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A country is often comprised of a group of people who have something in common, such as a shared ethnicity, language, history, culture, or religion.  Because of these common bonds, the group feels that it should govern itself as an independent country.  This feeling of shared identity and group loyalty is often behind the rise of a nation, which is a distinct society of people who live in a geographic region.  Statehood is achieved when a people group is able to claim jurisdiction over a defined territory.  States are recognized, under international law, as having the legal right to control the affairs of its land and its people.

There are currently 196 internationally-recognized countries in the world, although one of these countries, Taiwan, is not universally recognized as an independent country.  Most of these countries — 192 to be exact — are members of the United Nations, an international organization that was formed in 1945 to increase cooperation among member countries and reduce conflicts between them.  The largest country in the world is Russia, located on 6,592,812 square miles in eastern Europe and northern Asia.  The smallest country in the world is Vatican City, located on 109 acres in Rome, Italy.  The newest country in the world is South Sudan, which gained independence from Sudan on July 9, 2011.

world countries map
World Countries Map

Every country has a national flag, a tradition that became commonplace during the 18th century.  The most popular uses of national flags are to identify and symbolize the countries of the world — and to show patriotism for one's own country.

national flags on flagpoles
National Flags on Flagpoles


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