Abkhazia, Kosovo, South Ossetia, Transnistria… My oh my.

by Kim Davies on September 23, 2008

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.


Carl 09.23.08 at 6:45 pm

Thanks for the post, Kim. While I do appreciate ICANN’s position (and am grateful for the time you took to explain it), at the same time I have to say that it sounds slightly like a cop-out.

The full story is that Taiwan has a top level domain name (.TW) while not being a UN member or even recognized as a country by the majority of the world’s states. It is on the ISO-3166 list along with places that have few to no inhabitants, like the icy rocks near the arctic that are known as “South Georgia” and which have the .GS top level domain.

I wrote about this on my blog in some detail:

Then there’s the .CAT tld for Catalonia, which is not a country but a region inside another country (in this case, a part of Spain). It is not on the ISO 3166-1 list yet ICANN gave it a tld nevertheless.

Using this as a precedent would solve Kosovo’s problems, and would not give cause to political conflicts because it could always be argued that Kosovo is part of Serbia, just like Catalonia is part of Spain. It would also solve the situation elegantly for all the other areas you mention.

Amadeu Abril i Abril 09.24.08 at 12:09 am


Just to correct some wrong facts, not trying to discuss your arguments:

* .cat is *certainly not* Catalonia’s TLD. It is not a geographic, terriotrial or geopolitical TLD, but a TLD for the Cultural linguistic and cultural community.

* Catalan as a language is spoken in what you call Catalonia, but also in all or part of four other Spanish “Autonomous Communitites”. Plus in three other Member states of the UN: Andorra, France and Italy. So the argument that .cat is an internal Spanish affair as Catalonia is part of Spain is false under at least two grounds (.cat is not identified with Catalonia; Catalan language is spoken, and recognized as official language, in other States).

(hint: if .cat was Catalonia’s TLD, the Balearic Parliament or Government, or the city of Perpignan would not be using it, as they are not part of that administrative/political territory)

* the .tw TLD was created according to the ISO-3166-1, and Taiwan *was* a UN member until 1971 (representing China). What’s more, it is an island, and… well, we all know that islands, due to the UPU origin of the list tend to have ISO 3166 codes with relative independence of their political status.

@Kim: what is certainly a *very bad* ICANN policy is deleting TLDs from the zone simply because a Government decides to change name. One thing is not having it as an active TLD, not accepting new registrations or even forcing registrants to move to another TLD or shut the servers down, but there is no good reason for deleting it from the zone. That’s a political, not a technical decision in which ICANN should not be involved.


Francesco Cetraro 09.24.08 at 12:11 am

Carl, you are comparing pears and apples, so you´re kind of missing the point.

.CAT is a sponsored TLD, not a country code. It was applied for and granted as a TLD for Catalan culture, not for Catalunya as a political region.

Nobody stops you or anybody else from doing the same thing and apply for .transdniestria or .kosovo when ICANN opens the next round of gTLDs applications in a year or two, and by the looks of it you might just get them too.

Carl 09.24.08 at 6:10 am

Thanks for shining more light onto what .cat is … this may be a way for Kosovo and the others to get “their” TLDs, even in the face of real-world political disputes over status / territorial disputes.

Kim Davies 09.24.08 at 6:51 am

ICANN doesn’t delete TLDs from the root zone because a Government decides to change name. Country-codes are only planned for deletion when the code itself is removed from the ISO 3166-1 standard, typically when a country ceases to exist, being replaced with a successor country.

If you disagree with the management principles of ISO of the standard, that is a different argument, and one you’d need to have with them. However, if ICANN decided in certain circumstances the diverge from the ISO standard, that is precisely the type of arbitrary decision the whole policy is designed to avoid.

There are more thoughts on this topic in this blog post and its comments.

oytun ciba 10.23.08 at 1:16 pm

to to war , to to peace ! forever happy Abkhazia : ) for we want . ) for@happy.abk ..

buyvend.com 11.18.08 at 3:41 am

i say
.CAT is a sponsored TLD, not a country code

Krsjn 11.19.08 at 5:21 am

Hi Kim,

What about occasions when the country in question has sold its domain name, such as .tv or .me? I’m interested specifically in the issues raised in this article (http://tinyurl.com/6nku4o) – if a country has part-sold or leased its domain name, and then goes ‘under the waters’ as the article says, what happens to five.tv, shinyshiny.tv etc.? None of whom are affiliated to Tuvalu in anyway…


Manoel Queiroz Neto 12.05.08 at 3:31 pm

Parabéns , icann , pelos ótimos serviços prestados .

Manoel Queiroz Neto

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