Sovereign state

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What you should know about this indicator

Butcher and Griffiths consider a country a sovereign state if it has a population of at least 10,000 people, has internal control over much of its territory, and is externally recognized by its peers and controls its foreign relations.

Sovereign state
The country is identified as a sovereign state by the ISD dataset.
Butcher and Griffiths (2020) – with minor processing by Our World in Data
Last updated
October 1, 2023
Next expected update
August 2027
Date range

Sources and processing

This data is based on the following sources

The International System(s) Dataset (ISD) is a register of sovereign states across the 1816–2016 period that includes numerous states that are missed in commonly used datasets like the Correlates of War (COW) Project.

Whereas ISD version 1 identified 363 states between 1816 and 2011, this version (version 2) identifies 482. It also records valuable information on various corollary variables, including start dates, end dates, estimated population sizes, diplomatic relations with Europe, conflict episodes, borders, and the location of capital cities.

This dataset makes an important contribution to the study of international relations. It provides a more accurate understanding of the development of the international system over the last two centuries, it moves beyond the Eurocentric bias that sits at the heart of existing quantitative IR scholarship, and it will enable scholars to pursue a range of research topics such as the historical importance of state borders and boundaries, the practices surrounding recognition, and the frequency and intensity of conflict across regions.

Find more details in their codebookk

Retrieved on
September 22, 2023
This is the citation of the original data obtained from the source, prior to any processing or adaptation by Our World in Data. To cite data downloaded from this page, please use the suggested citation given in Reuse This Work below.
Butcher, Charles R., and Ryan D. Griffiths. 2020. States and their International Relations Since 1816: Introducing Version 2 of the International System(s) Dataset (ISD). International Interactions 46(2): 291-308.

How we process data at Our World in Data

All data and visualizations on Our World in Data rely on data sourced from one or several original data providers. Preparing this original data involves several processing steps. Depending on the data, this can include standardizing country names and world region definitions, converting units, calculating derived indicators such as per capita measures, as well as adding or adapting metadata such as the name or the description given to an indicator.

At the link below you can find a detailed description of the structure of our data pipeline, including links to all the code used to prepare data across Our World in Data.

Read about our data pipeline
Notes on our processing step for this indicator

We assign each sovereign state to a region based on the mapping (using ISD/COW codes):

  • Americas: 2-165
  • Europe: 200-395, 2558, 3375
  • Africa: 400-626, 4044-6257
  • Middle East: 630-698, 6821-6845
  • Asia and Oceania: 700-990, 7003-9210

We also provide the following extra regions (note that this overlap with 'Africa' and 'Middle East'). These regions are used in Project Mars dataset.

  • North Africa and the Middle East: 435-436, 483, 600-698, 4352-4354, 4763, 4832, 6251-6845
  • Sub-Saharan Africa: 402-434, 437-482, 484-591, 4044-4343, 4362-4761, 4765-4831, 4841-5814

Reuse this work

  • All data produced by third-party providers and made available by Our World in Data are subject to the license terms from the original providers. Our work would not be possible without the data providers we rely on, so we ask you to always cite them appropriately (see below). This is crucial to allow data providers to continue doing their work, enhancing, maintaining and updating valuable data.
  • All data, visualizations, and code produced by Our World in Data are completely open access under the Creative Commons BY license. You have the permission to use, distribute, and reproduce these in any medium, provided the source and authors are credited.


How to cite this page

To cite this page overall, including any descriptions, FAQs or explanations of the data authored by Our World in Data, please use the following citation:

“Data Page: Sovereign state”, part of the following publication: Bastian Herre, Pablo Arriagada and Max Roser (2023) - “State Capacity”. Data adapted from Butcher and Griffiths. Retrieved from [online resource]
How to cite this data

In-line citationIf you have limited space (e.g. in data visualizations), you can use this abbreviated in-line citation:

Butcher and Griffiths (2020) – with minor processing by Our World in Data

Full citation

Butcher and Griffiths (2020) – with minor processing by Our World in Data. “Sovereign state” [dataset]. Butcher and Griffiths, “International System Dataset version 2” [original data]. Retrieved July 19, 2024 from