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Regions & CountriesJanuary 28, 2020 | 19:27 GMT
Canada
Canada
Located on the North American continent, Canada is the world’s second-largest country. Most of Canada is uninhabited wilderness, and Arctic temperatures make the northern territories inhospitable to large population centers. Canada became independent from the United Kingdom in 1867. The country is made up of 10 provinces and three territories. A majority of Canada’s 35 million people reside within 100 kilometers of the U.S. border, where the climate and topography support meaningful populations. However this population is spread across a distance of roughly 7,000 kilometers, from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans. Canada's primary geographic challenge is maintaining unity across its diverse population cores, which include Toronto and Montreal in the Great Lakes watershed; the prairie provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta; and Vancouver on the Pacific coast. The economies of these population cores are geared toward external trade as they try to meet demand for their services, manufactured goods and natural resources like oil. Heavy crude oil found largely in the province of Alberta is exported to U.S. and international markets, making Canada the world’s sixth-largest oil producer. Distance and climate are perennial challenges for Canada. The Trans-Canada Railway was Ottawa’s first effort, completed in 1886, to link Montreal, Toronto, the prairies and Vancouver. Redistribution payments, collected from resource-rich provinces and disbursed to resource-poor provinces and territories, is a contemporary policy aimed to unify and equalize provincial and territorial finances. Because of its location, Canada is well within the U.S. sphere of influence and the country's freedom to act is constrained by U.S. interests.
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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 19:11 GMT
Kazakhstan
The ninth largest country in the world, Kazakhstan rests in the heart of Central Asia, bordering Russia to its north; China on its east; Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan along its south; and the Caspian Sea to its west. The defining feature of Kazakhstan is the Kazakh Steppe, a large dryland stretching across more than 70 percent of the country. Only 12 percent of the country's land is arable, and the majority of that is in the north connecting into Russia's agricultural belt. There is also a large pocket in the south. This expanse has largely pushed the population of nearly 18 million to the outer borderlands. The steppe is encircled by a series of sizable mountain ranges. The core of the country lies in the corridor stretching across the Shymkent (also known as Southern Kazakhstan) and the Almaty region, where the climate is warm compared with the inhospitable deserts of the steppe. This stretch of land lies in the Syr Darya river basin, creating a fertile pocket of land protected to its east, west and north by mountain ranges. Shymkent and Almaty were some of the largest stopping posts along the Silk Road, and they now have the country's densest population and swaths of the financial, industrial and agricultural sectors. To the region's south lies the Fergana Valley in Uzbekistan — a vulnerable point to its core. The Kazakh economy is dominated by its energy sector, making up nearly 20 percent of the gross domestic product. The country exports 78 percent of its oil production, regionally and along large trunk lines to China and Russia. Along with its agricultural and metals wealth, Kazakhstan's energy sector has made the country highly valuable to its neighbors. In recent decades, the country has positioned itself as the financial hub of Central Asia, tying in the banking systems of its smaller neighbors. Kazakhstan maintains strong ties with Russia, which reach back to its empire and Soviet phases. But the government in the capital, Astana, is also developing links to China and other players to balance Moscow. The country tries to maintain working relationships with its smaller neighbors, who have seen bouts of instability. Kazakhstan's challenges stem from its mostly hollow interior, from encroaching large powers and from the potential instability of smaller regions on its border.
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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 18:27 GMT
Venezuela
Venezuela

Located in South America, Venezuela is bordered by Colombia, the Caribbean Sea, Guyana and Brazil. Colonized by the Spanish in the 16th century, Venezuela became an independent country in 1830. The northern portion of Venezuela is dominated by the eastern spur of the northern Andes. The mountains are cooler than the surrounding subtropical plains and host the majority of Venezuela's population. The country's core includes Lake Valencia and Caracas. Since the late 19th century, oil has been the driving force behind Venezuela's political and economic affairs. The first discoveries were made in the Maracaibo basin, and later discoveries revealed heavy, sour crude deposits in the Orinoco basin. The tropical Orinoco basin is largely unpopulated, with little significant infrastructure. Just to the south are the Guiana Highlands, which buffer Venezuela from the jungles of the Amazon River basin. As a Caribbean country, Venezuela lies within the direct sphere of influence of the United States. The United States is not only the largest military power in the region, but also the largest consumer market and a key destination for Venezuelan crude oil exports. As a result, Venezuela's primary geographic challenge is managing its relations with the United States. Venezuela has throughout history used its relationship with the United States to attract the foreign investment and technological development that resulted in the country's well-developed oil sector. But relations between the two countries don't always match the economic reality. Former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez built domestic and foreign policies around rejecting U.S. influence.

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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 18:47 GMT
Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia
Comprising a majority of the Arabian Peninsula, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is surrounded by Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Oman and Yemen. The kingdom's main geographic challenges are controlling its sparsely populated territory and maintaining shipping lanes in the Strait of Hormuz. Surrounded by vast deserts, the central Najd plateau is the core of Saudi Arabia and is home to the country's capital, Riyadh. Mecca and Medina, Islam's two holiest cities, are protected by mountains in the west and flanked by the Red Sea. The security of these cities is a key to the monarchy's legitimacy. The collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I set the stage for the House of Saud to unify the territory that became Saudi Arabia in 1932. Oil and natural gas have been the country's main exports and source of wealth since their discovery in 1938. A restive Eastern Province holds a majority of the kingdom's reserves and makes the country vulnerable to invasion from the north or the Persian Gulf. Cross border tribal ties also expose the kingdom to unrest in the south on the border with Yemen. A scarcity of fresh water and a small population density limit Saudi Arabia's defensive capabilities. Since the vast majority of Saudi oil exports pass via the Strait of Hormuz chokepoint, the kingdom has historically relied on a foreign power to balance regional rival, Iran and keep the Strait open. As global oil consumption continues to rise, Saudi Arabia will continue to play a dominant role in the Middle East despite its geographic challenges.
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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 18:54 GMT
Oman
Oman
Located at the extreme southeastern corner of the Arabian Peninsula, the Sultanate of Oman is a mix of cosmopolitan port cities, rugged mountains and a wide desert interior. Divided by mountains and deserts from neighboring Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates, Omanis have integrated themselves with other Indian Ocean communities for much of their history. With few water resources and population centers isolated by topography, Oman's geography has fostered three distinct cores. The cosmopolitan economic elite of Muscat, the tribal groups in Salalah and the Ibadi religious core in Nizwa. Maintaining unity of these cores is Oman's primary geographic challenge. Muscat, Oman's largest port and political and economic capital, is separated from the rest of the country by the Al Hajar Mountains. The al Qamar Mountains surround Salalah, Oman's second largest city and a regional tourist destination. Dhofar's mountains and dense vegetation helped harbor members of a Marxist-inspired rebellion against Muscat's rule for much of the 1960-70s. Oman's government revenues are dependent on oil and gas reserves that are located in the central desert region south of Nizwa. This region was once home to the Ibadi Imamate that clashed with the coastal-based Sultanate for centuries. The Musandam Peninsula, northwest of Muscat, places the critical shipping lanes of the Strait of Hormuz within Oman's territorial waters. The British granted Oman control over the peninsula during their withdrawal from the region in the 1970s. Positioned between Peninsular Sunni Arab and Shiite Iranian spheres of influence, Muscat has had to pursue a flexible foreign policy strategy to balance between the two regional powers. Oman has traditionally relied on the major naval power of the day — formerly the British, today the United States — to help maintain this balance and protect its sovereignty.
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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 18:55 GMT
Norway
Norway

Located on the Scandinavian Peninsula, Norway shares land borders with Russia, Finland and Sweden and has coastline on the Barents, Norwegian and North Seas. The country’s core lies in the southeast around its capital Oslo. This lowland region is Norway’s most habitable and is closest to the more populated parts of Europe. With a rugged coastline consisting of about 50,000 islands, the Scandinavian Mountains stretching the length of the country and proximity to the Arctic, Norway is difficult to populate and, therefore, control. As a result, it has historically been dominated by regional powers such as Denmark and Sweden. After gaining independence in 1905 and maintaining neutrality throughout World War I, Norway was occupied by Nazi Germany in 1940 despite, again, proclaiming neutrality. Following the war, Norway joined NATO and tightened economic relations with continental Europe to increase its national security. As member of the European Economic Area, Norway is part of several European Union institutions. However, Norwegians rejected full EU membership in referendums in 1972 and 1994. With a population of only about 5 million people, Norway has forged close ties with other Nordic countries to stifle the influence of continental Europe and Russia. Offshore oil and natural gas discoveries in the late 1960s have made the country one of the richest in the world and are vital pillars to its modern economy. But as reserves in the North Sea are depleting, the Barents Sea and Arctic are gaining importance for their natural resources and potential trade routes. Therefore, the upcoming geographic challenge for Norway, with its small population, is to secure its interests in the north through exploration and regional collaboration.

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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 18:56 GMT
Nigeria
Nigeria
The West African country of Nigeria is bordered by Benin, Niger, Chad, Cameroon and the Gulf of Guinea. Nigeria gained its independence from Great Britain in 1960. A series of mountains form the country's eastern border. Two rivers, the Niger and the Benue, effectively form a boundary between northern, southwestern and southeastern Nigeria. The northern half of the country is largely savannah grassland supportive of pastoral agriculture. Highlands in the south produce cash crops like oil palms and rubber. Most of Nigeria's regions have arable lands that allow the country to support Africa's largest population of 150 million people. Each region has a dominant ethnic group. The Hausa-Fulani are based in the north, the Yoruba in the southwest and the Igbo in the southeast. These and more than 250 other ethnicities all vie for control over the Niger Delta region because of its abundant reserves of oil and natural gas. The Niger Delta region itself is home to the Ijaw people who have exerted disproportionate influence over the country's politics as seen with the election of Goodluck Jonathan as president in 2011. Nigeria's capital, Abuja, was intentionally located in the country's center to promote its neutrality. Managing the competition for natural resources between these ethnically divided regions is Nigeria's primary geographic challenge. Looking ahead, Nigeria will have to settle its internal ethnic division and astutely manage its oil revenue to deal with its projected population of 390 million people by 2050.
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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 18:30 GMT
United States
United States
The United States encompasses territory spanning from the Arctic Circle and Central Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico and the North Atlantic. The Greater Mississippi Basin is the United States' core and serves as the underpinning of its role as a global superpower. The basin hosts an extensive network of navigable rivers that overlay the world's largest contiguous piece of arable land. This naturally interconnected river system facilitated integration among settlers and allowed for cheap transport of goods, providing the United States with the ability to feed itself efficiently and rapidly build up industry and capital to expand west. The Midwestern core gave early America strategic depth, while an expanding U.S. coastline, naturally indented with deep harbors, provided its opening to the world. After reaching the Pacific coast in the mid-19th century, the United States found itself insulated by two oceans. On the continent itself, geography again has worked in the country's favor: lakes to the north and deserts to the south insulate the United States' population centers, with both Canada and Mexico facing too many natural constraints of their own to seriously rival it. This unparalleled level of wealth and protection gives the United States options that few to no countries can claim. For one, the United States has used its wealth and security to build up the world's largest navy. Control of the world's major sea-lanes gives the United States the power to facilitate or deny trade to allies or rivals of the day. The onus therefore is on the United States to carefully manage its engagements abroad and build up strategic allies to protect its overseas interests and preserve its strength at home.
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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 00:11 GMT
Angola
Angola
Angola is a former Portuguese colony located in southwest Africa. It is mostly semi-arid savanna, with few natural geographic defensive barriers. The Namib Desert is found along its southern coastal strip, and the Congo Rainforest lies to Angola's north. Crude oil is the country's predominant natural resource, found on and offshore northwestern Angola. The country is roughly 1.25 million square kilometers, but is relatively unpopulated, with approximately 20 million people. Angola's main geographic challenge is maintaining control over its ethnic divisions across vast distances. The planalto and Kwanza River Basin are the two regions capable of supporting a substantial population. The planalto is Angola's single elevated region and is the core for the majority Ovimbundu peoples. Relatively high rainfall makes this area Angola's corn-based agricultural breadbasket. The Kwanza River is Angola's sole navigable river and flows from the planalto to the Atlantic Ocean near the capital, Luanda. The Kwanza river mouth is a navigable entry into Angola's interior, allowing internal and external trade. This is the core for the ruling minority Mbundu. The internal struggles and civil war between the Mbundu and Ovimbundu ethnic groups were triggered when the country gained independence in 1975. The Mbundu's absorption of the colonial infrastructure in Luanda and the country's licit crude oil-based economic relationships led to the group's control of the country, dominating the agrarian Ovimbundu. As a result of this dynamic, the Angolan government relies on a robust internal security force to control the vast, remote and resource-rich country against domestic rivals.
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