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Regions & CountriesJanuary 28, 2020 | 19:29 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 | 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 | 19:08 GMT
Libya
Libya
Libya lies in the middle of North Africa’s Mediterranean coast, bordered by Tunisia and Algeria to the west and Egypt to the east. Across the Sahara Desert, the country’s southern edges touch Niger, Chad and Sudan. Libya is divided into three geographic regions: Fezzan, the desert interior; Cyrenaica, the Mediterranean hills running east to the Egyptian border; and Tripolitania, the coastal deserts and oases of the west. Because the country’s two largest cities, Benghazi and Tripoli, are separated by a long stretch of sparsely populated coast, Libyan power tends to split between east and west. Libya has no year-round rivers or lakes, and it boasts only small forests in Cyrenaica. Though it is the fourth-largest country in Africa by landmass, Libya ranks 36th by population, home to a mere 6.2 million people. However, the state has the ninth-largest proven oil reserves, making trade and secure sea lanes critical to Libyan prosperity and security. From gaining independence in 1951 to the outbreak of civil war in 2011, Libya used its energy resources to import technology and goods that transformed its economy. Chief among these projects was the Great Man-Made River, which brought underground water supplies from the desert to the coast, improving Libya’s trade capabilities and boosting its influence across Africa. Because Libya has no natural geographic barriers to fortify its land borders, its governments often struggle to establish order across their territory while protecting the country’s long, exposed coastline from other Mediterranean powers. Friendly ties with European countries are therefore vital to Libya’s security, because the state cannot defend its coastline from Continental navies. Libya’s primary geographic challenge is thus to guard its winding coasts and borders while using its substantial energy resources to develop the country.
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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 | 18:30 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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