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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 19:01 GMT
Mongolia
Mongolia
Mongolia is a landlocked nation, currently squeezed between two neighbors, Russia and China. Much of it lies on a plateau, but in the west the Altai Mountains rise to Mongolia’s highest point — more than 14,000 feet — while the Gobi Desert stretches across the country’s southern border. Mongolia’s most prominent geographic feature is the vast steppes that create both opportunity and vulnerability. From these steppes, Mongol horse-archers in the 13th century led by Genghis Khan extended control over the agricultural civilizations of Eurasia. But as their technological advantage eroded, these flatlands left Mongolia with few geographic barriers and the empire began crumbling within 60 years. Today, part of the majority Halh Mongol population and traditional Mongolian lands lie within the borders of China, undermining security of Mongolia’s southern border. Because of its climate and geography, Mongolia has the world’s lowest population density. There are fewer than three million people, with a third living in the capital. Traditionally a herding society, agriculture is now less than 15 percent of the economy. Instead, vast deposits of coal, copper, gold and uranium, as well as rare earth elements, have drawn significant international investments but have left Mongolia dependent upon foreign capital and expertise. And without ports, it must rely on China and Russia to export its resources. This leaves modern Mongolia seeking a third neighbor to balance their influence, but isolation limits the ability of an outside power to offset these geographic constraints. As a result, Mongolia remains trapped between its much stronger neighbors.
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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 19:06 GMT
Macedonia
Macedonia
Macedonia is a republic in the Western Balkans surrounded by Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, Albania and Kosovo. It is a landlocked and mountainous country, whose geography is defined by a central valley formed by the Vardar River. The valley is home to Macedonia's capital, Skopje, and is the most densely populated part of the country. In recent years Macedonia has shifted to a services economy, but agriculture still employs about a fifth of the labor force. The territories that make up the Republic of Macedonia today were conquered by King Philip II of Macedon in the fourth century B.C. One of his sons, Alexander the Great, built one of the greatest empires of the ancient world. But it did not last long, and in the following centuries Macedonia's fate was shaped by its more powerful neighbors. Between the second century B.C. and the early 20th century, the area of modern-day Macedonia was at various times under the control of Rome, Byzantium, Bulgaria, the Ottoman Empire and Serbia. This produced a unique cultural heritage, but also conflicts. While a distinct Macedonian nationalism began to emerge in the 19th century, the area continued to be under the control of bigger powers. After World War II, the Socialist Republic of Macedonia was made part of Yugoslavia. Macedonia gained independence in 1991 and was largely spared the violence that defined the Yugoslav wars. But the young country still faced challenges. In 2001, there was an armed conflict between the Macedonian government and ethnic Albanian insurgents demanding greater political rights. In addition, Greece does not recognize Macedonia's name, arguing that it could lead to claims to Greek territory. Macedonia aspires to join the European Union and NATO, but the name dispute and the demands for institutional, political and economic reforms make the process complex. Macedonia's challenges in the coming years include building a stable country, normalizing relations with its neighbors and preserving the statehood that remained elusive for so many centuries.
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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 19:11 GMT
Kosovo
Kosovo
Kosovo is a landlocked, partially recognized country in the Western Balkans. It is surrounded by mountains, including the Sar Mountains in the south and southwest and the Kopaonik Mountains in the north. In the center of the country, the Metohija and Kosovo plains provide some of Kosovo's most fertile lands. Kosovo's economic and political core is Pristina, the country's capital and most populated city. Kosovo is one of the smallest countries in Europe, with a population of roughly 2 million people. In the Middle Ages, Kosovo's territory was the heart of the Serbian medieval state and was the seat of the Serbian Orthodox Church. But the territory fell under Ottoman control in the 15th century, a situation that lasted for five centuries. After World War II, Kosovo became an autonomous province within Yugoslavia. The 20th century saw frictions between ethnic Serbian and Albanian communities in Kosovo, which peaked during the Kosovo War of 1998 and 1999. The war only ended after the intervention of the United Nations and NATO. Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008. While the country is recognized by more than a hundred members of the United Nations, including the United States and most members of the European Union, several countries such as Russia and China do not recognize it as a sovereign state. Under EU sponsorship, Serbia and Kosovo are negotiating a normalization of their relations, but significant problems remain, including the status of areas with significant Serbian populations. Kosovo has introduced some reforms since independence, but it still has weak economic and political institutions and a large informal sector, while remittances and foreign aid remain important for the economy. Kosovo's partial recognition is a significant obstacle in the country's bid to join international organizations such as the United Nations and the European Union and to better integrate into the global economy. Its main challenge is therefore to gain full international recognition and to reach some degree of stability after decades of turbulence.
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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 18:50 GMT
Portugal
Portugal
Portugal is a country in southwestern Europe that is surrounded by Spain to the north and east and by the Atlantic Ocean to the west and south. Portugal also controls the Atlantic archipelagos of Azores and Madeira. Mountain ranges run through northern Portugal, while hills and plains mark the center and the south. Because of its long coast and many islands, Portugal possesses the third largest exclusive economic zone in the European Union. Some of the longest rivers on the Iberian Peninsula, including the Douro and the Tagus, also enter the ocean in Portugal after flowing from east to west. These rivers have traditionally contributed to the prosperity of some of Portugal’s main cities, including Lisbon (the capital) and Porto (the second largest city). Portugal’s position on the Atlantic has made the country a nation of sailors and explorers. It became a global empire starting in the late 15th century, establishing colonies and trading posts in places as diverse as South America, Africa, the Middle East, India and South Asia. While Portugal eventually lost control of all its colonies, it retains close economic and cultural ties with many of them, including Brazil and Angola. The country's rivalry with neighboring Spain, another colonial power, has ultimately fostered close ties between Lisbon and London. Portugal entered a period of political turbulence and economic decline in the early 19th century. The country languished under a military dictatorship during a significant portion of the 20th century, only transitioning to democracy in 1974. The country subsequently joined the European Economic Community, the Schengen area and the eurozone. The financial crisis of the late 2000s hit the Portuguese economy hard, forcing Lisbon to request a rescue program from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. The country's main geopolitical challenge is to reconcile its competing interests as a former colonial empire, Atlantic nation and member of the European Union to secure economic prosperity and political stability for its approximately 10 million inhabitants.
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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 18:26 GMT
Yemen
Yemen
Yemen is located on the southwest corner of the Arabian Peninsula, across from the Horn of Africa. With Saudi Arabia to the north and Oman to the east, Yemen’s land borders are largely isolated by the Empty Quarter, a vast, uninhabited desert that stretches through the region. Across the Red Sea, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia are linked to Yemen by trade, religion and culture. From its vantage point on the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, Yemen overlooks one of the world’s biggest trade routes. Yemen has three geographic regions: the northern and western highlands, anchored by the capital Sanaa; the southern coastal harbors around Aden; and the eastern desert of the Hadramawt. For most of its history, the country’s civilization centered on the highlands, where enough rain falls to sustain agriculture. Because they lack oil and mineral resources, Yemen’s highlands are dependent on these farmlands. Meanwhile coastal harbor cities like Aden survived off trade and piracy, while the desert interior developed a Bedouin trading and raiding culture that siphoned wealth from the two nearby regions. Dwindling water supplies threaten this balance, however, as skyrocketing populations and shifting agricultural practices strain the demographic sustainability of the highlands. Nearly 20 million of Yemen’s 26.8 million people live in or near the highlands, which envelop and isolate Sanaa. So for outside powers, ports along the Red Sea trade routes of the south tend to make for better targets than the Yemeni capital. Throughout history, states from Rome to Great Britain have tried to capture Aden and its environs. The vulnerability of the city and its southern surroundings to foreign influence and meddling has repeatedly opened rifts between Yemen’s north and south. During these times of tension, the Hadramawt east often slips from the grasp of the central government. Yemen’s geographic challenges, then, are threefold. First, the country must ward off foreign encroachment on its exposed southern flank. Second, it must find a way to manage its increasingly scarce resources. And third, Sanaa must keep the Hadramawt — known for its ability to threaten national unity — under tight control.
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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 18:55 GMT
North Korea
North Korea

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea, or North Korea, lies on a peninsula extending outward from northeast Asia. The country borders China and Russia to the north, the Republic of Korea to the south, and Japan across the sea to the east. North Korea's primary geographic challenge is securing its northern and southern borders from the threat of its much larger regional neighbors. The Kaema Plateau and Hamgyong Mountains comprise much of the northern border region, providing a strong but not unbreachable geographic barrier. The Taebaeck Mountains run along the east coast, limiting the potential for invasion from the sea. Since the time of earlier North Korean kingdoms including Koguryo, The Dandong-Sinuiju gap across the Yalu River in the northwest and the wide Imjin-Han river valley in the south leave the country vulnerable, particularly with the lack of geographic barriers along the north-south axis. North Korea's mountains do provide ample hydropower, and the country also has numerous natural mineral resources and coal, but its terrain and climate limit agricultural activity. Given its larger neighbors, North Korea has two core imperatives. It must secure its southern and northern borders via political accommodation, defensive lines or outward expansion, and it must engender a strong sense of national unity and exploit differences among its neighbors to balance external political pressure. From the launching of the Korean War to the heavily fortified DMZ, from the exploitation of relations between China and Russia to the development of a nuclear deterrent, North Korea's actions in many ways are shaped by similar constraints and pressures as felt by its predecessor kingdoms due to its location and geography.

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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 18:56 GMT
Niger
Niger
Niger is a landlocked Sahelian state in West Africa that is surrounded by Algeria and Libya to the north, Chad to the east, Nigeria and Benin to the South and Burkina Faso and Mali to the west. Niger's greatest geographic challenge is its landlocked status in the Sahel, the transition zone between the Sahara Desert and the savannahs of West Africa. Niger's lack of immediate coastal access and the global markets beyond increases the cost of imports and exports there. Moreover, it forces the country to rely on costly or lacking infrastructure and to manage relations with neighboring countries carefully to ensure its trade opportunities are not cut off. The Sahel region has often been home to significant instability. Mali, Niger's neighbor to the west, remains the epicenter of regional militancy thanks to its weak government, internal tensions and a host of other issues. Niger, for its part, has also experienced cycles of rebellion but has largely maintained a somewhat stable, if weak and porous, security environment in recent years. Niger's geographic position in the impoverished and unstable Sahel has done it no favors regarding infrastructure or economic development. In the years ahead, rapid population growth and strained resources will become even more pressing, causing Niger to struggle as it grapples with these problems for the foreseeable future.
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