A nation is a territory where all the people are led by the same government. The word “nation” can also refer to a group of people who share a history, traditions, culture and, often, language—even if the group does not have a country of its own.


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Morgan Stanley

A nation is a territory where all the people are led by the same government.

The word “nation” can also refer to a group of people who share a history, traditions, culture and, often, language—even if the group does not have a country of its own. People within this type of nation share a common identity, and think of themselves as belonging to the same group.

Palestinians, who live in and near the nation of Israel, fit in this category. Though Palestinians share a national identity, elect their own government, and share cultural beliefs, they do not have an internationally recognized nation of their own.

The United Nations currently recognizes 193 nations around the world, though only 192 are members of the UN's General Assembly. (Vatican City, which is led by the Roman Catholic Church, is recognized as a sovereign nation but is not a member of the General Assembly.)

Other nations are not recognized by one or more states for varying reasons. Sometimes, a single nation does not recognize another nation. North Korea and South Korea do not recognize each other as nations, for instance. They each oppose the politics of the other.

The leaders of some unrecognized nations maintain a “government in exile.” These leaders were ousted by social change, such as a revolution, in their country. The leaders currently live in another country, but consider themselves the leaders of their nation.

Sometimes, people of that nation want the leader to return. Many Tibetans, for instance, look forward to a time when the Dalai Lama, the leader of Tibet’s government in exile, will return to the country. The Dalai Lama has not been to Tibet since 1959, when Tibet became a part of China.

Other times, a government in exile can form entirely outside the nation it wants to govern. The Free Republic of Vietnam considers itself a government in exile of the nation of Vietnam. The Free Republic of Vietnam was formed after the Vietnam War by emigrants who did not want to live in the new, socialist government of Vietnam.

Fast Fact

First Nations
Native American tribes are considered independent nations in the United States and Canada. There are hundreds of nations, from the Ho Chuck Nation of Wisconsin to the Makah Nation of Washington state. For many Americans, the term First Nations has become a term for indigenous people of North America.

First Nations is the official term for Canadian tribes. First Nations include the Dene in Canadas Arctic, the Mikmaq Confederacy on Prince Edward Island, and the Grand Council of the Crees in Quebec.

Fast Fact

One nation may extend across several countries, and one country may include many nations. Kurdistan is an unrecognized nation that includes parts of Turkey, Armenia, Syria, Iran, and Iraq. The United Kingdom is a nation that includes the countries of England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.

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Kim Rutledge
Melissa McDaniel
Santani Teng
Hilary Hall
Tara Ramroop
Erin Sprout
Jeff Hunt
Diane Boudreau
Hilary Costa
Mary Crooks, National Geographic Society
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Jeannie Evers, Emdash Editing, Emdash Editing
Kara West
Educator Reviewer
Nancy Wynne
National Geographic Society
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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