193 member nations and two permanent non-member observer states (Palestine and the Vatican City/Holy See) comprise the United Nations, the world’s biggest intergovernmental organization. The United Nations General Assembly features equal representation for all of its members.
In the wake of World War II, the United Nations was established in 1945. Its primary goals are to prevent and resolve conflicts, mediate for countries in conflict, and establish a conducive environment for peace.
Human rights protection, humanitarian assistance, international law enforcement, and sustainable development are all responsibilities of the U.N.
U.N. members that were part of the first group
United Nations Charter was signed by 50 nations on June 26, 1945, following World War II by the United States, United Kingdom, Russia, and China. After missing the first signing, Poland joined on October 15, 1945, making it the 51st founding member.
On October 24, 1945, the United Nations and the International Court of Justice were formally established as a result of the signing of the charter.
Several original member nations have disbanded or changed their identities since 1945, including Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and the Soviet Union.
Its initial members comprised the United States (which included France and the United Kingdom), Argentina (which included Brazil and New Zealand), Belarus (which included Turkey), Australia (which included Belgium), Mexico (which included the Netherlands), and South Africa (which included Panama).
The United Nations now has a membership of 193 nations, up from the original 122 when it was established (plus two). To join the U.N., you must meet the following requirements:
- To become a member of the United Nations, a country must submit an application pledging to uphold the principles enshrined in the UN Charter, such as maintaining world peace, protecting human rights, and fostering international cooperation.
- It is decided whether or not the application is eligible by the United Nations Security Council. This means that the application must be authorized by all five permanent members and at least four of 10 rotating members of the council (which rotate every two years).
- If the application is granted, the General Assembly will vote on whether or not to admit the territory, which has now been verified as a fully-fledged nation, to the United Nations. A simple two-thirds majority is necessary.
Countries that aren’t members of the U.N.
Because being recognized by the United Nations is a prerequisite to becoming a nation, it is uncommon for a country to exist without joining the U.N.
While this is true for the majority of permanent non-member observer nations, there are two exceptions that may be considered: (1) Vatican City and the Palestinian Territories.
No votes may be cast for any country, although both nations are welcome in the General Assembly as non-member observer states. In the future, both permanent observer nations might become full members of the United Nations.
However, these two states have unique circumstances preventing them from becoming full members.
Holy See/Vatican City
Vatican City’s administration, known as the Holy See, is responsible for running the world’s smallest country, the Catholic Church’s worldwide headquarters. In addition, it is the only sovereign country that has not applied for United Nations membership.
Because the Pope likes to avoid actively influencing foreign affairs, this choice has been explained.
The Holy See, however, may face questions about whether it can fit the United Nations’ definition of a nation (especially it’s capacity to contribute to global security) and if it is, in reality, a religious institution rather than a legitimate state, should it decide to seek for membership.
Because of its violent and continuing territorial conflict with U.N. member Israel, Palestine has been unable to join the United Nations as a full member state.
Most U.N. members (138 out of 193, plus observer state Vatican City/Holy See) recognize Palestine as a sovereign state deserving of U.N. membership.
Still, several key members, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and France, three permanent members of the Security Council, refuse to allow Palestine to join until the conflict between Palestine and Israel is peacefully resolved.
The United Nations is poised to vote to award Palestine full membership status if Israel and Palestine peacefully come to a deal. Even if a peaceful ending is possible, the dispute has already lasted more than 50 years and has resisted several efforts to find a solution.
The United Nations has not completely recognized any independent nations as countries.
Despite not being full members of the United Nations, both the Holy See and Palestine are recognized as sovereign entities. A large number of nations and territories, however, have not yet been recognized by the United Nations as countries despite their desire to do so.
Kosovo (recognized by 100+ members)
In 2008, this European nation proclaimed its independence from Serbia and is now recognized by more than 100 countries that are members of the United Nations (sources vary, and some states have withdrawn their recognition).
Because two countries—China and Russia—oppose Kosovo’s full membership (and nationhood), the country is in an indefinite holding pattern.
Taiwan (recognized by 13 members)
The Republic of China (ROC), which also encompassed the Chinese mainland, was a founding member of the United Nations, and this island nation located off the coast of China was one of its members.
However, a civil war in China drove the government of the Republic of China (ROC) to flee to the island of Taiwan, with the communist People’s Republic of China (PRC) assuming control of the rest of the country.
The United Nations withdrew the ROC of its membership after it became evident that the ROC would not be able to restore control of the mainland (where the vast majority of Chinese people resided).
The Republic of China (ROC) has petitioned to join the United Nations Security Council as Taiwan’s sovereign nation. Still, as one of the five permanent members, the PRC-controlled China has the power to reject Taiwan’s application in perpetuity.
China has also made it mandatory for all current members of the United Nations to either acknowledge China or Taiwan (and severed diplomatic relations with any country that chose Taiwan).
Western Sahara (recognized by 44 members)
For decades, the residents of this thinly populated desert nation have been calling for their country’s independence from Morocco. Several referendums have been suggested that would allow residents of the area to vote on whether or not to separate from the United States.
However, disagreements over the voting procedure have stopped the referendum from taking place, especially regarding the many thousands of Moroccan immigrants who have relocated to the area in recent decades.
Also See: Countries Never Colonized 2022
Additional states with little recognition:
- South Ossetia (recognized by five members)
- Abkhazia (recognized by five members)
- Northern Cyprus (recognized by one member)
Dozens of territories with varied legal titles and degrees of independence might theoretically join the United Nations if their parent nations agreed to join as well exist.
Many of these areas are deserted or small islands, making it doubtful that they would ever become independent countries. For the typical person, certain nations — like Greenland, Hong Kong, and Puerto Rico — seem to have gained their independence long ago.
As long as their parent nation agrees, these areas might stand on their own if they so choose.
|Abkhazia (Georgia)||Separatist state recognized by 5 U.N. members||Asia|
|Akrotiti and Dhekelia (UK)||Overseas territory||Europe/Asia|
|Åland (Finland)||Autonomous region||Europe|
|American Samoa (US)||Unincorporated unorganized territory||Oceania|
|Anguilla (UK)||Overseas territory||North America|
|Artsakh (Azerbaijan)||Separatist state - not recognized||Asia|
|Aruba (Netherlands)||Constituent country||North America/South America|
|Ashmore and Cartier Islands (Australia)||External territory (uninhabited)||Oceania|
|Bailiwick of Guernsey (UK crown dependency)||Crown dependency||Europe|
|Bailiwick of Jersey (UK crown dependency)||Crown dependency||Europe|
|Baker Island (US)||Unincorporated unorganized territory (uninhabited)||Oceania|
|Bermuda (UK)||Overseas territory||North America|
|Bonaire (Netherlands)||Special Municipality||North America/South America|
|Bouvet Island (Norway)||Dependent territory (uninhabited)||Antarctica|
|British Indian Ocean Territory (UK)||Overseas territory (uninhabited)||Asia|
|British Virgin Islands (UK)||Overseas territory||North America|
|Canary Islands (Spain)||Autonomous community||Africa|
|Cayman Islands (UK)||Overseas territory||North America|
|Ceuta (Spain)||Autonomous community||Africa|
|Christmas Island (Australia)||External territory||Asia/Oceania|
|Clipperton Island (France)||Overseas state private property|
|Cocos (Kneeling Islands) (Australia)||External territory||Asia/Oceania|
|Cook Islands (New Zealand)||Self-governing state in free association||Oceania|
|Coral Sea Islands (Australia)||External territory (uninhabited)||Oceania|
|Curaçao (Netherlands)||Constituent country||North America|
|Easter Island (Chile)||Special territory||Oceania/South America|
|Falkland Islands (UK)||Overseas territory||South America|
|Faroe Islands (Denmark)||Self-governing territory||Europe|
|Federal Dependencies of Venezuela (Venezuela)||Federal dependency||North America|
|French Guiana (France)||Overseas department and region||South America|
|French Polynesia (France)||Overseas collective||Oceania|
|French Southern and Antarctic Lands (France)||Overseas territory|
|Gibraltar (UK)||Overseas territory||Europe|
|Greenland (Denmark)||Self-governing territory||North America|
|Guadeloupe (France)||Overseas department and region||North America|
|Guam (US)||Unincorporated organized territory||Asia/Oceania|
|Heard Island and McDonald Islands (Australia)||External territory (uninhabited)||Oceania|
|Hong Kong (China)||Special administrative region||Asia|
|Howland Island (US)||Unincorporated unorganized territory (uninhabited)||Oceania|
|Isle of Man (UK crown dependency)||Crown dependency||Europe|
|Jarvis Island (US)||Unincorporated unorganized territory (uninhabited)||Oceania|
|Johnston Atoll (US)||Unincorporated unorganized territory (uninhabited)||Oceania/North America|
|Kingman Reef (US)||Unincorporated unorganized territory (uninhabited)||Oceania|
|Kosovo (Serbia)||Partially recognized state (approx. 102 U.N. members)||Europe|
|Macau (China)||Special administrative region||Asia|
|Madeira (Portugal)||Autonomous region||Africa|
|Martinique (France)||Overseas department and region||North America|
|Mayotte (France)||Overseas department and region||Africa|
|Melilla (Spain)||Autonomous community||Africa|
|Midway Atoll (US)||Unincorporated unorganized territory (uninhabited)||Oceania/North America|
|Montserrat (UK)||Overseas territory||North America|
|Navassa Island (Haiti/US)||Unincorporated unorganized territory (uninhabited)||North America|
|New Caledonia (France)||Sui generis collectivity||Oceania|
|Niue (New Zealand)||Self-governing state in free association||Oceania|
|Norfolk Island (Australia)||External territory||Oceania|
|Northern Cyprus (Cyprus)||Separatist state recognized by 1 U.N. member||Europe/Asia|
|Northern Mariana Islands (US)||Unincorporated organized territory||Asia/Oceania|
|Palestine - non-member U.N. observer state||Partially recognized state (138 U.N. members)||Asia|
|Palmyra Atoll (US)||Insular area||Oceania/North America|
|Pitcairn Islands (UK)||Overseas territory||Oceania|
|Plazas de Soberania (Spain)||Overseas territory||Africa|
|Puerto Rico (US)||Unincorporated organized territory||North America|
|Reunion (France)||Overseas department and region||Africa|
|Saba (Netherlands)||Special municipality||North America|
|Saint Barthélemy (France)||Overseas collective||North America|
|Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha (UK)||Overseas territory||Africa|
|Saint Martin (France)||Overseas collective||North America|
|Saint Pierre and Miquelon (France)||Overseas collective||North America|
|Sint Eustatius (Netherlands)||Special municipality||North America|
|Sint Maarten (Netherlands)||Constituent country||North America|
|Socotra Archipelago (Yemen)||Territory||Africa|
|Somaliland (Not Somalia)||Separatist state - not recognized||Africa|
|South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (UK)||Overseas territory (uninhabited)||South America/Antarctica|
|South Ossetia (Georgia)||Separatist state recognized by 5 U.N. members||Asia|
|Taiwan (RoC, claimed by China)||Partially recognized state (16 U.N. members)||Asia|
|Tokelau (New Zealand)||Dependent Territory||Oceania|
|Transnistria (Moldova)||Separatist state||Europe|
|Turks and Caicos Islands (UK)||Overseas territory||North America|
|United States Virgin Islands (US)||Unincorporated organized territory||North America|
|Vatican City/Holy See - non-member observer state||Country||Europe|
|Wake Island (US)||Unincorporated unorganized territory (uninhabited)||Oceania|
|Wallis and Futuna (France)||Overseas collective||Oceania|
|West Papua / Western New Guinea (Indonesia)||Territory||Oceania|
|Western Sahara (Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic) (Morocco)||Disputed territory recognized by 44 U.N. members||Africa|