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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 19:12 GMT
Jordan
Jordan
Jordan lies in the heart of the Middle East in an area known as the Levant, surrounded by Israel, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the Red Sea. Rather than being determined by discrete topographical features, Jordan's northern, eastern and southern borders are the result of early 20th century imperial politics. The core of the country is the northern portion of the Jordan Valley and the adjacent highland plateaus, where most of Jordan's nearly 10 million inhabitants reside. Jordan's three biggest cities, Amman, Irbid and Zarqa, are all located in this area. The fertile east bank of the Jordan River is responsible for most of Amman's agricultural production. Most of the rest of the country is desert, containing portions of both the Syrian and Northern Arabian Deserts. Jordan's two primary geographic challenges are its lack of natural resources and its diverse population. For domestic energy needs, Jordan depends on imported oil and natural gas, though it is a significant exporter of phosphates, potash and fertilizers. Native Jordanians are descendants of the Bedouin tribes historically from the region, but over half of Jordan's population is made up of Palestinian Arabs, a reflection of Jordan's shared border and deep historic ties with the Palestinian Territories. Hundreds of thousands of Syrian and Iraqi refugees also live in the country, as well as pockets of Circassians, Armenians and Assyrians. Despite its artificial borders, dearth of natural resources and proximity to regional conflicts in Iraq, Syria and the Palestinian Territories, Jordan has been relatively stable since its founding in 1946. It has succeeded in fostering strategic relationships with countries such as Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United States. But this stability is a delicate balance, and the country faces a constant uphill struggle against its geographic constraints as it seeks to provide for its population and manage its security.
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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 18:31 GMT
Ukraine
Ukraine

Ukraine is the quintessential borderland state. The country borders three former Soviet states (Russia, Belarus and Moldova) and four countries in the European Union (Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania). Ukraine also has a coastline along the Black Sea to the south. Ukraine sits on the Northern European Plain, the area that has historically served as an invasion superhighway going east and west. Beyond its strategic location, Ukraine's geography has only facilitated such invasions. The country consists of flat and fertile plains, with the exception of the Carpathian Mountain range that arches into the far west of the country. But even these mountains can be penetrated and have not posed a significant barrier to invasion. Given such lack of barriers, Ukraine's wide-open geography is inextricably linked to that of Russia. Ukraine's agricultural and industrial belts have traditionally been integrated with Russia's, and Ukraine serves as the primary transit state for Russian energy exports to Europe. Due to its location and abundance of agricultural and mineral resources, Ukraine has been contested between regional powers for centuries. This competition is currently playing out in an extreme form today, with a Western-backed government confronting a Russian-backed uprising in eastern Ukraine. Further complicating the situation is the fact that Ukraine has several population and political cores, including Lviv in the west, Kiev in the center and the eastern cities of Donetsk and Luhansk. These different cores make administering Ukraine difficult. The current crisis in Ukraine is therefore merely the latest iteration of the country's internal divisions and the long-standing East-West conflict over the country. Maintaining sovereignty and unity in the face of this competition is Ukraine's primary geographic challenge.

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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 18:25 GMT
Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe is a landlocked southern African country surrounded by Mozambique to the east, South Africa to the south, Botswana and Namibia to the west, and Zambia to the north. The country traces its roots to the 13th century Kingdom of Zimbabwe, which covered roughly the same geographical area as the country does today. The kingdom capitalized on the then-growing and lucrative ivory and gold trade from the African interior to Arab traders on the Swahili coast to grow into an important force on the continent for more than two centuries. However, while the legacy of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe is notable, the country's recent history has been profoundly marked by European colonization and the subsequent period when Zimbabwe was known as Rhodesia. Indeed, the independence of Botswana and other British colonies and the ending of Portuguese colonialism in neighboring Mozambique placed immense pressure on white minority rule in Rhodesia and led to eventual black majority rule. Today, Zimbabwe's 16 million citizens remain mostly rural. Harare, the capital, is far and away the seat of political and economic power. Since independence, Zimbabwe has struggled at times to manage its ethnic diversity, with a notable massacre occurring in 1983. Moreover, the country's liberation party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, has dominated the levers of power for decades. The challenge going forward for Zimbabwe is whether it can sufficiently reform its broken political and economic systems without sparking destabilizing unrest. In addition, Harare seeks to diversify its foreign relations after years of reliance on Chinese and South African support to gain more foreign investment to grow its economy. However, after years of reneging on promises and instilling investor distrust, the endeavor will prove an especially difficult one.
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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 18:34 GMT
Tunisia
Tunisia
Tunisia sits at the northwest corner of North Africa, and is divided geographically between its temperate, mountainous northern coastline, its warm, central plains, and its hot, dry Sahara Desert interior. To maintain its prosperity, Tunisia's primary geographic challenges are to manage the economic divide between its interior and coastline, while also defending the country's geographically open borders and trade routes with Europe. Though it lacks major natural resources, agriculture has flourished for centuries in Tunisia's mountainous north. Tunisia's location on the Mediterranean is a double-edged sword. It provides it with access to trade routes while also opening it up to attacks from powerful states. Though the country's interior is much more defensible, the coastal region produces 85% of Tunisia's gross domestic product. Its capital and largest city, Tunis, sits on the Bay of Tunis where a natural harbor facilitates trade, but provides an easy landing point for invasion. Beginning with the Roman conquest of Carthage in the second century B.C., Tunisia was under foreign occupation for much of its history. Its last occupation ended in 1956 when French colonization ceased, but trouble on Tunisia's southern border persists today. To maintain prosperity, Tunisia needs access to European trade routes across the Mediterranean Sea. Doing so requires close relationships with powers strong enough to keep those routes open, and Tunisia has thus remained close with its powerful former colonizer, France. Because Tunisia is too weak to control or influence neighboring Algeria or Libya, it chooses to focus on maintaining its trade routes to Europe.
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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 | 16:40 GMT
Hungary
Hungary
Hungary is a landlocked country in Central Europe located in the heart of the Pannonian Basin, a major agricultural area. Two major rivers cross the country from north to south: the Danube and the Tisza. Flat, fertile lands and rivers that facilitate trade explain why Hungary emerged as a regional power in the late ninth century; the combination also explains why Hungary attracted invaders. In fact, Hungary fell under partial Ottoman occupation between the 16th and 17th centuries, and then came under Habsburg rule. By the late 19th century, Hungary was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire along with Austria. Hungary's modern borders were defined after World War I, when the country lost 70 percent of its territory and almost 60 percent of its population to its neighbors. The new borders led to a series of territorial and ethnic disputes that have not been fully solved. During the Cold War, Hungary was a Soviet satellite. Like most of its neighbors, Hungary joined NATO in 1999 and the European Union in 2004. Hungary is an exports-oriented, high-income economy, and one of the main receivers of foreign direct investment in Central Europe. Its main trade partners are in the European Union, and the country is a net receiver of EU cohesion funds. However, in recent years the Hungarian government has been critical of some aspects of EU integration, and has so far decided not to join the eurozone. Hungary is also interested in keeping close ties with its Central European neighbors in the Visegrad Group, which also includes Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. While Hungary's main policy goal since the end of the Cold War has been to integrate into Western economic and security organizations, Budapest also seeks good ties with Russia, from whom it purchases most of its natural gas. After five centuries of being under the influence of bigger powers, Hungary's main geopolitical goal is to achieve as much autonomy as possible and to keep its options open, especially during times of competition between greater powers.
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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 15:10 GMT
Cyprus
Cyprus
Cyprus is an island country in the Eastern Mediterranean surrounded by Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt and Greece. The largest city on the island, Nicosia, lies between two mountain ranges, the Kyrenia Mountains in the north and the Troodos Mountains in the central south. Major powers, including the Ottomans and the British, have occupied the island and established military bases there due to its strategic location. From Cyprus, these powers can project influence in the Mediterranean and the Levant, and they can easily access sea lanes and trade chokepoints between Europe, Africa and Asia, such as the Suez Canal. Cyprus obtained independence in 1960, but foreign powers retained their interest in the country. The United Kingdom kept military bases in the island, and after a coup by pro-Greek forces in 1974, Turkey occupied the northern part of Cyprus. The island is often involved in the broader disputes between Greece and Turkey, and to this day, it remains divided between a mostly Greek-speaking south and a predominantly Turkish-speaking north. Turkey is the only country that recognizes Northern Cyprus as a state. Cyprus and Turkey claim many of the same waters in the Mediterranean, and ever since natural gas reserves were discovered in these areas, the two nations have engaged in intensifying disputes about their exclusive economic zones. Cyprus joined the European Union in 2004, but membership applies de facto only in the south. In 2013, Cyprus had to request an international bailout to rescue its banks, many of which had a strong presence of wealthy Russians who used the island as a tax haven. The island's strategic position has been a blessing and a curse, as the Cypriots are often subject to events and powers beyond their control. Thus, Cyprus' main geopolitical challenge is to retain as much autonomy as possible in an often-volatile neighborhood.
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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 15:16 GMT
Estonia
Estonia
Estonia lies in Eastern Europe and it shares a border with Russia to the east and Latvia to the south. Baltic waters separate Estonia from Finland and Sweden, which lie to the north and west, respectively. Estonia has a population of roughly 1.3 million, most of whom live in the country's capital city of Tallinn. After a long history of domination by foreign powers, Estonia's main geopolitical challenge is to remain independent. Estonia's foreign policy is focused primarily on deterring Russian aggression by maintaining close political, economic and military ties with the European Union, NATO and the United States. Estonia is one of the few NATO members that meets the alliance's requirements for defense spending and, in recent years, has become a leader in cybersecurity issues. Still, most of the natural gas Estonians consume comes from Russia, and about a quarter of the country's population speaks Russian. Estonia's strategic position at the crossroads of multiple trade markets and its access to the Baltic Sea have made it attractive for invaders. A small, flat country, Estonia is surrounded by powerful neighbors and easy to invade. Because of this, modern day Estonia spent centuries under foreign rule from Denmark, Sweden and Russia. Estonia became independent in 1918 but was absorbed by the Soviet Union during World War II. After it regained independence in 1991, Estonia became a member of the European Union and NATO in 2004, and it joined the eurozone in 2010. Estonia's economy is deeply integrated with those of its northern neighbors, Sweden and Finland. In recent decades, Estonia has developed an open, dynamic economy with a large information technology center. However, the country also faces challenges from a declining population, because emigration rates are high and birthrates are below the replacement level.
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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 14:33 GMT
Belgium
Belgium

Belgium's history has been shaped by its location at the crossroads between Latin and Germanic Europe. Belgium is surrounded by France, the Netherlands, Germany, Luxembourg and the North Sea. It is home to a Flemish community in the north, which is mostly Dutch-speaking, and a Walloon population in the south, which mostly speaks French. Belgium's location also has made it a land of invasion, as it was for centuries disputed by larger powers such as Spain, France and Austria. Belgium gained independence in the 1830s, which was followed by a process of heavy industrialization and colonial expansion, particularly in Africa. Belgium is a mostly flat country, with a coastal plain full of polders in the northwest, a plateau with numerous waterways and fertile lands in the center, and thick forests and hills in the south. Belgium's core is in the so-called Flemish Diamond, an area that includes Brussels, Belgium's capital; Antwerp, which is home to one of the busiest ports in the world; and Ghent and Leuven, two important cultural and industrial centers. Almost half of Belgium's 11 million people live within this area. Belgium is also home to some of the most important institutions of the European Union, making Brussels the bloc's unofficial capital. Belgium's politics are defined by its linguistic and economic divides. A series of reforms between the 1970s and the 1990s made Belgium a federal state, in which Flanders and Wallonia were given some degree of self-government. But this was not enough to appease autonomist and secessionist sentiments, especially in Flanders, which is more economically developed than Wallonia. Belgium's federal government also has to include political parties from the two communities, which many voters see as inefficient. Belgium's main geopolitical challenge, therefore, is to remain united as a country. Domestic politics will play a role in this, but so will the evolution of the European Union, to which Belgium is deeply intertwined.

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