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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.
Afghanistan is a landlocked country in South Asia bordering China, Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Spanning over 652,000 square miles, the majority-Muslim country's geography can be divided into the highlands, the northern plains and the southwestern plateau. Mountains are Afghanistan's dominant geographic feature, with the Hindu Kush range running at a southwestern angle and roughly dividing the country in half. The four most important cities are the capital Kabul in the east, Kandahar in the south, Herat in the west, and Mazar-i-Sharif in the north. Because of its location, the country functions as a bridge between energy-rich Central Asia and energy-deficient South Asia. Afghanistan's primary geographic challenge is resisting the intervention of outside powers while also maintaining authority over a mostly rural society spread across a rugged landscape. Afghanistan's location at the crossroads of the Middle East, Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent has historically invited external actors, resulting in a country containing diverse languages, cultures and ethnicities. Indeed, Afghan society includes significant populations of Pashtun, Tajiks, Turkmens, Uzbeks and Hazaras. Each of these groups share populations in a neighboring country, encouraging external involvement. The borders of modern-day Afghanistan were drawn during the 19th century to carve out a space between the British and Russian empires. Afghanistan's most contentious boundary is with Pakistan and is called the Durand Line. Afghanistan disputes the border, claiming that its true boundary should absorb Pakistan's Pashtun-majority region. This fuels the antagonism between the two countries and plays a role in Afghanistan's broader challenge of asserting sovereignty as outside actors try to advance their own interests.