State, Country, and Nation

The criteria that define a country, an independent State, and a nation

by Liz Olson
World

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There is a difference between the terms nation, state, and country, even though the words are often used interchangeably.

Country and State are synonymous terms that both apply to self-governing political entities. A nation, however, is a group of people who share the same culture but do not have sovereignty.

When the “s” of state is lowercase, it constitutes a part of a whole country, such as the different states of the United States of America. When the “S” of State is uppercase it signifies an independent country.

How were countries defined in the past?

In the past, governments often used two opposing theories to define a country—the Montevideo Convention treaty or the constitutive theory of statehood.

In 1933, at the Montevideo Convention in Uruguay, a treaty was signed on the Rights and Duties of States. The treaty defined a State using four criteria—a permanent population, a defined territory, a government, and a capacity to enter into relations with other States.

The convention also declared that a State did not have to be recognized by other States, meaning a country could exist even if other countries did not recognize it.

Conversely, the constitutive theory of statehood said that a country existed if it was recognized as sovereign by other countries. Therefore, if other countries recognized a country as independent, it was, even if the country did not have control of its territory or a permanent population.

What makes an independent State or a country today?

  • Has internationally recognized land and borders even if border disputes exist;
  • Has permanent residents;
  • Has sovereignty so that no other country has power over its territory;
  • Has organized economic activity that regulates foreign and domestic trade and issues money;
  • Has a transportation network for moving goods and people;
  • Has an education system;
  • Has recognition from other independent states

How many countries are there in the world?

Today, there are 195 independent countries or states recognized in the world. Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in February 2008 is the newest country. Territories, such as Hong Kong, Bermuda, Puerto Rico, and Greenland that belong to other countries are not considered countries.

Disputes often arise when a territory claims to be a country, but is not recognized by any other countries. Taiwan, for example, claims to be an independent country, but China states that Taiwan is a part of China. Therefore, other countries that don’t want to upset China also do not recognize Taiwan as independent.

What are a nation and a nation-state?

A nation is a group of people who share the same culture, language, institutions, religion, and history—usually a group of people larger than a tribe or community. When a nation of people has an independent State of their own it is often called a nation-state. The Kurds are a nation without a State, but France, Germany, and Japan are examples of nation-states.

Information Please® Database, © 2007 Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.

Did you know?
In 1993, Toni Morrison became the first African-American woman to win the Nobel Prize for literature.

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