Which Countries Are Not Members Of The United Nations?

Flags of the UN member states.
Flags of the UN member states.

The United Nations (UN) is an international body that was formed in order to ensure that there international order and cooperation. As it stands, there are 193 sovereign member states and 2 observer states. 

Member States

Only sovereign nations are allowed to become members of the UN. By definition, a sovereign state is simply a nonphysical juridical body that is led and governed by a single government, which has control over a geographical region. Only five countries were able to join while they were still under the control of other nations. 

All of the 193 sovereign states have an equal amount of power and representation within the UN General Assembly. For a nation to be admitted into the UN, then the UN Security Council must sit and make a recommendation based on the vote. Should the vote have a majority in the Security Council, then the General Assembly votes to decide whether a nation has satisfied all the guidelines defined in the UN Charter.

Observer States

Within the UN, there is a special category of intergovernmental bodies that are classified as observes when they appear at the UN General Assembly. These bodies are given permission to be a part of the meetings of the General Assembly but they do not possess the power to make a vote. The UN defines observers as intergovernmental and international organizations whose statehood does not have a clear definition. In other words, it is unclear whether these bodies are actually sovereign states or organizations. The two UN observer states are the Holy See and Palestine.

The Holy See

Headed by the Catholic Church with the Pope at its head, the Holy See has never applied for a membership to the UN, but it was granted the status of a permanent observer. Under the classification as a permanent observer, the Holy See is allowed to attend and observe all the meetings of the UN General Assembly. While it does not have voting rights as other members of the UN, it has been able to provide recommendations and influence some of the decisions made by the UN.

During a meeting of the League of Nations in 1919, member nations tabled a motion that suggested the inclusion of the Holy See to the league. However, due to an ongoing territorial dispute with Italy, the Holy See did not join even after receiving an official invitation from the British. In 1944, the Holy See made some preliminary inquiries into the possibility of joining the UN. The request was denied by the US Secretary of State at that time. In his response, the secretary argued that the state was small and thus unable to fulfill all the requirements of being a member. However, the Holy See would be allowed to participate in the activities of the UN. The secretary also made the mistake of confusing the Vatican City State and the Holy See, which are two different entities.

On April 6, 1964, the UN granted the Holy See the status of a permanent observer state. In this role, the Holy See has the permission to attend and observe all General Assembly Meetings as well as maintain a permanent observer mission in New York (where the UN is headquartered). Since it was given the observer status, the Holy See has sent a representative to all the open sessions of the General Assembly. A courtesy was extended to the Holy See that allowed it to make formal statements concerning policy as well as granting a few popes the opportunity to address the General Assembly.

Using the elevated observer status, the Holy See has been able to incorporate Christian values into some of the decisions made by the UN. Most notably, it was able to influence the UN into adopting the declaration that bans any kind of human cloning. In addition, it has been able to oppose some resolutions that had to do with homosexuality and gender identities.

The State of Palestine

Initially, the UN granted the Palestine Liberation Organization observer status strictly as an entity that is a non-member. However, the Palestine National Council’s declaration of the State of Palestine in 1998 prompted the UN to change the designation Palestine Liberation Organization to simply Palestine. The UN Chief of Protocol affected the change of designation to “the State of Palestine” on December 17, 2012.

Unlike the Holy See, Palestine made an official application to the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, to join the UN on September 23, 2011. However, the UN Security Council has still not voted on the application. On October 30, 2011, UNESCO’s General Assembly became the first agency of the UN to admit the State of Palestine as a full member of the UN.

On November 29, 2012, the UN General Assembly approved resolution 67/19 that officially recognized the State of Palestine as a non-member state. Part of the resolution that saw the elevation of the State of Palestine to the observer status included a request to the UN Security Council to show goodwill towards the application for full membership.

As is the case with the Holy See, the observer status does not grant voting rights but at least gives Palestine the chance to participate in debates. Accordingly, the office of the representative of the State of Palestine to the UN was also established. Almost all of the official documents of Palestine are now titled “the State of Palestine” as opposed to the “Palestine National Authority.

States That Are Not UN Members or Observers

There are other entities that have the observer status but are not recognized as states, such as the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. Another interesting case was granting the European Commission the observer status and later on full rights, although it is not allowed to present candidates during a vote. Other territories and regions such as Western Sahara of Africa and the Cook Islands and Niue of New Zealand are disputed regions. While Western Sahara is unrecognized by the UN and is not a member of any UN bodies, the latter islands are members of specialized institutions of the UN.


The Republic of Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008. Over 100 UN members recognize Kosovo. Serbia has not recognized the independence of Kosovo.

Western Sahara

Western Sahara is a disputed territory in Northwestern Africa. It is bordered by Morocco to the north, Algeria to the east, and Mauritania to the south and southeast. Western Sahara is controlled by neighboring Morocco as well as the self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.

Republic of China

The Republic of China, also known as Taiwan, is recognized by 16 UN member states as well as the Holy See. 


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