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Spain is located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula and is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea, France, the Atlantic Ocean and Portugal. Spain is separated from France by the Pyrenees, a protective mountain barrier between the two countries. The Strait of Gibraltar divides Spain from Africa, which at its narrowest is about 15 kilometers (9 miles) wide. This eased the invasion of the Moors in the eighth century during the rise of the Islamic caliphate. The Arab presence lasted until the end of the 15th century, when Christian Spanish kingdoms unified modern Spain. This unification helped Spain compete with other maritime powers such as the United Kingdom and continental powers like France. Spain’s access to the Mediterranean and the North Atlantic, along with its need for natural resources, promoted its consolidation into one of the greatest naval and colonial powers of Europe. While Spain has had external challenges, its main geographic challenge comes from within. Spain’s core is Madrid, the country’s capital, most populated city and political center. Madrid sits on Spain’s Meseta Central and was chosen as the capital in the 16th century to allow more centralized control of the country. But Spain’s mountainous terrain has historically determined its political life by hindering communication between different regions within the country. This geography has led to the emergence of regionalist and separatist movements, especially in Catalonia and the Basque Country. Spain’s challenge, then, is to bring about a truly united nation with a balance of power between the central government in Madrid and the autonomous regions, especially as Catalonia.
France is a country in Western Europe bound in the south by the Alps, Pyrenees Mountains and the Mediterranean Sea. To the west and north is the Atlantic Ocean, and on its eastern border lies the river Rhine and the low mountains of the Ardennes, Vosges and Jura. Mountains, rivers and seas help protect France at all points but one: the North European Plain. As a result, France's main geographic challenge is safeguarding its eastern border on the path of this historic invasion route. The lack of internal geographic barriers contributed to France's social cohesion, which in turn led France to become one of the world's first modern nation-states. The Beauce region represents France's core. Its navigable rivers, warm climate, sufficient rainfall and fertile soils have made France one of the world's leading agricultural powers. At the extreme northern border of the Beauce region, where the rivers Marne and Seine meet, lies Paris — France's economic and political center. Paris' strategic location on these rivers gives it administrative control of trading routes from the Beauce region to the rest of France and Europe In modern times, the most existential threats to France have come from its powerful eastern neighbor, Germany. Between 1871 and 1945, France and Germany fought three major wars — all on the North European Plain. After World War II, France attempted to contain Germany largely through the creation of the European Union. The economic and political crisis plaguing Europe has put France's containment strategy into question.
Germany is a country located in Central Europe, bordered by Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark. The country has mountainous terrain in the south, dominated by the Alps, with a plateau and forests in the center and the north. The Rhine, the Danube and the Elbe rivers, combined with Germany's central location in Europe and its access to the North Sea, allowed the country to become a leading exporter and one of the most prosperous economies in Europe. Between the late 10th and early 19th centuries, the territories of today's Germany were the heart of the Holy Roman Empire, a collection of small kingdoms, principalities, duchies and city-states. This led to the development of multiple seats of political and economic power that achieved unity in 1871. While Berlin is Germany's capital and most populous city, the country also has several economic and political centers, including Hamburg, Munich, Cologne and Frankfurt. Germany’s location in the heart of the North European Plain has led to constant conflicts with its neighbors like France and Russia. After World War II, Germany was divided between East Germany, in the Soviet orbit, and West Germany, integrated to the European Economic Community and NATO. The country achieved reunification in 1990. Germany’s main geographic challenge is preserving its territorial unity and maintaining a political balance between regions within the country. It also seeks to maintain a political alliance with France and a balance of power in Europe to preserve peace and keep markets open for trade. Berlin's efforts to keep the European Union closely integrated amid the current economic crisis are in line with this strategy.