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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 18:42 GMT
South Korea
South Korea
The Republic of Korea, also called South Korea, occupies the southern half of a peninsula that juts out of the Asian mainland toward Japan. The country shares its only land border with North Korea, which it also borders in the Yellow and East seas. It shares maritime borders with Japan to the east and China to the west. South Koreas primary geographic challenges are overcoming internal fractures to maintain cohesion, and securing its maritime sphere and its southwest lowland pockets from its more powerful neighbors. The ancient kingdoms of Baekje and Silla occupied the distinct geographic pockets of the southern peninsula, standing in contrast to a more unified space where North Korea now sits. The Taebaek mountains run along much of South Korea's eastern coast, largely protecting the country from invasion by sea from this direction. These mountain ranges provide a level of protection to the peninsula's most vulnerable feature: a north-south corridor of lowlands and hills along the west coast. This coast (as well as much of South Korea's southern coastline) is protected from easy landing by countless islands, mudflats and tidal rips. However, the Nakdong River valley at Pusan offers a point of incursion to would-be invaders. From here, they can pass over the lower elevations of the Sobaek Mountains and onward to the western core. This has been the gateway for those seeking to control the peninsula, from the failed 16th century invasions of Japanese Daimyō Toyotomi Hideyoshi to the Japanese empire's later efforts in the 19th century. A North Korean invasion in 1950 (repelled by U.N. forces defending the Pusan Perimeter) highlights another key vulnerability for South Korea: the potential for incursions from the north via the western coastal strip. To hedge against aggression from all directions, South Korea is focused on securing its maritime space, particularly in the south and west. The country has prioritized its possession of Jeju Island in the Jeju Strait and has in the past held claims to Tsushima Island. Disputes with China over the Socotra Rock in the Yellow Sea and with Japan over Dokdo in the East Sea are also important elements of South Korea's overall maritime strategy. The Korean Peninsula's historic policy of isolation was one way of remaining out of the crosshairs of its neighbors, but it has also aligned itself with rival powers throughout its history. Most recently, South Korea has used a third party — the United States — to maintain balance against neighbors that threaten it from sea and land.
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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 18:30 GMT
United Kingdom
United Kingdom

The United Kingdom is located in Northwestern Europe and includes the island of Great Britain, surrounding islands and part of Ireland. The country is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, the North Sea, the Irish Sea and the English Channel. The rugged coastline — around 12,500 kilometers long — and surrounding waters, covering important oil and gas reserves, offer the nation protection; particularly from rivals in continental Europe. The United Kingdom's main geographic challenge is the integration of the British Isles. The rugged topography of the islands fostered the development of strong regional identities. Competing regions like Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland make it difficult to maintain control from the core region in the fertile lowlands around London. When British governments overcome domestic divisions, they can turn their attention outward. Control over the surrounding seas was vital for dominance of the Mediterranean and Atlantic Ocean, and from there, the development of the British Empire. Substantial coal and iron deposits along with an intricate river and canal system were among the factors that drove the country to lead the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s. The dominance of the Royal Navy gave Britain control of the oceans and global trade. The United Kingdom's detachment from continental Europe offers protection since a united European empire could challenge the country's independence. Having a voice in the European Union and strong military and economic ties with the United States help London counter this potential threat.

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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 18:57 GMT
New Zealand
New Zealand
New Zealand is an island nation at the southwestern edge of the Pacific Ocean, lying around 1,600 kilometers (994 miles) across the Tasman Sea from the Australian island of Tasmania. Geologically, New Zealand is part of a distinct continent known as Zealandia that also includes the French territory New Caledonia. Geographically, however, it is grouped within the broader Oceanic subregion of Polynesia, which is an assortment of over 1,000 islands to the northeast of New Zealand that includes Tahiti, Samoa, Easter Island and Hawaii. Travelling from Eastern Polynesia, New Zealand's original inhabitants, the Maori, arrived by boat around 800 years ago. In the 18th century, British colonists arrived as an after-effect of Australian settlement. Though it is comprised of over 600 islands, most of New Zealand's current inhabitants live on either the South Island or the North Island, with the North Island accounting three-quarters of the country's population. New Zealand's exclusive economic zone, on the other hand, is 15 times the size of its landmasses. Agricultural products dominate New Zealand's exports, with the lion's share destined for Australia and broader Asia. Unlike neighboring Australia, New Zealand is unlikely to develop a significant mining or hydrocarbon sector to diversify its economy. In the maritime realm, New Zealand has an unrecognized claim to a wedge of Antarctica known as the Ross Dependency as well as a loose federation with the Cook Islands, Tokelau and Niue. Like Australia, New Zealand's main geographic challenge is to overcome both its remote location and its tiny population. New Zealand's strongly pro-trade policies and collective security agreement with Australia and the United States seek to ensure that sea lanes remain open and that New Zealand is safely under the umbrella of the dominant global maritime power's protection. At the same time, it must balance these security ties with its interests in maintaining access to growing markets in the Asia-Pacific such as China.
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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 18:41 GMT
Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
The island of Sri Lanka lies twenty miles off the southeastern tip of India. Slightly smaller than Ireland, the country sits at the center of the Indian Ocean, just northeast of the Maldives island chain. Sri Lanka is divided into two geographic zones. The southwest of the island is Sri Lanka's core. It consists of the inland Central Highlands, flanked to the west by Colombo's seaside lowlands. This area receives most of the island's rainfall and is the country's agricultural heartland, producing rice for food consumption and its cash crops: coconut, tea and rubber. It also contains the island's gem and graphite deposits. Colombo has a deep natural harbor, which receives substantial traffic from nearby shipping lanes. The northern part of the island is divided into the inland Vanni region and the Jaffna Peninsula on Palk Bay. The north is dry and agriculture is only possible because of large, ancient reservoirs. Fishing is the primary economic activity. The north is connected to India by a chain of islands and sandbars known as Adam's Bridge, which has historically eased the movement of goods and people to and from the mainland. Sri Lanka's main geographic challenge is to protect its core around Colombo, while promoting integration with the north. The most recent challenge to Colombo's dominance was from the Tamil Tigers insurgent group, who used the Vanni region and Jaffna peninsula regions as bases to mount terrorist attacks. Uniting the north with the core will allow Colombo to take advantage of low-end manufacturing leaving China, using its underdeveloped north as a source of cheap labor.
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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 18:48 GMT
Rwanda
Rwanda
Rwanda is a landlocked African country located in Central and East Africa. It is bordered by Uganda to the north, Tanzania to the east, Burundi to the south and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west. The country is firmly ensconced in Africa's Great Lakes region, which is dominated by bodies of water, such as Lake Victoria, that have acted as regional trade and communication thoroughfares for centuries or longer. Rwanda thus shares some linguistic and cultural similarities with Uganda, Kenya, Burundi and other Great Lakes countries. These ties have helped fuel the development of the East African Community, an intergovernmental organization charged with greater integration among its members. Rwanda's greatest challenge is twofold. First, it must manage its ethnic diversity. The ethnic cleavages that were developed and fostered under Belgian colonialism helped drive the country to one of the 20th century's worst genocides. Since 1994, the capital city of Kigali has clamped down on many forms of dissent in order to maintain internal order. A critical question going forward is if Rwanda's political system can reform and open up to foster deeper reconciliation in the years ahead. Rwanda must also manage its landlocked position. With no access to the sea, Rwanda must manage the high costs of doing business, in terms of exports and imports, and remains dependent on maintaining good relations with its coastal neighbors. In order to mitigate these constraints, Rwanda has tried to turn itself into the "Singapore of Central Africa," improving its internal infrastructure and pushing for regional infrastructure projects to help link it to markets beyond.
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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 18:37 GMT
Tajikistan
Tajikistan
Tajikistan lies in the southeast corner of Central Asia, bordering Uzbekistan to the west, Kyrgyzstan to the north, China to the east and Afghanistan to the south. Tajikistan is landlocked and largely mountainous, and the country does not have sizeable oil or natural gas resources like some of its Central Asian neighbors. These factors have created significant barriers to economic development in the country and made it the poorest of all the former Soviet states. Tajikistan's core is centered around the capital of Dushanbe, though the country's clan-based politics and mountainous terrain have fostered substantial regional differences and divisions in areas like Sughd to the north, Khatlon to the south and Gorno-Badakhshan to the east. These divisions were on display when Tajikistan experienced a civil war in the early post-Soviet period from 1992-1997, which killed or displaced much of the country's population. Tajikistan has also had periodic water and border disputes with its neighbors, especially Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, with which it shares the Fergana Valley. Despite Tajikistan's internal divisions and lack of energy resources, the country is of substantial interest to outside powers like Russia, China, and the United States. Tajikistan shares a long and porous border with Afghanistan, which has made the country vulnerable to militancy and narcotics flows. Russia is the strongest external power in Tajikistan, hosting a military base there, but China has become increasingly active in the economic and security sphere, while the United States pursues counterterrorism and counternarcotics initiatives in the country. Balancing these external powers while managing its internal divisions is Tajikistan's primary geographic challenge.
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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 16:51 GMT
Ireland
Ireland
The Republic of Ireland lies on an island to the northwest of continental Europe and is separated from Great Britain by the Irish Sea. The island itself is a low plain surrounded by a ring of coastal mountains. Western Ireland, exposed to harsh weather from the Atlantic, is less habitable than the east. The River Shannon, the longest river in the British Isles, bisects the island and has been important for both navigation and as a strategic boundary. Agriculture historically was Ireland’s primary economic activity and a lack of coal and iron delayed industrialization. The great famine of the mid-19th century caused mass immigration and by 1911, Ireland had only about half of its peak population. The country’s rugged coast prevents natural ports, restricting trade in all but a few places. One of those places is Dublin, the capital. Dublin’s vicinity to Great Britain has also helped make it Ireland’s economic center. But Ireland’s reliance on Britain has been a source of conflict for hundreds of years. Currently the island is split between the predominantly Catholic Republic of Ireland, which has about 80 percent of the island’s territory and accounts for 70 percent of its population, and the predominantly Protestant Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. In 1973, Ireland joined the European Community, the entity that preceded the European Union. In the early 2000s, Ireland became one of the founding members of the eurozone. Modern-day Ireland is a services-based economy with an important presence of foreign direct investment. Because of Ireland’s relative isolation from mainland Europe, rugged topography and lack of natural resources, the island has struggled to form a united country capable of defending against outside powers, especially the United Kingdom.
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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 | 15:15 GMT
Eritrea
Eritrea
Eritrea is an East African country on the Horn of Africa. It is bordered by Sudan to the north, the Red Sea to the east, Djibouti to the south and Ethiopia to the west. By many accounts, the country had a traumatic birth. The area that eventually became Eritrea was colonized by Italy in the late 19th century but was then handed over to Ethiopia after the British secured the area after WWII. After decades of uneasy Ethiopian control, a multi-year insurgency eventually succeeded in wearing down the occupying military in 1991. The end of the bitter conflict stripped Ethiopia of its access to the sea, forcing it to place greater emphasis on its relations with neighboring Djibouti. The newly independent Eritrea, for its part, had to engage in significant state building with a nearly non-existent economy. Nevertheless, Eritrea maintained its aggressive approach to its military, engaging in conflict with Sudan in 1994, Yemen and Djibouti in 1996 and Ethiopia in 1998. The militarism of the 1990s prompted the rise of tighter measures in the 2000s, though the military kept its place at the top of a single-party state hierarchy. Since then, Eritrea has struggled to break out of its relative isolation from the international community. The lack of international support and the demands of a state on the near-perpetual brink of war with Ethiopia has necessitated heavy burdens on the local population. Balancing the country's lack of financial resources against its security demands is a key challenge for Eritrea's leadership. For this reason, Eritrea has demanded heavy remittances from its expatriate community and the country would likely be unable to function without regular injections of hard currency. Moreover, Eritrea has likely attempted to destabilize Ethiopia over the years to prevent it from flexing its muscles abroad, potentially against Eritrea. However, keeping Eritrea's military apace with that of the economically booming Ethiopia has proved exceedingly difficult in recent years.
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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 00:37 GMT
Australia
Australia
Australia is an island nation straddling the Indian Ocean basin and the South Pacific. Once a colony of the United Kingdom, the country began a move toward independence in 1901. Today, the Commonwealth of Australia encompasses the mainland of the Australian continent, Tasmania and more than 8,000 other islands in the continent’s surrounding waters. Australia’s interior, known as the Outback, is mostly desert. This largely uninhabitable area is home to Australia’s iron and coal reserves, among the world’s largest. Mining has grown in importance for the Australian economy and remains a key driver of future economic growth. The Melbourne-Sydney-Brisbane corridor forms the population core along the fertile South Eastern coastline, while the capital Canberra is situated in the interior near the Murray-Darling River System. The Murray-Darling Basin is Australia's agricultural heartland but is cut off from the core by the mountains of the Great Dividing Range. Australia's main geographic challenge is managing its isolation and small population, which is stretched thinly along its coasts. These factors affect almost all domestic and foreign policy decisions. Distance and isolation mean that Australia relies heavily on shipping lanes for its economic security. This has led Australia to build close alliances with global maritime powers — first the United Kingdom and later the United States — to protect its access to ocean trade as well as deter attacks from other powers. Increasingly, Canberra must balance its strategic, military and cultural ties to the United States and Europe with greater economic integration with East and Southeast Asia, and especially China — its largest trading partner.
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