Non-Member Countries of the United Nations

Non-member states of the United Nations

ThoughtCo / Vin Ganapathy 

Although most of the world's 196 countries have joined forces to tackle global issues like global warming, trade policy, and human rights and humanitarian issues through joined the United Nations as U.N. member states, two countries are not members of the U.N.: Palestine and the Holy See (Vatican City).

Both, however, are considered non-member States of the United Nations, which means they have permanent invitations to participate as observers of the General Assembly and are provided free access to documents of the United Nations.

Non-member permanent observer status has been recognized as a matter of practice in the U.N. since 1946 when the Swiss Government was given the status by the Secretary-General.

More often than not, permanent observers later join the United Nations as full members when their independence has been recognized by more members and their governments and economy have stabilized enough to be able to provide financial, military, or humanitarian support for international initiatives of the United Nations.


Palestine currently operates on a Permanent Observer Mission of the State of Palestine to the United Nations because of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and its subsequent fight for independence. Until such a time as the conflict is resolved, though, the United Nations cannot allow Palestine to become a full member because of a conflict of interest with Israel, a member state.

Unlike other conflicts in the past, namely Taiwan-China, the United Nations favors a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict wherein both states emerge from the battle as independent nations under a peaceful pact.

If this does happen, Palestine would almost certainly be accepted as a full member of the United Nations, though that depends on member states' votes during the next General Assembly.

The Holy See (Vatican City)

The independent papal state of 1,000 people (including the Pope) was created in 1929, but they have not chosen to become part of the international organization. Still, Vatican City currently operates in the United Nations as a Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the U.N.

Essentially, this just means that the Holy See—which is separate from Vatican City State—has access to all parts of the United Nations but does not get to cast a vote in the General Assembly, largely because of the Pope's preference to not immediately affect international policy.

The Holy See is the only fully independent nation to choose not to be a member of the United Nations.

States Without Non-member Observer Status

Unlike the U.N.'s official permanent observers, these states are not recognized by the U.N. However, they are recognized as independent states by some of the U.N.'s members.

States Not Recognized by the U.N.
Name Recognized By
Kosovo 102 U.N. member states
Western Sahara 44 U.N. member states 
Taiwan 16 U.N. member states
South Ossetia 5 U.N. member states 
Abkhazia 5 U.N. member states
Northern Cyprus 1 U.N. member state


Kosovo declared independence from Serbia on February 17, 2008, but has not gained complete international recognition to allow it to become a member of the United Nations. By some, Kosovo is seen as capable of independence, though it technically still remains part of Serbia, acting as an independent province.

However, Kosovo is not listed as an official non-member state of the United Nations, though it has joined the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which are two other international communities focused more on international economy and global trade rather than geopolitical issues.

Kosovo does hope to one day join the United Nations as a full member, but political unrest in the region, as well as the ongoing United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), have kept the country from political stability to the degree required to join as a functioning member state. Today, Kosovo is recognized by 109 U.N. members.


In 1971, the People's Republic of China (mainland China) replaced Taiwan (also known as the Republic of China) in the United Nations, and to this day the status of Taiwan remains in limbo because of political unrest between those claiming Taiwanese independence and PRC's insistence on control over the entire region.

The General Assembly has not fully extended the non-member state status of Taiwan since 2012 because of this unrest. Unlike Palestine, however, the United Nations does not favor a two-state resolution and has subsequently not offered non-member status to Taiwan in order to avoid offending the People's Republic of China, which is a member state. Today, Taiwan is not recognized as independent by any members but the ROC government itself is recognized by twenty-three.

View Article Sources
  1. "Non-Member States." United Nations.

  2. "Europe: Holy See (Vatican City)." The World Factbook. Central Intelligence Agency, 5 Feb. 2020.

  3. Newman, Edward, and Gëzim Visoka. "The Foreign Policy of State Recognition: Kosovo’s Diplomatic Strategy to Join International Society." Foreign Policy Analysis, vol. 14, no. 3, July 2018, pp. 367–387., doi:10.1093/fpa/orw042

  4. DeLisle, Jacques. "Taiwan: Sovereignty and Participation in International Organizations." Foreign Policy Research Institute. 1 July 2011.

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Your Citation
Rosenberg, Matt. "Non-Member Countries of the United Nations." ThoughtCo, Jul. 30, 2021, Rosenberg, Matt. (2021, July 30). Non-Member Countries of the United Nations. Retrieved from Rosenberg, Matt. "Non-Member Countries of the United Nations." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 31, 2023).