Country

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This article describes a type of political entity. Country is also a short form for the countryside or the country music genre.

A country, a land, is a geographical area that connotes an independent political entity, with its own government, administration, laws, often a constitution, police, military, tax rules, and population, who are one another's countrymen. "Country" is the English equivalent of French pays, Compare the concept of nation, below.

A country may be an independent, self-governing state. All internationally recognized states follow to some degree international standards in terms of the creation of official national symbols such as flags, and political rights such as citizenship. There are currently 192 countries or states recognized by the United Nations, a figure that includes the 191 member nations and the Observer State, Vatican City.

Sometimes, parts of states with a distinct history or culture are called "lands" or "countries": England, Scotland and Wales – the three constituent countries on the island of Great Britain – are often simply known as countries, even though they are effectively governed as "components" of the British state. Ireland is also sometimes called a country, even though it consists of one nation-state (the Republic of Ireland) and one component of a different state (Northern Ireland).

Other times, it is more loosely utilised by nationalists, or by those that sympathise with that nationalist cause, to refer to parts of states with a distinct history, culture, or political view. Thus, Tibet, an autonomous region of China, is described as a 'country' by those that support Tibetan self-government or independence. Northern Ireland, although officially a province of the UK, is also sometimes refered to as a country as the former term can cause offence to supporters of a united Ireland. The term is often used in such situations by those supporting greater autonomy, believing that its use would justify further autonomy. As such, such non-prescriptive use can be an irritation for those that do not subscribe to that nationalist view.

"State" as a synonym for "country" tends to cause confusions for citizens of federated or otherwise regionally divided countries, where a state (law) is a sub-national entity distinguishable from a "province".

Some countries are nation-states – for example, France or Israel. In these nation states one particular nation is dominant. Within France, however the Breton nation represent a proud and cohesive unity, a folk with their own specific heritage. Other states, such as Canada, the People's Republic of China, Spain or the United Kingdom contain several such nations.

The terms country, nation, state and land are casually used as synonyms, but in a more strict usage they are distinguished:

  • nation designates a nationpeople, however national and international both confusingly refer as well to matters pertaining to what are strictly states, as in national capital, international law
  • state designates a government that exercises full autonomy, and an entity in international law
  • land designates the geographical area governed by a state
  • country designates a singular unit consisting a state, its people, and its land

Some states consist of non-contiguous parts, separated by land of one or more other states. The Kaliningrad region of Russia is an example of such an exclave; the Oecussi-Ambeno region of East Timor or Nakhichevan, an exclave of Azerbaijan, are others. The largest was Pakistan from 1947 to 1971 when the nation consisted of two parts, West Pakistan and East Pakistan, geographically separated by over a thousand miles, with India in between. Alaska is a U.S. state separated by about 500 miles (800 kilometers) of Canadian territory from the Continental United States. Uzbekistan has seven small "islands" embedded within neighbouring Kyrgystan in the politically charged Fergana Valley.

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