ISO 3166 (country codes) Maintenance Agency Web pages move

Doug Ewell
Sun, 24 Feb 2002 21:42:36 -0800

John Cowan <> wrote:

> As I understand it, this request is more of a command.  The only
> fully stable codes in 3166 are the numeric ones.

ISO 3166/MA makes a big fuss on its newly revamped web site about the
widespread use (and usability) of 3166.  Users who read this text will
expect the standard, especially the alpha-2 codes, to be stable.

Alain LaBonté <> wrote:

> For example, if Québec (a territory currently 3 times as big as France)
> eventually became a country it would have its code... and the current
> numeric code for Canada would designate a different territory... Would
> mean even a different numeric code for the new country designated as

Maybe.  New codes were assigned to Yugoslavia when it lost territory, and
Germany and Yemen when they experienced unification (not with each other,
of course :-).  In fact, according to the widely distributed "RIPE Network
Coordination Centre" text file, there have been numeric code changes even
when no significant code was apparent in the country's status (e.g. Panama
and Netherlands Antilles).

And that's the problem.

It is clear that a country coding system cannot be perfectly stable,
because countries are not perfectly stable.  In each of the following
cases, you may expect at least some aspect of some coding system to be

1.  West Germany and East Germany unite to become Germany.
2.  Czechoslovakia splits into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
3.  Zaire renames itself to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
4.  Hong Kong becomes a Special Administrative Region of China.

The problem with the Romania alpha-3 change is that here is a country that
not changed its name, its system of government, its political status, or
its boundaries.  All we know is that the change from ROM to ROU was made
"following a request of the Government of Romania."  We are told nothing
about the nature of the request or its rationale.  Indeed, the only
immediately obvious advantage of ROU is that it provides a better mnemonic
code for the *French* name of the country, "Roumanie."  (The Romanian word
for Romania is "Romania.")

The only thing about Romania that has changed is its code, and that is
what worries those of us who seek stability in ISO 3166.

-Doug Ewell
 Fullerton, California