Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Zoe from AL. Zoe Wonders, “how many countries are there in the world” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Zoe!

Do you ever dream of visiting a foreign country? Where would you go? Would you explore the ancient pyramids of Egypt? Perhaps you’d rather roam the museums of France? Or maybe a walk along the Great Wall of China would be simply magical to you.

Wherever you dream of going, there’s no shortage of places to choose from. There are countries spread all over the globe. In fact, have you ever WONDERed how many countries there are in the world?

That’s a simple question that must have a simple answer. Right? Actually, it is a simple question, but it doesn’t have a simple answer like you might expect.

Today, most experts would likely tell you that there are 196 countries in the world. This number differs from a couple of other figures you might hear from time to time, though. For example, there are 193 member nations of the United Nations. In addition, the United States Department of State officially recognizes 195 countries around the world.

So what accounts for these differing figures? When it comes to the U.S. State Department, the entity it fails to recognize is Taiwan. Although most experts believe that Taiwan meets the requirements to be considered an independent country, the United States and many other countries do not formally recognize Taiwan as a country because China claims that Taiwan is simply a province of China.

To maintain political relations with China, many countries have chosen not to recognize Taiwan as a country. Taiwan used to be part of the United Nations until 1971, when it was replaced by China.

In addition to Taiwan, two other countries are not part of the United Nations: Vatican City and Kosovo. Vatican City, while technically an independent country, is too small to warrant representation. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but has yet to join the United Nations.

Further confusing matters for some people is the fact that there are many territories and colonies that many people consider countries…but they actually aren’t. For example, Puerto Rico, Greenland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and England are all often thought of as independent countries.

Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States. Greenland, despite its size and increased self-rule, remains a territory of Denmark. As for Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and England, many people consider them four separate countries, but in fact they’re the four parts that make up the United Kingdom.

Armed conflicts and civil wars around the globe continue to change and shape the look of the world map. For example, the world’s newest country — South Sudan — declared its independence in 2011 after a long civil war.

Since 1990, 29 new countries have appeared on the world map. Almost half of these came about from the break-up of the former Soviet Union. The break-up of the former Yugoslavia also created seven new countries.

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