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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 19:10 GMT
A horse grazes in front of Kara-Kul lake in the Chon-Ak-Suu valley, 300 kilometers southeast of Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan.
Kyrgyzstan
Located in the southeast corner of Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan borders China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Kyrgyzstan is land-locked and almost entirely mountainous, making economic development difficult. The country has some mineral resources such as gold, but it does not have significant deposits of oil or natural gas. Consequently, Kyrgyzstan is one of the poorest states of the former Soviet Union. Its mountainous terrain fosters significant internal political and social divisions, particularly between its northern and southern regions. Kyrgyzstan has two population and political cores distinct from each other — one in the capital of Bishkek and the other in the corridor between Osh and Jalal-Abad. This has created an unstable post-independence political environment in the country, with Kyrgyzstan experiencing two revolutions in the past seven years alone. In 1924, Josef Stalin shaped borders in Central Asia to deliberately divide the Fergana Valley region and its people into three political entities. Kyrgyzstan's large Uzbek and Tajik minority populations in the south, as well as disputes over its limited water resources, have led to tensions and frequent border disputes with its neighbors. Despite the economic, security and political difficulties created by its geography, Kyrgyzstan's strategic location makes it an area of competition between larger powers. Russia is Kyrgyzstan's largest trading partner, and the country hosts a Russian military base in Kant. The United States also has an air base in Manas, a key transit point for NATO military operations in nearby Afghanistan. Taking advantage of this external competition while trying to overcome internal weaknesses shapes Kyrgyzstan's strategy.
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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 18:41 GMT
Spain
Spain

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.

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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 18:40 GMT
Sudan
Sudan
Sudan is a huge country between Northern and Central Africa which, prior to the independence of South Sudan, was the continent's largest country. Its position has long drawn the attention of outsiders, and once facilitated the birth of powerful empires and city-states. Since declaring independence from the United Kingdom in 1955, Sudan has struggled to manage its expansive territories and ethno-regional divisions. Khartoum, the country's capital, can be viewed as a relatively isolated city-state that must command the vast spaces and people that surround it. Such a mentality helps explain Khartoum's disastrous management of the country's various rebellions and insurrections. Until recently, the country's leadership has preferred to adopt a belligerent approach to dealing with the country's many outstanding conflicts. Because Sudan's borders do not fully align with its various ethnic groups, its internal ethnic conflicts have fueled regional conflict as well. Ethnic groups in the Darfur region of eastern Sudan spill over into neighboring Chad, driving the two countries to wage proxy warfare against each other for years by arming and financing rebels intent on revolution. Sudan's proximity to the Middle East — as well as its cultural and religious makeup — has allowed it to build ties with powers there. Though this has benefitted Sudan by allowing it to attract investment from companies such as Saudi Arabia, it has also engendered greater scrutiny.
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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 18:59 GMT
Myanmar
Myanmar
The core of Myanmar is the fertile Irrawaddy River valley. The region, a long, flat area that is relatively easy to consolidate, is vulnerable to invasion from the surrounding mountains, particularly the Hengduan Mountains along the northern border with China. Invading Mongols and the now-dominant ethnic Burman, for example, twice overthrew governments in the Irrawaddy valley. Though control of Myanmar's surrounding mountains provides security for the valley's core, it can also stir conflict with the various ethnic groups that inhabit the border regions. As a result, Myanmar has never completely solidified its own territory. The country borders Bangladesh and India to the west, but a mountain chain separates and protects it from those neighbors. To the northeast, likewise, high mountains and rugged jungle provide a formidable barrier against China. The Shan Plateau to the east poses less of a physical challenge, allowing various ethnic groups to move easily across political boundaries. Historically, the absence of a barrier has facilitated Myanmar's communication with Thailand and Laos, while also making for more frequent conflict with them. Myanmar's location makes it a natural bridge between the Indian Ocean basin, Southeast Asia and southern China. Coupled with the country's energy resources — including oil and natural gas — its position has made it a target for foreign intervention, whether overt, as with the United Kingdom or Japan, or less direct, as with China's recent ports, pipeline and transport infrastructure projects. Foreign interference, like internal ethnic conflict, is a perennial concern for Myanmar because of its physical geography.
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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 | 16:41 GMT
Iceland
Iceland
Iceland is an island country situated at the confluence of the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. Most of Iceland’s terrain is uninhabitable. The island's interior, known as the Icelandic Highlands, is a combination of glaciers, volcanoes and lava fields. Two thirds of Iceland’s 320,000 inhabitants live in the lowlands surrounding Reykjavik, the country’s capital and largest city. Protecting Reykjavik (Iceland’s core) is the country’s main strategic imperative. The Icelandic economy historically depended heavily on fishing, which still provides 40% of export earnings. In recent decades, Iceland's economy has diversified into manufacturing, service industries and finance. Balancing its isolation with external economic integration is Iceland’s primary geographic challenge. Iceland has especially strong cultural and political ties with the other Nordic countries such as Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland, because the island was under the rule of the Norwegian and Danish monarchies between the 13th and 20th centuries. Iceland became independent in 1918, and a republic was declared in 1944. Iceland's location also makes it geopolitically significant for Europe, particularly in light of the growing relevance of energy resources in the Arctic area. Moreover, Iceland’s location in the so-called GIUK (Greenland, Iceland and the United Kingdom) gap is strategic for naval military operations in the North Atlantic. Because of its geographic isolation, Iceland has to make a constant effort to keep strong economic ties with the rest of the world. The country therefore has to continuously reach a balance between maintaining independence and fostering deep ties with its eastern or western neighbors. The population's indecisiveness concerning Iceland's EU membership reflects that struggle.
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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 15:17 GMT
France
France

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.

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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 15:09 GMT
Croatia
Croatia
Croatia is in the western Balkans, bordering Hungary and Slovenia to the north, Serbia to the east, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro to the southeast, and the Adriatic Sea to the southwest. Settled by Croats around the seventh century, Croatia's main geographic challenge has been its proximity to regional powers, including Hungary, Austria and Turkey. This, combined with a lack of clear borders, mountainous geography and ethnic divisions, forms a threat to Croatia's sovereignty. Its capital, Zagreb, is Croatia's most populous city and industrial center. Zagreb's access to the Sava River and its vicinity to the Adriatic coast make it a suitable connection hub for trade between Central Europe and the countries along the Mediterranean Sea, making the area one of the most prosperous in the western Balkans. In the northeastern part of the country, the Sava and Drava rivers fertilize the Pannonian Basin, creating lands suitable for agriculture and livestock. Because of its fertile lands, this area has been a traditional zone of dispute. Modern-day Croatia controls only the western border of the Pannonian Basin and most of it currently belongs to Hungary. The Danube River forms part of Croatia's border with Serbia. As Europe's second longest river, the Danube forms a key trade route between east and west. In the west, the Dinaric Alps separate the lowlands from the Dalmatian coast and Croatia's islands. As a result, Dalmatia has often had closer economic and political ties with Italy. Centuries of invasions and the presence of rugged mountain ranges resulted in several ethnic and religious groups living in the western Balkans, including the Croats, Serbs, Albanians and Bosnians. This ethnic diversity characterizes the Balkans and has often led to violence and tensions between Croatia and its neighbors.
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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 15:20 GMT
Georgia
Georgia
Georgia is located in the Caucasus region, a transcontinental zone between Europe and Asia, and is surrounded by powerful neighbors that have controlled part or all of the country throughout much of its history. These include Russia to the north, Turkey to the southwest and Iran to the southeast. Georgia's core is found in the capital city of Tbilisi, where the country's economic, political and demographic resources are concentrated. But because of Georgia's largely mountainous terrain, the country has distinct regional differences and contains various non-Georgian ethnic groups that have traditionally maintained autonomy from Tbilisi. These groups, most notably the Abkhazians and Ossetians to the northwest and north, have posed a separatist problem for the Georgian state. The territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia established de facto independence from Georgia with the help of Russia in a 2008 war. Because of Georgia's disputes with Russia and its military vulnerability, Tbilisi has sought to integrate with Western blocs like NATO and the European Union. However, Georgia's geographic distance from Europe and its exposure to Russia has made that a difficult prospect. Thus, Tbilisi also seeks supplementary partnerships with countries like Azerbaijan and Turkey.
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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 15:22 GMT
Greece
Greece
Greece is a mountainous country located in Southeastern Europe. It borders Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Turkey. The Rhodope and Pindus Mountains form natural barriers with its northern neighbors. The Aegean, Mediterranean and Ionian seas surround Greece giving it one of the world’s longest coastlines. The country has more than 2,000 islands and Greek life has traditionally revolved around the sea. In antiquity, Greek city-states like Athens and Sparta expanded their influence throughout the Mediterranean, with settlements in Italy, Turkey, North Africa and around the Black Sea. Today, the Greek merchant fleet is the second largest contributor to its economy behind tourism. Athens is Greece's capital and most populous city. Athens, and the Aegean Sea that surrounds it, is the country’s core. Controlling the Aegean facilitates trade, defense and communication. Protecting this core from invasion is Greece's main geographic challenge. Because of its strategic location in the heart of the Mediterranean, Macedonian, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires ruled Greece for more than 2,000 years. After a long civil war, Greece achieved independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1830. The country’s rugged geography makes administration from a central government difficult. A scarcity of arable land combined with poor overland transportation also complicate capital formation, making Greece one of the least developed countries in the eurozone. Greece joined the eurozone in 2001 and is currently at the center of the European economic crisis. Overcoming the effects of the crisis will be a key feature of Greece's economic, social and political life in coming years.
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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 15:21 GMT
Germany
Germany

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.

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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 14:38 GMT
Bulgaria
Bulgaria
Bulgaria, bordering Greece, Turkey, Macedonia, Serbia and Romania, sits on the southeastern end of the Balkan Peninsula. Its northern border generally follows the Danube River as it makes its final descent to the Black Sea, and the Rhodope Mountains shape its southern border. The Balkan Mountains dominate Bulgaria's interior, dividing the country in two as they traverse from west to east. The highly fertile Danubian Plain lies north of the Balkans, while the Thracian Plain lies to its south. In ancient times, the Thracians, Greeks, Persians and Romans settled in what is now Bulgaria. The First Bulgarian Empire emerged in 681 AD, to be followed by the Second Bulgarian Empire in the 12th century. After the fall of this second empire in the late 14th century, Bulgaria came under Ottoman dominance for the next five centuries. Bulgaria regained independence in the 1870s with help from Russia, creating created close ties between the two nations. However, conflict marked the decades that followed independence, including two Balkan wars and World Wars I and II. After the Second World War, Bulgaria became a communist state within the Soviet orbit. With the end of the Cold War, Bulgaria joined NATO in 2004 and the European Union in 2007, moves accompanied by economic and institutional modernization and the arrival of foreign direct investment. But significant waves of emigration from the country also followed; Bulgaria’s population, which was about 9 million in 1986, had dropped to 7 million by 2016. While the Bulgarian economy has grown significantly since its communist days, it remains the poorest member of the European Union in terms of gross domestic product per capita. Bulgaria has strong trade ties with both the European Union and Turkey, and Russian natural gas accounts for a significant part of its domestic supply. Bulgaria’s main challenge is to balance the bigger powers around it in a region where external threats have been frequent.
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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 14:53 GMT
Central African Republic
Central African Republic
The Central African Republic is a landlocked country in the heart of Central Africa. The country shares borders with Chad to the north, Sudan to the northeast, South Sudan to the east, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of the Congo to the south and Cameroon to the west. The Central African Republic's prospects for economic growth are severely limited by its geographical location, which has increased the costs of imports and exports while hampering connectivity. Unsurprisingly, the country is one of the world's least stable nations. Moreover, the government in Bangui, the country’s capital, remains woefully unable to assert its power beyond its immediate environs. In fact, large swaths of the country remain effectively outside the government’s control, as militant groups and gangs have proliferated in many areas. The assistance of outside powers and international organizations have done little to enhance Bangui’s authority in recent years. A former French colony, the Central African Republic has struggled to achieve stability since independence. Instead, periodic conflagrations have rocked the country, occasionally precipitating French military intervention, such as in 2013. An additional challenge for leaders in Bangui is the near continuous meddling of their regional neighbors, which have sought to exploit the Central African Republic's security vacuum to grab some of the country's vast mineral resources. At present, the country’s long-term prospects appear bleak due to its deep structural deficiencies.
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