independence back in 1990 in the backdrop of the imminent breakup of the Soviet Union. Despite occupying around 1,350 square miles and a presence of Russian peacekeepers within its borders, it remains unrecognized by any other nation, including Russia. It is, however, recognized by a few other unrecognized states, including South Ossetia, Artsakh, and Abkhazia.
Transnistria has its own national bank, currency, customs house, flag, and anthem separate from Moldova. The area has been economically, diplomatically, and militarily supported by Russia, which maintains approximately 1,500 soldiers stationed there.
Like many of its east and central-European neighbors, the roots of the Transnistrian conflict could be traced back to Soviet policies. The situation escalated in the late 1980s when nationalist movements, like the Popular Front of Moldova, pushed for the recognition of the Moldovan language and a shift to the Latin alphabet in the territory, triggering a counter response from the local population and its subsequent declaration of independence in 1990.
7. Republic of Uzupis
While it wasn’t born out of conflict or political tensions of any kind, the Republic of Užupis is still a self-governing state in Vilnius, Lithuania with its own president, cabinet of ministers, constitution, and even a standing army of 11 troops. This tiny, independent republic was declared a micro-nation by its residents on April 1, 1997, possibly as an elaborate April Fool’s prank.
Currently, Užupis operates as a community of artists with its own unique constitution with 39 articles, including the right to hot water and the right of a cat to not love its owner. It also celebrates its own independence day called Užupis Day on April 1.
Užupis has a long, rich history within Vilnius, as it was once a thriving Jewish neighborhood known as the ‘Jerusalem of the North’. After the fall of the USSR in 1991, it was populated by artists from all around the world seeking affordable rents, with artists now making up around 1,000 of its 7,000 residents.
6. South Ossetia
South Ossetia was formed after a successful armed rebellion in Georgia, leading to its declaration of independence from the southeast-European nation in 2008. Despite being recognized as an independent state by countries like Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Tuvalu, and Nauru, the larger international community considers it to be an autonomous region of Georgia.
It’s a mountainous, landlocked country between Russia and Georgia, with a population of around 55,000 people mostly living in its capital, Tskhinvali. Historically, South Ossetia was home to mixed communities of ethnic Georgians and Ossetians – a Caucasian people speaking an eastern-Iranian language that moved to the region back in the 13th century.
The region was extensively developed during the Soviet era, though tensions with Georgia in the late 20th century led to multiple low intensity conflicts. The situation escalated in 2008 after an invasion by the Georgian military, resulting in Russia intervening and subsequently recognizing South Ossetia’s independence.
Abkhazia is an autonomous republic in northwestern Georgia that declared independence in 1999. As of now, it’s only recognized by a handful of countries around the world, including Russia. Historically, Abkhazia has been closely associated with Georgia, despite its distinct Abkhaz language, until it became part of the Russian Empire in 1864. The region gained limited autonomy in the Soviet era, though the collapse of the USSR in 1991 resulted in growing tensions with the new Georgian nation.
That wasn’t the end of the conflict, however, and a ceasefire was established in 1994. When war broke out between Russia and Georgia over South Ossetia in 2008, Russian troops moved into Abkhazia and recognized its independence. The territory remains a flashpoint in the larger conflict between the two countries, with its future status and relations with Georgia still unresolved.
4. Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic
The Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic is a self-declared state ruling over a part of Western Sahara. The region was previously occupied by Spain, whose withdrawal in 1976 led to a declaration of independence by a group of indigenous Sahrawis based in Algeria. This declaration sparked a conflict with Morocco and Mauritania, though the latter eventually withdrew its territorial claims.
The conflict is primarily about the right to self-determination of the Sahrawi people, though the territory is claimed in full by Morocco. The situation escalated recently, when former US President Donald Trump recognized the territory as a part of Morocco in December, 2020. The independence of SADR has been acknowledged by about 80 countries over the years, though many of them have withdrawn or suspended their recognition since then.
3. Cook Islands
Located in the South Pacific Ocean, the Cook Islands is a parliamentary democracy in free association with New Zealand. It’s made up of 15 volcanic islands and coral atolls, with a total population of about 13,700 people. While New Zealand is responsible for the defense and foreign policy of the tiny nation, the Cook Islands government remains in full control over its domestic affairs.
The country runs in collaboration with various UN agencies, including the WHO and UNESCO, and has diplomatic relations with 43 other nations. It’s not, however, a United Nations Member State.
Named after Captain Cook, the Cook Islands were once autonomous and inhabited by tribes of mixed Polynesian heritage. The economy is heavily reliant on tourism, as it features some of the most pristine beaches and unique views of volcanic mountains you’d find anywhere around the world. The country has been in charge of its own foreign and defense policy since 2001, though it still depends on New Zealand for defense and other military needs.
Somaliland is a semi-desert territory on the coast of the Gulf of Aden that declared its independence in 1991 after the fall of Siad Barre. The period was marked by a brutal secessionist struggle that saw widespread death and destruction across the region, resulting in tens of thousands of casualties.
Despite lacking international recognition, Somaliland has managed to establish functional political systems, government institutions, its own currency, and a police force in the years since. Unlike Somalia, the breakaway republic has largely avoided the political chaos that has since engulfed the entire region.
While the country enjoys popular support among its own population and remains largely stable in an unstable region, it’s also one of the poorest regions in the world, with over 7 million people suffering from food insecurity – including 213,000 facing extreme hunger – according to a 2022 report.
Officially known as the Republic of China, Taiwan is a multi-island territory in the western Pacific Ocean recognized by 13 countries around the world. Historically, it was a self-governing territory until the 1600s, when it was colonized by the Netherlands and later China. After being under Japanese control for several decades in the early 20th century, it was returned to China after the Second World War.
The conflict essentially began when the Chinese Communist Party gained control of the country in 1949 and established the People’s Republic of China. The opposing nationalist government retreated to Taiwan and formed the Republic of China, both of which claimed to be the legitimate governments of all of China. For many years, Taiwan held China’s seat at the United Nations and was diplomatically recognized by several countries, though that would come to an end in 1979, when the PRC was recognized as the legitimate Chinese government.