Flags are pieces of fabric – often rectangular in shape, designed with specific colours and symbols to represent something. Flags are used in thousands of contexts, however, ask many people to think of a flag and they will think of a countries national flag.
National flags are international symbols of a country. Some are hugely famous, others… less so. But that begs a question, does every country in the world have a flag? And are there any states that don’t have a flag to identify them?
There is no country in the world without a national flag. Every independent country has a flag as a symbol of the nation and a means of identification.
…but that’s just an overview. Let’s go into a bit more detail.
Does Every Country Have A National Flag?
The first step to understanding why every country in the world has a flag is to look more deeply at the fact flags are used by every country on earth.
Every country in the world has a flag. There are no internationally recognized states that do not have national flags. There are also many unrecognised self-governing territories, and they all have flags.
…Let’s look at this more fully. In order to fully answer if every country in the world has a flag, we actually need to define what a country is. Cambridge Dictionary defines a country as:
a nation with its own government, occupying a particular territory.– Cambridge Dictionary, 2022
This definition is pretty broad. It means any territory that has its own government is a country. Therefore, when talking flags… we need to see if all areas of the world that are considered nation states with their own governments have flags.
Every member state of the United Nations has a flag. There are 193 UN member states, and, except for Antarctica, there is no place on earth that is not officially under the control of the UN member state. As every UN country has a flag, that makes it clear there is no country without one.
Not so fast! What about territories that are self-governing or disputed, and so not part of the United Nations. Places like Taiwan, Somaliland, Transnistria, and Abkhazia are officially within another country, but have their own governments. Do all of these territories also have flags? Well, yes, all of the major internationally recognised territories in the world also have their own flags.
Between the UN member states, and the 18 semi-autonomous or unrecognised territories in the world, every country on earth has its own flag.
Why There Isn’t A Country Without A National Flag
Now we know that every nation state in the world does have a flag, we need to think about why there isn’t a country without one. Really, there are four main reasons why every country on earth has its own flag. These are:
- Countries need a symbol to represent them
- Governments need symbols to identify them
- Armies need flags to be recognised
- Flags are needed to unite countries
Let’s go over each of these…
Countries Need A Symbol To Represent Them
A first reason why there isn’t a country without a national flag is because all counties need a symbol to represent them. There are many instances, from the United Nations to international sporting tournaments, when a county needs a clear symbol to show who they are. This is important in many aspects of the modern globalised world and is a key reason why every country has a flag.
Governments Need A Symbol To Identify Them
A second reason why every country has a flag is because they are needed to identify national governments. For example, flags are used as a symbol to identify government buildings, embassies, borders, vehicles, aircraft, and documents. Using a flag allows people to quickly see that an entity is from that country, and often that it is part of a country’s government. This is a key reason why there isn’t a country without a national flag.
Armies Need Flags To Be Recognised
A third reason why there isn’t a country that doesn’t have a flag is because armies need flags to be recognised. Flags were originally used by armies on land and navies at sea to identify a countries forces. Flags are key in battle to identify a countries military. They are also vital in peacetime to show what country an army comes from. The importance of flags in military contexts is another reason why there isn’t a country without one.
Flags Are Needed To Unite Countries
A final reason why every country in the world has a flag is because of their symbolic importance. Flags are symbols countries can unite around. Their design represents the nation and is specifically chosen to include colours, designs and motifs that relate to the people of that country. This is hugely important and is a major reason why there isn’t a country in the world that doesn’t have a flag.
Could A Country Not Have A Flag?
The next question we need to ask in order to understand why every country in the world has a national flag is if a country could choose not to have a flag?
A country could not to have a flag. However, as every country in the world has adopted a flag as a symbol, and flags are important ways of identifying a country, there is no reason why a country would not have a national flag.
There is no international law, UN resolution or global convention that says countries must have a flag. If a country chose not to have a national flag or symbol, they could. However, countries need flags to identify themselves, to distinguish their governments entities and troops internationally, and for a symbol the nation can use to promote itself as well as for people to bond around. For all of these reasons, there is no real motivation for a country not to have a flag.
Has There Ever Been A Country Without A Flag?
When discussing national flags, and if there is a country in the world without one, it’s important to look back into history. Although it’s clear every country in the modern world has a flag, has there been a time in the past when countries would not have had national flags?
Flags began being used by countries to identify themselves around the 18th Century. Even at this time, many states around the world would not have had flags. However, states have been using symbols to identify themselves and their armed forces for much longer.
Flags – a piece of fabric, usually rectangular, with a unique design, go as far back as 1000 BC in China. The exact origins of flags and their uses is unknown. However, throughout history there would have been many countries that did not have them as national symbols.
The use of flags become prominent internationally from the 18th Century. At this time, international sailing was becoming widespread, and ships needed flags to identify themselves. Although around this time nation states began adopting flags, there would have been many states around the world that still didn’t have one.
It was probably into the 20th Century before every country in the world adopted a flag. By this period in history globalisation had begun and international institutions such as the League of Nations and United Nations began coordinating international diplomacy. Although there is not definite date for when every country in the world began using flags, it is certain that for much of history there would have been states and empires without them.
Can A Country Stop Having A Flag?
A final question that we should ask regarding why every country on earth, despite all their differences, has a national flag is could a country stop having one? Are there any international laws or UN resolutions forcing countries to have flags?
A country can choose to stop having a flag. However, although countries do change flags, it is unlikely any country would decide not to have a national flag at all. This is because flags are vital symbols used to identify nations.
As we said, there is no law saying countries must have a flag, so there is nothing preventing a country from stopping to have one. Countries also often change their flags, and so stop using an old design and begin adopting a new one.
If a country chose to stop having a flag, or when countries change their national flags, these decisions are taken internally by the country’s government. A countries flag, including design, any changes, or if a country chose to stop having one, is entirely for that country to decide. There is no international body that registers national flags and there are no international treaties that govern alterations to a countries flag.