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In 2012, a total of 192 countries sent athletes to the London Olympics. Not every country competes in the Olympics. There were a total of 204 [not 240] teams at the 2012 London Olympics. There were two "unrecognized states" competing: Palestine and Taiwan. There were ten non-selfgoverning territories competing on their own: American Samoa (US), Aruba (Netherlands), Bermuda (UK), British Virgin Island (UK), Cayman Islands (UK), Cook Islands (NZ), Guam (US), Hong Kong (China), Puerto Rico (US), and Virgin Islands (US). There was also a team of independent athletes competing under the Olympic flag.

"A sentiment of respect for large, highly-organized, enlightened governments, which know their duties and make considerable efforts to fulfil them, and for large, well defined, advanced nations, which would suffer long and keenly if suppressed, is indeed a wholesome sentiment worthy of careful preservation and encouragement. But undiscriminating respect for everything called a government, and everything called a nation, merely on account of some superficial resemblance to things worthy of these names, is utterly irrational and extremely mischievous."

The anonymous author of The Great Game, 1875

"All states enjoy sovereign equality. They have equal rights and duties and are equal members of the international community, notwithstanding differences of an economic, social, political and other nature.
In particular sovereign equality includes the following elements:
a. States are judicially equal;
b. Each State enjoys the rights inherent in full sovereignty;
c. Each State has the duty to respect the personality of the other States;
d. The territorial integrity and political independence of the State are inviolable;
e. Each State has the right freely to choose and develop its political, social, economic and cultural systems;
f. Each State has the duty to comply fully and in good faith with its international obligations strictly and to live in peace with other States."

United Nations Declaration on Principles of International Law of 24 October 1970

As was also said of farmers and poor people, the Lord must love countries, because he has created do many of them. And new countries keep emerging, roughly one per year, and have been emerging steadily at about this pace for nearly a century, with no end in sight [as Catalonia and Scotland]. As of 2013 there appear to be about 200 states, but this number cannot be stated with exact precision because of the imprecision of what constitutes a state. The CIA World Factbook keeps tables on 251 separate entities, but more than 50 of these a geographically distinct locales that no one would consider a state [eg, Spratly Islands].

The modern conception of the state is a product of a specific place and time, and continues to evolve. The Peace of Westphalia of 1648 formally accorded to the princes and potentates of the Empire a qualified international status. The Westphalian peace decreed the coexistence of popery and protestantism on equal terms. The state was separated from the church, and, as possessing the power, is necessarily supreme. The religious settlement stipulated for an exact and reciprocal equality among them in ecclesiastical affairs, thus assuring their independence from imperial control in this respect. The political settlement divided international capacity between the Empire as a whole and its component states. More than three hundred quasi-states were formally inducted into the international community. Neither the Empire nor its states were legally the equals of their neighbors in the society of nations.

The states of the African Mediterranean shore had already in the last days of Ferdinand the Catholic began to lag behind the leading states of Christendom in point of social advance, and, receding more and more as civilisation extended throughout the West and North, they, as at best semi-civilised communities, had by the beginning of the seventeenth century passed beyond the pale of International Law; and the treaties made with the Barbary Powers of the eighteenth century by various Christian states present a curious picture of the survival of mediaeval practice at the very gates of modern civilised Europe.

The disintegration of the Ottoman Empire in the nineteenth century suggests certain interesting comparisons with the dismemberment of the Holy Roman Empire in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. As outlying Turkish provinces have approached separation from the Empire the European powers have imposed a divided capacity during prolonged periods of transition. Turkey was permitted to retain certain rights of suzerainty over the detached provinces. The provinces have been accorded an autonomous regime under international guaranty, placed under the effective control of another power, or conceded a qualified international status preliminary to annexation by another power or to complete independence. Thus for a century the Near East presented the society of nations with a disintegrating empire on the one hand and a number of incipient states in various stages of evolution on the other. Neither the empire nor its vassal states stood in a relation of legal equality to other members of the international community.

The dismantling of the various colonial empires that had been consolidated during the 19th century or even earlier has been one of the most significant developments of the post World War II era, transforming the political map by bringing close to 90 newly independent states into the international community within the space of 40 years. It was not, however, until the seventies that decolonisation started to be applied extensively to territories with only a few hundred thousand people. Among British colonial territories, for example, only 12 such countries had become independent by 1969; whereas, with the exception of three states, all of the 20 countries that had become independent members of the Commonwealth since 1970 possess small populations.

Under international law, a state is a sovereign political entity with defined government, territory and population. The terms state and country may be used nearly interchangeably, though the former word has more a juridical flavor of government, while the later more warmly embraces the land and its people. The word nation should not be used interchangeably with state and country, because nation clearly references ethnicity and ethnicity alone, and no state's residents are of only one nation. and no nation resides in only one country.

A state de facto may possess full right to regulate its internal affairs without interference from any foreign state, internal sovereignty; but this does not make the state a member of family of nations. In all there seem to be at least a dozen un-recognized states - entities that have effective control of some definiable territory, possess attributes of statehood such as a flag and a military, and yet are not generally recognized as states. The Wikipedia List of States With Limited Recognition does not include Kachin State, Karen State and Shan State in Myanmar, nor does it include Jubaland and Puntland in Somalia, or Kurdistan in Iraq. While these entities are not presently seeking international recognition as states, in every other respect they are de facto states. But Wikipedia does include the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria which existed quite briefly in the early 1990s, and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, which is a government in exile for Western Sahara. These entities are not states, unrecognized or otherwise.

To be a member of the so-called "family of nations" a state must be recognized as such by those already within the international circle. Taiwan is clearly a states for most intents and purposes, though only a few dozen states provide diplomatic recognition. Abkhazia and South Ossetia are recognized by Russia and a few other fellow travelers, but no one else. Palestine is recognized as a state by about 100 other states, yet at the UN it resides in the antechamber previously occupied by the Holy See alone, in the absence of recognition by the only state that counts, Israel.

After a decade of de facto independence, unilaterally Kosovo declared juridical independence on 17 February 2008. The United States, the United Kingdom, France, Australia and Japan were among the first countries to grant diplomatic recognition to the newest state in the Balkans. A year later, The Maldives became the 55th state to recognize the Republic of Kosovo.

International law proceeds from the assumption of the juridical equality of all stated, but evidently in practice some states are more equal than others. Today all but a few dozen of the most powerful states fall in the category of small state. At the lower end of the scale there are mini-states with a population of less than 1,000,000 people and micro-states at a thresholds of fewer than 100,000 inhabitants. Other authorities call all states with fewer than a million inhabitants microstates. There are at least twenty politically independent island states with populations of less than a million. A handful of landlocked microstates dot Europe, relics of a time long past. Although the Republic of San Marino is a micro-state by any definition, with a small land area and less than 30,000 people, it is a voting member of the United Nations. The Republic of Nauru, the world's smallest island nation with a population of just under 10,000 inhabitants, joined the UN on 14 September 1999.

Not all countries are interesting. The International Institute for Strategic Studies "Military Balance" provides data on 171 countries. "Combat Fleets of the World" provides data on the ships, navies, coast guards, and naval aviation arms of more than 170 countries and territories. "Brahmand World Defence Update" contains defense information on a total of 164 countries, along with in-depth analysis of some major countries.

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