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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 18:37 GMT
Taiwan
Taiwan
Taiwan is located along a sea lane in the West Pacific, with the East China Sea to the north, the Philippine Sea to the east and the South China Sea to the south. The island is 180 kilometers off the southeastern coast of mainland China, across the Taiwan Strait. The strait has allowed for communication with the mainland since ancient times, but has also forced the island to confront the mainland's unrelenting attempts to reclaim it. Taiwan consists of two geographic and population cores. The first is the Chianan Plain in the southwestern region, home to Taiwan's earliest civilizations and the island's second-largest city, Kaohsiung. The second is Taipei Basin, home to the island's capital, Taipei. These two cores are separated by rugged mountains and over several centuries have developed their own distinct social patterns and economic structures. The presence of mainlanders, who have been crossing the strait since the 17th century, further compounds the island's socio-political divides. Taiwan's crucial strategic position has put it at the center of regional geopolitical competition for centuries. In the 17th century it was controlled by various European colonial powers, and up until World War II, it switched hands between the Chinese empire and Japanese rulers. Taiwan was the extended battleground of the Chinese Civil War in the mid-1940s and only established itself as an independent, unified polity in 1945. Today, it remains a focal point of power struggles between China, Japan and the United States. The island's primary geographic challenge is to avoid being dominated by external powers while securing a maritime buffer. Both these goals are challenged by China, which is expanding its maritime ambitions in the East and South China seas and remains fixated on eventual national reunification.
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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 | 18:49 GMT
Romania
Romania
Romania is located in southeastern Europe, north of the Balkan Peninsula and on the western shore of the Black Sea. The Carpathian Mountains divide Romania into three parts. To the south is the Wallachian Plain, the core of contemporary Romania where its capital, Bucharest, and its old oil center, Ploiesti, are located. East of the Carpathians is the Moldavian Plain, where the city of Iasi sits, which is an important economic and cultural center. To the northwest of the Carpathians is Transylvania, a more rugged, hilly region. None of the three parts are easy to defend. Transylvania was occupied by the Hungarians in several stages starting in the 11th century, and then fell under Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian rule. Wallachia and Moldavia were constant battlegrounds for the Ottomans, the Habsburgs and later the Russians. After becoming a nation-state in the late 19th century, Romania had a precarious existence, balanced between foreign powers. Romania spent most of the 20th century trying to find its balance with monarchy, authoritarianism and democracy. During the Cold War, Romania was ruled by a Communist dictatorship loosely aligned with the Soviet Union. Like most of the former Soviet satellites, after the fall of communism, Romania aligned itself with NATO and the European Union. The crisis in Ukraine has reignited Romania’s traditional fears of foreign aggression and its strategy to become more independent on energy. Bucharest is worried about events in neighboring Moldova, where the breakaway region of Transdniestria is under Russian influence, and in the Black Sea. As a country surrounded by large powers, Romania’s main geographic challenge is to remain united and limit the influence of foreigners.
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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 15:13 GMT
Egypt
Egypt
Located in the northeast corner of Africa, Egypt lies at the heart of the Arab World. Comprised of mostly uninhabitable desert, 99 percent of the country's 93 million people live along the banks of the Nile River. This region, from the Aswan High Dam to the Mediterranean shore is Egypt's core. The Nile, while not commercially navigable, forms the basis of Egypt's irrigation-dependent agricultural sector. The long, narrow stretch of population requires expensive infrastructure development — especially related to transportation, straining the capital-poor government's resources. The desert topography demands a great deal of investment on a national scale necessitating a strong central state, helping to explain Egypt's history of authoritarian regimes beginning with the pharaohs. Egypt's main geographic challenge has been to develop beyond the narrow Nile corridor and project power eastward. The Saharan desert has largely insulated the Nile core from its western flank and contained Egypt's westward expansion. Egypt has been able to translate its strong central government and border with Israel into developing a relationship with the United States, the key foreign backer protecting the Suez Canal and the northern coastline. This area contains the majority of Egypt's offshore hydrocarbon reserves. The Sinai Desert has traditionally been the overland route of foreign invasion, but its more manageable geography also accommodates Egyptian attempts to interact with the Levant and Arabian Peninsula and competition with Saudi Arabia for the role of regional Arab hegemon.
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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 15:11 GMT
Denmark
Denmark
Denmark is a Scandinavian nation in Northern Europe. It consists of the peninsula of Jutland, most of which is flat, as well as hundreds of islands of varying sizes. Denmark’s main city and capital, Copenhagen, is located on the island of Zealand. The Kingdom of Denmark also includes two self-governing territories: Greenland and the Faroe Islands. With an open and exports-focused economy, Denmark has one of the world's highest per capita incomes. Denmark traditionally has sought to exert control over the Baltic Sea and, to a lesser extent, the North Sea. Starting in the eighth century, Vikings from Denmark raided and traded throughout Europe, conquering parts of England, France and Sweden, among others. In the late 14th century, Denmark entered a personal union with Norway and Sweden. The centuries that followed were marked by competition between Denmark and Sweden for regional control, though Denmark was often also involved in fights with its German neighbors to the south. Denmark's strategic position on the Jutland Peninsula allows it, along with Sweden, to control the Skagerrak and Kattegat straits, and thus all traffic into and out of the Baltic Sea. This control is economically and militarily relevant, because the straits are the only outlet connecting the Baltic Sea to the global maritime system. In addition, Greenland is part of the so-called GIUK gap, an area in the North Atlantic between Greenland, Iceland and the United Kingdom that forms a naval choke point. Greenland also gives Denmark a role on Arctic affairs, an area of increasing competition among great powers like Russia, China and the United States. After World War II, Denmark became a founding member of NATO. However, Copenhagen decided not to join the European Economic Community (the European Union’s predecessor), opting instead to deepen political and economic cooperation with its neighbors in the north through institutions such as the Nordic Council and the European Free Trade Association. Denmark eventually joined the European Economic Community, but it is not a member of the eurozone and opted out from cooperation on some justice and defense affairs. While modern Denmark has chosen cooperation over confrontation with its neighbors, finding a balance between its Nordic and European interests remains a challenge for the country.
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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 15:10 GMT
Czech Republic
Czech Republic
The Czech Republic is a landlocked country in Central Europe surrounded by Austria, Germany, Poland and Slovakia. Its capital and most populous city is Prague. The Czech Republic's historic regions are Bohemia in the west, Moravia in the east and Czech Silesia in the north-east. These regions coincide with the basins of the country's main rivers with the Elbe and the Vltava for Bohemia, the Morava for Moravia and the Oder for Czech Silesia. The Czech Republic's location and relatively flat landscape have historically brought prosperity to the region by placing it at the center of some of the oldest trade routes in Europe. Between the 11th and 19th centuries, the Kingdom of Bohemia was an essential part of the Holy Roman Empire and several of its kings were elected to rule as Holy Roman Emperors. But the Czech Republic's lack of natural barriers has also made it easy to invade. During World War II, for example, the territory that was then known as Czechoslovakia was occupied by the Nazis and, later, was brought under the Soviet sphere of influence. The end of the Cold War brought about drastic changes for the region and, in 1993, Czechoslovakia peacefully split into the independent states of the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The Czech Republic went on to join NATO in 1999 and the European in 2004. Currently, The Czech Republic is a dynamic, export-driven economy with low unemployment levels. But its deep connection to the German economy is both an advantage and a threat, as the Czech economy is subject to fluctuations in the economic health of its main trading partner. As a small country, Prague often seeks to balance its membership in blocs such as the European Union with protecting its national sovereignty. The country has so far chosen not to join the eurozone but has also sought to deepen ties with its Central European neighbors through the Visegrad Group, which includes Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. As the European Union's core membership insists on efforts to federalize, this will present a challenge for the Czech Republic.
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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 00:34 GMT
Armenia
Armenia
Located in the Caucasus region, Armenia is situated on the transcontinental land bridge between Europe and Asia. Several powerful countries in its neighborhood surround Armenia, including Turkey, Russia and Iran. For much of Armenia's history, part or all of the country has been controlled by each of its neighbors. Russia, which controlled Armenia most recently during the days of the Soviet Union, remains the most influential external power in the country to this day. Armenia's capital, Yerevan, is the country's core and contains most of the country's resources. The city of Gyumri, where Russian military forces are stationed, is key to the country's security. This Russian military presence protects Armenia from its neighboring rivals, Turkey and Azerbaijan. From 1988 to 1994, Armenia and Azerbaijan were at war over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. The region is now under de facto Armenian control but remains a lingering source of tension with its neighbor Azerbaijan. Because of its disputes with Azerbaijan and Turkey, Armenia is economically isolated. The country thus depends on Russia for economic support and military protection. However, Russia does not always act in Armenia's best interest. Still, sustaining Russian support - or that of another power capable of defending Armenia in its complex and contested neighborhood - is Armenia's greatest geographic challenge. Latest Forecast - Q2 2018: Next year will kick off a busy election season in the Caucasus, too. Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia will each hold presidential elections in 2018. More than the outcomes of these votes, though, the larger states nearby will influence foreign policy in the region. Azerbaijan and Georgia, for instance, will continue their efforts to forge closer energy, infrastructure and security ties with Turkey, while Armenia strengthens its military partnership with Russia and fortifies its economic links with Iran. Along the way, Tehran and Ankara will be careful not to challenge Moscow's strategic position in the Caucasus. Russia will remain the primary arbiter in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, working to prevent the dispute from escalating while at the same time supplying both sides with arms.
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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 00:50 GMT
A view of the administrative center of the Gakh region of Azerbaijan, located at the foot of the southern slope of the Greater Caucasus, on the river Kurhumchai.
Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan is located in the mountainous and strategic region known as the Caucasus, which lies at the intersection of Europe, the Middle East and Asia. The country is in many ways defined less by its own territory than by its powerful neighbors. To the north is Russia, to the south, Iran and to the west, Turkey. All three of these countries have controlled parts or all of modern Azerbaijan throughout its history. Most recently the country was ruled by Russia under the former Soviet Union, but all its neighboring powers retain substantial influence and continue to shape the country. Outside its mainland borders is Azerbaijan's landlocked exclave of Nakhchivan, which flanks its historic rival Armenia and borders Turkey and Iran. Within Azerbaijan is the Armenian exclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, a Soviet-era holdover that, along with Nakhchivan, creates major regional tension. From 1988 to 1994, Azerbaijan and Armenia fought a war over control of Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan's capital city of Baku, located east along the coastline of the Caspian Sea, is where the country's economic, political and demographic resources are concentrated. Though the Caspian has no ocean access, Azerbaijan has been able to leverage its energy resources and location by building the Southern Gas Corridor energy route. This helps the country balance regional powers and maintain sovereignty from Russia in ways that neighbors Georgia and Armenia cannot. Despite this, Azerbaijan will always struggle with its position in a complex neighborhood, surrounded by larger powers. The country must maneuver carefully in order to preserve its independence.
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