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Modern Syria is located along the eastern Mediterranean Sea, bordering Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq. Syria’s main geographic challenge is uniting its diverse ethnic groups under one domestic power. This is the result of mountainous terrain and ethnic cores that contradict the state’s current borders. Syria’s population is composed of Sunni Arabs, Alawites, Kurds, Druze, and Christians, among others. The traditional core of Syria's ruling Alawite minority sits on the northern coastal plain to the west of the Jabal an Nusayriya mountains and to the north of the Anti-Lebanon mountains. Between these two ranges, the Homs Gap has often been the point of invasions from the Mediterranean Sea. The interior region is dominated by the majority Sunni Arab peoples. The Syrian Desert divides this area into two competing regions with strong local identities. The first, Damascus, is the historical capital and the modern seat of power for the Alawites. The other, Aleppo, is situated in the agricultural heartlands of the Aleppo plateau. The Euphrates river divides this plateau from the much more arid Jazirah plateau and allows for irrigation in an otherwise desert region. Syria’s modern boundaries fall short of the historical concept of Greater Syria—spanning from Lebanon to the west and Jordan and Israel to the south. Its current borders were set by the League of Nations' French Mandate, following the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire after World War I. Lebanon, especially Beirut, has always been important to Syria because of its trade ports and access to Mediterranean markets. Syria’s recent civil unrest is the latest example of its geographic challenge. Maintaining unity remains difficult so long as its current boundaries continue to overlap regional and ethnic fault lines.
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.
India is endowed with favorable geographic barriers. Surrounded by oceans on three sides and the formidable Himalayan Mountains to the north, what is now modern India has been free of outside interference for much of its long history. Its large geographic size and population, coupled with weaker peripheral nations on much of its boundaries, have allowed India to become the dominant force in South Asia. Home to the world’s second-largest population, India’s 1.3 billion people are spread out across the peninsular nation, from the foothills of the Himalayas to the tropical south. India’s population core is settled along the Ganges river basin, a densely populated swath of fertile land that extends across the northern Himalayan border. India’s primary geographic challenge comes from a lack of strong internal boundaries. Modern-day India struggles to rectify the ambitions of a relatively weak national government that competes with the prerogatives of strong, diverse states — a legacy of a long history of domestic infighting between various dynasties uninhibited by mountains or other defining geography. A similar lack of defining geography still plagues India’s northwest border. Waves of Greek, Persian, and Mongols invaded, culminating in the Mughal Empire, which united much of the subcontinent prior to British conquest. The northwestern border still poses national security risks, due to ongoing disputes with Pakistan. But rising domestic consumption means India is increasingly dependent on imported goods from distant suppliers. Surrounded by water or impassable mountains, New Delhi now faces the additional task of developing naval capabilities to secure its critical supply routes, risking maritime tensions with China in the broader Indo-Pacific basin.