Every year there are new world events that see possible border changes and a restructure to the way the world’s countries and territories are configured. Think back to 50 years ago, and the world’s map was very different. There are literally a hundred countries that exist today that did not exist a hundred years ago. I wonder what country code the Ottoman Empire would have?
As these events occur, ICANN invariably receives requests to recognise new sovereign entities. In some cases we see very inaccurate press reports by “experts” on how country codes will be assigned. Thankfully, we have a very clear process for this that it is worth repeating.
I said in a blog post a couple of years ago the following:
Another thing ICANN is not involved in is deciding the actual codes, or what constitutes a country eligible for a code. Valid country codes are defined by the ISO 3166-1 standard, which is used internationally not just for domain names — but for physical mail routing, currency codes, and more. The ISO 3166 Maintenance Agency is responsible for keeping the list of codes up to date, taking advice from the United Nations Statistics Office on what constitutes a country eligible for a country code.
By ensuring ICANN is not tasked with deciding what country codes are valid, ICANN can focus its coordination role by ensuring the country-code domains in the DNS root zone match those allowed by the ISO standard. When new countries are formed, new ISO codes are created, and ultimately they can be added as new country code domains. Similarly, countries disappear, their codes are revoked, and they are retired from the DNS root zone.
It is as true today as it was when this policy was introduced in the mid-1980s. We have a more formal description up online, but fundamentally recognition of a new entity that might be granted a country code originates with recognition by the United Nations. Once that occurs, it will kick off a chain of events that will see a new two letter code added to the ISO 3166-1 standard. Once it is in that standard, IANA will accept applications from suitably qualified candidates to operate the country code domain (see our delegation process described here).
This is what happened most recently in the case of Montenegro. In June 2006 it declared independence, was recognised by the United Nations, and added to the ISO 3166-1 standard in September 2006. Some time after this, the Government of Montenegro approached ICANN for delegation, and once the formal process was concluded, .ME was added to the DNS root zone in September 2007.
As at this time, Abkhazia, Kosovo, Transnistria, Somaliland, South Ossetia and others are not in the ISO 3166-1 standard, so ICANN is not in a position to grant any corresponding country-code domain for them. By strictly adhering to the ISO 3166-1 standard, we ensure that ICANN remains neutral by relying upon a widely recognised and impartial international standard.