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Administrative divisions (also administrative units, administrative regions, subnational entities, or a constituent states, as well as many similar generic terms) are geographical areas into which a particular independent sovereign state is divided. Such a unit usually has an administrative authority with the power to take administrative or policy decisions for its area.
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Usually, sovereign states have several levels of administrative division. Common names for the principal (largest) administrative divisions include: states (subnational states, rather than sovereign states), provinces, lands, oblasts and regions. These, in turn, are often subdivided into smaller administrative units known by names such as comarcas, raions or districts, which are further subdivided into municipalities, communes or communities constituting the smallest units of subdivision (the local governments). Some administrative division names (such as departments, cantons, prefectures, counties or governorates) can be used for principal, second-level, or third-level divisions.
The exact number of the levels of administrative divisions and their structure largely varies by country (and sometimes within a single country). Usually, the smaller the country is (by area or population), the fewer levels of administrative divisions it has. For example, Vatican City does not have any administrative subdivisions and Monaco has only one level (both are city-states), while such countries as France and Pakistan have five levels each. The United States is composed of states, possessions, territories, and a federal district, each with varying numbers of subdivisions.
The principal administrative division of a country is sometimes called the "first-level (or first-order) administrative division" or "first administrative level". Its next subdivision might be called "second-level administrative division" or "second administrative level" and so on. An alternative terminology is provided by the Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics which terms the principal division as the second level or NUTS-2.
Administrative divisions are conceptually separate from dependent territories, with the former being an integral part of the state and the other being only under some lesser form of control. However, the term "administrative division" can include dependent territories as well as accepted administrative divisions (for example, in geographical databases).
Communities united in a federation under a federal government are more specifically known as federated states. A federated state may be referred to not only as a state, but also as a province, a region, a canton, a land, a governorate, an oblast, an emirate or a country.
Administrative units that are not federated or confederated but enjoy a greater degree of autonomy or self-government than other territories within the same country can be considered autonomous regions or de facto constituent states of that country. This relationship is by some authors called a federacy or asymmetric federalism. An example is the autonomous republic of Karakalpakstan within Uzbekistan.
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