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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 19:02 GMT
Moldova
Moldova
Moldova is a landlocked country sandwiched between Ukraine and Romania. Like its immediate neighbors, Moldova is a borderland state contested between Russia and the West. Moldova's small size, flat terrain and strategic location on the Bessarabian gap has made it vulnerable to invasion and control by outside powers throughout its history. The territory that now makes up Moldova was contested between the Ottoman and Russian empires in the 19th century. In the 20th century, the Romanians, Germans and Soviets fought for control over its territory. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Moldova became an independent state for the first time in modern history, with its economic, political and demographic core located in the capital of Chisinau. Independence has not removed external competition for influence over Moldova. The country's political system is roughly evenly divided between pro-Russian and pro-European Union groups that clash — sometimes violently — over the country's orientation toward Moscow or toward the West. Moldova is also divided geographically, with the territory of Transdniestria breaking away from Chisinau's control in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Transdniestria remains de facto out of the control of the Moldovan government and is supported financially and militarily by Russia. Coping with these various internal and external divisions is Moldova's primary geographic challenge.
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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 15:14 GMT
El Salvador
El Salvador
The tiny country of El Salvador is typical of Central America's geographic challenges. Nestled south of Honduras, southeast of Guatemala and northwest of Nicaragua, El Salvador's landmass is small — even compared to its neighbors. Throughout most of its history, El Salvador was an agricultural society. The mountainous terrain and relative isolation from the rest of the world encouraged subsistence agriculture but very little profitable economic activity. Despite the growth of some industry, such as textile manufacturing, in the late 20th century, El Salvador remains a very underdeveloped country. This underdevelopment fostered stark political divisions in the country's society. Abroad, El Salvador is perhaps best known for a 13-year civil war between communist-backed forces and the U.S.-backed government. The war ended in 1992, but the country remains politically split along economic class lines and between the left and right. The main political parties in the country are those organized around members of the now-disbanded leftist guerrilla movement and the right-leaning government. Illegal migration and violent crime remain the principal concern in El Salvador for the United States. El Salvador is simply too small and too resource-poor to sustain its population. Explosive population growth in the mid-20th century, endemic poverty and civil war caused mass migration abroad. More than a million Salvadorans fled the country, mostly to the United States. After the conflict, violent crime — mainly in the form of criminal gangs such as MS-13 and Barrio 18, and their numerous cliques across the country — compounded the migration problem. To this day, remittances from Salvadorans living in the United States are one of the main sources of foreign income for the country's economy. For the United States, neither of the security concerns from El Salvador are first-tier foreign policy priorities. Instead, they are persistent issues that some administrations choose to take more seriously than others.
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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 | 15:29 GMT
Guatemala
Guatemala
Guatemala is one of the northernmost countries in Central America, bordering Mexico, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador. Guatemala’s mountainous terrain, tropical latitude and small size limit the country's influence in the Caribbean basin as compared to stronger North American neighbors. The Sierra Madre Mountains stretch from Mexico into Guatemala, forming the majority of the country’s territory. The height and rugged terrain of this active volcanic range complicates the construction and maintenance of infrastructure, thereby limiting state control over the territory. To the north, the tropical lowland Peten region comprises nearly a third of Guatemala’s territory. This humid region is densely forested with a climate unsuitable for agriculture. As a result, Peten is very lightly populated. Although Peten was for a time the heart of the Mayan civilization, the modern core of Guatemala lies in the southern Highlands. At nearly 5,000 feet in elevation, the altitude of the capital, Guatemala City, moderates the tropical latitude, creating a mild climate suitable for growing crops like corn and beans that can support a sizable human population. The city's strategic location gives the country access to both coasts and maritime trade on the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Guatemala has historically found itself battered by the policies of its larger neighbors, including a 36-year civil war that was directly influence by the Cold War. Today, Guatemala is a stopping point for western hemispheric drug traffickers. Difficult geography, a complex political neighborhood and few natural resources stand in the way of economic development and will continue to complicate Guatemala’s geopolitical future.
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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 15:20 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 | 14:38 GMT
Bulgaria
Bulgaria
Bulgaria, bordering Greece, Turkey, Macedonia, Serbia and Romania, sits on the southeastern end of the Balkan Peninsula. Its northern border generally follows the Danube River as it makes its final descent to the Black Sea, and the Rhodope Mountains shape its southern border. The Balkan Mountains dominate Bulgaria's interior, dividing the country in two as they traverse from west to east. The highly fertile Danubian Plain lies north of the Balkans, while the Thracian Plain lies to its south. In ancient times, the Thracians, Greeks, Persians and Romans settled in what is now Bulgaria. The First Bulgarian Empire emerged in 681 AD, to be followed by the Second Bulgarian Empire in the 12th century. After the fall of this second empire in the late 14th century, Bulgaria came under Ottoman dominance for the next five centuries. Bulgaria regained independence in the 1870s with help from Russia, creating created close ties between the two nations. However, conflict marked the decades that followed independence, including two Balkan wars and World Wars I and II. After the Second World War, Bulgaria became a communist state within the Soviet orbit. With the end of the Cold War, Bulgaria joined NATO in 2004 and the European Union in 2007, moves accompanied by economic and institutional modernization and the arrival of foreign direct investment. But significant waves of emigration from the country also followed; Bulgaria’s population, which was about 9 million in 1986, had dropped to 7 million by 2016. While the Bulgarian economy has grown significantly since its communist days, it remains the poorest member of the European Union in terms of gross domestic product per capita. Bulgaria has strong trade ties with both the European Union and Turkey, and Russian natural gas accounts for a significant part of its domestic supply. Bulgaria’s main challenge is to balance the bigger powers around it in a region where external threats have been frequent.
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