Field Listing

Background

259 Results
Filter
All

This entry usually highlights major historic events and current issues and may include a statement about one or two key future trends.

Afghanistan

Ahmad Shah DURRANI unified the Pashtun tribes and founded Afghanistan in 1747. The country served as a buffer between the British and Russian Empires until it won independence from notional British control in 1919. A brief experiment in increased democracy ended in a 1973 coup and a 1978 communist countercoup. The Soviet Union invaded in 1979 to support the tottering Afghan communist regime, touching off a long and destructive war. Internationally supported anti-communist mujahidin rebels forced the USSR to withdraw in 1989. A series of subsequent civil wars saw Kabul finally fall in 1996 to the Taliban, a hardline Pakistani-sponsored movement. Following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, a US and Allied military action toppled the Taliban for sheltering Usama BIN LADIN.

A UN-sponsored Bonn Conference in 2001 established a process for political reconstruction that included the adoption of a new constitution, a presidential election in 2004, and National Assembly elections in 2005. In 2004, Hamid KARZAI became the first democratically elected president of Afghanistan, and he was reelected in 2009. Ashraf Ghani AHMADZAI succeeded him as president in 2014 following a disputed election. The Taliban conducted an insurgency for two decades against the Afghan Government and forces from the United States and other countries. In February 2020, the US and the Taliban signed an agreement that led to the withdrawal of international forces in exchange for commitments on counterterrorism and other assurances. The Taliban took over Afghanistan on 15 August 2021.

The Taliban established an all-male interim leadership structure dominated by Pashtun clerics under the leadership of Haivatrullah AKHUNDZADA. The Taliban issued numerous edicts that constrained women's mobility, ability to study and work, and access to education beyond primary school. To date, no country has recognized the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan.

Akrotiri and Dhekelia

By terms of the 1960 Treaty of Establishment that created the independent Republic of Cyprus, the United Kingdom retained full sovereignty and jurisdiction over two areas of almost 254 square kilometers - Akrotiri and Dhekelia. The southernmost and smaller of the two is Akrotiri Sovereign Base Area, which is also referred to as the Western Sovereign Base Area.  The larger area is the Dhekelia Sovereign Base Area, which is also referred to as the Eastern Sovereign Base Area. (2024)

Albania

After declaring independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1912, Albania experienced a period of political upheaval that led to a short-lived monarchy, which ended in 1939 when Italy conquered the country. Germany then occupied Albania in 1943, and communist partisans took over the country in 1944. Albania allied itself first with the USSR (until 1960) and then with China (until 1978). In the early 1990s, Albania ended communist rule and established a multiparty democracy. 

Government-endorsed pyramid schemes in 1997 led to economic collapse and civil disorder, which only ended when UN peacekeeping troops intervened. In 1999, some 450,000 ethnic Albanians fled from Kosovo to Albania to escape the war with the Serbs. Albania joined NATO in 2009 and became an official candidate for EU membership in 2014. 

Algeria

Algeria has known many empires and dynasties, including the ancient Numidians (3rd century B.C.), Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, over a dozen different Arab and Amazigh dynasties, Spaniards, and Ottoman Turks. Under the Turks, the Barbary pirates operated from North Africa and preyed on shipping, from about 1500 until the French captured Algiers in 1830. The French southward conquest of Algeria proceeded throughout the 19th century and was marked by many atrocities. A bloody eight-year struggle culminated in Algerian independence in 1962.

Algeria's long-dominant political party, the National Liberation Front (FLN), was established in 1954 as part of the struggle for independence and has since played a large role in politics, though it is falling out of favor with the youth and current President Abdelmadjid TEBBOUNE. The Government of Algeria in 1988 instituted a multi-party system in response to public unrest, but the surprising first-round success of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) in the 1991 legislative election led the Algerian military to intervene and postpone the second round of elections to prevent what the secular elite feared would be an extremist-led government from assuming power. An army crackdown on the FIS escalated into an FIS insurgency and intense violence from 1992-98 that resulted in over 100,000 deaths, many of which were attributed to extremist groups massacring villagers. The government gained the upper hand by the late 1990s, and FIS’s armed wing, the Islamic Salvation Army, disbanded in 2000. FIS membership is now illegal.

In 1999, Abdelaziz BOUTEFLIKA won the presidency with the backing of the military, in an election that was boycotted by several candidates protesting alleged fraud.  He won subsequent elections in 2004, 2009, and 2014. Widespread protests against his decision to seek a fifth term broke out in early 2019. BOUTEFLIKA resigned in April 2019, and in December 2019, Algerians elected former Prime Minister Abdelmadjid TEBBOUNE as the country’s new president. A longtime FLN member, TEBBOUNE ran for president as an independent. In 2020, Algeria held a constitutional referendum on governmental reforms, which TEBBOUNE enacted in 2021. Subsequent reforms to the national electoral law introduced open-list voting to curb corruption. The new law also eliminated gender quotas in Parliament, and the 2021 legislative elections saw female representation plummet. The referendum, parliamentary elections, and local elections saw record-low voter turnout.

American Samoa

Tutuila -- the largest island in American Samoa -- was settled by 1000 B.C., and the island served as a refuge for exiled chiefs and defeated warriors from the other Samoan islands. The Manu’a Islands, which are also now part of American Samoa, developed a traditional chiefdom that maintained autonomy by controlling oceanic trade. In 1722, Dutch explorer Jacob ROGGEVEEN was the first European to sail through the Manu’a Islands, and he was followed by French explorer Louis Antoine DE BOUGAINVILLE in 1768. Whalers and missionaries arrived in American Samoa in the 1830s, but American and European traders tended to favor the port in Apia -- now in independent Samoa -- over the smaller and less-developed Pago Pago on Tutuila. In the mid-1800s, a dispute arose in Samoa over control of the Samoan archipelago, with different chiefs gaining support from Germany, the UK, and the US. In 1872, the high chief of Tutuila offered the US exclusive rights to Pago Pago in return for US protection, but the US rejected this offer. As fighting resumed, the US agreed to the chief’s request in 1878 and set up a coaling station at Pago Pago. In 1899, with continued disputes over succession, Germany and the US agreed to divide the Samoan islands, while the UK withdrew its claims in exchange for parts of the Solomon Islands. Local chiefs on Tutuila formally ceded their land to the US in 1900, followed by the chief of Manu’a in 1904. The territory was officially named “American Samoa” in 1911.

The US administered the territory through the Department of the Navy. In 1949, there was an attempt to organize the territory, granting it formal self-government, but local chiefs helped defeat the measure in the US Congress. Administration was transferred to the Department of the Interior in 1951, and in 1967, American Samoa adopted a constitution that provides significant protections for traditional Samoan land-tenure rules, language, and culture. In 1977, after four attempts, voters approved a measure to directly elect their governor. Nevertheless, American Samoa officially remains an unorganized territory, and people born in American Samoa are US nationals rather than US citizens.

 

Andorra

The landlocked Principality of Andorra -- one of the smallest states in Europe and nestled high in the Pyrenees between the French and Spanish borders -- is the last independent survivor of the Hispanic March states created by Frankish King Charlemagne in 795 after he halted the Moorish invasion of Spain. The March states were a series of buffer states to keep the Muslim Moors from advancing into Christian France. For 715 years, from 1278 to 1993, Andorrans lived under a unique co-principality, ruled by French and Spanish leaders (from 1607 onward, the French chief of state and the Bishop of Urgell). In 1993, this feudal system was modified with the introduction of a modern constitution; the co-princes remained as titular heads of state, but the government transformed into a parliamentary democracy.

Andorra's winter sports, summer climate, and duty-free shopping attract approximately 8 million people each year. Andorra has also become a wealthy international commercial center because of its mature banking sector and low taxes. As part of the effort to modernize its economy, Andorra has opened to foreign investment and engaged in other reforms, such as tax initiatives aimed at supporting broader infrastructure. Although not a member of the EU, Andorra enjoys a special relationship with the bloc that is governed by various customs and cooperation agreements, and Andorra uses the euro as its national currency.

Angola

Bantu-speaking people settled in the area now called Angola in 6th century A.D.; by the 10th century various Bantu groups had established kingdoms, of which Kongo became the most powerful. From the late-14th to the mid-19th century, a Kingdom of Kongo stretched across central Africa from present-day northern Angola into the current Congo republics. It traded heavily with the Portuguese who, beginning in the 16th century, established coastal colonies and trading posts and introduced Christianity. Angola became a major hub of the transatlantic slave trade conducted by the Portuguese and other European powers -- often in collaboration with local kingdoms, including the Kongo. The Angola area is estimated to have lost as many as 4 million people as a result of the slave trade. The Kingdom of Kongo’s main rival was the Kingdom of Ndongo to its south, whose most famous leader was Nzingha Mbande, the 17th century diplomat to the Portuguese and later Queen, who successfully fought off Portuguese encroachment during her nearly 40-year reign. Smaller kingdoms, such as the Matamba and Ngoyo, often came under the control of the Kongo or Ndongo Kingdoms. During the Berlin Conference of 1884-85, Portugal and other European powers set Angola’s modern borders, but the Portuguese did not fully control large portions of the territory. Portugal gained control of the Kingdom of Kongo in 1888 when Kongo’s King Pedro V sought Portuguese military assistance in exchange for becoming a vassal. After a revolt in 1914, Portugal imposed direct rule over the colony and abolished the Kongo Kingdom.

The Angolan National Revolution began in 1961, and in 1975, Angola won its independence when Portugal’s dictatorship fell, a collapse that occurred in part because of growing discontent over conflict in Angola and other colonies. Angola’s multiple independence movements soon clashed, with the Popular Movement for Liberation of Angola (MPLA), led by Agostinho NETO, taking power and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), led by Jonas SAVIMBI, emerging as its main competitor. After NETO’s death in 1979, Jose Eduardo DOS SANTOS, also of the MPLA, became president. Over time, the Angolan civil war escalated and became a major Cold War conflict, with the Soviet Union and Cuba supporting the MPLA and the US and South Africa supporting UNITA. Up to 1.5 million lives may have been lost -- and 4 million people displaced -- during the more than a quarter-century of fighting. SAVIMBI's death in 2002 ended UNITA's insurgency and cemented the MPLA's hold on power. DOS SANTOS did not seek reelection in 2017 and supported Joao LOURENCO’s successful bid to become president. LOURENCO was reelected in 2022. Angola scores low on human development indexes despite using its large oil reserves to rebuild since 2002. 

Anguilla

English settlers from Saint Kitts first colonized Anguilla in 1650. Great Britain administered the island until the early 19th century, when -- against the wishes of the inhabitants -- Anguilla was incorporated into a single British dependency along with Saint Kitts and Nevis. Several attempts at separation failed. In 1971, two years after a revolt, Anguilla was finally allowed to secede; this arrangement was formally recognized in 1980, when Anguilla became a separate British dependency. In 2017, Hurricane Irma caused extensive damage on the island, particularly to communications and residential and business infrastructure.

Antarctica

Speculation over the existence of a "southern land" was confirmed in the early 1820s when British and American commercial operators and British and Russian national expeditions began exploring the Antarctic Peninsula region and other areas south of the Antarctic Circle. In 1840, it was finally established that Antarctica was indeed a continent and not merely a group of islands or an area of ocean. Several exploration "firsts" were achieved in the early 20th century, but the area saw little human activity. Following World War II, however, the continent experienced an upsurge in scientific research. A number of countries have set up a range of year-round and seasonal stations, camps, and refuges to support scientific research in Antarctica. Seven have made territorial claims, with two maintaining the basis for a claim, but most countries do not recognize these claims. In order to form a legal framework for countries' activities on the continent, an Antarctic Treaty was negotiated that neither denies nor recognizes existing territorial claims; it was signed in 1959 and entered into force in 1961.  Also relevant to Antarctic governance are the Environmental Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty and the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources.

Antigua and Barbuda

The Siboney were the first people to inhabit the islands of Antigua and Barbuda in 2400 B.C., but the Arawaks populated the islands when Christopher COLUMBUS landed on his second voyage in 1493. Early Spanish and French settlements were succeeded by an English colony in 1667. Slavery, which provided labor on the sugar plantations on Antigua, was abolished in 1834. The islands became an independent state within the British Commonwealth of Nations in 1981. In 2017, Hurricane Irma passed over the island of Barbuda, devastating the island and forcing the evacuation of the population to Antigua. Almost all of the structures on Barbuda were destroyed and the vegetation stripped, but Antigua was spared the worst.

Arctic Ocean

The Arctic Ocean is the smallest of the world's five ocean basins (after the Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, and the Southern Ocean). The Northwest Passage (US and Canada) and Northern Sea Route (Norway and Russia) are two important seasonal waterways. In recent years, the polar ice pack has receded in the summer allowing for increased navigation and raising the possibility of future sovereignty and shipping disputes among the Arctic coastal states affected (Canada, Denmark (Greenland), Iceland, Norway, Russia, US).

Argentina

In 1816, the United Provinces of the Río de la Plata declared their independence from Spain. After Bolivia, Paraguay, and Uruguay went their separate ways, the area that remained became Argentina. European immigrants heavily shaped the country's population and culture, with Italy and Spain providing the largest percentage of newcomers from 1860 to 1930. Until about the mid-20th century, much of Argentina's history was dominated by periods of internal political unrest and conflict between civilian and military factions.

After World War II, former President Juan Domingo PERÓN -- the founder of the Peronist political movement -- introduced an era of populism, serving three non-consecutive terms in office until his death in 1974. Direct and indirect military interference in government throughout the PERÓN years led to a military junta taking power in 1976. In 1982, the junta failed in its bid to seize the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) by force from the United Kingdom. Democracy was reinstated in 1983 and has persisted despite numerous challenges, the most formidable of which was a severe economic crisis in 2001-02 that led to violent public protests and the successive resignations of several presidents. The years 2003-15 saw Peronist rule by Néstor KIRCHNER (2003-07) and his spouse Cristina FERNÁNDEZ DE KIRCHNER (2007-15), who oversaw several years of strong economic growth (2003-11) followed by a gradual deterioration in the government’s fiscal situation and eventual economic stagnation and isolation. Argentina underwent a brief period of economic reform and international reintegration under Mauricio MACRI (2015-19), but a recession in 2018-19 and frustration with MACRI’s economic policies ushered in a new Peronist government in 2019 led by President Alberto FERNÁNDEZ and Vice President Cristina FERNÁNDEZ DE KIRCHNER. Argentina's high public debts, its pandemic-related inflationary pressures, and systemic monetary woes served as the catalyst for the 2023 elections, culminating with President Javier MILEI's electoral success. Argentina has since eliminated half of its government agencies and is seeking shock therapy to amend taxation and monetary policies.

Armenia

Armenia prides itself on being the first state to formally adopt Christianity (early 4th century). Armenia has existed as a political entity for centuries, but for much of its history it was under the sway of various empires, including the Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Persian, Ottoman, and Russian. During World War I, the Ottoman Empire instituted a policy of forced resettlement that, coupled with other harsh practices targeting its Armenian subjects, resulted in at least 1 million deaths; these actions have been widely recognized as constituting genocide. During the early 19th century, significant Armenian populations fell under Russian rule. Armenia declared its independence in 1918 in the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, but it was conquered by the Soviet Red Army in 1920. Armenia, along with Azerbaijan and Georgia, was initially incorporated into the USSR as part of the Transcaucasian Federated Soviet Socialist Republic; in 1936, the republic was separated into its three constituent entities, which were maintained until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

For over three decades, Armenia had a longstanding conflict with neighboring Azerbaijan about the status of the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which historically had a mixed Armenian and Azerbaijani population, although ethnic Armenians have constituted the majority since the late 19th century. In 1921, Moscow placed Nagorno-Karabakh within Soviet Azerbaijan as an autonomous oblast. In the late Soviet period, a separatist movement developed that sought to end Azerbaijani control over the region. Fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh began in 1988 and escalated after Armenia and Azerbaijan declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. By the time a cease-fire took effect in 1994, separatists with Armenian support controlled Nagorno‑Karabakh and seven surrounding Azerbaijani territories. Armenia and Azerbaijan engaged in a second military conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh in 2020; Armenia lost control over much of the territory it had previously captured, returning the southern part of Nagorno-Karabakh and the territories around it to Azerbaijan. In September 2023, Azerbaijan took military action to regain control over Nagorno-Karabakh; after an armed conflict that lasted only one day, nearly the entire ethnic Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh fled to Armenia.

Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 in support of Azerbaijan during the first period of conflict with Armenia and has since maintained a closed border, leaving Armenia with closed borders both in the west (with Turkey) and east (with Azerbaijan). Armenia and Turkey engaged in intensive diplomacy to normalize relations and open the border in 2009, but the signed agreement was not ratified in either country. In 2015, Armenia joined the Eurasian Economic Union alongside Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. In 2017, Armenia signed a Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with the EU.

In 2018, former President of Armenia (2008-18) Serzh SARGSIAN of the Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) tried to extend his time in power, prompting protests that became known as the “Velvet Revolution.” After SARGSIAN resigned, the National Assembly elected the leader of the protests, Civil Contract party chief Nikol PASHINYAN, as the new prime minister. PASHINYAN’s party has prevailed in subsequent legislative elections, most recently in 2021. 

Aruba

Discovered and claimed for Spain in 1499, Aruba was acquired by the Dutch in 1636. Three main industries have since dominated the island's economy: gold mining, oil refining, and tourism. A 19th-century gold rush was followed by prosperity brought on by the opening of an oil refinery in 1924. The last decades of the 20th century saw a boom in the tourism industry. Aruba seceded from the Netherlands Antilles in 1986 and became a separate, semi-autonomous member of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Movement toward full independence was halted at Aruba's request in 1990.

Ashmore and Cartier Islands

Indonesian fishermen have long fished in the area around Ashmore Reef and Cartier Island. British explorers were the first Europeans to see Cartier Island and Ashmore Reef in 1800 and 1811, respectively. American whalers frequently sailed by the islands in the 1850s and later settled to mine the phosphate deposits on Ashmore Reef, which were exhausted by 1891. The UK disputed US access to Ashmore Reef and formally annexed it in 1878. Cartier Island was annexed in 1909. In 1931, the UK transferred the islands to Australia, which accepted them in 1934 as part of Western Australia. In 1938, Australia transferred governance to the Northern Territory. During World War II, Cartier Island was used as a bombing range. In 1978, governance of Ashmore and Cartier Islands was moved to the federal government. Ashmore Reef and Cartier Island became marine reserves in 1983 and 2000 respectively.

In 1974, Australia and Indonesia signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to allow Indonesian fishermen to continue fishing around the islands. The MOU also allows Indonesian fishermen to visit the graves of past fishermen, replenish their fresh water, and shelter in the West Island Lagoon of Ashmore Reef. In the 1990s, Indonesia challenged Australia’s claim to the islands, which was settled in a maritime boundary treaty in 1997. The islands were a popular first point of contact for migrants and refugees seeking to enter Australia, so in 2001, Australia declared the islands to be outside the Australian migration zone.

Atlantic Ocean

The Atlantic Ocean is the second largest of the world's five ocean basins (after the Pacific Ocean, but larger than the Indian Ocean, Southern Ocean, and Arctic Ocean). The Kiel Canal (Germany), Oresund (Denmark-Sweden), Bosporus (Turkey), Strait of Gibraltar (Morocco-Spain), and the Saint Lawrence Seaway (Canada-US) are important strategic access waterways. The decision by the International Hydrographic Organization in the spring of 2000 to delimit a fifth world ocean basin, the Southern Ocean, removed the portion of the Atlantic Ocean south of 60 degrees south latitude. For convenience and because of its immense size, the Atlantic Ocean is often divided at the Equator and designated as the North Atlantic Ocean and the South Atlantic Ocean.

Australia

Aboriginal Australians arrived on the continent at least 60,000 years ago and developed complex hunter-gatherer societies and oral histories. Dutch navigators led by Abel TASMAN were the first Europeans to land in Australia in 1606, and they mapped the western and northern coasts. They named the continent New Holland but made no attempts to permanently settle it. In 1770, Englishman James COOK sailed to the east coast of Australia, named it New South Wales, and claimed it for Great Britain. In 1788 and 1825 respectively, Great Britain established New South Wales and then Tasmania as penal colonies. Great Britain and Ireland sent more than 150,000 convicts to Australia before ending the practice in 1868. As Europeans began settling areas away from the coasts, they came into more direct contact with Aboriginal Australians. Europeans also cleared land for agriculture, impacting Aboriginal Australians’ ways of life. These issues, along with disease and a policy in the 1900s that forcefully removed Aboriginal children from their parents, reduced the Aboriginal Australian population from more than 700,000 pre-European contact to a low of 74,000 in 1933.

Four additional colonies were established in Australia in the mid-1800s: Western Australia (1829), South Australia (1836), Victoria (1851), and Queensland (1859). Gold rushes beginning in the 1850s brought thousands of new immigrants to New South Wales and Victoria, helping to reorient Australia away from its penal colony roots. In the second half of the 1800s, the colonies were all gradually granted self-government, and in 1901, they federated and became the Commonwealth of Australia. Australia contributed more than 400,000 troops to Allied efforts during World War I, and Australian troops played a large role in the defeat of Japanese troops in the Pacific in World War II. Australia severed most constitutional links with the UK in 1942 but remained part of the British Commonwealth. Australia’s post-war economy boomed and by the 1970s, racial policies that prevented most non-Whites from immigrating to Australia were removed, greatly increasing Asian immigration to the country. In recent decades, Australia has become an internationally competitive, advanced market economy due in large part to economic reforms adopted in the 1980s and its proximity to East and Southeast Asia. 

In the early 2000s, Australian politics became unstable with frequent attempts to oust party leaders, including five changes of prime minister between 2010 and 2018. As a result, both major parties instituted rules to make it harder to remove a party leader.

Austria

Once the center of power for the large Austro-Hungarian Empire, Austria was reduced to a small republic after its defeat in World War I. Nazi Germany annexed Austria in 1938, and the victorious Allies then occupied the country in 1945. As a result, Austria's status remained unclear for a decade after World War II, until a State Treaty signed in 1955 ended the occupation, recognized Austria's independence, and forbade unification with Germany. A constitutional law that same year declared the country's "perpetual neutrality" as a condition for Soviet military withdrawal. Austria joined the EU in 1995, but the obligation to remain neutral kept it from joining NATO, although the country became a member of NATO's Partnership for Peace program in 1995. Austria entered the EU Economic and Monetary Union in 1999.

Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan -- a secular nation with a majority-Turkic and majority-Shia Muslim population -- was briefly independent (from 1918 to 1920) following the collapse of the Russian Empire; it was subsequently incorporated into the Soviet Union for seven decades.

Beginning in 1988, Azerbaijan and Armenia fought over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which was populated largely by ethnic Armenians but incorporated into Soviet Azerbaijan as an autonomous oblast in the early 1920s. In the late Soviet period, an ethnic-Armenian separatist movement sought to end Azerbaijani control over the region. Fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh escalated after Armenia and Azerbaijan gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. By the time a ceasefire took effect in 1994, separatists with Armenian support controlled Nagorno‑Karabakh and seven surrounding Azerbaijani territories. After decades of cease-fire violations and sporadic flare-ups, a second sustained conflict began in 2020 when Azerbaijan tried to win back the territories it had lost in the 1990s. After significant Azerbaijani gains, Armenia returned the southern part of Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding territories to Azerbaijan. In September 2023, Azerbaijan took military action to regain the rest of Nagorno-Karabakh; after a conflict that lasted only one day, nearly the entire ethnic Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh fled to Armenia.

Since gaining its independence in 1991, Azerbaijan has significantly reduced the poverty rate and has directed some revenue from its oil and gas production to develop the country’s infrastructure. However, corruption remains a burden on the economy, and Western observers and members of the country’s political opposition have accused the government of authoritarianism. The country’s leadership has remained in the ALIYEV family since Heydar ALIYEV, the most highly ranked Azerbaijani member of the Communist Party during the Soviet period, became president during the first Nagorno-Karabakh War in 1993. 

Bahamas, The

Lucayan Indians inhabited the Bahama islands when Christopher COLUMBUS first set foot in the New World in 1492. British settlement of the islands began in 1647; the islands became a colony in 1783. Piracy thrived in the 17th and 18th centuries because of The Bahamas' close proximity to shipping lanes. Since gaining independence from the UK in 1973, The Bahamas has prospered through tourism, international banking, and investment management, which comprise up to 85% of GDP. Because of its proximity to the US -- the nearest Bahamian landmass is only 80 km (50 mi) from Florida -- the country is a major transshipment point for illicit trafficking to the US mainland, as well as to Europe. US law enforcement agencies cooperate closely with The Bahamas; the Drug Enforcement Administration, US Coast Guard, and US Customs and Border Protection assist Bahamian authorities with maritime security and law enforcement through Operation Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, or OPBAT.

Bahrain

In 1783, the Sunni AL-KHALIFA family took power in Bahrain. In order to secure these holdings, it entered into a series of treaties with the UK during the 19th century that made Bahrain a British protectorate. The archipelago attained its independence in 1971. A steady decline in oil production and reserves since 1970 prompted Bahrain to take steps to diversify its economy, in the process developing petroleum processing and refining, aluminum production, and hospitality and retail sectors. It has also endeavored to become a leading regional banking center, especially with respect to Islamic finance. Bahrain's small size, central location among Gulf countries, economic dependence on Saudi Arabia, and proximity to Iran require it to play a delicate balancing act in foreign affairs among its larger neighbors. Its foreign policy activities usually fall in line with Saudi Arabia and the UAE. In 2022, the United States designated Bahrain as a major non-NATO ally.

The Sunni royal family has long struggled to manage relations with its Shia-majority population. In 2011, amid Arab uprisings elsewhere in the region, the Bahraini Government responded to similar pro-democracy and reform protests at home with police and military action, including deploying Gulf Cooperation Council security forces. Ongoing dissatisfaction with the political status quo continues to factor into sporadic clashes between demonstrators and security forces. In 2020, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates signed the US-brokered Abraham Accords with Israel. In 2023, Bahrain and the United States signed the Comprehensive Security Integration and Prosperity Agreement to enhance cooperation across a wide range of areas, from defense and security to emerging technology, trade, and investment.

 

 

Bangladesh

The huge delta region at the confluence of the Ganges and Brahmaputra River systems -- now referred to as Bangladesh -- was a loosely incorporated outpost of various empires for much of the first millennium A.D. Muslim conversions and settlement in the region began in the 10th century, primarily from Arab and Persian traders and preachers. Europeans established trading posts in the area in the 16th century. Eventually the area known as Bengal, which is primarily Hindu in the western section and mostly Muslim in the eastern half, became part of British India. After the partition of India in 1947, the Muslim-majority area became East Pakistan. Calls for greater autonomy and animosity between the eastern and western areas of Pakistan led to a Bengali independence movement. That movement, led by the Awami League (AL) and supported by India, won the independence war for Bangladesh in 1971.

The military overthrew the post-independence AL government in 1975, the first of a series of military coups that resulted in a military-backed government and the subsequent creation of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) that took power in 1979. That government also ended in a coup in 1981, followed by military-backed rule until democratic elections were held in 1991. The BNP and AL alternated in power from 1991 to 2008, with the exception of a military-backed, emergency caretaker regime in 2007. The country returned to fully democratic rule in 2008 with the election of the AL and Prime Minister Sheikh HASINA. With the help of international development assistance, Bangladesh is on track to graduate from the UN’s Least Developed Countries (LDC) list in 2026.

The economy has grown at an annual average of about 6.25% for the last two decades. Poverty declined from 11.8 percent in 2010 to 5.0 percent in 2022, based on the international poverty line of $2.15 a day (using 2017 Purchasing Power Parity exchange rate). Moreover, human development outcomes improved along many dimensions.  The country made a rapid recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, but faces several economic challenges.

 

Barbados

Barbados was uninhabited when first settled by the British in 1627. Enslaved Africans worked the sugar plantations established on the island, which initially dominated the Caribbean sugar industry. By 1720, Barbados was no longer a dominant force within the sugar industry, having been surpassed by the Leeward Islands and Jamaica. Slavery was abolished in 1834. The Barbadian economy remained heavily dependent on sugar, rum, and molasses production through most of the 20th century. The gradual introduction of social and political reforms in the 1940s and 1950s led to independence from the UK in 1966. In the 1990s, tourism and manufacturing surpassed the sugar industry in economic importance. Barbados became a republic in 2021, with the former Governor-General Sandra MASON elected as the first president.

Belarus

After seven decades as a constituent republic of the USSR, Belarus attained its independence in 1991. It has retained closer political and economic ties to Russia than any of the other former Soviet republics. In 1999, Belarus and Russia signed a treaty on a two-state union, envisioning greater political and economic integration. Although Belarus agreed to a framework to carry out the accord, serious implementation has yet to take place and negotiations on further integration have been contentious. Since taking office in 1994 as the country's first and only directly elected president, Alyaksandr LUKASHENKA has steadily consolidated his power through authoritarian means and a centralized economic system. Government restrictions on political and civil freedoms, freedom of speech and the press, peaceful assembly, and religion have remained in place. Restrictions on political freedoms have tightened in the wake of the disputed presidential election in 2020. The election results sparked large-scale protests as members of the opposition and civil society criticized the election’s validity. LUKASHENKA has remained in power as the disputed winner of the presidential election after quelling protests in 2020. Since 2022, Belarus has facilitated Russia's war in Ukraine, which was launched in part from Belarusian territory. 

 

 

 

 

Belgium

Belgium became independent from the Netherlands in 1830; it was occupied by Germany during World Wars I and II. The country prospered as a modern, technologically advanced European state and member of NATO and the EU. In recent years, longstanding tensions between the Dutch-speaking Flemish of the north and the French-speaking Walloons of the south have led to constitutional amendments granting these regions formal recognition and autonomy. The capital city of Brussels is home to numerous international organizations, including the EU and NATO.

Belize

Belize was the site of several Mayan city states until their decline at the end of the first millennium A.D. The British and Spanish disputed the region in the 17th and 18th centuries; it formally became the colony of British Honduras in 1862. Territorial disputes between the UK and Guatemala delayed the independence of Belize until 1981. Guatemala refused to recognize the new nation until 1992, and the two countries are still involved in an ongoing border dispute. Tourism has become the mainstay of the economy. Current concerns include the country's heavy foreign debt burden, high crime rates, high unemployment combined with a majority youth population, growing involvement in the Mexican and South American drug trade, and one of the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rates in Central America.

Benin

Present-day Benin is comprised of about 42 ethnic groups, including the Yoruba in the southeast, who migrated from what is now Nigeria in the 12th century; the Dendi in the north-central area, who came from Mali in the 16th century; the Bariba and the Fula in the northeast; the Ottamari in the Atakora mountains; the Fon in the area around Abomey in the south-central area; and the Mina, Xueda, and Aja, who came from Togo, on the coast. The Kingdom of Dahomey emerged on the Abomey plateau in the 17th century and was a regional power for much of the 18th and 19th centuries. The growth of Dahomey coincided with the growth of the Atlantic slave trade, and it became known as a major source of enslaved people. France began to control the coastal areas of Dahomey in the second half of the 19th century; the entire kingdom was conquered by 1894. French Dahomey achieved independence in 1960, and it changed its name to the Republic of Benin in 1975.

A succession of military governments ended in 1972 with the rise to power of Mathieu KEREKOU and a Marxist-Leninist government. A move to representative government began in 1989. Two years later, free elections ushered in former Prime Minister Nicephore SOGLO as president, marking the first successful transfer of power in Africa from a dictatorship to a democracy. KEREKOU returned to power after elections in 1996 and 2001. He stepped down in 2006 and was succeeded by Thomas YAYI Boni, a political outsider and independent, who won a second term in 2011. Patrice TALON, a wealthy businessman, took office in 2016; the space for pluralism, dissent, and free expression has narrowed under his administration. TALON won a second term in 2021.

Bermuda

Bermuda was first settled in 1609 by shipwrecked English colonists heading for Virginia. Self-governing since 1620, Bermuda is the oldest and most populous of the British Overseas Territories. Vacationing on the island to escape North American winters first developed in Victorian times. Tourism continues to be important for the island's economy, although international business has overtaken it in recent years as Bermuda has developed into a highly successful offshore financial center. A referendum on independence from the UK was soundly defeated in 1995.

Bhutan

After Britain’s victory in the 1865 Duar War, Britain and Bhutan signed the Treaty of Sinchulu, under which Bhutan would receive an annual subsidy in exchange for ceding land to British India. Ugyen WANGCHUCK -- who had served as the de facto ruler of an increasingly unified Bhutan and had improved relations with the British toward the end of the 19th century -- was named king in 1907. Three years later, a treaty was signed whereby the British agreed not to interfere in Bhutanese internal affairs, and Bhutan allowed Britain to direct its foreign affairs. Bhutan negotiated a similar arrangement with independent India in 1949. The Indo-Bhutanese Treaty of Friendship returned to Bhutan a small piece of the territory annexed by the British, formalized the annual subsidies the country received, and defined India's responsibilities in defense and foreign relations. Under a succession of modernizing monarchs beginning in the 1950s, Bhutan joined the UN in 1971 and slowly continued its engagement beyond its borders.

In 2005, King Jigme Singye WANGCHUCK unveiled the draft of Bhutan's first constitution -- which introduced major democratic reforms -- and held a national referendum for its approval. The King abdicated the throne in 2006 in favor of his son, Jigme Khesar Namgyel WANGCHUCK. In 2007, India and Bhutan renegotiated their treaty, eliminating the clause that stated that Bhutan would be "guided by" India in conducting its foreign policy, although Thimphu continues to coordinate closely with New Delhi. In 2008, Bhutan held its first parliamentary election in accordance with the constitution. Bhutan experienced a peaceful turnover of power following a parliamentary election in 2013, which resulted in the defeat of the incumbent party. In 2018, the incumbent party again lost the parliamentary election. In 2024, of the more than 100,000 ethnic Nepali -- predominantly Lhotshampa -- refugees who fled or were forced out of Bhutan in the 1990s, about 6,500 remain displaced in Nepal.

Bolivia

Bolivia, named after independence fighter Simón BOLÍVAR, broke away from Spanish rule in 1825. Much of its subsequent history has consisted of a series of coups and countercoups, with the last coup occurring in 1980. Democratic civilian rule was established in 1982, but leaders have faced problems of deep-seated poverty, social unrest, and illegal drug production.

In 2005, Bolivians elected Movement Toward Socialism leader Evo MORALES as president -- by the widest margin of any leader since 1982 -- after he ran on a promise to change the country's traditional political class and empower the poor and indigenous majority. In 2009 and 2014, MORALES easily won reelection, and his party maintained control of the legislative branch. In 2016, MORALES narrowly lost a referendum to approve a constitutional amendment that would have allowed him to compete in the 2019 presidential election. A subsequent Supreme Court ruling stating that term limits violate human rights provided the justification for MORALES to run despite the referendum, but rising violence, pressure from the military, and widespread allegations of electoral fraud ultimately forced him to flee the country. An interim government, led by President Jeanine AÑEZ Chávez, held new elections in 2020, and Luis Alberto ARCE Catacora was elected president.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

After four centuries of Ottoman rule over Bosnia and Herzegovina, Austria-Hungary took control in 1878 and held the region until 1918, when it was incorporated into the newly created Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. After World War II, Bosnia and Herzegovina joined the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY).

Bosnia and Herzegovina declared sovereignty in October 1991 and independence from the SFRY on 3 March 1992 after a referendum boycotted by ethnic Serbs. Bosnian Serb militias, with the support of Serbia and Croatia, then tried to take control of territories they claimed as their own. From 1992 to 1995, ethnic cleansing campaigns killed thousands and displaced more than two million people. On 21 November 1995, in Dayton, Ohio, the warring parties initialed a peace agreement, and the final agreement was signed in Paris on 14 December 1995.

The Dayton Accords retained Bosnia and Herzegovina's international boundaries and created a multiethnic and democratic government composed of two entities roughly equal in size: the predominantly Bosniak-Bosnian Croat Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the predominantly Bosnian Serb-led Republika Srpska (RS). The Dayton Accords also established the Office of the High Representative to oversee the agreement's implementation. In 1996, the NATO-led Stabilization Force (SFOR) took over responsibility for enforcing the peace. In 2004, European Union peacekeeping troops (EUFOR) replaced SFOR. As of 2022, EUFOR deploys around 1,600 troops in Bosnia in a peacekeeping capacity. Bosnia and Herzegovina became an official candidate for EU membership in 2022.

Botswana

In the early 1800s, multiple political entities in what is now Botswana were destabilized or destroyed by a series of conflicts and population movements in southern Africa. By the end of this period, the Tswana ethnic group, who also live across the border in South Africa, had become the most prominent group in the area. In 1852, Tswana forces halted the expansion of white Afrikaner settlers who were seeking to expand their territory northwards into what is now Botswana. In 1885, Great Britain claimed territory that roughly corresponds with modern day Botswana as a protectorate called Bechuanaland. Upon independence in 1966, the British protectorate of Bechuanaland adopted the new name of Botswana, which means "land of the Tswana."

More than five decades of uninterrupted civilian leadership, progressive social policies, and significant capital investment have created an enduring democracy and upper-middle-income economy. The ruling Botswana Democratic Party has won every national election since independence; President Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe MASISI assumed the presidency in 2018 after the retirement of former President Ian KHAMA due to constitutional term limits. MASISI won his first election as president in 2019, and he is Botswana’s fifth president since independence. Mineral extraction, principally diamond mining, dominates economic activity, though tourism is a growing sector due to the country's conservation practices and extensive nature preserves. Botswana has one of the world's highest rates of HIV/AIDS infection but also one of Africa's most progressive and comprehensive programs for dealing with the disease.

 

 

Bouvet Island

This uninhabited volcanic island in Antarctica is almost entirely covered by glaciers, making it difficult to approach. Bouvet Island is recognized as the most remote island on Earth because it is furthest from any other point of land (1,639 km from Antarctica). The island was named after the French naval officer who discovered it in 1739, although no country laid claim to it until 1825, when the British flag was raised. A few expeditions visited the island in the late 19th century. In 1929, the UK waived its claim in favor of Norway, which had occupied the island two years previously. In 1971, Norway designated Bouvet Island and the adjacent territorial waters as a nature reserve. Since 1977, Norway has run an automated meteorological station and studied foraging strategies and distribution of fur seals and penguins on the island. In 2006, an earthquake weakened the station's foundation, causing it to be blown out to sea in a winter storm. Norway erected a new research station in 2014 that can hold six people for periods of two to four months.

Brazil

After more than three centuries under Portuguese rule, Brazil gained its independence in 1822, maintaining a monarchical system of government until the abolition of slavery in 1888 and the subsequent proclamation of a republic by the military in 1889. Brazilian coffee exporters politically dominated the country until populist leader Getúlio VARGAS rose to power in 1930. VARGAS governed through various versions of democratic and authoritarian regimes from 1930 to 1945. Democratic rule returned in 1945 -- including a democratically elected VARGAS administration from 1951 to 1954 -- and lasted until 1964, when the military overthrew President João GOULART. The military regime censored journalists and repressed and tortured dissidents in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The dictatorship lasted until 1985, when the military regime peacefully ceded power to civilian rulers, and the Brazilian Congress passed its current constitution in 1988. 

By far the largest and most populous country in South America, Brazil continues to pursue industrial and agricultural growth and development of its interior. Having successfully weathered a period of global financial difficulty in the late 20th century, Brazil was soon seen as one of the world's strongest emerging markets and a contributor to global growth under President Luiz Inácio LULA da Silva (2003-2010). The awarding of the 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympic Games -- the first ever to be held in South America -- to Brazil was symbolic of the country's rise. However, from about 2013 to 2016, Brazil was plagued by a sagging economy, high unemployment, and high inflation, only emerging from recession in 2017. Congress removed then-President Dilma ROUSSEFF (2011-2016) from office in 2016 for having committed impeachable acts against Brazil's budgetary laws, and her vice president, Michel TEMER, served the remainder of her second term. A money-laundering investigation, Operation Lava Jato, uncovered a vast corruption scheme and prosecutors charged several high-profile Brazilian politicians with crimes. Former President LULA was convicted of accepting bribes and served jail time (2018-19), although his conviction was overturned in 2021. LULA's revival became complete in 2022 when he narrowly defeated incumbent Jair BOLSONARO (2019-2022) in the presidential election. Positioning Brazil as an independent global leader on climate change and promoting sustainable development, LULA took on the 2024 G20 presidency, balancing the fight against deforestation with sustainable energy and other projects designed to alleviate poverty and promote economic growth, such as expanding fossil fuel exploration. 

British Indian Ocean Territory

Formerly administered as part of the British Crown Colony of Mauritius, the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) was established as an overseas territory of the UK in 1965. A number of the islands in the territory were later transferred to the Seychelles when it gained independence in 1976. Subsequently, BIOT has consisted of the six main island groups that make up the Chagos Archipelago. Only Diego Garcia, the largest and most southerly of the islands, is inhabited. It contains a joint UK-US naval support facility and hosts one of four dedicated ground antennas that assist in the operation of the Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation system -- the others are on Kwajalein (Marshall Islands); at Cape Canaveral, Florida (US); and on Ascension Island (Saint Helena, Ascension, and Tristan da Cunha). The US Air Force also operates a telescope array on Diego Garcia as part of the Ground-Based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance System (GEODSS) for tracking orbital debris, which can be a hazard to spacecraft and astronauts.

Between 1967 and 1973, the former agricultural workers who lived on the islands were relocated, primarily to Mauritius but also to the Seychelles. Negotiations with the UK between 1971 and 1982 resulted in the establishment of a trust fund to compensate the displaced islanders, known as Chagossians. Beginning in 1998, the islanders pursued a series of lawsuits against the British Government, seeking further compensation and the right to return to the territory. British court rulings in 2006 and 2007 invalidated immigration policies that had excluded the islanders from the archipelago, but in 2008, the House of Lords -- the final court of appeal in the UK -- ruled in favor of the British Government by overturning the lower court rulings and finding no right of return for the Chagossians. In 2015, the Permanent Court of Arbitration unanimously held that the marine protected area that the UK declared around the Chagos Archipelago in 2010 violated the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

In 2019, the International Court of Justice ruled in an advisory opinion that Britain’s decolonization of Mauritius was not lawful because of continued Chagossian claims. A non-binding 2019 UN General Assembly vote demanded that Britain end its “colonial administration” of the Chagos Archipelago and that it be returned to Mauritius. UK officials continue to defend Britain's sovereignty over the islands and argue that the issue is a bilateral dispute between Mauritius and the UK that does not warrant international intervention. 


British Virgin Islands

First inhabited by Arawak and later by Carib Indians, the Virgin Islands were settled by the Dutch in 1648 and then annexed by the English in 1672. The islands were part of the British colony of the Leeward Islands (1872-1960); they were granted autonomy in 1967. The economy is closely tied to the larger and more populous US Virgin Islands to the west, and the US dollar is the legal currency. In 2017, Hurricane Irma devastated the island of Tortola. An estimated 80% of residential and business structures were destroyed or damaged, communications disrupted, and local roads rendered impassable.

Brunei

The Sultanate of Brunei's influence peaked between the 15th and 17th centuries, when its control extended over coastal areas of northwest Borneo and the southern Philippines. Internal strife over royal succession, colonial expansion of European powers, and piracy subsequently brought on a period of decline. In 1888, Brunei became a British protectorate; independence was achieved in 1984. The same family has ruled Brunei for over six centuries, and in 2017, the country celebrated the 50th anniversary of Sultan Hassanal BOLKIAH’s accession to the throne. Brunei has one of the highest per-capita GDPs in the world, thanks to extensive petroleum and natural gas fields.

Bulgaria

The Bulgars, a Central Asian Turkic tribe, merged with the local Slavic inhabitants in the late 7th century to form the first Bulgarian state. In succeeding centuries, Bulgaria struggled with the Byzantine Empire to assert its place in the Balkans, but by the end of the 14th century, the Ottoman Turks overran the country. Northern Bulgaria attained autonomy in 1878, and all of Bulgaria became independent from the Ottoman Empire in 1908. Having fought on the losing side in both World Wars, Bulgaria fell within the Soviet sphere of influence and became a People's Republic in 1946. Communist domination ended in 1990, when Bulgaria held its first multiparty election since World War II and began the contentious process of moving toward political democracy and a market economy while combating inflation, unemployment, corruption, and crime. The country joined NATO in 2004, the EU in 2007, and the Schengen Area for air and sea travel in 2024.

Burkina Faso

Many of Burkina Faso’s ethnic groups arrived in the region between the 12th and 15th centuries. The Gurma and Mossi peoples established several of the largest kingdoms in the area and used horse-mounted warriors in military campaigns. Of the various Mossi kingdoms, the most powerful were Ouagadougou and Yatenga. In the late 19th century, European states competed for control of the region. France eventually conquered the area and established it as a French protectorate.

The country achieved independence from France in 1960 and changed its name to Burkina Faso in 1984. Repeated military coups were common in the country’s first few decades. In 1987 Blaise COMPAORE deposed the president, established a government, and ruled for 27 years. In 2014, COMPAORE resigned after protests against his repeated efforts to amend the constitution's two-term presidential limit. An interim administration led a year-long transition, organizing presidential and legislative elections. In 2015, Roch Marc Christian KABORE was elected president, and he was reelected in 2020. In 2022, the military conducted two takeovers: In January, army colonel Paul Henri DAMIBA overthrew KABORE in a coup d'etat, and then in September, army captain Ibrahim TRAORE deposed DAMIBA and declared himself transition president. The transition government planned to hold elections by July 2024, but they may be delayed due to security concerns.

Terrorist groups -- including groups affiliated with Al-Qa’ida and the Islamic State -- began attacks in the country in 2016 and conducted attacks in the capital in 2016, 2017, and 2018. By early 2023, insecurity in Burkina Faso had displaced more than 2 million people and led to significant jumps in humanitarian needs and food insecurity. In addition to terrorism, the country faces a myriad of problems including high population growth, recurring drought, pervasive and perennial food insecurity, and limited natural resources. It is one of the world’s poorest countries.

 

Burma

Burma is home to ethnic Burmans and scores of other ethnic and religious minority groups that have resisted external efforts to consolidate control of the country throughout its history. Burma was a province of British India until 1937 and then a self-governing colony until it gained independence from Britain in 1948. In 1962, General NE WIN seized power and ruled Burma until 1988 when a new military regime took control.

In 1990, the military regime permitted an election but then rejected the results after the main opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) and its leader AUNG SAN SUU KYI (ASSK) won in a landslide. The military regime placed ASSK under house arrest until 2010. In 2007, rising fuel prices in Burma led pro-democracy activists and Buddhist monks to launch a "Saffron Revolution" consisting of large protests against the regime, which violently suppressed the movement. The regime prevented new elections until it had drafted a constitution designed to preserve the military's political control; it passed the new constitution in its 2008 referendum. The regime conducted an election in 2010, but the NLD boycotted the vote, and the military’s political proxy, the Union Solidarity and Development Party, easily won; international observers denounced the election as flawed.

Burma nonetheless began a halting process of political and economic reforms. ASSK's return to government in 2012 eventually led to the NLD's sweeping victory in the 2015 election. With ASSK as the de facto head of state, Burma’s first credibly elected civilian government drew international criticism for blocking investigations into Burma’s military operations -- which the US Department of State determined constituted genocide -- against its ethnic Rohingya population. When the 2020 elections resulted in further NLD gains, the military denounced the vote as fraudulent. In 2021, Commander-in-Chief Sr. General MIN AUNG HLAING launched a coup that returned Burma to authoritarian rule, with military crackdowns that undid reforms and resulted in the detention of ASSK and thousands of pro-democracy actors.

Pro-democracy organizations have formed in the wake of the coup, including the National Unity Government (NUG). Members of the NUG include representatives from the NLD, ethnic minority groups, and civil society. In 2021, the NUG announced the formation of armed militias called the People's Defense Forces (PDF) and an insurgency against the military junta. As of 2024, PDF groups across the country continued to fight the regime with varying levels of support from and cooperation with the NUG and other anti-regime groups, including armed ethnic groups that have been fighting the central government for decades. 

Burundi

Established in the 1600s, the Burundi Kingdom has had borders similar to those of modern Burundi since the 1800s. Burundi’s two major ethnic groups, the majority Hutu and minority Tutsi, share a common language and culture and largely lived in peaceful cohabitation under Tutsi monarchs in pre-colonial Burundi. Regional, class, and clan distinctions contributed to social status in the Burundi Kingdom, yielding a complex class structure. German colonial rule in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and Belgian rule after World War I preserved Burundi’s monarchy. Seeking to simplify administration, Belgian colonial officials reduced the number of chiefdoms and eliminated most Hutu chiefs from positions of power. In 1961, the Burundian Tutsi king’s oldest son, Louis RWAGASORE, was murdered by a competing political faction shortly before he was set to become prime minister, triggering increased political competition that contributed to later instability.

Burundi gained its independence from Belgium in 1962 as the Kingdom of Burundi. Revolution in neighboring Rwanda stoked ethnic polarization as the Tutsi increasingly feared violence and loss of political power. A failed Hutu-led coup in 1965 triggered a purge of Hutu officials and set the stage for Tutsi officers to overthrow the monarchy in 1966 and establish a Tutsi-dominated republic. A Hutu rebellion in 1972 resulted in the deaths of several thousand Tutsi civilians and sparked brutal Tutsi-led military reprisals against Hutu civilians which ultimately killed 100,000-200,000 people. International pressure led to a new constitution in 1992 and democratic elections in 1993. Tutsi military officers feared Hutu domination and assassinated Burundi's first democratically elected president, Hutu Melchior NDADAYE, in 1993 after only 100 days in office, sparking a civil war. In 1994, his successor, Cyprien NTARYAMIRA, died when the Rwandan president’s plane he was traveling on was shot down, which triggered the Rwandan genocide and further entrenched ethnic conflict in Burundi. The internationally brokered Arusha Agreement, signed in 2000, and subsequent cease-fire agreements with armed movements ended the 1993-2005 civil war. Burundi’s second democratic elections were held in 2005, resulting in the election of Pierre NKURUNZIZA as president. He was reelected in 2010 and again in 2015 after a controversial court decision allowed him to circumvent a term limit. President Evariste NDAYISHIMIYE -- from NKURUNZIZA’s ruling party -- was elected in 2020.

Cabo Verde

The Portuguese discovered and colonized the uninhabited islands of Cabo Verde in the 15th century; Cabo Verde subsequently became a trading center for African slaves and later an important coaling and resupply stop for whaling and transatlantic shipping. The fusing of European and various African cultural traditions is reflected in Cabo Verde’s Crioulo language, music, and pano textiles. After gaining independence in 1975, a one-party system was established and maintained until multi-party elections were held in 1990. Cabo Verde continues to sustain one of Africa's most stable democratic governments and relatively stable economies, maintaining a currency pegged first to the Portuguese escudo and then to the euro since 1998. Repeated droughts during the second half of the 20th century caused significant hardship and prompted heavy emigration. As a result, Cabo Verde's expatriate population -- concentrated in Boston, Massachusetts and Western Europe -- is greater than its domestic one.

Most Cabo Verdeans have both African and Portuguese antecedents. Cabo Verde’s population descends from its first permanent inhabitants in the late 15th-century -- a preponderance of West African slaves, a small share of Portuguese colonists, and even fewer Italians and Spaniards. Among the nine inhabited islands, population distribution is varied. The islands in the east are very dry and are home to the country's growing tourism industry. The more western islands receive more precipitation and support larger populations, but agriculture and livestock grazing have damaged their soil fertility and vegetation. For centuries, the country’s overall population size has fluctuated significantly, as recurring periods of famine and epidemics have caused high death tolls and emigration. 

Cambodia

Most Cambodians consider themselves to be Khmers, descendants of the Angkor Empire that extended over much of Southeast Asia and reached its zenith between the 10th and 13th centuries.  Attacks by the Thai and Cham (from present-day Vietnam) weakened the empire, ushering in a long period of decline. The king placed the country under French protection in 1863, and it became part of French Indochina in 1887. Following Japanese occupation in World War II, Cambodia gained full independence from France in 1953. In 1975, after a seven-year struggle, communist Khmer Rouge forces captured Phnom Penh and evacuated all cities and towns. At least 1.5 million Cambodians died from execution, forced hardships, or starvation during the Khmer Rouge regime under POL POT. A 1978 Vietnamese invasion drove the Khmer Rouge into the countryside, began a 10-year Vietnamese occupation, and touched off 13 years of internecine warfare in which a coalition of Khmer Rouge, Cambodian nationalists, and royalist insurgents, with assistance from China, fought the Vietnamese-backed People’s Republic of Kampuchea (PRK). 

The 1991 Paris Agreements ended the country’s civil war and mandated democratic elections, which took place in 1993 and ushered in a period of multi-party democracy with a constitutional monarchy. King Norodom SIHANOUK was reinstated as head of state, and the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) and the royalist FUNCINPEC party formed a coalition government.  Nevertheless, the power-sharing arrangement proved fractious and fragile, and in 1997, a coup led by CPP leader and former PRK prime minister HUN SEN dissolved the coalition and sidelined FUNCINPEC. Despite further attempts at coalition governance, the CPP has since remained in power through elections criticized for lacking fairness, political and judicial corruption, media control, and influence over labor unions, all of which are enforced with violence and intimidation. HUN SEN remained as prime minister until 2023, when he transferred power to his son, HUN MANET. HUN SEN has subsequently maintained considerable influence as the leader of the CPP and the Senate. The CPP has also placed limits on civil society, press freedom, and freedom of expression. Despite some economic growth and considerable investment from China over the past decade, Cambodia remains one of East Asia's poorest countries.

The remaining elements of the Khmer Rouge surrendered in 1999. A UN-backed special tribunal established in Cambodia in 1997 tried some of the surviving Khmer Rouge leaders for crimes against humanity and genocide. The tribunal concluded in 2022 with three convictions.

Cameroon

Powerful chiefdoms ruled much of the area of present-day Cameroon before it became a German colony known as Kamerun in 1884. After World War I, the territory was divided between France and the UK as League of Nations mandates. French Cameroon became independent in 1960 as the Republic of Cameroon. The following year, the southern portion of neighboring British Cameroon voted to merge with the new country to form the Federal Republic of Cameroon. In 1972, a new constitution replaced the federation with a unitary state, the United Republic of Cameroon. The country has generally enjoyed stability, which has enabled the development of agriculture, roads, and railways, as well as a petroleum industry. Nonetheless, unrest and violence in the country's two western, English-speaking regions have persisted since 2016. Movement toward democratic reform is slow, and political power remains firmly in the hands of President Paul BIYA.

Canada

A land of vast distances and rich natural resources, Canada became a self-governing dominion in 1867, while retaining ties to the British crown. Canada gained legislative independence from Britain in 1931 and formalized its constitutional independence from the UK when it passed the Canada Act in 1982. Economically and technologically, the nation has developed in parallel with the US, its neighbor to the south across the world's longest international border. Canada faces the political challenges of meeting public demands for quality improvements in health care, education, social services, and economic competitiveness, as well as responding to the particular concerns of predominantly francophone Quebec. Canada also aims to develop its diverse energy resources while maintaining its commitment to the environment.

Cayman Islands

The British colonized the Cayman Islands during the 18th and 19th centuries, and Jamaica -- also a British colony at the time -- administered the islands after 1863. In 1959, the islands became a territory within the Federation of the West Indies. When the Federation dissolved in 1962, the Cayman Islands chose to remain a British dependency. The territory has transformed itself into a significant offshore financial center.

Central African Republic

The Central African Republic (CAR) is a perennially weak state that sits at the crossroads of ethnic and linguistic groups in the center of the African continent. Among the last areas of Sub-Saharan Africa to be drawn into the world economy, its introduction into trade networks around the early 1700s fostered significant competition among its population. The local population sought to benefit from the lucrative Atlantic, trans-Saharan, and Indian Ocean trade in enslaved people and ivory. Slave raids aided by the local populations fostered animosity between ethnic groups that remains today. The territory was established as a French colony named Ubangui-Shari in 1903, and France modeled its administration of the colony after the Belgian Congo, subcontracting control of the territory to private companies that collected rubber and ivory. Although France banned the domestic slave trade in CAR in the 1910s, the private companies continued to exploit the population through forced labor. The colony of Ubangi-Shari gained independence from France as the Central African Republic in 1960, but the death of independence leader Barthelemy BOGANDA six months prior led to an immediate struggle for power.

CAR’s political history has since been marred by a series of coups, the first of which brought Jean-Bedel BOKASSA to power in 1966. Widespread corruption and intolerance for any political opposition characterized his regime. In an effort to prolong his mandate, BOKASSA named himself emperor in 1976 and changed the country’s name to the Central African Empire. His regime’s economic mismanagement culminated in widespread student protests in 1979 that were violently suppressed by security forces. BOKASSA fell out of favor with the international community and was overthrown in a French-backed coup in 1979. After BOKASSA’s departure, the country’s name once again became the Central African Republic.

CAR’s fifth coup in 2013 unseated President Francois BOZIZE after the Seleka, a mainly Muslim rebel coalition, seized the capital and forced BOZIZE to flee the country. The Seleka's widespread abuses spurred the formation of mainly Christian self-defense groups that called themselves the anti-Balaka, which have also committed human rights abuses against Muslim populations in retaliation. Since the rise of these groups, conflict in CAR has become increasingly ethnoreligious, although focused on identity rather than religious ideology. Elections in 2016 installed independent candidate Faustin-Archange TOUADERA as president; he was reelected in 2020. A peace agreement signed in 2019 between the government and the main armed factions has had little effect, and armed groups remain in control of large swaths of the country's territory. TOUADERA's United Hearts Movement has governed the country since 2016, and a new constitution approved by referendum on 30 July 2023 effectively ended term limits, creating the potential for TOUADERA to extend his rule. 

Chad

Chad emerged from a collection of powerful states that controlled the Sahelian belt starting around the 9th century. These states focused on controlling trans-Saharan trade routes and profited mostly from the slave trade. The Kanem-Bornu Empire, centered around the Lake Chad Basin, existed between the 9th and 19th centuries, and at its peak, the empire controlled territory stretching from southern Chad to southern Libya and included portions of modern-day Algeria, Cameroon, Niger, Nigeria, and Sudan. The Sudanese warlord Rabih AZ-ZUBAYR used an army comprised largely of slaves to conquer the Kanem-Bornu Empire in the late 19th century. In southeastern Chad, the Bagirmi and Ouaddai (Wadai) kingdoms emerged in the 15th and 16th centuries and lasted until the arrival of the French in the 19th and 20th centuries. France began moving into the region in the late 1880s and defeated the Bagirmi kingdom in 1897, Rabih AZ-ZUBAYR in 1900, and the Ouddai kingdom in 1909. In the arid regions of northern Chad and southern Libya, an Islamic order called the Sanusiyya (Sanusi) relied heavily on the trans-Saharan slave trade and had upwards of 3 million followers by the 1880s. The French defeated the Sanusiyya in 1910 after years of intermittent war. By 1910, France had incorporated the northern arid region, the Lake Chad Basin, and southeastern Chad into French Equatorial Africa.  

Chad achieved its independence in 1960 and then saw three decades of instability, oppressive rule, civil war, and a Libyan invasion. With the help of the French military and several African countries, Chadian leaders expelled Libyan forces during the 1987 "Toyota War," so named for the use of Toyota pickup trucks as fighting vehicles. In 1990, Chadian general Idriss DEBY led a rebellion against President Hissene HABRE. Under DEBY, Chad approved a constitution and held elections in 1996. Shortly after DEBY was killed during a rebel incursion in 2021, a group of military officials -- led by DEBY’s son, Mahamat Idriss DEBY -- took control of the government. The military officials dismissed the National Assembly, suspended the Constitution, and formed a Transitional Military Council (TMC), while pledging to hold democratic elections by October 2022. A national dialogue in August-October 2022 culminated in decisions to extend the transition for up to two years, dissolve the TMC, and appoint Mahamat DEBY as Transitional President; the transitional authorities held a constitutional referendum in December 2023 and claimed 86 percent of votes were in favor of the new constitution. The transitional authorities have announced plans to hold elections by October 2024.

Chad has faced widespread poverty, an economy severely weakened by volatile international oil prices, terrorist-led insurgencies in the Lake Chad Basin, and several waves of rebellions in northern and eastern Chad. In 2015, the government imposed a state of emergency in the Lake Chad Basin following multiple attacks by the terrorist group Boko Haram, now known as ISIS-West Africa. The same year, Boko Haram conducted bombings in N'Djamena. In 2019, the Chadian government also declared a state of emergency in the Sila and Ouaddai regions bordering Sudan and in the Tibesti region bordering Niger, where rival ethnic groups are still fighting. The army has suffered heavy losses to Islamic terror groups in the Lake Chad Basin. 

Chile

Indigenous groups inhabited central and southern Chile for several thousand years, living in mixed pastoralist and settled communities. The Inca then ruled the north of the country for nearly a century prior to the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century. In 1541, the Spanish established the Captaincy General of Chile, which lasted until Chile declared its independence in 1810. The subsequent struggle with the Spanish became tied to other South American independence conflicts, with a decisive victory not being achieved until 1818. In the War of the Pacific (1879-83), Chile defeated Peru and Bolivia to win its current northernmost regions. By the 1880s, the Chilean central government cemented its control over the central and southern regions inhabited by Mapuche Indigenous peoples. Between 1891 and 1973, a series of elected governments succeeded each other until the Marxist government of Salvador ALLENDE was overthrown in 1973 in a military coup led by General Augusto PINOCHET, who ruled until a democratically elected president was inaugurated in 1990. Economic reforms that were maintained consistently since the 1980s contributed to steady growth, reduced poverty rates by over half, and helped secure the country's commitment to democratic and representative government. Chile has increasingly assumed regional and international leadership roles befitting its status as a stable, democratic nation.

China

China's historical civilization dates to at least the 13th century B.C., first under the Shang (to 1046 B.C.) and then the Zhou (1046-221 B.C.) dynasties. The imperial era of China began in 221 B.C. under the Qin Dynasty and lasted until the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1912. During this period, China alternated between periods of unity and disunity under a succession of imperial dynasties. In the 19th century, the Qing Dynasty suffered heavily from overextension by territorial conquest, insolvency, civil war, imperialism, military defeats, and foreign expropriation of ports and infrastructure. It collapsed following the Revolution of 1911, and China became a republic under SUN Yat-sen of the Kuomintang (KMT or Nationalist) Party. However, the republic was beset by division, warlordism, and continued foreign intervention. In the late 1920s, a civil war erupted between the ruling KMT-controlled government, led by CHIANG Kai-shek, and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Japan occupied much of northeastern China in the early 1930s, and then launched a full-scale invasion of the country in 1937. The resulting eight years of warfare devastated the country and cost up to 20 million Chinese lives by the time of Japan’s defeat in 1945. The Nationalist-Communist civil war continued with renewed intensity after the end of World War II and culminated with a CCP victory in 1949, under the leadership of MAO Zedong.

MAO and the CCP established an autocratic socialist system that, while ensuring the PRC's sovereignty, imposed strict controls over everyday life and launched agricultural, economic, political, and social policies -- such as the Great Leap Forward (1958-1962) and the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) -- that cost the lives of millions of people. MAO died in 1976. Beginning in 1978, leaders DENG Xiaoping, JIANG Zemin, and HU Jintao focused on market-oriented economic development and opening up the country to foreign trade, while maintaining the rule of the CCP. Since the change, China has been among the world’s fastest growing economies, with real gross domestic product averaging over 9% growth annually through 2021, lifting an estimated 800 million people out of poverty and dramatically improving overall living standards. By 2011, the PRC’s economy was the second largest in the world. Current leader XI Jinping has continued these policies but has also maintained tight political controls. Over the past decade, China has increased its global outreach, including military deployments, participation in international organizations, and a global connectivity plan in 2013 called the "Belt and Road Initiative" (BRI). Many nations have signed on to BRI agreements to attract PRC investment, but others have expressed concerns about such issues as the opaque nature of the projects, financing, and potentially unsustainable debt obligations. XI Jinping assumed the positions of General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and Chairman of the Central Military Commission in 2012 and President in 2013. In 2018, the PRC’s National People’s Congress passed an amendment abolishing presidential term limits, which allowed XI to gain a third five-year term in 2023. 

 

Christmas Island

Although Europeans sighted Christmas Island in 1615, it was named for the day of its rediscovery in 1643. Steep cliffs and dense jungle hampered attempts to explore the island over the next two centuries. The discovery of phosphate on the island in 1887 led to the UK annexing it the following year. In 1898, 200 Chinese indentured servants were brought in to work the mines, along with Malays, Sikhs, and a small number of Europeans. The UK administered Christmas Island from Singapore.

Japan invaded the island in 1942, but islanders sabotaged Japanese mining operations, making the mines relatively unproductive. After World War II, Australia and New Zealand bought the company mining the phosphate, and in 1958, the UK transferred sovereignty from Singapore to Australia in exchange for $20 million to compensate for the loss of future phosphate income. In 1980, Australia set up the Christmas Island National Park and expanded its boundaries throughout the 1980s until it covered more than 60% of the island’s territory. The phosphate mine was closed in 1987 because of environmental concerns, and Australia has rejected several efforts to reopen it.

In the 1980s, boats of asylum seekers started landing on Christmas Island, and the migrants claimed refugee status because they were on Australian territory. In 2001, Australia declared Christmas Island to be outside the Australian migration zone and built an immigration detention center on the island. Completed in 2008, the controversial detention center was closed in 2018 but then reopened in 2019. In 2020, the center served as a coronavirus quarantine facility for Australian citizens evacuated from China.

Clipperton Island

This isolated atoll was named for John CLIPPERTON, an English pirate who was rumored to have made it his hideout early in the 18th century. Annexed by France in 1855 and claimed by the US, it was seized by Mexico in 1897. Arbitration eventually awarded the island to France in 1931, which took possession in 1935.

Cocos (Keeling) Islands

British sea captain William KEELING discovered the Cocos (Keeling) Islands in 1609, and they were named for their coconut trees in 1622. Some maps began referring to them as the Keeling Islands in 1703. In 1825, Scottish trader John CLUNIES-ROSS was trying to get to Christmas Island but was blown off course and landed on Cocos (Keeling) Islands. The next year, a British trader hired CLUNIES-ROSS's brother to bring slaves and a harem of Malay women to create the first permanent settlement on the island. By the 1830s, the Clunies-Ross family had firmly established themselves as the leaders of the islands, and they ruled Cocos (Keeling) Islands in a feudal style until 1978.

The UK annexed the islands in 1857 and administered them from Ceylon after 1878 and from Singapore after 1886. The Cocos (Keeling) Islands hosted a cable relaying station and was attacked by the Germans in World War I. The Japanese similarly attacked the islands in World War II. The UK transferred the islands to Australia in 1955, when they were officially named the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, and in 1978, Australia bought all the land held by the Clunies-Ross family, ending their control of the islands. In a referendum in 1984, most islanders voted to integrate with Australia, and Western Australian laws have applied on the islands since 1992.

Colombia

Colombia was one of three countries that emerged after the dissolution of Gran Colombia in 1830 -- the others are Ecuador and Venezuela. A decades-long conflict among government forces, paramilitaries, and antigovernment insurgent groups heavily funded by the drug trade -- principally the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) -- escalated during the 1990s. In the wake of the paramilitary demobilization in the 2000s, new criminal groups arose that included some former paramilitaries. After four years of formal peace negotiations, the Colombian Government signed a final accord with the FARC in 2016 that called for its members to demobilize, disarm, and reincorporate into society and politics. The accord also committed the Colombian Government to create three new institutions to form a 'comprehensive system for truth, justice, reparation, and non-repetition,' including a truth commission, a special unit to coordinate the search for those who disappeared during the conflict, and a 'Special Jurisdiction for Peace' to administer justice for conflict-related crimes. Despite decades of internal conflict and drug-trade-related security challenges, Colombia maintains relatively strong and independent democratic institutions characterized by peaceful, transparent elections and the protection of civil liberties.

Comoros

For centuries prior to colonization in the 19th century, the Comoros archipelago in the Indian Ocean served as a key node in maritime trade networks that connected the Middle East, India, and eastern African regions. Composed of the islands of Anjouan, Mayotte, Moheli, and Grande Comore, Comoros spent most of the 20th century as a colonial outpost until it declared independence from France on 6 July 1975. Residents of Mayotte, however, voted to remain in France, and the French Government has since classified it as a French Overseas Department.

Since independence, Comoros has weathered approximately 20 successful and attempted coups, mostly between 1975 and 2000, resulting in prolonged political instability and stunted economic development. In 2002, President AZALI Assoumani became the first elected president following the completion of the Fomboni Accords, in which the islands of Grande Comore, Anjouan, and Moheli agreed to rotate the presidency among the islands every five years. This power-sharing agreement also included provisions allowing each island to maintain its local government. In 2007, Mohamed BACAR effected Anjouan's de-facto secession from the Union of the Comoros, refusing to step down when Comoros' other islands held legitimate elections. The African Union (AU) initially attempted to resolve the political crisis with sanctions and a naval blockade of Anjouan, but in 2008, the AU and Comoran soldiers seized the island. The island's inhabitants generally welcomed the move. In 2011, Ikililou DHOININE won the presidency in peaceful elections widely deemed to be free and fair. In closely contested elections in 2016, AZALI won a second term, when the rotating presidency returned to Grande Comore. In 2018, a referendum -- which the opposition parties boycotted -- approved a new constitution that extended presidential term limits and abolished the requirement for the presidency to rotate between the three main islands. AZALI formed a new government later that year, and he subsequently ran and was reelected in 2019. AZALI was reelected again in January 2024 in an election that the opposition disputed but the Supreme Court validated.

Congo, Democratic Republic of the

Bantu, Sudanic, and other migrants from West and Northeastern Africa arrived in the Congo River Basin between 2000 B.C. and A.D. 500. The territory that is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo is extremely diverse, with more than 200 ethnic groups that trace their histories to many communal organizations and kingdoms. The Kingdom of Kongo, for example, ruled the area around the mouth of the Congo River from the 14th to 19th centuries. Meanwhile, the Kingdoms of Luba and Lunda, located to the south and east, were also notable political groupings in the territory and ruled from the 16th and 17th centuries to the 19th century. European prospectors in the Congo Basin invaded and splintered these kingdoms in the late 1800’s, sponsored by King LEOPOLD II of Belgium, and the kingdoms were eventually forced to grant Leopold the rights to the Congo territory as his private property. During this period, known as the Congo Free State, the king's private colonial military forced the local population to produce rubber. From 1885 to 1908, millions of Congolese people died as a result of disease, inhumane treatment, and exploitation. International condemnation finally forced LEOPOLD to cede the land to the state of Belgium, creating the Belgian Congo.

The Republic of the Congo gained its independence from Belgium in 1960, but its early years were marred by instability. Col. Joseph MOBUTU seized power and declared himself president in a 1965 coup. He subsequently changed his name to MOBUTU Sese Seko and the country's name to Zaire. MOBUTU retained his position for 32 years, using sham elections and brute force. In 1994, a massive inflow of refugees from conflict in neighboring Rwanda and Burundi sparked ethnic strife and civil war. A rebellion backed by Rwanda and Uganda and fronted by Laurent KABILA toppled the MOBUTU regime in 1997. KABILA renamed the country the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In 1998, another insurrection -- again backed by Rwanda and Uganda -- challenged the KABILA regime, but troops from Angola, Chad, Namibia, Sudan, and Zimbabwe helped quell the uprising.

In 2001, KABILA was assassinated, and his son, Joseph KABILA, was named head of state. In 2002, the new president negotiated the withdrawal of Rwandan forces occupying the eastern DRC; the remaining warring parties subsequently signed the Pretoria Accord to end the fighting and establish a government of national unity. KABILA was elected as president in 2006 and 2011. The DRC constitution barred him from running for a third term, so in 2016, the DRC Government delayed national elections for two years. This fueled significant civil and political unrest, with sporadic street protests and exacerbation of tensions in the eastern DRC regions. 

The results of the 2018 elections were disputed, but opposition candidate Felix TSHISEKEDI, son of long-time opposition leader Etienne TSHISEKEDI, was announced as the election winner. This was the first transfer of power to an opposition candidate without significant violence or a coup since 1960. In December 2023, the DRC held its fourth electoral cycle since independence; TSHISEKEDI was proclaimed the winner despite some allegations of fraud, with his Sacred Union alliance retaining a large parliamentary majority.  

The DRC continues to experience violence -- particularly in the East -- perpetrated by more than 100 armed groups active in the region, including the March 23 (M23) rebel group, the ISIS-affiliated Allied Democratic Forces (ADF, or ISIS-DRC), the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), and assorted local militias known as Mai Mai militias. The UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) has operated in the region since 1999 and is the largest and most expensive UN peacekeeping mission in the world.

 

Congo, Republic of the

Upon independence in 1960, the former French region of Middle Congo became the Republic of the Congo. From 1968 to 1992, the country was named the People’s Republic of the Congo.  A quarter-century of experimentation with Marxism was abandoned in 1990, and a democratically elected government took office in 1992, at which time the country reverted to "the Republic of the Congo" name.  A two-year civil war that ended in 1999 restored to power former President Denis SASSOU-Nguesso, who had ruled from 1979 to 1992. A new constitution adopted three years later provided for a multi-party system and a seven-year presidential term, and the next elections retained SASSOU-Nguesso. After a year of renewed fighting, SASSOU-Nguesso and southern-based rebel groups agreed to a final peace accord in 2003. SASSOU-Nguesso was reelected in 2009 and, after passing a constitutional referendum allowing him to run for additional terms, was reelected again in 2016 and 2021. The Republic of the Congo is one of Africa's largest petroleum producers.

Cook Islands

Polynesians from Tahiti were probably the first people to settle Rarotonga -- the largest of the Cook Islands -- around A.D. 900. Over time, Samoans and Tongans also settled in Rarotonga, and Rarotongans voyaged to the northern Cook Islands, settling Manihiki and Rakahanga. Pukapuka and Penrhyn in the northern Cook Islands were settled directly from Samoa. Prior to European contact, there was considerable travel and trade between inhabitants of the different islands and atolls, but they were not united in a single political entity. Spanish navigators were the first Europeans to spot the northern Cook Islands in 1595, followed by the first landing in 1606, but no further European contact occurred until the 1760s. In 1773, British explorer James COOK spotted Manuae in the southern Cook Islands, and Russian mapmakers named the islands after COOK in the 1820s. 

Fearing France would militarily occupy the islands as it did in Tahiti, Rarotongans asked the UK for protectorate status in the 1840s and 1860s, a request the UK ignored. In 1888, Queen MAKEA TAKAU of Rarotonga formally petitioned for protectorate status, to which the UK reluctantly agreed. In 1901, the UK placed Rarotonga and the rest of the islands in the New Zealand Colony, and in 1915, the Cook Islands Act organized the islands into one political entity. It remained a protectorate until 1965, when New Zealand granted the Cook Islands self-governing status. The Cook Islands has a great deal of local autonomy and is an independent member of international organizations, but it is in free association with New Zealand, which is responsible for its defense and foreign affairs. In September 2023, the US recognized the Cook Islands as a sovereign and independent state.

Coral Sea Islands

The widely scattered Coral Sea Islands were first charted in 1803, but they were too small to host permanent human habitation. The 1870s and 1880s saw attempts at guano mining, but these were soon abandoned. The islands became an Australian territory in 1969, and the boundaries were extended in 1997. A small meteorological staff has operated on the Willis Islets since 1921, and several other islands host unmanned weather stations, beacons, and lighthouses. Much of the territory lies within national marine nature reserves.

 

Costa Rica

Although explored by the Spanish early in the 16th century, initial attempts at colonizing Costa Rica proved unsuccessful due to a combination of factors, including disease from mosquito-infested swamps, brutal heat, resistance from Indigenous populations, and pirate raids. It was not until 1563 that a permanent settlement of Cartago was established in the cooler, fertile central highlands. The area remained a colony for some two-and-a-half centuries. In 1821, Costa Rica was one of several Central American provinces that jointly declared independence from Spain. Two years later it joined the United Provinces of Central America, but this federation disintegrated in 1838, at which time Costa Rica proclaimed its sovereignty and independence.

Since the late 19th century, only two brief periods of violence have marred the country's democratic development. General Federico TINOCO Granados led a coup in 1917, but the threat of US intervention pushed him to resign in 1919. In 1948, landowner Jose FIGUERES Ferrer raised his own army and rebelled against the government. The brief civil war ended with an agreement to allow FIGUERES to remain in power for 18 months, then step down in favor of the previously elected Otilio ULATE. FIGUERES was later elected twice in his own right, in 1953 and 1970.

Costa Rica experienced destabilizing waves of refugees from Central American civil wars in the 1970s and 1980s, but peace in the region has since helped the economy rebound.  Although it still maintains a large agricultural sector, Costa Rica has expanded its economy to include strong technology and tourism industries.

 

Cote d'Ivoire

Various small kingdoms ruled the area of Cote d'Ivoire between the 15th and 19th centuries, when European explorers arrived and then began to expand their presence. In 1844, France established a protectorate. During this period, many of these kingdoms and tribes fought to maintain their cultural identities -- some well into the 20th century. For example, the Sanwi kingdom -- originally founded in the 17th century -- tried to break away from Cote d’Ivoire and establish an independent state in 1969. 

Cote d’Ivoire achieved independence from France in 1960 but has maintained close ties. Foreign investment and the export and production of cocoa drove economic growth that led Cote d’Ivoire to become one of the most prosperous states in West Africa. Then in 1999, a military coup overthrew the government, and a year later, junta leader Robert GUEI held rigged elections and declared himself the winner. Popular protests forced him to step aside, and Laurent GBAGBO was elected. Ivoirian dissidents and members of the military launched a failed coup in 2002 that developed into a civil war. In 2003, a cease-fire resulted in rebels holding the north, the government holding the south, and peacekeeping forces occupying a buffer zone in the middle. In 2007, President GBAGBO and former rebel leader Guillaume SORO signed an agreement in which SORO joined GBAGBO's government as prime minister. The two agreed to reunite the country by dismantling the buffer zone, integrating rebel forces into the national armed forces, and holding elections.

In 2010, Alassane Dramane OUATTARA won the presidential election, but GBAGBO refused to hand over power, resulting in five months of violent conflict. Armed OUATTARA supporters and UN and French troops eventually forced GBAGBO to step down in 2011. OUATTARA won a second term in 2015 and a controversial third term in 2020 -- despite the two-term limit in the Ivoirian constitution -- in an election boycotted by the opposition. Through political compromise with OUATTARA, the opposition participated peacefully in 2021 legislative elections and won a substantial minority of seats. Also in 2021, the International Criminal Court in The Hague ruled on a final acquittal for GBAGBO, who was on trial for crimes against humanity, paving the way for GBAGBO’s return to Abidjan the same year. GBAGBO has publicly met with OUATTARA since his return as a demonstration of political reconciliation. 

Croatia

The lands that today comprise Croatia were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the end of World War I. In 1918, the Croats, Serbs, and Slovenes formed a kingdom known after 1929 as Yugoslavia. Following World War II, Yugoslavia became a federal independent communist state consisting of six socialist republics, including Croatia, under the strong hand of Josip Broz, aka TITO. Although Croatia declared its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, it took four years of sporadic, but often bitter, fighting before Yugoslav forces were cleared from Croatian lands, along with a majority of Croatia's ethnic Serb population. Under UN supervision, the last Serb-held enclave in eastern Slavonia was returned to Croatia in 1998. The country joined NATO in 2009 and the EU in 2013. In January 2023, Croatia further integrated into the EU by joining the Eurozone and the Schengen Area.

Cuba

The native Amerindian population of Cuba began to decline after the arrival of Christopher COLUMBUS in 1492, as the country was developed as a Spanish colony during the next several centuries. Large numbers of African slaves were imported to work the coffee and sugar plantations, and Havana became the launching point for the annual treasure fleets bound for Spain from Mexico and Peru. Spanish rule eventually provoked an independence movement, and occasional rebellions were harshly suppressed. US intervention during the Spanish-American War in 1898 assisted the Cubans in overthrowing Spanish rule. The Treaty of Paris established Cuban independence from Spain in 1898, and after three-and-a-half years of subsequent US military rule, Cuba became an independent republic in 1902.

Cuba then experienced a string of governments mostly dominated by the military and corrupt politicians. Fidel CASTRO led a rebel army to victory in 1959; his authoritarian rule held the subsequent regime together for nearly five decades. He handed off the presidency to his younger brother Raul CASTRO in 2008. Cuba's communist revolution, with Soviet support, was exported throughout Latin America and Africa during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Miguel DIAZ-CANEL Bermudez, hand-picked by Raul CASTRO to succeed him, was approved as president by the National Assembly and took office in 2018. DIAZ-CANEL was appointed First Secretary of the Communist Party in 2021 after the retirement of Raul CASTRO and continues to serve as both president and first secretary.

Cuba traditionally and consistently portrays the US embargo, in place since 1961, as the source of its socioeconomic difficulties. As a result of efforts begun in 2014 to reestablish diplomatic relations, the US and Cuba reopened embassies in their respective countries in 2015. The embargo remains in place, however, and the relationship between the US and Cuba remains tense. Illicit migration of Cuban nationals to the US via maritime and overland routes has been a longstanding challenge. In 2017, the US and Cuba signed a Joint Statement ending the so-called "wet-foot, dry-foot" policy, by which Cuban nationals who reached US soil were permitted to stay. Irregular Cuban maritime migration has dropped significantly since 2016, when migrant interdictions at sea topped 5,000, but land border crossings continue. 

Curacao

The original Arawak Indian settlers who arrived on Curacao from South America in about A.D. 1000 were largely enslaved by the Spanish early in the 16th century and forcibly relocated to other colonies where labor was needed. The Dutch seized Curacao from the Spanish in 1634. Once the center of the Caribbean slave trade, Curacao was hard hit economically when the Dutch abolished slavery in 1863. Its prosperity (and that of neighboring Aruba) was restored in the early 20th century with the construction of the Isla Refineria to service the newly discovered Venezuelan oilfields. In 1954, Curacao and several other Dutch Caribbean colonies were reorganized as the Netherlands Antilles, part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. In referenda in 2005 and 2009, the citizens of Curacao voted to become a self-governing country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The change in status became effective in 2010 with the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles.

Cyprus

A former British colony, Cyprus became independent in 1960 after years of resistance to British rule. Tensions between the Greek Cypriot majority and Turkish Cypriot minority came to a head in December 1963, when violence broke out in the capital of Nicosia. Despite the deployment of UN peacekeepers in 1964, sporadic intercommunal violence continued and forced most Turkish Cypriots into enclaves throughout the island. In 1974, a Greek Government-sponsored attempt to overthrow the elected president of Cyprus was met by military intervention from Turkey, which soon controlled more than a third of the island. In 1983, the Turkish Cypriot administered area declared itself the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus" (TRNC), but it is recognized only by Turkey. A UN-mediated agreement to reunite Cyprus, the Annan Plan, failed to win approval from both communities in 2004. The most recent round of reunification negotiations was suspended in 2017 after failure to achieve a breakthrough.

The entire island joined the EU in 2004, although the EU acquis -- the body of common rights and obligations -- applies only to the areas under the internationally recognized government and is suspended in the TRNC. However, individual Turkish Cypriots able to document their eligibility for Republic of Cyprus citizenship have the same legal rights accorded to citizens of other EU states.

Czechia

At the close of World War I, the Czechs and Slovaks of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire merged to form Czechoslovakia, a parliamentarian democracy. During the interwar years, having rejected a federal system, the new country's predominantly Czech leaders were frequently preoccupied with meeting the increasingly strident demands of other ethnic minorities within the republic, most notably the Slovaks, the Sudeten Germans, and the Ruthenians (Ukrainians). On the eve of World War II, Nazi Germany occupied the territory that today comprises Czechia, and Slovakia became an independent state allied with Germany. After the war, a reunited but truncated Czechoslovakia (less Ruthenia) fell within the Soviet sphere of influence when the pro-Soviet Communist party staged a coup in February 1948. In 1968, an invasion by fellow Warsaw Pact troops ended the efforts of the country's leaders to liberalize communist rule and create "socialism with a human face," ushering in a period of repression known as "normalization." The peaceful "Velvet Revolution" swept the Communist Party from power at the end of 1989 and inaugurated a return to democratic rule and a market economy. On 1 January 1993, the country underwent a nonviolent "velvet divorce" into its two national components, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The Czech Republic joined NATO in 1999 and the European Union in 2004. The country formally added the short-form name Czechia in 2016, while also continuing to use the full form name, the Czech Republic.

Denmark

Once the seat of Viking raiders and later a major north European power, Denmark has evolved into a modern, prosperous nation that is part of the general political and economic integration of Europe. It joined NATO in 1949 and the EEC (now the EU) in 1973. The country has opted out of certain elements of the EU's Maastricht Treaty, including the European Economic and Monetary Union and justice and home affairs issues. a 2022 referendum resulted in the removal of Denmark's 30-year opt-out on defense issues, now allowing Denmark to participate fully in the EU's Common Security and Defense Policy.

Djibouti

Present-day Djibouti was the site of the medieval Ifat and Adal Sultanates. In the late 19th century, the Afar sultans signed treaties with the French that allowed the latter to establish the colony of French Somaliland in 1862. The French signed additional treaties with the ethnic Somali in 1885.

Tension between the ethnic Afar and Somali populations increased over time, as the ethnic Somalis perceived that the French unfairly favored the Afar and gave them disproportionate influence in local governance. In 1958, the French held a referendum that provided residents of French Somaliland the option to either continue their association with France or to join neighboring Somalia as it established its independence. Ethnic Somali protested the vote, because French colonial leaders did not recognize many Somali as residents, which gave the Afar outsized influence in the decision to uphold ties with France. After a second referendum in 1967, the French changed the territory’s name to the French Territory of the Afars and the Issas, in part to underscore their relationship with the ethnic Afar and downplay the significance of the ethnic Somalis. A final referendum in 1977 established Djibouti as an independent nation and granted ethnic Somalis Djiboutian nationality, formally resetting the balance of power between the majority ethnic Somalis and minority ethnic Afar residents. Upon independence, the country was named after its capital city of Djibouti. Hassan Gouled APTIDON, an ethnic Somali leader, installed an authoritarian one-party state and served as president until 1999. Unrest between the Afar minority and Somali majority culminated in a civil war during the 1990s that ended in 2001 with a peace accord between Afar rebels and the Somali Issa-dominated government. In 1999, Djibouti's first multiparty presidential election resulted in the election of Ismail Omar GUELLEH as president; he was reelected to a second term in 2005 and extended his tenure in office via a constitutional amendment, which allowed him to serve his third and fourth terms, and to begin a fifth term in 2021.

Djibouti occupies a strategic geographic location at the intersection of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. Its ports handle 95% of Ethiopia’s trade. Djibouti’s ports also service transshipments between Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. The government has longstanding ties to France, which maintains a military presence in the country, as do the US, Japan, Italy, Germany, Spain, and China.

Dominica

Dominica was the last of the Caribbean islands to be colonized by Europeans, due chiefly to the fierce resistance of the native Caribs. France ceded possession to Britain in 1763, and Dominica became a British colony in 1805. Slavery ended in 1833, and in 1835, the first three men of African descent were elected to the legislative assembly of Dominica. In 1871, Dominica became first part of the British Leeward Islands and then the British Windward Islands until 1958. In 1967, Dominica became an associated state of the UK, formally taking responsibility for its internal affairs, and the country gained its independence in 1978. In 1980, Dominica's fortunes improved when Mary Eugenia CHARLES -- the first female prime minister in the Caribbean -- replaced a corrupt and tyrannical administration, and she served for the next 15 years. In 2017, Hurricane Maria passed over the island, causing extensive damage to structures, roads, communications, and the power supply, and largely destroying critical agricultural areas.

Dominican Republic

The Taino -- indigenous inhabitants of Hispaniola prior to the arrival of Europeans -- divided the island now known as the Dominican Republic and Haiti into five chiefdoms and territories. Christopher COLUMBUS explored and claimed the island on his first voyage in 1492; it became a springboard for Spanish conquest of the Caribbean and the American mainland. In 1697, Spain recognized French dominion over the western third of the island, which in 1804 became Haiti. The remainder of the island, by then known as Santo Domingo, sought to gain its own independence in 1821, but the Haitians conquered and ruled it for 22 years; it finally attained independence as the Dominican Republic in 1844. In 1861, the Dominicans voluntarily returned to the Spanish Empire, but two years later, they launched a war that restored independence in 1865.

A legacy of unsettled and mostly non-representative rule followed, capped by the dictatorship of Rafael Leonidas TRUJILLO from 1930 to 1961. Juan BOSCH was elected president in 1962 but was deposed in a military coup in 1963. In 1965, the US led an intervention in the midst of a civil war sparked by an uprising to restore BOSCH. In 1966, Joaquin BALAGUER defeated BOSCH in the presidential election. BALAGUER maintained a tight grip on power for most of the next 30 years, until international reaction to flawed elections forced him to curtail his term in 1996. Since then, regular competitive elections have been held. 

Ecuador

What is now Ecuador formed part of the northern Inca Empire until the Spanish conquest in 1533. Quito -- the traditional name for the area -- became a seat of Spanish colonial government in 1563 and part of the Viceroyalty of New Granada in 1717. The territories of the Viceroyalty -- New Granada (Colombia), Venezuela, and Quito -- gained their independence between 1819 and 1822 and formed a federation known as Gran Colombia. When Quito withdrew to become an independent republic in 1830, the traditional name was changed to the "Republic of the Equator." Between 1904 and 1942, Ecuador lost territories in a series of conflicts with its neighbors. A border war with Peru that flared in 1995 was resolved in 1999. Although Ecuador has had nearly 50 years of civilian governance, the period has been marked by political instability.

Egypt

The regularity and richness of the annual Nile River flood, coupled with semi-isolation provided by deserts to the east and west, allowed for the development of one of the world's great civilizations in Egypt. A unified kingdom arose circa 3200 B.C., and a series of dynasties ruled in Egypt for the next three millennia. The last native dynasty fell to the Persians in 341 B.C., who in turn were replaced by the Greeks, Romans, and Byzantines. Arab conquerors introduced Islam and the Arabic language in the 7th century and ruled for the next six centuries. The Mamluks, a local military caste, took control around 1250 and continued to govern after the Ottoman Turks conquered Egypt in 1517.

Completion of the Suez Canal in 1869 elevated Egypt as an important world transportation hub. Ostensibly to protect its investments, Britain seized control of Egypt's government in 1882, but the country's nominal allegiance to the Ottoman Empire continued until 1914. Egypt gained partial independence from the UK in 1922 and full sovereignty in 1952. British forces evacuated the Suez Canal Zone in 1956. The completion of the Aswan High Dam in 1971 and the resultant Lake Nasser have reaffirmed the time-honored place of the Nile River in the agriculture and ecology of Egypt. A rapidly growing population (the largest in the Arab world), limited arable land, and dependence on the Nile all continue to overtax resources and stress society. The government has struggled to meet the demands of Egypt's fast-growing population as it implements large-scale infrastructure projects, energy cooperation, and foreign direct investment appeals.

Inspired by the 2010 Tunisian revolution, Egyptian opposition groups led demonstrations and labor strikes countrywide, culminating in President Hosni MUBARAK's ouster in 2011. Egypt's military assumed national leadership until a new legislature was in place in early 2012; later that same year, Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed MORSI won the presidential election. Following protests throughout the spring of 2013 against MORSI's government and the Muslim Brotherhood, the Egyptian Armed Forces intervened and removed MORSI from power in July 2013 and replaced him with interim president Adly MANSOUR. Simultaneously, the government began enacting laws to limit freedoms of assembly and expression. In 2014, voters approved a new constitution by referendum and then elected former defense minister Abdel Fattah EL-SISI president. EL-SISI was reelected to a second four-year term in 2018 and a third term in December 2023. 

 

 

El Salvador

El Salvador achieved independence from Spain in 1821 and from the Central American Federation in 1839. A 12-year civil war, which cost about 75,000 lives, was brought to a close in 1992 when the government and leftist rebels signed a treaty that provided for military and political reforms. El Salvador is beset by one of the world's highest homicide rates and pervasive criminal gangs.

Equatorial Guinea

Equatorial Guinea consists of a continental territory and five inhabited islands; it is one of the smallest countries by area and population in Africa. The mainland region was most likely predominantly inhabited by Pygmy ethnic groups prior to the migration of various Bantu-speaking ethnic groups around the second millennium BC. The island of Bioko, the largest of Equatorial Guinea’s five inhabited islands and the location of the country’s capital of Malabo, has been occupied since at least 1000 B.C. In the early 1470s, Portuguese explorers landed on Bioko Island, and Portugal soon after established control of the island and other areas of modern Equatorial Guinea. In 1778, Portugal ceded its colonial hold over present-day Equatorial Guinea to Spain in the Treaty of El Pardo. The borders of modern-day Equatorial Guinea would evolve between 1778 and 1968 as the area remained under European colonial rule.

In 1968, Equatorial Guinea was granted independence from Spain and elected Francisco MACIAS NGUEMA as its first president. MACIAS consolidated power soon after his election and ruled brutally for over a decade. Under his regime, Equatorial Guinea experienced mass suppression, purges, and killings. Some estimates indicate that a third of the population either went into exile or was killed under MACIAS’ rule. In 1979, present-day President OBIANG Nguema Mbasogo, then a senior military officer, deposed MACIAS in a violent coup. OBIANG has ruled since and has been elected in non-competitive contests several times, most recently in 2022. The president exerts near-total control over the political system.

Equatorial Guinea experienced rapid economic growth in the early years of the 21st century due to the discovery of large offshore oil reserves in 1996. Production peaked in 2004 and has declined since. The country's economic windfall from oil production resulted in massive increases in government revenue, a significant portion of which was earmarked for infrastructure development. Systemic corruption, however, has hindered socio-economic development, and the population has seen only limited improvements to living standards. Equatorial Guinea continues to seek to diversify its economy, increase foreign investment, and assume a greater role in regional and international affairs. 

 

Eritrea

Eritrea won independence from Italian colonial control in 1941, but the UN only established it as an autonomous region within the Ethiopian federation in 1952, after a decade of British administrative control. Ethiopia's full annexation of Eritrea as a province 10 years later sparked a violent 30-year conflict for independence that ended in 1991 with Eritrean fighters defeating government forces. Eritreans overwhelmingly approved independence in a 1993 referendum. ISAIAS Afwerki has been Eritrea's only president since independence; his rule, particularly since 2001, has been characterized by highly autocratic and repressive actions. His government has created a highly militarized society by instituting an unpopular program of mandatory conscription into national service -- divided between military and civilian service -- of indefinite length.

A two-and-a-half-year border war with Ethiopia that erupted in 1998 ended under UN auspices in 2000. Ethiopia rejected a subsequent 2007 Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC) demarcation. More than a decade of a tense “no peace, no war” stalemate ended in 2018 when the newly elected Ethiopian prime minister accepted the EEBC’s 2007 ruling, and the two countries signed declarations of peace and friendship. Eritrean leaders then engaged in intensive diplomacy around the Horn of Africa, bolstering regional peace, security, and cooperation, as well as brokering rapprochements between governments and opposition groups. In 2018, the UN Security Council lifted an arms embargo that had been imposed on Eritrea since 2009, after the UN Somalia-Eritrea Monitoring Group reported they had not found evidence of Eritrean support in recent years for al-Shabaab. The country’s rapprochement with Ethiopia led to a resumption of economic ties, but the level of air transport, trade, and tourism have remained roughly the same since late 2020.

The Eritrean economy remains agriculture-dependent, and the country is still one of Africa’s poorest nations. Eritrea faced new international condemnation and US sanctions in mid-2021 for its participation in the war in Ethiopia’s Tigray Regional State, where Eritrean forces were found to have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. As most Eritrean troops were departing northern Ethiopia in January 2023, ISAIAS began a series of diplomatic engagements aimed at bolstering Eritrea’s foreign partnerships and regional influence. Despite the country's improved relations with its neighbors, ISAIAS has not let up on repression, and conscription and militarization continue.

Estonia

After centuries of Danish, Swedish, German, and Russian rule, Estonia attained independence in 1918. Forcibly incorporated into the USSR in 1940 -- an action never recognized by the US and many other countries -- it regained its freedom in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Since the last Russian troops left in 1994, Estonia has been free to promote economic and political ties with the West. It joined both NATO and the EU in 2004, formally joined the OECD in 2010, and adopted the euro as its official currency in 2011.

Eswatini

A Swazi kingdom was founded in the mid-18th century and ruled by a series of kings, including MSWATI II, a 19th century ruler whose name was adopted for the country and its predominant ethnic group. European countries defined the kingdom’s modern borders during the late-19th century, and Swaziland (as it became known) was administered as a UK high commission territory from 1903 until its independence in 1968. A new constitution that came into effect in 2005 included provisions for a more independent parliament and judiciary, but the legal status of political parties remains unclear, and the kingdom is still considered an absolute monarchy. King MSWATI III renamed the country from Swaziland to Eswatini in 2018 to reflect the name most commonly used by its citizens.

In 2021, MSWATI III used security forces to suppress prodemocracy protests. A national dialogue and reconciliation process agreed to in the wake of violence has not materialized. In November 2023, King MSWATI III appointed a new prime minister following peaceful national elections.  Despite its classification as a lower-middle income country, Eswatini suffers from severe poverty, corruption, and high unemployment. Eswatini has the world's highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rate, although recent years have shown marked declines in new infections. Eswatini is the only country in Africa that recognizes Taiwan.

 

 

 

Ethiopia

The area that is modern-day Ethiopia is rich in cultural and religious diversity with more than 80 ethnic groups. The oldest hominid yet found comes from Ethiopia, and Ethiopia was the second country to officially adopt Christianity in the 4th century A.D. A series of monarchies ruled the area that is now Ethiopia from 980 B.C. to 1855, when the Amhara kingdoms of northern Ethiopia united in an empire under Tewodros II. Many Ethiopians still speak reverently about the Battle of Adwa in 1896, when they defeated Italian forces and won their freedom from colonial rule.

Emperor Haile SELASSIE became an internationally renowned figure in 1935, when he unsuccessfully appealed to the League of Nations to prevent Italy from occupying Ethiopia from 1936 to 1941. SELASSIE survived an attempted coup in 1960, annexed modern-day Eritrea in 1962, and played a leading role in establishing the Organization of African Unity in 1963. However, in 1974, a military junta called the Derg deposed him and established a socialist state. Torn by bloody coups, uprisings, drought, and massive displacement, the Derg regime was toppled in 1991 by a coalition of opposing forces, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). The EPRDF became an ethno-federalist political coalition that ruled Ethiopia from 1991 until its dissolution in 2019. Ethiopia adopted its constitution in 1994 and held its first multiparty elections in 1995.

A two-and-a-half-year border war with Eritrea in the late 1990s ended with a peace treaty in 2000. Ethiopia subsequently rejected the 2007 Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission demarcation. This resulted in more than a decade of a tense “no peace, no war” stalemate between the two countries. In 2012, longtime Prime Minister MELES Zenawi died in office and was replaced by his Deputy Prime Minister HAILEMARIAM Desalegn, marking the first peaceful transition of power in decades. Following a wave of popular dissent and anti-government protest that began in 2015, HAILEMARIAM resigned in 2018, and ABIY Ahmed Ali took office the same year as Ethiopia's first ethnic Oromo prime minister. In 2018, ABIY promoted a rapprochement between Ethiopia and Eritrea that was marked with a peace agreement and a reopening of their shared border. In 2019, Ethiopia's nearly 30-year ethnic-based ruling coalition, the EPRDF, merged into a single unity party called the Prosperity Party; however, the lead coalition party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), declined to join. In 2020, a military conflict erupted between forces aligned with the TPLF and the Ethiopian military. The conflict -- which was marked by atrocities committed by all parties -- ended in 2022 with a cessation of hostilities agreement between the TPLF and the Ethiopian Government. However, Ethiopia continues to experience ethnic-based violence as other groups -- including the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) and Amhara militia Fano -- seek concessions from the Ethiopian Government.

European Union

In the aftermath and devastation of the two World Wars, a number of far-sighted European leaders in the late 1940s sought to respond to the overwhelming desire for peace and reconciliation on the continent. In 1950, French Foreign Minister Robert SCHUMAN proposed pooling the production of coal and steel in Western Europe, which would bring France and West Germany together and be open to other countries as well. The following year, the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was set up when six members -- Belgium, France, West Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands -- signed the Treaty of Paris.

Within a few years, the ECSC was so successful that member states decided to further integrate their economies. In 1957, envisioning an "ever closer union," the Treaties of Rome created the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom), which eliminated trade barriers among the six member states to create a common market. In 1967, the institutions of all three communities were formally merged into the European Community (EC), creating a single Commission, a single Council of Ministers, and a legislative body known today as the European Parliament. Members of the European Parliament were initially selected by national parliaments, but direct elections began in 1979 and have been held every five years since.

In 1973, the first enlargement of the EC added Denmark, Ireland, and the UK. The 1980s saw further membership expansion, with Greece joining in 1981 and Spain and Portugal in 1986. The 1992 Treaty of Maastricht laid the basis for further cooperation in foreign and defense policy and judicial and internal affairs, as well as the creation of an economic and monetary union -- including a common currency. The Maastricht Treaty created the European Union (EU), at the time standing alongside the EC. In 1995, Austria, Finland, and Sweden joined the EU/EC, raising the total number of member states to 15. On 1 January 1999, the new euro currency was launched in world markets and became the unit of exchange for all EU member states except Denmark, Sweden, and the UK. In 2002, citizens of the 12 participating member states began using euro banknotes and coins.

In an effort to ensure that the EU could function efficiently with an expanded membership, the Treaty of Nice in 2000 set forth rules to streamline the size and procedures of the EU's institutions. An effort to establish a "Constitution for Europe," growing out of a Convention held in 2002-2003, foundered when it was rejected in referenda in France and the Netherlands in 2005. A subsequent effort in 2007 incorporated many features of the rejected draft Constitutional Treaty, while also making a number of substantive as well as symbolic changes. The new treaty, referred to as the Treaty of Lisbon, sought to amend existing treaties rather than replace them. The treaty was approved at a conference of member states, and after all member states ratified, the Lisbon Treaty came into force on 1 December 2009, at which point the EU officially replaced and succeeded the EC.

Ten new countries joined the EU in 2004 -- Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia. Bulgaria and Romania joined in 2007 and Croatia in 2013. UK citizens on 23 June 2016 narrowly voted to leave the EU; the formal exit, widely known as "Brexit," took place on 31 January 2020. The EU and the UK negotiated a withdrawal agreement that included a status quo transition period through December 2020, when the follow-on EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement was concluded. Current EU membership stands at 27. Eight of the newer member states -- Croatia, Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Slovakia, and Slovenia -- have now adopted the euro, bringing total euro-zone membership to 20.

 

Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas)

Although first sighted by an English navigator in 1592, the first landing (English) did not occur until almost a century later in 1690, and the first settlement (French) was not established until 1764. The colony was turned over to Spain two years later, and the islands have since been the subject of a territorial dispute, first between Britain and Spain, then between Britain and Argentina. The UK asserted its claim to the islands by establishing a naval garrison there in 1833. Argentina invaded the islands in 1982. The British responded with an expeditionary force and after fierce fighting forced an Argentine surrender on 14 June 1982. With hostilities ended and Argentine forces withdrawn, UK administration resumed. In response to renewed calls from Argentina for Britain to relinquish control of the islands, a referendum was held in 2013 that resulted in 99.8% of the population voting to remain a part of the UK.

Faroe Islands

The Faroe Islands were already populated by about A.D. 500, but whether the original settlers were Celtic or early Norse (or someone else) has yet to be determined. Viking settlers arrived on the islands in the 9th century, and the islands served as an important stepping stone for medieval Viking exploration of the North Atlantic. The islands have been connected politically to Denmark since the 14th century, and today the Faroe Islands are a self-governing dependency of Denmark. The Home Rule Act of 1948 granted a high degree of self-government to the Faroese, who have autonomy over most internal affairs and external trade, while Denmark is responsible for justice, defense, and some foreign affairs. The Faroe Islands are not part of the European Union.

Fiji

Austronesians settled Fiji around 1000 B.C., followed by successive waves of Melanesians starting around the first century A.D. Fijians traded with Polynesian groups in Samoa and Tonga, and by about 900, much of Fiji was in the Tu’i Tongan Empire’s sphere of influence. The Tongan influence declined significantly by 1200, while Melanesian seafarers continued to periodically arrive in Fiji, further mixing Melanesian and Polynesian cultural traditions. The first European spotted Fiji in 1643 and by the 1800s, European merchants, missionaries, traders, and whalers frequented the islands. Rival kings and chiefs competed for power, at times aided by Europeans, and in 1865, Seru Epenisa CAKOBAU united many groups into the Confederacy of Independent Kingdoms of Viti. The arrangement proved weak, however, and in 1871 CAKOBAU formed the Kingdom of Fiji in an attempt to centralize power. Fearing a hostile takeover by a foreign power as the kingdom’s economy began to falter, CAKOBAU ceded Fiji to the UK in 1874.

The first British governor set up a plantation-style economy and brought in more than 60,000 Indians as indentured laborers, most of whom chose to stay in Fiji rather than return to India when their contracts expired. In the early 1900s, society was divided along ethnic lines, with iTaukei (indigenous Fijians), Europeans, and Indo-Fijians living in separate areas and maintaining their own languages and traditions. ITaukei fears of an Indo-Fijian takeover of government delayed independence through the 1960s; Fiji achieved independence in 1970 with agreements to allocate parliamentary seats by ethnic groups. After two coups in 1987, a new constitution in 1990 cemented iTaukei control of politics, leading thousands of Indo-Fijians to leave. A reformed constitution in 1997 was more equitable and led to the election of an Indo-Fijian prime minister in 1999, who was ousted in a coup the following year. In 2005, the new prime minister put forward a bill that would grant pardons to the coup perpetrators, leading Josaia Voreqe "Frank" BAINIMARAMA to launch a coup in 2006. BAINIMARAMA appointed himself prime minister in 2007 and retained the position after elections in 2014 and 2018 that international observers deemed credible. BAINIMARAMA's party lost control of the prime minister position after elections in 2022 with former opposition leader Sitiveni Ligamamada RABUKA winning the office by a narrow margin.

Finland

Finland was a province and then a grand duchy under Sweden from the 12th to the 19th centuries and an autonomous grand duchy of Russia after 1809. It gained complete independence in 1917. During World War II, Finland successfully defended its independence through cooperation with Germany and resisted subsequent invasions by the Soviet Union, albeit with some loss of territory. During the next half-century, Finland transformed from a farm/forest economy to a diversified modern industrial economy; per-capita income is among the highest in Western Europe. A member of the EU since 1995, Finland was the only Nordic state to join the euro single currency at its initiation in January 1999. In the 21st century, the key features of Finland's modern welfare state are high-quality education, promotion of equality, and a national social welfare system, although the system is currently facing the challenges of an aging population and the fluctuations of an export-driven economy. Following Russia's invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Finland opted to join NATO; it became the organization's 31st member in April 2023.

France

France today is one of the most modern countries in the world and is a leader among European nations. It plays an influential global role as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, NATO, the G-7, the G-20, the EU, and other multilateral organizations. France rejoined NATO's integrated military command structure in 2009, reversing then President Charles DE GAULLE's 1966 decision to withdraw French forces from NATO. Since 1958, it has constructed a hybrid presidential-parliamentary governing system resistant to the instabilities experienced in earlier, more purely parliamentary administrations. In recent decades, its reconciliation and cooperation with Germany have proved central to the economic integration of Europe, including the introduction of a common currency, the euro, in January 1999. In the early 21st century, five French overseas entities -- French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Mayotte, and Reunion -- became French regions and were made part of France proper.

French Polynesia

French Polynesia consists of five archipelagos -- the Austral Islands, the Gambier Islands, the Marquesas Islands, the Society Islands, and the Tuamotu Archipelago. The Marquesas were first settled around 200 B.C. and the Society Islands around A.D. 300. Raiatea in the Society Islands became a center for religion and culture. Exploration of the other islands emanated from Raiatea, and by 1000, there were small permanent settlements in all the island groups. Ferdinand MAGELLAN was the first European to see the islands of French Polynesia in 1520. In 1767, British explorer Samuel WALLIS was the first European to visit Tahiti, followed by French navigator Louis Antoine de BOUGAINVILLE in 1768 and British explorer James COOK in 1769. King POMARE I united Tahiti and surrounding islands into the Kingdom of Tahiti in 1788. Protestant missionaries arrived in 1797, and POMARE I’s successor converted in the 1810s, along with most Tahitians. In the 1830s, Queen POMARE IV refused to allow French Catholic missionaries to operate, leading France to declare a protectorate over Tahiti and fight the French-Tahitian War of the 1840s in an attempt to annex the islands. 

In 1880, King POMARE V ceded Tahiti and its possessions to France, changing its status into a colony. France then claimed the Gambier Islands and Tuamotu Archipelago and by 1901 had incorporated all five island groups into its establishments in Oceania. A Tahitian nationalist movement formed in 1940, leading France to grant French citizenship to the islanders in 1946 and change it to an overseas territory. In 1957, the islands’ name was changed to French Polynesia, and the following year, 64% of voters chose to stay part of France when they approved a new constitution. Uninhabited Mururoa Atoll was established as a French nuclear test site in 1962, and tests were conducted between 1966 and 1992 (underground beginning in 1975). France also conducted tests at Fangataufa Atoll, including its last nuclear test in 1996.

France granted French Polynesia partial internal autonomy in 1977 and expanded autonomy in 1984. French Polynesia was converted into an overseas collectivity in 2003 and renamed an overseas territory in 2004. Pro-independence politicians won a surprise majority in local elections that same year, but in subsequent elections, they have been relegated to a vocal minority. In 2013, French Polynesia was relisted on the UN List of Non-Self-Governing Territories.

French Southern and Antarctic Lands

In 2007, the Iles Eparses became an integral part of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands (TAAF). The Southern Lands are now divided into five administrative districts, two of which are archipelagos, the Iles Crozet and Iles Kerguelen; the third is a district composed of two volcanic islands, Ile Saint-Paul and Ile Amsterdam; the fourth, Iles Eparses, consists of five scattered tropical islands around Madagascar. They contain no permanent inhabitants and are visited only by researchers studying the native fauna, scientists at the various scientific stations, fishermen, and military personnel. The fifth district is the Antarctic portion, which consists of "Adelie Land," a thin slice of the Antarctic continent discovered and claimed by the French in 1840.

Ile Amsterdam: Discovered but not named in 1522 by the Spanish, the island subsequently received the appellation of Nieuw Amsterdam from a Dutchman; it was claimed by France in 1843. A short-lived attempt at cattle farming began in 1871. A French meteorological station established on the island in 1949 is still in use.

Ile Saint Paul: Claimed by France since 1893, the island was a fishing industry center from 1843 to 1914. In 1928, a spiny lobster cannery was established, but when the company went bankrupt in 1931, seven workers were abandoned. Only two survived until 1934 when rescue finally arrived.

Iles Crozet: A large archipelago formed from the Crozet Plateau, Iles Crozet is divided into two main groups: L'Occidental (the West), which includes Ile aux Cochons, Ilots des Apotres, Ile des Pingouins, and the reefs Brisants de l'Heroine; and L'Oriental (the East), which includes Ile d'Est and Ile de la Possession, the largest island of the Crozets. Discovered and claimed by France in 1772, the islands were used for seal hunting and as a base for whaling. Originally administered as a dependency of Madagascar, they became part of the TAAF in 1955.

Iles Kerguelen: This island group, discovered in 1772, consists of one large island (Ile Kerguelen) and about 300 smaller islands. A permanent group of 50 to 100 scientists resides at the main base at Port-aux-Francais.

Adelie Land: The only non-insular district of the TAAF is the Antarctic claim known as "Adelie Land." The US Government does not recognize it as a French dependency.

Bassas da India: A French possession since 1897, this atoll is a volcanic rock surrounded by reefs and is awash at high tide.

Europa Island: This heavily wooded island has been a French possession since 1897; it is the site of a small military garrison that staffs a weather station.

Glorioso Islands: A French possession since 1892, the Glorioso Islands are composed of two lushly vegetated coral islands (Ile Glorieuse and Ile du Lys) and three rock islets. A military garrison operates a weather and radio station on Ile Glorieuse.

Juan de Nova Island: Named after a famous 15th-century Spanish navigator and explorer, the island has been a French possession since 1897. It has been exploited for its guano and phosphate. Presently a small military garrison oversees a meteorological station.

Tromelin Island: First explored by the French in 1776, the island came under the jurisdiction of Reunion in 1814. At present, it serves as a sea turtle sanctuary and is the site of an important meteorological station.

Gabon

Gabon, a sparsely populated country known for its dense rainforests and vast petroleum reserves, is one of the most prosperous and stable countries in central Africa. Approximately 40 ethnic groups are represented, the largest of which is the Fang, a group that covers the northern third of Gabon and expands north into Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon. From about the early 1300s, various kingdoms emerged in present-day Gabon and the surrounding area, including the Kingdoms of Loango and Orungu. Because most early Bantu languages spoken in these kingdoms did not have a written form, much of Gabon's early history was lost over time. Portuguese traders who arrived in the mid-1400s gave the area its name of Gabon. At that time, indigenous trade networks began to engage with European traders, exchanging goods such as ivory and wood. For a century beginning in the 1760s, trade came to focus mostly on enslaved people. While many groups in Gabon participated in the slave trade, the Fang were a notable exception. As the slave trade declined in the late 1800s, France colonized the country and directed a widespread extraction of Gabonese resources. Anti-colonial rhetoric by Gabon’s educated elites increased significantly in the early 1900s, but no widespread rebellion materialized. French decolonization after World War II led to the country’s independence in 1960.

Within a year of independence, the government changed from a parliamentary to a presidential system, and Leon M’BA won the first presidential election in 1961. El Hadj Omar BONGO Ondimba was M’BA’s vice president and assumed the presidency after M’BA’s death in 1967. BONGO went on to dominate the country's political scene for four decades (1967-2009). In 1968, he declared Gabon a single-party state and created the still-dominant Parti Democratique Gabonais (PDG). In the early 1990s, he reintroduced a multiparty system under a new constitution in response to growing political opposition. He was reelected by wide margins in 1995, 1998, 2002, and 2005 against a divided opposition and amidst allegations of fraud. After BONGO's death in 2009, a new election brought his son, Ali BONGO Ondimba, to power, and he was reelected in 2016. He won a third term in the August 2023 election but was overthrown in a military coup a few days later. Gen. Brice OLIGUI Nguema led a military group called the Committee for the Transition and Restoration of Institutions that arrested BONGO, canceled the election results, and dissolved state institutions. In September 2023, OLIGUI was sworn in as transitional president of Gabon.

 

Gambia, The

In the 10th century, Muslim merchants established some of The Gambia’s earliest large settlements as trans-Saharan trade hubs. These settlements eventually grew into major export centers sending slaves, gold, and ivory across the Sahara. Between the 16th and 17th centuries, European colonial powers began establishing trade with The Gambia. In 1664, the United Kingdom established a colony in The Gambia focused on exporting enslaved people across the Atlantic. During the roughly 300 years of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the UK and other European powers may have exported as many as 3 million people from The Gambia.

The Gambia gained its independence from the UK in 1965. Geographically surrounded by Senegal, it formed the short-lived confederation of Senegambia between 1982 and 1989. In 1994, Yahya JAMMEH led a military coup overthrowing the president and banning political activity. He subsequently won every presidential election until 2016, when he lost to Adama BARROW, who headed an opposition coalition during free and fair elections. BARROW won reelection in 2021. The Gambia is the only member of the Economic Community of West African States that does not have presidential term limits. Since the 2016 election, The Gambia and the US have enjoyed improved relations. US assistance to the country has supported democracy-strengthening activities, capacity building, economic development, and security sector education and training programs. 


 

 

Gaza Strip

The Gaza Strip has been under the de facto governing authority of the Islamic Resistance Movement (HAMAS) since 2007 and has faced years of conflict, poverty, and humanitarian crises. Inhabited since at least the 15th century B.C., the Gaza Strip area has been dominated by many different peoples and empires throughout its history; it was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire in the early 16th century. The Gaza Strip fell to British forces during World War I, becoming a part of the British Mandate of Palestine. Following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Egypt administered the newly formed Gaza Strip; Israel captured it in the Six-Day War in 1967. Under a series of agreements known as the Oslo Accords signed between 1993 and 1999, Israel transferred to the newly-created Palestinian Authority (PA) security and civilian responsibility for many Palestinian-populated areas of the Gaza Strip, as well as the West Bank.

In 2000, a violent intifada or uprising began in response to perceived Israeli provocations, and in 2001, negotiations to determine the permanent status of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip stalled. Subsequent attempts to re-start negotiations have not resulted in progress toward determining final status and resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel in 2005 unilaterally withdrew all of its settlers and soldiers and dismantled its military facilities in the Gaza Strip, but it continues to control the Gaza Strip’s land borders, maritime territorial waters, cyberspace, telecommunications, and airspace. In 2006, HAMAS won a majority in the Palestinian Legislative Council election. Fatah, the dominant Palestinian political faction in the West Bank, and HAMAS failed to maintain a unity government, leading to violent clashes between their respective supporters and HAMAS's violent seizure of all PA military and governmental institutions in the Gaza Strip in 2007. Since HAMAS's takeover, Israel and Egypt have enforced tight restrictions on movement and access of goods and individuals into and out of the territory. Fatah and HAMAS have since negotiated a series of agreements aimed at restoring political unity between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank but have struggled to enact them.

Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip and the Israel Defense Forces periodically exchange projectiles and air strikes, respectively, threatening broader conflict. In 2021, HAMAS launched rockets into Israel, sparking an 11-day conflict that also involved other Gaza-based militant groups. Egypt, Qatar, and the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process negotiated ceasefires, averting a broader conflict. Since 2018, HAMAS has coordinated demonstrations along the Gaza-Israel security fence. HAMAS has also stood by while other militant groups, such as Palestinian Islamic Jihad, fought brief conflicts with Israel, most recently in August 2022 and May 2023.

On 7 October 2023, HAMAS militants inside the Gaza Strip launched a combined unguided rocket and ground attack into Israel. The attack began with a barrage of more than 3,000 rockets fired toward Israel from Gaza, and included thousands of terrorists infiltrating Israel by land, sea, and air via paragliders. Militants attacked military bases, clashed with security forces mostly in southern Israel, and simultaneously infiltrated civilian communities. During the attack, terrorists carried out massacres and murdered civilians, including torture, acts of abuse and rape, a massacre at the Supernova music festival near Kibbutz Re'im, as well as kidnapping approximately 240 civilians, including men, women, children, and soldiers. These attacks were followed soon after by Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) air strikes inside Gaza. The next day, Israeli Prime Minister NETANYAHU formally declared war on Gaza. The IDF on 28 October launched a large-scale ground assault inside Gaza that is ongoing as of April 2024.

Georgia

The region of present-day Georgia once contained the ancient kingdoms of Colchis (known as Egrisi locally) and Kartli-Iberia. The area came under Roman influence in the first centuries A.D., and Christianity became the state religion in the 330s. Persian, Arab, and Turk domination was followed by a Georgian golden age (11th-13th centuries) that was cut short when the Mongols invaded in 1236. Subsequently, the Ottoman and Persian empires competed for influence in the region. Georgia was absorbed into the Russian Empire in the 19th century. Independent for three years (1918-1921) following the Russian revolution, it was forcibly incorporated into the USSR in 1921 and regained its independence when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991.

In 2003, mounting public discontent over rampant corruption, ineffective government services, and a government attempt to manipulate parliamentary elections touched off widespread protests that led to the resignation of Eduard SHEVARDNADZE, who had been president since 1995. In the aftermath of this "Rose Revolution," new elections in 2004 swept Mikheil SAAKASHVILI and his United National Movement (UNM) party into power. SAAKASHVILI made progress on market reforms and governance, but he faced accusations of abuse of office. Progress was further complicated when Russian support for the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia led to a five-day conflict between Russia and Georgia in August 2008, which included Russia invading large portions of Georgian territory. Russia initially pledged to pull back from most Georgian territory but then unilaterally recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and Russian military forces have remained in those regions.

Billionaire Bidzina IVANISHVILI's unexpected entry into politics in 2011 brought the divided opposition together under his Georgian Dream coalition, which won a majority of seats in the 2012 parliamentary elections and removed UNM from power. Conceding defeat, SAAKASHVILI named IVANISHVILI as prime minister and left the country after his presidential term ended in 2013. IVANISHVILI voluntarily resigned from office after the presidential succession, and in the years since, the prime minister position has seen frequent turnover. In 2021, SAAKASHVILI returned to Georgia, where he was immediately arrested to serve six years in prison on outstanding abuse-of-office convictions.

Popular support for integration with the West is high in Georgia. Joining the EU and NATO are among the country's top foreign policy goals, and Georgia applied for EU membership in 2022, becoming a candidate country in December 2023. Georgia and the EU have a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement, and since 2017, Georgian citizens have been able to travel to the Schengen area without a visa.

Germany

As Europe's largest economy and second most-populous nation (after Russia), Germany is a key member of the continent's economic, political, and defense organizations. European power struggles immersed Germany in two devastating world wars in the first half of the 20th century and left the country occupied by the victorious Allied powers of the US, UK, France, and the Soviet Union in 1945. With the advent of the Cold War, two German states were formed in 1949: the western Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) and the eastern German Democratic Republic (GDR). The democratic FRG embedded itself in key western economic and security organizations, including the EC (now the EU) and NATO, while the communist GDR was on the front line of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact. The decline of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War allowed German reunification to occur in 1990. Since then, Germany has expended considerable funds to bring eastern productivity and wages up to western standards. In January 1999, Germany and 10 other EU countries introduced a common European exchange currency, the euro.

Ghana

Ghana is a multiethnic country rich in natural resources and is one of the most stable and democratic countries in West Africa. Ghana has been inhabited for at least several thousand years, but little is known about its early inhabitants. By the 12th century, the gold trade started to boom in Bono (Bonoman) state in what is today southern Ghana, and it became the genesis of the Akan people's power and wealth in the region. Beginning in the 15th century, the Portuguese, followed by other European powers, arrived and competed for trading rights. Numerous kingdoms and empires emerged in the area, among the most powerful were the Kingdom of Dagbon in the north and the Asante (Ashanti) Empire in the south. By the mid-18th century, Asante was a highly organized state with immense wealth; it provided enslaved people for the Atlantic slave trade, and in return received firearms that facilitated its territorial expansion. The Asante resisted increasing British influence in the coastal areas, engaging in a series of wars during the 19th century before ultimately falling under British control. Formed from the merger of the British colony of the Gold Coast and the Togoland trust territory, Ghana in 1957 became the first Sub-Saharan country in colonial Africa to gain its independence, with Kwame NKRUMAH as its first leader.

Ghana endured a series of coups before Lt. Jerry RAWLINGS took power in 1981 and banned political parties. After approving a new constitution and restoring multiparty politics in 1992, RAWLINGS won presidential elections in 1992 and 1996 but was constitutionally prevented from running for a third term in 2000. John KUFUOR of the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) succeeded him and was reelected in 2004. John Atta MILLS of the National Democratic Congress won the 2008 presidential election and took over as head of state. MILLS died in 2012 and was constitutionally succeeded by his vice president, John Dramani MAHAMA, who subsequently won the 2012 presidential election. In 2016, Nana Addo Dankwa AKUFO-ADDO of the NPP defeated MAHAMA, marking the third time that Ghana’s presidency had changed parties since the return to democracy. AKUFO-ADDO was reelected in 2020. In recent years, Ghana has taken an active role in promoting regional stability and is highly integrated in international affairs.

Gibraltar

Spain reluctantly ceded the strategically important Gibraltar to Great Britain in the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht, and the British garrison at Gibraltar was formally declared a colony in 1830. In a referendum held in 1967, Gibraltarians voted overwhelmingly to remain a British dependency. After the UK granted Gibraltar autonomy in 1969, Spain closed the border and severed all communication links. Between 1997 and 2002, the UK and Spain held a series of talks on establishing temporary joint sovereignty over Gibraltar. In response to these talks, the Gibraltar Government called a referendum in 2002 in which the majority of citizens voted overwhelmingly against sharing sovereignty with Spain. Since 2004, Spain, the UK, and Gibraltar have held tripartite talks to resolve problems that affect the local population, and work continues on cooperation agreements in areas such as taxation and financial services, communications and maritime security, legal and customs services, environmental protection, and education and visa services. A new noncolonial constitution came into force in 2007, and the European Court of First Instance recognized Gibraltar's right to regulate its own tax regime in 2008. The UK retains responsibility for defense, foreign relations, internal security, and financial stability.

Spain and the UK continue to spar over the territory. In 2009, for example, a dispute over Gibraltar's claim to territorial waters extending out three miles gave rise to periodic non-violent maritime confrontations between Spanish and UK naval patrols. Spain renewed its demands for an eventual return of Gibraltar to Spanish control after the UK’s 2016 vote to leave the EU, but London has dismissed any connection between the vote and its sovereignty over Gibraltar. 

Greece

Greece won independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1830 and became a kingdom. During the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, it gradually added neighboring islands and territories, most with Greek-speaking populations. In World War II, Greece was first invaded by Italy (1940) and subsequently occupied by Germany (1941-44); fighting endured in a protracted civil war between supporters of the king and other anti-communist and communist rebels. The communists were defeated in 1949, and Greece joined NATO in 1952. In 1967, a military coup forced the king to flee the country. The ensuing military dictatorship collapsed in 1974, and Greece abolished the monarchy to become a parliamentary republic.

In 1981, Greece joined the EC (now the EU); it became the 12th member of the European Economic and Monetary Union in 2001. From 2009 until 2019, Greece suffered a severe economic crisis due to nearly a decade of chronic overspending and structural rigidities. Beginning in 2010, Greece entered three bailout agreements -- the first two with the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the IMF; and the third in 2015 with the European Stability Mechanism -- worth in total about $300 billion. The Greek Government formally exited the third bailout in 2018, and Greece's economy has since improved significantly. In 2022, the country finalized its early repayment to the IMF and graduated on schedule from the EU's enhanced surveillance framework.

Greenland

Greenland, the world's largest island, is about 80% ice capped. The Inuit came to Greenland from North America in a series of migrations that stretched from 2500 BC to the11th century.  Vikings reached the island in the 10th century from Iceland; Danish colonization began in the 18th century, and Greenland became part of the Kingdom of Denmark in 1953. It joined the European Community (now the EU) with Denmark in 1973 but withdrew in 1985 over a dispute centered on stringent fishing quotas. Greenland remains a member of the EU's Overseas Countries and Territories Association. The Danish parliament granted Greenland home rule in 1979; the law went into effect the following year. Greenland voted in favor of self-government in 2008 and acquired greater responsibility for internal affairs when the Act on Greenland Self-Government was signed into law in 2009. The Kingdom of Denmark, however, continues to exercise control over several policy areas on behalf of Greenland, including foreign affairs, security, and financial policy, in consultation with Greenland's Self-Rule Government.

Grenada

The indigenous Carib people inhabited Grenada when Christopher COLUMBUS landed on the island in 1498, but it remained uncolonized for more than a century. The French settled Grenada in the 17th century, established sugar estates, and imported large numbers of African slaves. Britain took the island in 1762 and vigorously expanded sugar production. In the 19th century, cacao eventually surpassed sugar as the main export crop; in the 20th century, nutmeg became the leading export. In 1967, Britain gave Grenada autonomy over its internal affairs. Full independence was attained in 1974, making Grenada one of the smallest independent countries in the Western Hemisphere. In 1979, a leftist New Jewel Movement seized power under Maurice BISHOP, ushering in the Grenada Revolution. On 19 October 1983, factions within the revolutionary government overthrew and killed BISHOP and members of his party. Six days later, US forces and those of six other Caribbean nations intervened, quickly capturing the ringleaders and their hundreds of Cuban advisers. Rule of law was restored, and democratic elections were reinstituted the following year and have continued since.

Guam

Guam was settled by Austronesian people around 1500 B.C. These people became the indigenous Chamorro and were influenced by later migrations, including the Micronesians in the first millennium A.D., and island Southeast Asians around 900. Society was stratified, with higher classes living along the coast and lower classes living inland. Spanish explorer Ferdinand MAGELLAN was the first European to see Guam in 1521, and Spain claimed the island in 1565 because it served as a refueling stop for ships between Mexico and the Philippines. Spain formally colonized Guam in 1668. Spain’s brutal repression of the Chamorro, along with new diseases and intermittent warfare, reduced the indigenous population from more than 100,000 to less than 5,000 by the 1700s. Spain tried to repopulate the island by forcing people from nearby islands to settle on Guam and preventing them from escaping.

Guam became a hub for whalers and traders in the western Pacific in the early 1800s. During the 1898 Spanish-American War, the US Navy occupied Guam and set up a military administration. The US Navy opposed local control of government despite repeated petitions from the Chamorro. Japan invaded Guam in 1941 and instituted a repressive regime. During the US recapture of Guam in 1944, the island’s two largest villages were destroyed. After World War II, political pressure from local Chamorro leaders led to Guam being established as an unincorporated organized US territory in 1950, with US citizenship granted to all Chamorro. In a referendum in 1982, more than 75% of voters chose closer relations with the US over independence, although no change in status was made because of disagreements on the future right of Chamorro self-determination. The US military holds about 29% of Guam’s land and stations several thousand troops on the island. The installations are some of the most strategically important US bases in the Pacific; they also constitute the island’s most important source of income and economic stability.

Guatemala

The Maya civilization flourished in Guatemala and surrounding regions during the first millennium A.D. After almost three centuries as a Spanish colony, Guatemala won its independence in 1821. During the second half of the 20th century, it experienced a variety of military and civilian governments, as well as a 36-year guerrilla war. In 1996, the government signed a peace agreement formally ending the internal conflict.

Guernsey

Guernsey and the other Channel Islands represent the last remnants of the medieval Duchy of Normandy, which held sway in both France and England. The islands were the only British soil that Germany occupied in World War II. The Bailiwick of Guernsey consists of the main island of Guernsey and a number of smaller islands, including Alderney, Sark, Herm, Jethou, Brecqhou, and Lihou. The Bailiwick is a self-governing British Crown dependency that is not part of the UK. However, the UK Government is constitutionally responsible for its defense and international representation.

Guinea

Guinea's deep Muslim heritage arrived via the neighboring Almoravid Empire in the 11th century. Following Almoravid decline, Guinea existed on the fringe of several African kingdoms, all competing for regional dominance. In the 13th century, the Mali Empire took control of Guinea and encouraged its already growing Muslim faith. After the fall of the West African empires, various smaller kingdoms controlled Guinea. In the 18th century, Fulani Muslims established an Islamic state in central Guinea that provided one of the earliest examples of a written constitution and alternating leadership. European traders first arrived in the 16th century, and the French secured colonial rule in the 19th century.

In 1958, Guinea achieved independence from France. Sekou TOURE became Guinea’s first post-independence president; he established a dictatorial regime and ruled until his death in 1984, after which General Lansana CONTE staged a coup and seized the government. He too established an authoritarian regime and manipulated presidential elections until his death in 2008, when Captain Moussa Dadis CAMARA led a military coup, seized power, and suspended the constitution. In 2009, CAMARA was wounded in an assassination attempt and was exiled to Burkina Faso. In 2010 and 2013 respectively, the country held its first free and fair presidential and legislative elections. Alpha CONDE won the 2010 and 2015 presidential elections, and his first cabinet was the first all-civilian government in Guinean history. CONDE won a third term in 2020 after a constitutional change to term limits. In 2021, Col Mamady DOUMBOUYA led another successful military coup, establishing the National Committee for Reconciliation and Development (CNRD), suspending the constitution, and dissolving the government and the legislature. DOUMBOUYA was sworn in as transition president and appointed Mohamed BEAVOGUI as transition prime minister. The National Transition Council (CNT), which acts as the legislative body for the transition, was formed in 2022 and consists of appointed members representing a broad swath of Guinean society.

Guinea-Bissau

For much of its history, Guinea-Bissau was under the control of the Mali Empire and the Kaabu Kingdom. In the 16th century, Portugal began establishing trading posts along Guinea-Bissau’s shoreline. Initially, the Portuguese were restricted to the coastline and islands. However, the slave and gold trades were lucrative to local African leaders, and the Portuguese were slowly able to expand their power and influence inland. Starting in the 18th century, the Mali Empire and Kingdom of Kaabu slowly disintegrated into smaller local entities. By the 19th century, Portugal had fully incorporated Guinea-Bissau into its empire.

Since gaining independence in 1974, Guinea-Bissau has experienced considerable political and military upheaval. In 1980, a military coup established General Joao Bernardo 'Nino' VIEIRA as president. VIEIRA's regime suppressed political opposition and purged political rivals. Several coup attempts through the 1980s and early 1990s failed to unseat him, but a military mutiny and civil war in 1999 led to VIEIRA's ouster. In 2000, a transitional government turned over power to opposition leader Kumba YALA. In 2003, a bloodless military coup overthrew YALA and installed businessman Henrique ROSA as interim president. In 2005, VIEIRA was reelected, pledging to pursue economic development and national reconciliation; he was assassinated in 2009. Malam Bacai SANHA was then elected president, but he passed away in 2012 from a long-term illness. A military coup blocked the second round of the election to replace him, but after mediation from the Economic Community of Western African States, a civilian transitional government assumed power. In 2014, Jose Mario VAZ was elected president in a free and fair election, and in 2019, he became the first president in Guinea-Bissau’s history to complete a full term. Umaro Sissoco EMBALO was elected president in 2019, but he did not take office until 2020 because of a prolonged challenge to the election results.

Guyana

Originally a Dutch colony in the 17th century, by 1815 Guyana had become a British possession. The abolition of slavery led to former slaves settling urban areas and indentured servants being imported from India to work the sugar plantations. The resulting ethnocultural divide has persisted and has led to turbulent politics. Guyana achieved independence from the UK in 1966, and since then primarily socialist-oriented governments have ruled the country.

In 1992, Cheddi JAGAN was elected president in what is considered the country's first free and fair election since independence. After his death five years later, his wife, Janet JAGAN, became president but resigned in 1999 due to poor health. Her successor, Bharrat JAGDEO, was elected in 2001 and again in 2006. Donald RAMOTAR won in 2011, but early elections held in 2015 resulted in the first change in governing party, and David GRANGER took office. After a 2018 no-confidence vote against the GRANGER government, the administration ignored a constitutional requirement to hold elections and remained in place until the 2020 elections, when Irfaan ALI became president.

The discovery of massive offshore oil reserves in 2015 has been Guyana's primary economic and political focus, with many hoping the reserves will transform one of the poorest countries in the region. Guyana is the only English-speaking country in South America and shares cultural and historical bonds with the Anglophone Caribbean.

Haiti

The native Taino -- who inhabited the island of Hispaniola when Christopher COLUMBUS first landed in 1492 -- were virtually wiped out by Spanish settlers within 25 years. In the early 17th century, the French established a presence on Hispaniola. In 1697, Spain ceded to the French the western third of the island, which later became Haiti. The French colony, based on forestry and sugar-related industries, became one of the wealthiest in the Caribbean but relied heavily on the forced labor of enslaved Africans and environmentally degrading practices. In the late 18th century, Toussaint L'OUVERTURE led a revolution of Haiti's nearly half a million slaves that ended France's rule on the island. After a prolonged struggle, and under the leadership of Jean-Jacques DESSALINES, Haiti became the first country in the world led by former slaves after declaring its independence in 1804, but it was forced to pay an indemnity of 100 million francs (equivalent to $22 billion USD in March 2023) to France for more than a century and was shunned by other countries for nearly 40 years. In 1862, the US officially recognized Haiti, but foreign economic influence and internal political instability induced the US to occupy Haiti from 1915 to 1934.

Francois "Papa Doc" DUVALIER and then his son Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" DUVALIER led repressive and corrupt regimes that ruled Haiti in 1957-1971 and 1971-1986, respectively. Jean-Bertrand ARISTIDE was Haiti's first democratically elected president in 1991 and was elected a second time in 2000, but coups interrupted his first term after only a few months and ended his second term in 2004. President Jovenel MOÏSE was assassinated in 2021, leading the country further into an extra-constitutional governance structure and contributing to the country’s growing fragility. The Government of Haiti then installed Ariel HENRY -- whom President MOÏSE had nominated shortly before his death -- as prime minister.

On 29 February 2024, a significant escalation of gang violence occurred on the 20th anniversary of ARISTIDE's second overthrow, after the announcement that HENRY would not hold elections until August 2025. HENRY’s return from an overseas trip was diverted to Puerto Rico when the airport closed due to gang violence. With control of much of the capital, Port-au-Prince, gang leaders called for the ouster of HENRY’S government. By mid-March, Haiti’s continued violence, HENRY’S inability to return to the country, and increasing pressure from the international community led HENRY to pledge to resign. On 25 April 2024, HENRY formally submitted his resignation as a nine-member Transitional Presidential Council assumed control, tasked with returning stability to the country and preparing elections. Since January 2023, Haiti has had no sitting elected officials.

The country has long been plagued by natural disasters. In 2010, a major 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti with an epicenter about 25 km (15 mi) west of the capital, Port-au-Prince. An estimated 300,000 people were killed, and some 1.5 million left homeless. The earthquake was assessed as the worst in this region in 200 years. A 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit Haiti’s southern peninsula in 2021, causing well over 2,000 deaths; an estimated 500,000 required emergency humanitarian aid. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, as well as one of the most unequal in wealth distribution.

Heard Island and McDonald Islands

American sailor John HEARD discovered Heard Island in 1853 while fellow American William MCDONALD discovered the McDonald Islands the following year. Starting in 1855, sealers lived on the islands and harvested elephant seal oil; by the time the practice was ended in 1877, most of the islands’ seals were killed. The UK formally claimed the islands in 1910, and Australian explorer Douglas MAWSON visited Heard Island in 1929. In 1947, the UK transferred the islands to Australia for its Antarctica research, but Australia closed the research station on Heard Island in 1954 when it opened a new research station on the Antarctic continent. McDonald Island has been an active volcano since it emerged from dormancy in 1992, and the island doubled in size after an eruption in 1996. In 1997, the islands were named a UNESCO World Heritage site. Populated by a large number of bird species, seals, and penguins, the islands are primarily used for research, with limited fishing permitted in the surrounding waters.

 

Holy See (Vatican City)

Popes in their secular role ruled portions of the Italian peninsula for more than a thousand years until the mid-19th century, when the newly established Kingdom of Italy seized many of the Papal States. In 1870, the pope's holdings were further circumscribed when Rome itself was annexed. Disputes between Italy and a series of "prisoner" popes were resolved in 1929 by three Lateran Treaties, which established the independent state of Vatican City and granted Roman Catholicism special status in Italy. In 1984, a concordat between the Holy See and Italy modified some of the earlier treaty provisions, including the primacy of Roman Catholicism as the Italian state religion.

Present concerns of the Holy See include religious freedom, threats against minority Christian communities in Africa and the Middle East, the plight of refugees and migrants, climate change and the environment, conflict and war, nuclear weapons, artificial intelligence, sexual misconduct by clergy, humanitarian issues, interreligious dialogue and reconciliation, and the application of church doctrine in an era of rapid change and globalization. About 1.3 billion people worldwide profess Catholicism, the world's largest Christian faith.

Honduras

Once part of Spain's vast empire in the New World, Honduras became an independent nation in 1821. After two and a half decades of mostly military rule, a freely elected civilian government came to power in 1982. During the 1980s, Honduras proved a haven for anti-Sandinista contras fighting the Marxist Nicaraguan Government and an ally to Salvadoran Government forces fighting leftist guerrillas. Hurricane Mitch devastated the country in 1998, killing about 5,600 people and causing approximately $2 billion in damage. Since then, the economy has slowly rebounded, despite COVID-19 and severe storm-related setbacks in 2020 and 2021.

Hong Kong

The UK seized Hong Kong in 1841, and China formally ceded it the following year at the end of the First Opium War. The Kowloon Peninsula was added in 1860 at the end of the Second Opium War, and the UK obtained a 99-year lease of the New Territories in 1898. Pursuant to a UK-China agreement in 1984, Hong Kong became the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) of the People's Republic of China as of 1 July 1997. In this agreement, China promised that, under its "one country, two systems" formula, China's socialist economic and strict political system would not be imposed on Hong Kong and that Hong Kong would enjoy a "high degree of autonomy" in all matters except foreign and defense affairs for the next 50 years.

Since the handover, Hong Kong has continued to enjoy success as an international financial center. However, dissatisfaction with the Hong Kong Government and growing Chinese political influence have been central issues and have led to considerable civil unrest, including large-scale pro-democracy demonstrations in 2019 after the HKSAR attempted to revise a local ordinance to allow extraditions to mainland China. In response to the protests, the governments of the HKSAR and China reduced the city's autonomy and placed new restrictions on the rights of Hong Kong residents, moves that were widely criticized as contravening obligations under the Hong Kong Basic Law and the Sino-British Joint Declaration. Democratic lawmakers and political figures were arrested in a widespread crackdown, while others fled abroad. At the same time, dozens of civil society groups and several independent media outlets were closed or disbanded. In 2021, Beijing imposed a more restrictive electoral system, restructuring the Legislative Council (LegCo) and allowing only government-approved candidates to run for office. The changes ensured that virtually all seats in the 2021 LegCo election went to pro-establishment candidates and effectively ended political opposition to Beijing. In 2024, the LegCo passed a new national security law (Article 23 of the Basic Law) further expanding the Hong Kong Government's power to curb dissent.

Hungary

Hungary became a Christian kingdom in A.D. 1000 and for many centuries served as a bulwark against Ottoman Turkish expansion in Europe. The kingdom eventually became part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which collapsed during World War I. The country fell under communist rule after World War II. In 1956, Moscow responded to a Hungarian revolt and announcement of its withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact with a massive military intervention. Under the leadership of Janos KADAR in 1968, Hungary began liberalizing its economy, introducing so-called "Goulash Communism." Hungary held its first multiparty elections in 1990 and initiated a free market economy. It joined NATO in 1999 and the EU five years later.

Iceland

Settled by Norwegian and Celtic (Scottish and Irish) immigrants during the late 9th and 10th centuries A.D., Iceland boasts the world's oldest functioning legislative assembly, the Althingi, which was established in 930. Independent for over 300 years, Iceland was subsequently ruled by Norway and Denmark. Fallout from the Askja volcano of 1875 devastated the Icelandic economy and caused widespread famine. Over the next quarter-century, 20% of the island's population emigrated, mostly to Canada and the US. Denmark granted limited home rule in 1874 and complete independence in 1944. The second half of the 20th century saw substantial economic growth driven primarily by the fishing industry. The economy diversified greatly after the country joined the European Economic Area in 1994, but the global financial crisis hit Iceland especially hard in the years after 2008. The economy is now on an upward trajectory, primarily thanks to a tourism and construction boom. Literacy, longevity, and social cohesion are first-rate by world standards.

India

The Indus Valley civilization, one of the world's oldest, flourished during the 3rd and 2nd millennia B.C. and extended into northwestern India. Aryan tribes from the northwest infiltrated the Indian subcontinent about 1500 B.C.; their merger with the earlier Dravidian inhabitants created the classical Indian culture. The Maurya Empire of the 4th and 3rd centuries B.C. -- which reached its zenith under ASHOKA -- united much of South Asia. The Gupta dynasty (4th to 6th centuries A.D.) ushered in The Golden Age, which saw a flowering of Indian science, art, and culture. Islam spread across the subcontinent over a period of 700 years. In the 10th and 11th centuries, Turks and Afghans invaded India and established the Delhi Sultanate. In the early 16th century, the Emperor BABUR established the Mughal Dynasty, which ruled large sections of India for more than three centuries. European explorers began establishing footholds in India during the 16th century.

By the 19th century, Great Britain had become the dominant political power on the subcontinent, and India was seen as the "Jewel in the Crown" of the British Empire. The British Indian Army played a vital role in both World Wars. Years of nonviolent resistance to British rule, led by Mohandas GANDHI and Jawaharlal NEHRU, eventually resulted in Indian independence in 1947. Large-scale communal violence took place before and after the subcontinent partition into two separate states -- India and Pakistan. The neighboring countries have fought three wars since independence, the last of which was in 1971 and resulted in East Pakistan becoming the separate nation of Bangladesh. India's nuclear weapons tests in 1998 emboldened Pakistan to conduct its own tests that same year. In 2008, terrorists originating from Pakistan conducted a series of coordinated attacks in Mumbai, India's financial capital. India's economic growth after economic reforms in 1991, a massive youth population, and a strategic geographic location have contributed to the country's emergence as a regional and global power. However, India still faces pressing problems such as extensive poverty, widespread corruption, and environmental degradation, and its restrictive business climate challenges economic growth expectations.

Indian Ocean

The Indian Ocean is the third largest of the world's five ocean basins (after the Pacific Ocean and Atlantic Ocean, but larger than the Southern Ocean and Arctic Ocean). Four critically important access waterways are the Suez Canal (Egypt), Bab el Mandeb (Djibouti-Yemen), Strait of Hormuz (Iran-Oman), and Strait of Malacca (Indonesia-Malaysia). The International Hydrographic Organization decided in 2000 to delimit a fifth world ocean basin, the Southern Ocean, which removed the portion of the Indian Ocean south of 60 degrees south latitude.

Indonesia

The archipelago was once largely under the control of Buddhist and Hindu rulers. By around the 7th century, a Buddhist kingdom arose on Sumatra and expanded into Java and the Malay Peninsula until it was conquered in the late 13th century by the Hindu Majapahit Empire from Java. Majapahit (1290-1527) united most of modern-day Indonesia and Malaysia. Traders introduced Islam around the 11th century, and Indonesians gradually adopted Islam over the next 500 years. The Portuguese conquered parts of Indonesia in the 16th century, but the Dutch ousted them (except in East Timor) and began colonizing the islands in the early 17th century. It would be the early 20th century before Dutch colonial rule was established across the entirety of what would become the boundaries of the modern Indonesian state.

Japan occupied the islands from 1942 to 1945. Indonesia declared its independence shortly before Japan's surrender, but it required four years of sometimes brutal fighting, intermittent negotiations, and UN mediation before the Netherlands agreed to transfer sovereignty in 1949. A period of sometimes unruly parliamentary democracy ended in 1957 when President SOEKARNO declared martial law and instituted "Guided Democracy." After an abortive coup in 1965 by alleged communist sympathizers, SOEKARNO was gradually eased from power. From 1967 until 1998, President SUHARTO ruled Indonesia with his "New Order" government. After street protests toppled SUHARTO in 1998, free and fair legislative elections took place in 1999 while the country's first direct presidential election occurred in 2004. After street protests toppled SUHARTO in 1998, free and fair legislative elections took place in 1999 while the country's first direct presidential election occurred in 2004. Indonesia has since become a robust democracy, holding four direct presidential elections, each considered by international observers to have been largely free and fair. 

Indonesia is now the world's third-most-populous  democracy and the world's largest Muslim-majority nation. It has had strong economic growth since overcoming the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s. By the 2020s, it had the largest economy in Southeast Asia, and its economy ranked in the world's top 10 in terms of purchasing power parity. It has also made considerable gains in reducing poverty. Although relations amongst its diverse population--there are more than 300 ethnic groups--have been harmonious in the 2000s, there have been areas of sectarian discontent and violence, as well as instances of religious extremism and terrorism. A political settlement to an armed separatist conflict in Aceh was achieved in 2005, but a separatist group in Papua continued to conduct a low-intensity conflict as of 2024.

Iran

Known as Persia until 1935, Iran became an Islamic republic in 1979 after the ruling monarchy was overthrown and Shah Mohammad Reza PAHLAVI was forced into exile. Conservative clerical forces led by Ayatollah Ruhollah KHOMEINI established a theocratic system of government with ultimate political authority vested in a religious scholar known as the Supreme Leader, who is accountable only to the Assembly of Experts -- an elected 88-member body of clerics. US-Iran relations became strained when Iranian students seized the US Embassy in Tehran in November 1979 and held embassy personnel hostage until mid-January 1981. The US cut off diplomatic relations with Iran in April 1980. From 1980 to 1988, Iran fought a bloody, indecisive war with Iraq that eventually expanded into the Persian Gulf and led to clashes between US Navy and Iranian military forces. Iran has been designated a state sponsor of terrorism since 1984.

After the election of reformer Hojjat ol-Eslam Mohammad KHATAMI as president in 1997 and a reformist Majles (legislature) in 2000, a political reform campaign in response to popular dissatisfaction was initiated, but conservative politicians blocked reform measures while increasing repression. Municipal and legislative elections in 2003 and 2004 saw conservatives reestablish control over Iran's elected government institutions, culminating in the 2005 inauguration of hardliner Mahmud AHMADI-NEJAD as president. His reelection in 2009 sparked nationwide protests over allegations of electoral fraud, and the protests persisted until 2011. In 2013, Iranians elected to the presidency centrist cleric Dr. Hasan Fereidun RUHANI, a longtime senior regime member who promised to reform society and foreign policy. In 2019, Tehran's sudden decision to increase the gasoline price sparked nationwide protests, which the regime violently suppressed. Conservatives won the majority in Majles elections in 2020, and hardline cleric Ebrahim RAISI was elected president in 2021, resulting in a conservative monopoly across the regime's elected and unelected institutions.

Iran continues to be subject to a range of international sanctions and export controls because of its involvement in terrorism, weapons proliferation, human rights abuses, and concerns over the nature of its nuclear program. Iran received nuclear-related sanctions relief in exchange for nuclear concessions under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action's (JCPOA) Implementation Day beginning in 2016. However, the US reimposed nuclear-related sanctions on Iran after it unilaterally terminated its JCPOA participation in 2018. In October 2023, the EU and the UK also decided to maintain nuclear-proliferation-related measures on Iran, as well as arms and missile embargoes, in response to Iran's non-compliance with its JCPOA commitments.

As president, RAISI has concentrated on deepening Iran's foreign relations with anti-US states -- particularly China and Russia -- to weather US sanctions and diplomatic pressure, while supporting negotiations to restore a nuclear deal that began in 2021. RAISI contended with nationwide protests that began in September 2022 and persisted for over three months after the death of a Kurdish Iranian woman, Mahsa AMINI, in morality police custody. Young people and women led the protests, and demands focused on regime change.

Iraq

Formerly part of the Ottoman Empire, Iraq was occupied by the United Kingdom during World War I and was declared a League of Nations mandate under UK administration in 1920. Iraq attained its independence as a kingdom in 1932. It was proclaimed a republic in 1958 after a coup overthrew the monarchy, but in actuality, a series of strongmen ruled the country until 2003. The last was SADDAM Hussein, from 1979 to 2003. Territorial disputes with Iran led to an inconclusive and costly war from 1980 to 1988. In 1990, Iraq seized Kuwait but was expelled by US-led UN coalition forces during the two-month-long Gulf War of 1991. After Iraq's expulsion, the UN Security Council (UNSC) required Iraq to scrap all weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles and to allow UN verification inspections. Continued Iraqi noncompliance with UNSC resolutions led to the Second Gulf War in 2003, when US-led forces ousted the SADDAM regime.

In 2005, Iraqis approved a constitution in a national referendum and elected a 275-member Council of Representatives (COR). The COR approved most of the cabinet ministers, marking the transition to Iraq's first constitutional government in nearly a half-century. Iraq's constitution also established the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), a semi-autonomous region that administers the governorates of Erbil, Dahuk, and As Sulaymaniyah. Iraq has held four national legislative elections since 2006, most recently in 2021. The COR approved Mohammad Shia' al-SUDANI as prime minister in 2022. Iraq has repeatedly postponed elections for provincial councils -- last held in 2013 -- and since 2019, the prime minister has had the authority to appoint governors rather than provincial councils.

Between 2014 and 2017, Iraq fought a military campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS) to recapture territory the group seized in 2014. In 2017, then-Prime Minister Haydar al-ABADI publicly declared victory against ISIS, although military operations against the group continue in rural areas. Also in 2017, Baghdad forcefully seized disputed territories across central and northern Iraq from the KRG, after a non-binding Kurdish independence referendum.

Ireland

Celtic tribes arrived in Ireland between 600 and 150 B.C. Norse invasions that began in the late 8th century finally ended when King Brian BORU defeated the Danes in 1014. Norman invasions began in the 12th century and set off more than seven centuries of Anglo-Irish struggle marked by fierce rebellions and harsh repressions. The Irish famine of the mid-19th century caused an almost 25-percent decline in the island's population through starvation, disease, and emigration. The population of the island continued to fall until the 1960s, but over the last 50 years, Ireland's high birthrate has made it demographically one of the youngest populations in the EU.

The modern Irish state traces its origins to the failed 1916 Easter Monday Uprising that galvanized nationalist sentiment. The ensuing guerrilla war led to independence from the UK in 1921 with the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty and the creation of the Irish Free State. The treaty was deeply controversial in Ireland, in part because it helped solidify the country's partition, with six of the 32 counties remaining in the UK as Northern Ireland. The split between pro-Treaty and anti-Treaty partisans led to the Irish Civil War (1922-23). The traditionally dominant political parties in Ireland, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, are de facto descendants of the opposing sides of the treaty debate. Ireland declared itself a republic in 1949 and formally left the British Dominion.

Beginning in the 1960s, deep sectarian divides between the Catholic and Protestant populations and systemic discrimination in Northern Ireland erupted into years of violence known as the Troubles. In 1998, the governments of Ireland and the UK, along with most political parties in Northern Ireland, reached the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement with the support of the US. This agreement helped end the Troubles and initiated a new phase of cooperation between the Irish and British Governments.

Ireland was neutral in World War II and continues its policy of military neutrality. Ireland joined the European Community in 1973 and the euro-zone currency union in 1999. The economic boom years of the Celtic Tiger (1995-2007) saw rapid economic growth that came to an abrupt end in 2008 with the meltdown of the Irish banking system. As a small, open economy, Ireland has excelled at courting foreign direct investment, especially from US multi-nationals, which has helped the economy recover from the financial crisis and insulated it somewhat from the economic shocks of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Isle of Man

The Isle of Man was part of the Norwegian Kingdom of the Hebrides until the 13th century, when it was ceded to Scotland. The isle came under English lordship in the 14th century before being purchased by the British Government in 1765. Current concerns include reviving the almost extinct Manx Gaelic language. The Isle of Man is a British Crown dependency, which makes it a self-governing possession of the British Crown that is not part of the UK. The UK Government, however, remains constitutionally responsible for its defense and international representation.

Israel

Israel has become a regional economic and military powerhouse, leveraging its prosperous high-tech sector, large defense industry, and concerns about Iran to foster partnerships around the world. The State of Israel was established in 1948. The UN General Assembly proposed in 1947 partitioning the British Mandate for Palestine into an Arab and Jewish state. The Jews accepted the proposal, but the local Arabs and the Arab states rejected the UN plan and launched a war. The Arabs were subsequently defeated in the 1947-1949 war that followed the UN proposal and the British withdrawal. Israel joined the UN in 1949 and saw rapid population growth, primarily due to Jewish refugee migration from Europe and the Middle East. Israel and its Arab neighbors fought wars in 1956, 1967, and 1973, and Israel signed peace treaties with Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994. Israel took control of the West Bank, the eastern part of Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula, and the Golan Heights in the course of the 1967 war. It ceded the Sinai back to Egypt in the 1979-1982 period but has continued to administer the other territories through military authorities. Israel and Palestinian officials signed interim agreements in the 1990s that created a period of Palestinian self-rule in parts of the West Bank and Gaza. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005. The most recent formal efforts between Israel and the Palestinian Authority to negotiate final status issues occurred in 2013 and 2014, and the US continues its efforts to advance peace. Israel signed the US-brokered normalization agreements (the Abraham Accords) with Bahrain, the UAE, and Morocco in 2020 and reached an agreement with Sudan in 2021. Immigration to Israel continues, with more than 44,000 estimated new immigrants, mostly Jewish, in the first 11 months of 2023.

Former Prime Minister Benjamin NETANYAHU returned to office in 2022, continuing his dominance of Israel's political landscape at the head of Israel's most rightwing and religious government. NETANYAHU previously served as premier from 1996 to 1999 and from 2009 to 2021, becoming Israel's longest serving prime minister.

On 7 October 2023, HAMAS militants launched a combined unguided rocket and ground terrorist attack from Gaza into southern Israel. The same day Israel’s Air Force launched air strikes inside Gaza and initiated a sustained air campaign against HAMAS targets across the Gaza Strip. The following day, NETANYAHU formally declared war on HAMAS, and on 28 October, the Israel Defense Forces launched a large-scale ground assault inside Gaza.

The Israeli economy has undergone a dramatic transformation in the last 30 years, led by cutting-edge high-tech sectors. Offshore gas discoveries in the Mediterranean place Israel at the center of a potential regional natural gas market. In 2022, a US-brokered agreement between Israel and Lebanon established their maritime boundary, allowing Israel to begin production on additional gas fields in the Mediterranean. However, Israel's economic development has been uneven. Structural issues such as low labor-force participation among religious and minority populations, low workforce productivity, high costs for housing and consumer staples, and high income inequality concern both economists and the general population. The current war with Hamas disrupted Israel’s solid economic fundamentals, but it is not likely to have long-term structural implications for the economy. 

Italy

Italy became a nation-state in 1861 when the regional states of the peninsula, along with Sardinia and Sicily, were united under King Victor EMMANUEL II. An era of parliamentary government came to a close in the early 1920s when Benito MUSSOLINI established a Fascist dictatorship. His alliance with Nazi Germany led to Italy's defeat in World War II. A democratic republic replaced the monarchy in 1946, and economic revival followed. Italy is a charter member of NATO, as well as the European Economic Community (EEC) and its successors, the EC and the EU. It has been at the forefront of European economic and political unification, joining the Economic and Monetary Union in 1999. Persistent problems include sluggish economic growth, high youth and female unemployment, organized crime, corruption, and economic disparities between southern Italy and the more prosperous north.

Jamaica

Europeans first saw Jamaica when Christopher COLUMBUS arrived in 1494, and the Spanish settled the island early in the 16th century. The Native Taino, who had inhabited Jamaica for centuries, were gradually exterminated and replaced with African slaves. England seized the island in 1655 and established a plantation economy based on sugar, cocoa, and coffee. The abolition of slavery in 1834 freed a quarter-million slaves, many of whom became small farmers. Jamaica gradually increased its independence from Britain. In 1958, it joined other British Caribbean colonies in forming the Federation of the West Indies. Jamaica withdrew from the Federation in 1961 and gained full independence in 1962. Deteriorating economic conditions during the 1970s led to recurring violence as rival gangs affiliated with the major political parties evolved into powerful organized crime networks involved in international drug smuggling and money laundering. Violent crime, drug trafficking, corruption, and poverty pose significant challenges to the government today. Nonetheless, many rural and resort areas remain relatively safe and contribute substantially to the economy.

Jan Mayen

This desolate, mountainous island in the Arctic Ocean was named after a Dutch whaling captain who indisputably discovered it in 1614 (earlier claims are inconclusive). Visited only occasionally by seal hunters and trappers over the centuries, the island came under Norwegian sovereignty in 1929. The long dormant Beerenberg volcano, the northernmost active volcano on earth, resumed activity in 1970, and the most recent eruption occurred in 1985.

Japan

In 1603, after decades of civil warfare, the Tokugawa shogunate (a military-led, dynastic government) ushered in a long period of relative political stability and isolation from foreign influence. For more than two centuries, this policy enabled Japan to enjoy a flowering of its indigenous culture. Japan opened its ports after signing the Treaty of Kanagawa with the US in 1854 and began to intensively modernize and industrialize. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Japan became a regional power that was able to defeat the forces of both China and Russia. It occupied Korea, Formosa (Taiwan), and southern Sakhalin Island. In 1931-32, Japan occupied Manchuria, and in 1937, it launched a full-scale invasion of China. Japan attacked US forces at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in 1941, triggering America's entry into World War II, and Japan soon occupied much of East and Southeast Asia. After its defeat in World War II, the country recovered to become an economic power and a US ally.

While the emperor retains his throne as a symbol of national unity, elected politicians hold the decision-making power. After three decades of unprecedented growth, Japan's economy experienced a major slowdown starting in the 1990s, but the country remains an economic power. In 2011, Japan's strongest-ever earthquake and an accompanying tsunami devastated the northeast part of Honshu, killed thousands, and damaged several nuclear power plants. ABE Shinzo was reelected as prime minister in 2012, and he embarked on ambitious economic and security reforms to improve Japan's economy and bolster the country's international standing. In 2019, ABE became Japan's longest-serving post-war prime minister; he resigned in 2020 and was succeeded by SUGA Yoshihide. KISHIDA Fumio became prime minister in 2021.

Jersey

Jersey and the other Channel Islands represent the last remnants of the medieval Duchy of Normandy that held sway in both France and England. These islands were the only British soil that Germany occupied in World War II. The Bailiwick of Jersey is a British Crown dependency, which means that it is not part of the UK but is rather a self-governing possession of the British Crown. However, the UK Government is constitutionally responsible for its defense and international representation.

Jordan

After World War I and the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, the League of Nations awarded Britain the mandate to govern much of the Middle East. In 1921, Britain demarcated from Palestine a semi-autonomous region of Transjordan and recognized ABDALLAH I from the Hashemite family as the country's first leader. The Hashemites also controlled the Hijaz, or the western coastal area of modern-day Saudi Arabia, until 1925, when IBN SAUD and Wahhabi tribes pushed them out. The country gained its independence in 1946 and thereafter became the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

The country has had four kings. Long-time ruler King HUSSEIN (r. 1953-99) successfully navigated competing pressures from the major powers (US, UK, and Soviet Union), various Arab states, Israel, and Palestinian militants, the latter of which led to a brief civil war in 1970 that is known as "Black September" and ended in King HUSSEIN ousting the militants.

Jordan's borders have changed since it gained independence. In 1948, Jordan took control of the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the first Arab-Israeli War, eventually annexing those territories in 1950 and granting its new Palestinian residents Jordanian citizenship. In 1967, Jordan lost the West Bank and East Jerusalem to Israel in the Six-Day War but retained administrative claims to the West Bank until 1988, when King HUSSEIN permanently relinquished Jordanian claims to the West Bank in favor of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). King HUSSEIN signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994, after Israel and the PLO signed the Oslo Accords in 1993.

Jordanian kings continue to claim custodianship of the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem by virtue of their Hashemite heritage as descendants of the Prophet Mohammad and agreements with Israel and Jerusalem-based religious and Palestinian leaders. After Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 War, it authorized the Jordanian-controlled Islamic Trust, or Waqf, to continue administering the Al Haram ash Sharif/Temple Mount holy compound, and the Jordan-Israel peace treaty reaffirmed Jordan's "special role" in administering the Muslim holy shrines in Jerusalem. Jordanian kings claim custodianship of the Christian sites in Jerusalem on the basis of the 7th-century Pact of Omar, when the Muslim leader, after conquering Jerusalem, agreed to permit Christian worship.

King HUSSEIN died in 1999 and was succeeded by his eldest son and current King ABDALLAH II. In 2009, ABDALLAH II designated his son HUSSEIN as the Crown Prince. During his reign, ABDALLAH II has contended with a series of challenges, including the Arab Spring influx of refugees from neighboring states, the COVID-19 pandemic, the effects of the war in Ukraine, a perennially weak economy, and the Israel-HAMAS conflict that began in October 2023.

Kazakhstan

Ethnic Kazakhs derive from a mix of Turkic nomadic tribes that migrated to the region in the 15th century. The Russian Empire conquered the Kazakh steppe in the 18th and 19th centuries, and Kazakhstan became a Soviet Republic in 1925. Forced agricultural collectivization led to repression and starvation, resulting in more than a million deaths in the early 1930s. During the 1950s and 1960s, the agricultural "Virgin Lands" program generated an influx of settlers -- mostly ethnic Russians, but also other nationalities -- and by the time of Kazakhstan’s independence in 1991, ethnic Kazakhs were a minority. However, non-Muslim ethnic minorities departed Kazakhstan in large numbers from the mid-1990s through the mid-2000s, and a national program has repatriated about a million ethnic Kazakhs (from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Mongolia, and the Xinjiang region of China) to Kazakhstan. As a result of this shift, the ethnic Kazakh share of the population now exceeds two-thirds.

Kazakhstan's economy is the largest in Central Asia, mainly due to the country's vast natural resources. Current issues include diversifying the economy, attracting foreign direct investment, enhancing Kazakhstan's economic competitiveness, and strengthening economic relations with neighboring states and foreign powers.

 

Kenya

Trade centers such as Mombasa have existed along the Kenyan and Tanzanian coastlines, known as the Land of Zanj, since at least the 2nd century. These centers traded with the outside world, including China, India, Indonesia, the Middle East, North Africa, and Persia. By around the 9th century, the mix of Africans, Arabs, and Persians who lived and traded there became known as Swahili ("people of the coast") with a distinct language (KiSwahili) and culture. The Portuguese arrived in the 1490s and, using Mombasa as a base, sought to monopolize trade in the Indian Ocean. The Portuguese were pushed out in the late 1600s by the combined forces of Oman and Pate, an island off the coast. In 1890, Germany and the UK divided up the region, with the UK taking the north and the Germans the south, including present-day Tanzania, Burundi, and Rwanda. In 1895, the British established the East Africa Protectorate, which in 1920 was converted into a colony, and named Kenya after its highest mountain. Numerous political disputes between the colony and the UK led to the violent Mau Mau Uprising, which began in 1952, and the eventual declaration of independence in 1963.

Jomo KENYATTA, the founding president and an icon of the liberation struggle, led Kenya from independence in 1963 until his death in 1978, when Vice President Daniel Arap MOI took power in a constitutional succession. The country was a de facto one-party state from 1969 until 1982, after which time the ruling Kenya African National Union (KANU) changed the constitution to make itself the sole legal political party. MOI gave in to internal and external pressure for political liberalization in 1991, but the ethnically fractured opposition failed to dislodge KANU from power in elections in 1992 and 1997, which were marred by violence and fraud. MOI stepped down in 2002 after fair and peaceful elections. Mwai KIBAKI, running as the candidate of the multiethnic, united opposition group, the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC), defeated KANU candidate Uhuru KENYATTA, the son of the founding president, and assumed the presidency following a campaign centered on an anticorruption platform. 

Opposition candidate Raila ODINGA challenged KIBAKI's reelection in 2007 on the grounds of widespread vote rigging, leading to two months of ethnic violence that caused more than 1,100 deaths and displaced hundreds of thousands. African Union-sponsored mediation resulted in a power-sharing accord that brought ODINGA into the government as prime minister and outlined a reform agenda. In 2010, Kenyans overwhelmingly voted to adopt a new constitution that eliminated the prime minister, introduced additional checks and balances to executive power, and devolved power and resources to 47 newly created counties. Uhuru KENYATTA won the first presidential election under the new constitution in 2013. He won a second and final term in office in 2017 after a contentious repeat election. In 2022, William RUTO won a close presidential election; he assumed the office the following month after the Kenyan Supreme Court upheld the victory.

Kiribati

Kiribati is made up of three distinct island groups -- the Gilbert Islands, the Line Islands, and the Phoenix Islands. The first Austronesian voyagers arrived in the Gilbert Islands as early as 3000 B.C., but these islands were not widely settled until about A.D. 200 by Micronesians. Around 1300, Samoans and Tongans invaded the southern Gilbert Islands, then known as Tungaru, bringing Polynesian cultural elements with them. Later arrivals of Fijians brought Melanesian elements to the Gilbert Islands, and extensive intermarriage between the Micronesian, Polynesian, and Melanesian people led to the creation of what would become Gilbertese cultural traditions by the time Europeans spotted the islands in the 1600s. The Phoenix Islands and Line Islands were both visited by various Melanesian and Polynesian peoples, but their isolation and lack of natural resources meant that long-term settlements were not possible. Both island groups were uninhabited by the time of European contact.
 
Kiribati experienced sustained European contact by the 1760s; all three island groups were named and charted by 1826. American whaling ships frequently passed through the islands, and the UK declared a protectorate over the Gilbert and nearby Ellice Islands in 1892, in an attempt to block growing US influence. Phosphate-rich Banaba Island was annexed to the protectorate in 1900. In 1916, the protectorate became a colony, and some Line Islands were added in 1916 and 1919, with the final ones added in 1972. The Phoenix Islands were added to the colony in 1937, and the UK agreed to share jurisdiction of some with the US because of their strategic location for aviation. During World War II, the islands were occupied by Japanese forces but were ejected by US amphibious assaults. The Ellice Islands became its own colony in 1974 and was renamed Tuvalu for “eight standing together” in 1975. The Gilbert Islands became fully self-governing in 1977 and independent in 1979 under the new name of Kiribati, the Gilbertese spelling of Gilberts. The US relinquished all claims to the sparsely inhabited Phoenix and Line Islands in a 1979 treaty of friendship.

In 2012, Kiribati purchased a 22 sq km (8.5 sq mi) plot of land in Fiji for potential eventual resettlement of its population because of climate change, and in 2014 Fijian Prime Minister Voreqe BAINIMARAMA said residents of Kiribati would be welcome to relocate to Fiji if their country is swamped by rising sea levels. 

Korea, North

The first recorded kingdom (Choson) on the Korean Peninsula dates from approximately 2300 B.C. Over the subsequent centuries, three main kingdoms -- Kogoryo, Paekche, and Silla -- were established on the Peninsula. By the 5th century A.D., Kogoryo emerged as the most powerful, with control over much of the Peninsula and part of Manchuria (modern-day northeast China). However, Silla allied with the Chinese to create the first unified Korean state in 688. Following the collapse of Silla in the 9th century, Korea was unified under the Koryo (Goryeo; 918-1392) and the Chosen (Joseon; 1392-1910) dynasties. Korea became the object of intense imperialistic rivalry among the Chinese (its traditional benefactor), Japanese, and Russian empires in the latter half of the 19th and early 20th centuries. After the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05), Korea was occupied by Imperial Japan. In 1910, Japan formally annexed the entire peninsula. After World War II, the northern half came under Soviet-sponsored communist control.

In 1948, North Korea (formally known as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea or DPRK) was founded under President KIM Il Sung, who consolidated power and cemented autocratic one-party rule under the Korean Worker's Party (KWP). North Korea failed to conquer UN-backed South Korea (formally the Republic of Korea or ROK) during the Korean War (1950-53), after which a demilitarized zone separated the two Koreas. KIM's authoritarian rule included tight control over North Korean citizens and the demonization of the US as the central threat to North Korea's political and social system. In addition, he molded the country's economic, military, and political policies around the core objective of unifying Korea under Pyongyang's control. North Korea also declared a central ideology of juche ("self-reliance") as a check against outside influence, while continuing to rely heavily on China and the Soviet Union for economic support. KIM Il Sung's son, KIM Jong Il, was officially designated as his father's successor in 1980, and he assumed a growing political and managerial role until the elder KIM's death in 1994. Under KIM Jong Il's reign, North Korea continued developing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. KIM Jong Un was publicly unveiled as his father's successor in 2010. Following KIM Jong Il's death in 2011, KIM Jong Un quickly assumed power and has since occupied the regime's highest political and military posts. 

After the end of Soviet aid in 1991, North Korea faced serious economic setbacks that exacerbated decades of economic mismanagement and resource misallocation. Since the mid-1990s, North Korea has faced chronic food shortages and economic stagnation. In recent years, the North's domestic agricultural production has improved but still falls far short of producing sufficient food for its population. Starting in 2002, North Korea began to tolerate semi-private markets but has made few other efforts to meet its goal of improving the overall standard of living. New economic development plans in the 2010s failed to meet government-mandated goals for key industrial sectors, food production, or overall economic performance. At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, North Korea instituted a nationwide lockdown that severely restricted its economy and international engagement. Since then, KIM has repeatedly expressed concerns with the regime's economic failures and food problems, but in 2021, he vowed to continue "self-reliant" policies and has reinvigorated his pursuit of greater regime control of the economy.

As of 2024, despite slowly renewing cross-border trade with China, North Korea remained one of the world's most isolated countries and one of Asia's poorest. In 2024, Pyongyang announced it was ending all economic cooperation with South Korea. The move followed earlier proclamations that it was scrapping a 2018 military pact with South Korea to de-escalate tensions along their militarized border, abandoning the country’s decades-long pursuit of peaceful unification with South Korea, and designating the South as North Korea’s “principal enemy.” 

Korea, South

The first recorded kingdom (Choson) on the Korean Peninsula dates from approximately 2300 B.C. Over the subsequent centuries, three main kingdoms -- Kogoryo, Paekche, and Silla -- were established on the Peninsula. By the 5th century A.D., Kogoryo emerged as the most powerful, with control over much of the Peninsula and part of Manchuria (modern-day northeast China). However, Silla allied with the Chinese to create the first unified Korean state in 688. Following the collapse of Silla in the 9th century, Korea was unified under the Koryo (Goryeo; 918-1392) and the Chosen (Joseon; 1392-1910) dynasties.

Korea became the object of intense imperialistic rivalry among the Chinese (its traditional benefactor), Japanese, and Russian empires in the latter half of the 19th and early 20th centuries. After the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), Korea was occupied by Imperial Japan. In 1910, Japan formally annexed the entire Peninsula. Korea regained its independence after Japan's surrender to the US and its allies in 1945. A US-supported democratic government (Republic of Korea, ROK) was set up in the southern half of the Korean Peninsula, while a communist-style government backed by the Soviet Union was installed in the north (North Korea; aka Democratic People's Republic of Korea, DPRK). During the Korean War (1950-53), US troops and UN forces fought alongside ROK soldiers to defend South Korea from a North Korean invasion supported by communist China and the Soviet Union. After the 1953 armistice, the two Koreas were separated by a demilitarized zone.

Syngman RHEE led the country as its first president from 1948 to 1960. PARK Chung-hee took over leadership of the country in a 1961 coup. During his controversial rule (1961-79), South Korea achieved rapid economic growth, with per capita income rising to roughly 17 times the level of North Korea by 1979. PARK was assassinated in 1979, and subsequent years were marked by political turmoil and continued military rule as the country's pro-democracy movement grew. South Korea held its first free presidential election under a revised democratic constitution in 1987, with former South Korean Army general ROH Tae-woo winning a close race. In 1993, KIM Young-sam became the first civilian president of South Korea's new democratic era. President KIM Dae-jung (1998-2003) won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for his contributions to South Korean democracy and his "Sunshine Policy" of engagement with North Korea. President PARK Geun-hye, daughter of former South Korean President PARK Chung-hee, took office in 2013 as South Korea's first female leader. In 2016, the National Assembly passed an impeachment motion against PARK over her alleged involvement in a corruption and influence-peddling scandal, triggering an early presidential election in 2017 won by MOON Jae-in. In 2022, longtime prosecutor and political newcomer YOON Suk Yeol won the presidency by the slimmest margin in South Korean history.

Discord and tensions with North Korea, punctuated by North Korean military provocations, missile launches, and nuclear tests, have permeated inter-Korean relations for years. Relations remained strained, despite a period of respite in 2018-2019 ushered in by North Korea's participation in the 2018 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in South Korea and high-level diplomatic meetings, including historic US-North Korea summits. In 2024, Pyongyang announced it was ending all economic cooperation with South Korea, a move that followed earlier proclamations that it was scrapping a 2018 military pact to de-escalate tensions along their militarized border, abandoning the country’s decades-long pursuit of peaceful unification with South Korea, and designating the South as North Korea’s “principal enemy.”

Kosovo

The Ottoman Empire took control of Kosovo in 1389 after defeating Serbian forces. Large numbers of Turks and Albanians moved to the region, and by the end of the 19th century, Albanians had replaced Serbs as the majority ethnic group in Kosovo. Serbia reacquired control of Kosovo during the First Balkan War of 1912, and after World War II, Kosovo became an autonomous province of Serbia in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY). Increasing Albanian nationalism in the 1980s led to riots and calls for Kosovo's independence, but in 1989, Belgrade -- which has in turn served as the capital of Serbia and Yugoslavia -- revoked Kosovo's autonomous status. When the SFRY broke up in 1991, Kosovo Albanian leaders organized an independence referendum, and Belgrade's repressive response led to an insurgency. Kosovo remained part of Serbia, which joined with Montenegro to declare a new Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) in 1992.

In 1998, Belgrade launched a brutal counterinsurgency campaign, with some 800,000 ethnic Albanians expelled from their homes in Kosovo. After international mediation failed, a NATO military operation began in March 1999 and forced Belgrade to withdraw its forces from Kosovo. UN Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999) placed Kosovo under the temporary control of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). Negotiations in 2006-07 ended without agreement between Serbia and Kosovo, though the UN issued a comprehensive report that endorsed independence. On 17 February 2008, the Kosovo Assembly declared Kosovo independent. 

Serbia continues to reject Kosovo's independence, but the two countries began EU-facilitated discussions in 2013 to normalize relations, which resulted in several agreements. Additional agreements were reached in 2015 and 2023, but implementation remains incomplete. In 2022, Kosovo formally applied for membership in the EU, which is contingent on fulfillment of accession criteria, and the Council of Europe. Kosovo is also seeking UN and NATO memberships.

Kuwait

Kuwait has been ruled by the AL-SABAH dynasty since the 18th century. The threat of Ottoman invasion in 1899 prompted Amir Mubarak AL-SABAH to seek protection from Britain, ceding foreign and defense responsibility to Britain until 1961, when the country attained its independence. Iraq attacked and overran Kuwait in 1990. After several weeks of aerial bombardment, a US-led UN coalition began a ground assault in 1991 that liberated Kuwait in four days. In 1992, the Amir reconstituted the parliament that he had dissolved in 1986. Amid the 2010-11 uprisings and protests across the Arab world, stateless Arabs known as Bidoon staged small protests demanding citizenship, jobs, and other benefits available to Kuwaiti nationals. Other demographic groups, notably Islamists and Kuwaitis from tribal backgrounds, soon joined the growing protest movements, which culminated with the resignation of the prime minister amid allegations of corruption. Demonstrations renewed in 2012 in response to a decree amending the electoral law that lessened the voting power of the tribal blocs.

An opposition coalition of Sunni Islamists, tribal populists, and some liberals largely boycotted legislative elections in 2012 and 2013, which ushered in a legislature more amenable to the government's agenda. Faced with the prospect of painful subsidy cuts, oppositionists and independents actively participated in the 2016 election, winning nearly half the seats, but the opposition became increasingly factionalized. Between 2006 and his death in 2020, the Amir dissolved the National Assembly on seven occasions and shuffled the cabinet over a dozen times, usually citing political stagnation and gridlock between the legislature and the government. 

The current Amir, who assumed his role in 2020, launched a "National Dialogue" in 2021 meant to resolve political gridlock. As part of this initiative, the Amir pardoned several opposition figures who had been living in exile, and they returned to Kuwait. Legislative challenges remain, and the cabinet has been reshuffled six times since 2020. 

Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan is a Central Asian country of incredible natural beauty and proud nomadic traditions. The Russian Empire annexed most of the territory of present-day Kyrgyzstan in 1876. The Kyrgyz staged a major revolt against the Tsarist Empire in 1916, during which almost one-sixth of the Kyrgyz population was killed. Kyrgyzstan became a Soviet republic in 1926 and achieved independence in 1991 when the USSR dissolved. Nationwide demonstrations in 2005 and 2010 resulted in the ouster of the country’s first two presidents, Askar AKAEV and Kurmanbek BAKIEV. Almazbek ATAMBAEV was sworn in as president in 2011. In 2017, ATAMBAEV became the first Kyrgyzstani president to serve a full term and respect constitutional term limits, voluntarily stepping down at the end of his mandate. Former prime minister and ruling Social-Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan member Sooronbay JEENBEKOV replaced him after winning the 2017 presidential election, which was the most competitive in the country’s history despite reported cases of vote buying and abuse of public resources.

In 2020, protests against parliamentary election results spread across Kyrgyzstan, leading to JEENBEKOV’s resignation and catapulting previously imprisoned Sadyr JAPAROV to acting president. In 2021, Kyrgyzstanis formally elected JAPAROV as president and approved a referendum to move Kyrgyzstan from a parliamentary to a presidential system. In 2021, Kyrgyzstanis voted in favor of constitutional changes that consolidated power in the presidency. Pro-government parties won a majority in the 2021 legislative elections. Continuing concerns for Kyrgyzstan include the trajectory of democratization, endemic corruption, tense regional relations, vulnerabilities due to climate change, border security vulnerabilities, and potential terrorist threats.

Laos

Modern-day Laos has its roots in the ancient Lao kingdom of Lan Xang, established in the 14th century under King FA NGUM. For 300 years, Lan Xang had influence reaching into present-day Cambodia and Thailand, as well as over all of what is now Laos. After centuries of gradual decline, Laos came under the domination of Siam (Thailand) from the late 18th century until the late 19th century, when it became part of French Indochina. The Franco-Siamese Treaty of 1907 defined the current Lao border with Thailand. Following more than 15 years of civil war, the communist Pathet Lao took control of the government in 1975, ending a six-century-old monarchy and instituting a one party--the Lao People's Revolutionary Party--communist state. A gradual, limited return to private enterprise and the liberalization of foreign investment laws began in the late 1980s. Laos became a member of ASEAN in 1997 and the WTO in 2013.

In the 2010s, the country benefited from direct foreign investment, particularly in the natural resource and industry sectors. Construction of a number of large hydropower dams and expanding mining activities have also boosted the economy. Laos has retained its official commitment to communism and maintains close ties with its two communist neighbors, Vietnam and China, both of which continue to exert substantial political and economic influence on the country. China, for example, provided 70% of the funding for a $5.9 billion, 400-km railway line between the Chinese border and the capital Vientiane, which opened for operations in 2021. Laos financed the remaining 30% with loans from China. At the same time, Laos has expanded its economic reliance on the West and other Asian countries, such as Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, and Thailand. Nevertheless, despite steady economic growth for more than a decade, it remains one of Asia's poorest countries.

Latvia

Several eastern Baltic tribes merged in medieval times to form the ethnic core of the Latvian people (ca. 8th-12th centuries A.D.). The region subsequently came under the control of Germans, Poles, Swedes, and finally Russians. A Latvian republic emerged following World War I, but the USSR annexed it in 1940 -- an action never recognized by the US and many other countries. Latvia reestablished its independence in 1991 after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Although the last Russian troops left in 1994, the status of the Russian minority (some 25% of the population) remains of concern to Moscow. Latvia joined both NATO and the EU in 2004; it joined the euro zone in 2014 and the OECD in 2016.

Lebanon

As a result of its location at the crossroads of three continents, the area that is modern-day Lebanon is rich in cultural and religious diversity. This region was subject to various foreign conquerors for much of its history, including the Romans, Arabs, and Ottomans. Following World War I, France acquired a mandate over the northern portion of the former Ottoman Empire province of Syria. From it the French demarcated the region of Lebanon in 1920, and it gained independence in 1943. Lebanon subsequently experienced periods of political turmoil interspersed with prosperity built on its position as a regional center for finance and trade.

The country's 1975-90 civil war, which resulted in an estimated 120,000 fatalities, was followed by years of social and political instability, and sectarianism remains a key element of Lebanese political life. The Israeli defense forces, which occupied parts of Lebanon during the civil war, did not completely withdraw until 2000. Neighboring Syria influenced Lebanon's foreign and domestic policies while its military occupied Lebanon from 1976 until 2005, but its influence diminished significantly after 2005. Over 1.5 million Syrian refugees fled to Lebanon after the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011. Hizballah -- a major Lebanese political party, militia, and US-designated foreign terrorist organization -- and Israel continued attacks and counterattacks against each other after Syria's withdrawal and fought a brief war in 2006. After HAMAS attacked Israel on 7 October 2023, the intensity and frequency of these cross-border attacks increased substantially into a cycle of hostilities, mostly limited to the border areas as of January 2024. Lebanon's borders with Syria and Israel remain unresolved.

Lebanon's prosperity has significantly diminished since the beginning of the country's economic crisis in 2019, which has crippled its economy, shut down its previously lucrative banking sector, reduced the value of its currency, and caused many Lebanese to emigrate in search of better prospects.

Lesotho

Paramount chief MOSHOESHOE I consolidated what would become Basutoland in the early 19th century and made himself king in 1822. Continuing encroachments by Dutch settlers from the neighboring Orange Free State caused the king to enter into an 1868 agreement with the UK that made Basutoland first a British protectorate and, after 1884, a crown colony. After gaining independence in 1966, the country was renamed the Kingdom of Lesotho. The Basotho National Party ruled the country during its first two decades. King MOSHOESHOE II was exiled in 1990, returned to Lesotho in 1992, was reinstated in 1995, and was then succeeded by his son, King LETSIE III, in 1996. Constitutional government was restored in 1993 after seven years of military rule.

In 1998, violent protests and a military mutiny following a contentious election prompted a brief but bloody intervention by South African and Batswana military forces under the aegis of the Southern African Development Community (SADC). Subsequent constitutional reforms restored relative political stability. Peaceful parliamentary elections were held in 2002, but the National Assembly elections in 2007 were hotly contested, and aggrieved parties disputed how seats were awarded. In 2012, competitive elections saw Prime Minister Motsoahae Thomas THABANE form a coalition government -- the first in the country's history -- that ousted the 14-year incumbent, Pakalitha MOSISILI, who peacefully transferred power the following month. MOSISILI returned to power in snap elections in 2015 after the collapse of THABANE’s coalition government and an alleged attempted military coup. In 2017, THABANE returned to become prime minister but stepped down in 2020 after being implicated in his estranged wife’s murder. He was succeeded by Moseketsi MAJORO. In 2022, Ntsokoane Samuel MATEKANE was inaugurated as prime minister and head of a three-party coalition.

Liberia

With 28 ethnic groups and languages, Liberia is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world. For hundreds of years, the Mali and Songhai Empires claimed most of Liberia. Beginning in the 15th century, European traders began establishing outposts along the Liberian coast. Unlike its neighbors, however, Liberia did not fall under European colonial rule. In the early 19th century, the US began sending freed enslaved people and other people of color to Liberia to establish settlements. In 1847, these settlers declared independence from the US, writing their own constitution and establishing Africa’s first republic.

Early in Liberia’s history, tensions arose between the Americo-Liberian settlers and the indigenous population. In 1980, Samuel DOE, who was from the indigenous population, led a military coup and ushered in a decade of authoritarian rule. In 1989, Charles TAYLOR launched a rebellion that led to a prolonged civil war in which DOE was killed. A period of relative peace in 1997 permitted an election that brought TAYLOR to power. In 2000, fighting resumed. A 2003 peace agreement ended the war and prompted TAYLOR’s resignation. He was later convicted by the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague for his involvement in Sierra Leone's civil war.

In 2005, Ellen JOHNSON SIRLEAF became president after two years of transitional governments; she was the first female head of state in Africa. In 2011, JOHNSON SIRLEAF won reelection but struggled to rebuild Liberia's economy -- particularly after the 2014-15 Ebola epidemic -- and to reconcile a nation still recovering from 14 years of fighting. In 2017, former soccer star George WEAH won the presidential runoff election, marking the first successful transfer of power from one democratically elected government to another since the end of Liberia’s civil wars. Like his predecessor, WEAH struggled to improve the country’s economy. In 2023, former Vice President Joseph BOAKAI was elected president, edging out WEAH by a thin margin, the first time since 1927 that an incumbent was not re-elected after one term. 

 

Libya

Berbers have inhabited central north Africa since ancient times, but Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Persians, Egyptians, Romans, and Vandals have all settled and ruled the region. In the 7th century, Islam spread through the area. In the mid-16th century, Ottoman rule began; the Italians supplanted the Ottoman Turks in the area around Tripoli in 1911 and held it until 1943, when they were defeated in World War II. Libya then came under UN administration and achieved independence in 1951. Col. Muammar al-QADHAFI assumed leadership with a military coup in 1969 and began to espouse a political system that combined socialism and Islam. During the 1970s, QADHAFI used oil revenues to promote his ideology outside Libya, supporting subversive and terrorist activities that included the downing of two airliners -- one over Scotland and another in Northern Africa -- and a discotheque bombing in Berlin. UN sanctions in 1992 isolated QADHAFI politically and economically; the sanctions were lifted in 2003 when Libya accepted responsibility for the bombings and agreed to claimant compensation. QADHAFI also agreed to end Libya's program to develop weapons of mass destruction, and he made significant strides in normalizing relations with Western nations.

Unrest that began in several Middle Eastern and North African countries in 2010 erupted in Libyan cities in 2011. QADHAFI's brutal crackdown on protesters spawned an eight-month civil war that saw the emergence of a National Transitional Council (NTC), UN authorization of air and naval intervention by the international community, and the toppling of the QADHAFI regime. In 2012, the NTC handed power to an elected parliament, the General National Congress (GNC), which was replaced two years later with the House of Representatives (HoR). In 2015, the UN brokered the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) among a broad array of political parties and social groups, establishing an interim executive body. However, hardliners continued to oppose and hamper the LPA implementation, leaving Libya with eastern and western-based rival governments. In 2018, the international community supported a recalibrated plan that aimed to break the political deadlock with a National Conference in 2019. These plans, however, were derailed when the eastern-based, self-described Libyan National Army (LNA) launched an offensive to seize Tripoli. The LNA offensive collapsed in 2020, and a subsequent UN-sponsored cease-fire helped formalize the pause in fighting between rival camps.

In 2021, the UN-facilitated Libyan Political Dialogue Forum selected a new prime minister for an interim government -- the Government of National Unity (GNU) -- and a new presidential council charged with preparing for elections and uniting the country’s state institutions. The HoR approved the GNU and its cabinet the same year, providing Libya with its first unified government since 2014, but the parliament then postponed the planned presidential election to an undetermined date in the future. In 2022, the HoR voted to replace GNU interim Prime Minister, Abdul Hamid DUBAYBAH, with another government led by Fathi BASHAGHA. GNU allegations of an illegitimate HoR vote allowed DUBAYBAH to remain in office and rebuff BASHAGHA's attempts to seat his government in Tripoli. In 2023, the HoR voted to replace BASHAGHA with Osma HAMAD. Special Representative of the UN Security-General for Libya, Abdoulaye BATHILY, is leading international efforts to persuade key Libyan political actors to resolve the core issues impeding elections. 

Liechtenstein

The Principality of Liechtenstein was established within the Holy Roman Empire in 1719. Occupied by both French and Russian troops during the Napoleonic Wars, it became a sovereign state in 1806 and joined the German Confederation in 1815. Liechtenstein became fully independent in 1866 when the Confederation dissolved. Until the end of World War I, it was closely tied to Austria, but the economic devastation caused by that conflict forced Liechtenstein to enter into a customs and monetary union with Switzerland. Since World War II (in which Liechtenstein remained neutral), the country's low taxes have spurred outstanding economic growth. In 2000, shortcomings in banking regulatory oversight resulted in concerns about the use of financial institutions for money laundering. However, Liechtenstein implemented anti-money laundering legislation and a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty with the US that went into effect in 2003.

Lithuania

Lithuanian lands were united under MINDAUGAS in 1236; over the next century, Lithuania extended its territory through alliances and conquest to include most of present-day Belarus and Ukraine. By the end of the 14th century, Lithuania was the largest state in Europe. An alliance with Poland in 1386 led the two countries into a union through a common ruler. In 1569, Lithuania and Poland formally united into a single dual state, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. This entity survived until 1795 when surrounding countries partitioned its remnants. Lithuania regained its independence after World War I, but the USSR annexed it in 1940 -- an action never recognized by the US and many other countries. In 1990, Lithuania became the first of the Soviet republics to declare its independence, but Moscow did not recognize this proclamation until 1991. The last Russian troops withdrew in 1993. Lithuania subsequently restructured its economy for integration into West European institutions; it joined both NATO and the EU in 2004. In 2015, Lithuania joined the euro zone, and it joined the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in 2018.

Luxembourg

Founded in 963, Luxembourg became a grand duchy in 1815 and a constituent part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands after the Congress of Vienna. When Belgium declared independence from the Netherlands in 1839, Luxembourg lost more than half of its territory to Belgium but gained a larger measure of autonomy within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.  Luxembourg gained full independence in 1867 by promising to remain permanently neutral. Overrun by Germany in both world wars, its neutrality ended in 1948 when it entered into the Benelux Customs Union and joined NATO the following year. In 1957, Luxembourg became one of the six founding countries of the EEC (later the EU), and in 1999 it joined the euro currency zone.

Macau

Colonized by the Portuguese in the 16th century, Macau was the first European settlement in the Far East. Pursuant to an agreement signed by China and Portugal in 1987, Macau became the Macau Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China in 1999. In this agreement, China promised that, under its "one country, two systems" formula, China's political and economic system would not be imposed on Macau, and that Macau would enjoy a "high degree of autonomy" in all matters except foreign affairs and defense for the next 50 years. However, after China's multi-year crackdown against the pro-democracy movement in nearby Hong Kong, the governments of China and the Macau Special Administrative Region worked to limit Macau's political autonomy by suppressing opposition activity in the 2021 legislative elections.

Madagascar

Madagascar was one of the last major habitable landmasses on earth to be settled by humans. While there is some evidence of human presence on the island in the millennia B.C., large-scale settlement began between A.D. 350 and 550 with settlers from present-day Indonesia. The island attracted Arab and Persian traders as early as the 7th century, and migrants from Africa arrived around A.D. 1000. Madagascar was a pirate stronghold during the late 17th and early 18th centuries and served as a slave trading center into the 19th century. From the 16th to the late 19th century, a native Merina Kingdom dominated much of Madagascar. The French conquered the island in 1896 and made it a colony; independence was regained in 1960.

Free presidential and National Assembly elections were held in 1992-93, ending 17 years of single-party rule. In 1997, in the second presidential race, Didier RATSIRAKA, the leader during the 1970s and 1980s, returned to the presidency. The 2001 presidential election was contested between the followers of RATSIRAKA and Marc RAVALOMANANA, nearly causing half the country to secede. In 2002, the High Constitutional Court announced RAVALOMANANA the winner. He won a second term in 2006 but, following protests in 2009, handed over power to the military, which then conferred the presidency on the mayor of Antananarivo, Andry RAJOELINA, in what amounted to a coup d'etat. After a lengthy mediation process, Madagascar held UN-supported presidential and parliamentary elections in 2013. Former de facto finance minister Hery RAJAONARIMAMPIANINA won in a runoff and was inaugurated in 2014. In 2019, RAJOELINA was declared the winner against RAVALOMANANA. In 2023, RAJOELINA won another term in an election that most of the opposition boycotted, including RAJAONARIMAMPIANINA and RAVALOMANANA, who claimed it was rigged in favor of RAJOELINA. International observers, however, saw no evidence of systemic fraud, leading the international community to accept the election results.

Malawi

Malawi shares its name with the Chewa word for flames and is linked to the Maravi people from whom the Chewa language originated. The Maravi settled in what is now Malawi around 1400, during one of the later waves of Bantu migration across central and southern Africa. A powerful Maravi kingdom established around 1500 reached its zenith around 1700, when it controlled what is now southern and central Malawi and portions of neighboring Mozambique and Zambia. The kingdom eventually declined because of destabilization from the escalating global trade in enslaved people. In the early 1800s, widespread conflict in southern Africa displaced various ethnic Ngoni groups, some of which moved into Malawi and further undermined the Maravi. Members of the Yao ethnic group -- which had long traded with Malawi from Mozambique -- introduced Islam and began to settle in Malawi in significant numbers in the mid-1800s, followed by members of the Lomwe ethnic group. British missionary and trading activity increased in the area around Lake Nyasa in the mid-1800s, and in 1891, Britain declared a protectorate called British Central Africa over what is now Malawi. The British renamed the territory Nyasaland in 1907, and it was part of the colonial Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland -- including present-day Zambia and Zimbabwe -- from 1953 to 1963 before gaining independence as Malawi in 1964.

Hastings Kamuzu BANDA served as prime minister at independence and then as president when the country became a republic in 1966. He later instituted one-party rule under his Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and was declared president for life. After three decades of one-party rule, the country held multiparty presidential and parliamentary elections in 1994 under a provisional constitution that came into full effect the following year. Bakili MULUZI of the United Democratic Front party became the first freely elected president of Malawi when he defeated BANDA at the polls in 1994; he won reelection in 1999. President Bingu wa MUTHARIKA was elected in 2004 and reelected to a second term in 2009. He died abruptly in 2012 and was succeeded by Vice President Joyce BANDA. MUTHARIKA's brother, Peter MUTHARIKA, defeated BANDA in the election in 2014. Peter MUTHARIKA was reelected in a disputed election in 2019 that resulted in countrywide protests. The courts ordered a new election, and in 2020, Lazarus CHAKWERA of the MCP was elected president. Population growth, increasing pressure on agricultural lands, corruption, and HIV/AIDS pose major problems for Malawi.

Malaysia

Malaysia’s location has long made it an important cultural, economic, historical, social, and trade link between the islands of Southeast Asia and the mainland. Through the Strait of Malacca, which separates the Malay Peninsula from the archipelago, flowed maritime trade and with it influences from China, India, the Middle East, and the east coast of Africa. Prior to the 14th century, several powerful maritime empires existed in what is modern-day Malaysia, including the Srivijayan, which controlled much of the southern part of the peninsula between the 7th and 13th centuries, and the Majapahit Empire, which took control over most of the peninsula and the Malay Archipelago between the 13th and 14th centuries. The adoption of Islam between the 13th and 17th centuries also saw the rise of a number of powerful maritime states and sultanates on the Malay Peninsula and the island of Borneo, such as the port city of Malacca (Melaka), which at its height in the 15th century had a navy and hosted thousands of Chinese, Arab, Persian, and Indian merchants.

The Portuguese in the 16th century and the Dutch in the 17th century were the first European colonial powers to establish themselves on the Malay Peninsula and in Southeast Asia. However, it was the British who ultimately secured hegemony across the territory and during the late 18th and 19th centuries established colonies and protectorates in the area that is now Malaysia. Japan occupied these holdings from 1942 to 1945. In 1948, the British-ruled territories on the Malay Peninsula (except Singapore) formed the Federation of Malaya, which became independent in 1957. Malaysia was formed in 1963 when the former British colonies of Singapore, as well as Sabah and Sarawak on the northern coast of Borneo, joined the Federation.

A communist insurgency, confrontations with Indonesia, Philippine claims to Sabah, and Singapore's expulsion in 1965 marred the first several years of the country's independence. During the 22-year term of Prime Minister MAHATHIR Mohamad (1981-2003), Malaysia was successful in diversifying its economy from dependence on exports of raw materials to the development of manufacturing, services, and tourism. Former Prime Minister MAHATHIR and a newly formed coalition of opposition parties defeated Prime Minister Mohamed NAJIB bin Abdul Razak's United Malays National Organization (UMNO) in 2018, ending over 60 years of uninterrupted UMNO rule. From 2018-2022, Malaysia underwent considerable political upheaval, with a succession of coalition governments holding power. Following legislative elections in 2022, ANWAR Ibrahim was appointed prime minister after more than 20 years in opposition. His political coalition, Pakatan Harapan (PH), joined its longtime UNMO rival to form a government, but the two groups have remained deeply divided on many issues. 

Maldives

A sultanate since the 12th century, the Maldives became a British protectorate in 1887 and a republic in 1968, three years after independence. President Maumoon Abdul GAYOOM dominated Maldives' political scene for 30 years, elected to six successive terms by single-party referendums. After political demonstrations in the capital Male in 2003, GAYOOM and his government pledged to embark upon a process of liberalization and democratic reforms, including a more representative political system and expanded political freedoms. Political parties were legalized in 2005.

In 2008, a constituent assembly -- termed the "Special Majlis" -- finalized a new constitution ratified by GAYOOM. The first-ever presidential elections under a multi-candidate, multi-party system were held later that year. GAYOOM was defeated in a runoff by Mohamed NASHEED, a political activist whom the regime had jailed several years earlier. In 2012, after several weeks of street protests in response to a top judge's arrest, NASHEED resigned the presidency and handed over power to Vice President Mohammed WAHEED Hassan Maniku. A government-appointed Commission of National Inquiry concluded that there was no evidence of a coup, but NASHEED contended that police and military personnel forced him to resign. NASHEED, WAHEED, and Abdulla YAMEEN Abdul Gayoom ran in the 2013 elections with YAMEEN ultimately winning the presidency after three rounds of voting. In 2018, YAMEEN lost his reelection bid to parliamentarian Ibrahim Mohamed SOLIH. YAMEEN was arrested and jailed in 2022 on corruption charges. Maldives' fourth democratic election was held in September 2023. The winner, Male City Mayor Dr. Mohamed MUIZZU, campaigned on a platform of Maldivian sovereignty, vowing to remove Indian military personnel from the country. MUIZZU represents a joint Progressive Pary of Maldives and People's National Congress (PPM/PNC) coalition.  

Mali

Present-day Mali is named after the Mali Empire that ruled the region between the 13th and 16th centuries. At its peak in the 14th century, it was the largest and wealthiest empire in West Africa and controlled an area about twice the size of modern-day France. Primarily a trading empire, Mali derived its wealth from gold and maintained several goldfields and trade routes in the Sahel. The empire also influenced West African culture through the spread of its language, laws, and customs, but by the 16th century, it had fragmented into mostly small chiefdoms. The Songhai Empire, previously a Mali dependency centered in Timbuktu, gained prominence in the 15th and 16th centuries. Under Songhai rule, Timbuktu became a large commercial center, well-known for its scholarship and religious teaching. Timbuktu remains a center of culture in West Africa today. In the late 16th century, the Songhai Empire fell to Moroccan invaders and disintegrated into independent sultanates and kingdoms.

France, expanding from Senegal, seized control of the area in the 1890s and incorporated it into French West Africa as French Sudan. In 1960, French Sudan gained independence from France and became the Mali Federation. When Senegal withdrew after only a few months, the remaining area was renamed the Republic of Mali. Mali saw 31 years of dictatorship until 1991, when a military coup led by Amadou Toumani TOURE ousted the government, established a new constitution, and instituted a multi-party democracy. Alpha Oumar KONARE won Mali's first two democratic presidential elections in 1992 and 1997. In keeping with Mali's two-term constitutional limit, he stepped down in 2002 and was succeeded by Amadou Toumani TOURE, who won a second term in 2007.

In 2012, rising ethnic tensions and an influx of fighters -- some linked to Al-Qa’ida -- from Libya led to a rebellion and military coup. Following the coup, rebels expelled the military from the country’s three northern regions, allowing terrorist organizations to develop strongholds in the area. With a 2013 French-led military intervention, the Malian government managed to retake most of the north. However, the government’s grasp in the region remains weak with local militias, terrorists, and insurgent groups competing for control. In 2015, the Malian Government and northern rebels signed an internationally mediated peace accord. Despite a 2017 target for implementation of the agreement, the signatories have made little progress. Terrorist groups were left out of the peace process, and terrorist attacks remain common.  

Ibrahim Boubacar KEITA won the Malian presidential elections in 2013 and 2018. Aside from security and logistic shortfalls, international observers deemed these elections credible. Terrorism, banditry, ethnic-based violence, and extra-judicial military killings plagued the country during KEITA’s second term. In 2020, the military arrested KEITA, his prime minister, and other senior members of the government and established a military junta called the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP). The junta then established a transition government and appointed Bah N’DAW, a retired army officer and former defense minister, as interim president and Colonel Assimi GOITA, the coup leader and chairman of the CNSP, as interim vice president. The transition government’s charter allowed it to rule for up to 18 months before calling a general election.  

In 2021, GOITA led a military takeover, arresting the interim president after a Cabinet shake-up removed GOITA’s key allies. GOITA was sworn in as transition president, and Choguel Kokalla MAIGA was sworn in as prime minister. In 2022, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) imposed sanctions on the transition government, and member states closed their borders with Mali after the transition government presented a five-year extension to the electoral calendar. The transition government and ECOWAS agreed to a new two-year timeline, which would have included presidential elections in February 2024, but the transition government postponed the elections indefinitely in September 2023 and withdrew from ECOWAS in January 2024.

Malta

With a civilization that dates back thousands of years, Malta boasts some of the oldest megalithic sites in the world. Situated in the center of the Mediterranean, Malta’s islands have long served as a strategic military asset, with the islands at various times falling under the control of the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Moors, Normans, Sicilians, Spanish, Knights of St. John, and French. Most recently a British colony (since 1814), Malta gained its independence in 1964 and declared itself a republic 10 years later. While under British rule, the island staunchly supported the UK through both world wars. Since the mid-1980s, the island has transformed itself into a freight transshipment point, a financial center, and a tourist destination, as its key industries moved toward more service-oriented activities. Malta became an EU member in 2004 and joined the eurozone in 2008.

Marshall Islands

Humans arrived in the Marshall Islands in the first millennium B.C. and gradually created permanent settlements on the various atolls. The early inhabitants were skilled navigators who frequently traveled between atolls using stick charts to map the islands. Society became organized under two paramount chiefs, one each for the Ratak (Sunrise) Chain and the Ralik (Sunset) Chain. Spain formally claimed the islands in 1592. Germany established a supply station on Jaluit Atoll and bought the islands from Spain in 1884, although paramount chiefs continued to rule. 

Japan seized the Marshall Islands in 1914 and was granted a League of Nations Mandate to administer the islands in 1920. The US captured the islands in heavy fighting during World War II, and the islands came under US administration as part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (TTPI) in 1947. Between 1946 and 1958, the US resettled populations from Bikini and Enewetak Atolls and conducted 67 nuclear tests; people from Ailinginae, Rongelap, and Utrik Atolls were also evacuated because of nuclear fallout, and Bikini and Rongelap remain largely uninhabited. In 1979, the Marshall Islands drafted a constitution separate from the rest of the TTPI and declared independence under President Amata KABUA, a paramount chief. In 2000, Kessai NOTE became the first commoner elected president. In 2016, Hilda HEINE was the first woman elected president.

Mauritania

The Amazigh and Bafour people were among the earliest settlers in what is now Mauritania and among the first in recorded history to convert from a nomadic to agricultural lifestyle. These groups account for roughly one third of Mauritania’s ethnic makeup. The remainder of Mauritania’s ethnic groups derive from Sub-Saharan ethnic groups originating mainly from the Senegal River Valley, including descendants of former enslaved peoples. These three groups are organized according to a strict caste system with deep ethnic divides that impact access to resources and power dynamics.

A former French colony, Mauritania achieved independence from France in 1960. Mauritania initially began as a single-party, authoritarian regime and experienced 49 years of dictatorships, flawed elections, failed attempts at democracy, and military coups. Ould Abdel AZIZ led the last coup in 2008, was elected president in 2009, and was reelected in 2014. Mohamed Ould Cheikh GHAZOUANI was elected president in 2019, and his inauguration marked the first peaceful transition of power from one democratically elected president to another, solidifying the country's status as an emerging democracy. International observers recognized the elections as relatively free and fair. GHAZOUANI is seeking re-election in June 2024 for a second, and final, five-year term.

The country is working to address vestigial practices of slavery and its hereditary impacts. Mauritania officially abolished slavery in 1981, but the practice was not criminalized until 2007. Between 2005 and 2011, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) launched a series of attacks killing western tourists and aid workers, attacking diplomatic and government facilities, and ambushing Mauritanian soldiers and gendarmes. Although Mauritania has not seen an attack since 2011, AQIM and similar groups remain active in the Sahel region.

 

Mauritius

Although known to Arab and European sailors since at least the early 1500s, the island of Mauritius was uninhabited until 1638 when the Dutch established a settlement named in honor of Prince Maurits van NASSAU. Their presence led to the rapid disappearance of the flightless dodo bird that has since become one of the most well-known examples of extinction in modern times. The Dutch abandoned their financially distressed settlement in 1710, although a number of formerly enslaved people remained. In 1722, the French established what would become a highly profitable settlement focused on sugar cane plantations that were reliant on the labor of enslaved people brought to Mauritius from other parts of Africa. In the 1790s, the island had a brief period of autonomous rule when plantation owners rejected French control because of laws ending slavery that were temporarily in effect during the French Revolution. Britain captured the island in 1810 as part of the Napoleonic Wars but kept most of the French administrative structure, which remains to this day in the form of the country’s legal codes and widespread use of the French Creole language. The abolition of slavery in 1835 -- later than most other British colonies -- led to increased reliance on contracted laborers from the Indian subcontinent to work on plantations. Today their descendants form the majority of the population. Mauritius remained a strategically important British naval base and later an air station, and it played a role during World War II in anti-submarine and convoy operations, as well as in the collection of signals intelligence.

Mauritius gained independence from the UK in 1968 as a Parliamentary Republic and has remained a stable democracy with regular free elections and a positive human rights record. The country also attracted considerable foreign investment and now has one of Africa's highest per capita incomes. Mauritius’ often-fractious coalition politics has been dominated by two prominent families, each of which has had father-son pairs who have been prime minister over multiple, often nonconsecutive, terms. Seewoosagur RAMGOOLAM (1968-76) was Mauritius’ first prime minister, and he was succeeded by Anerood JUGNAUTH (1982-95, 2000-03, 2014-17); his son Navin RAMGOOLAM (1995-2000, 2005-14); and Paul Raymond BERENGER (2003-05), the only non-Hindu prime minister of post-independence Mauritius. In 2017, Pravind JUGNAUTH became prime minister after his father stepped down short of completing his term, and he was elected in his own right in 2019.

Mauritius claims the French island of Tromelin and the British Chagos Archipelago (British Indian Ocean Territory). Since 2017, Mauritius has secured favorable UN General Assembly resolutions and an International Court of Justice advisory opinion relating to its sovereignty dispute with the UK.

Mexico

Mexico was the site of several advanced Amerindian civilizations -- including the Olmec, Toltec, Teotihuacan, Zapotec, Maya, and Aztec -- until Spain conquered and colonized the area in the early 16th century. Administered as the Viceroyalty of New Spain for three centuries, it achieved independence early in the 19th century. Elections held in 2000 marked the first time since Mexican Revolution in 1910 that an opposition candidate -- Vicente FOX of the National Action Party (PAN) -- defeated the party in government, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). He was succeeded in 2006 by another PAN candidate Felipe CALDERON, but Enrique PEÑA NIETO regained the presidency for the PRI in 2012. Left-leaning anti-establishment politician and former mayor of Mexico City (2000-05) Andrés Manuel LÓPEZ OBRADOR, from the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA), became president in 2018.

The US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA, or T-MEC by its Spanish acronym) entered into force in 2020 and replaced its predecessor, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Mexico amended its constitution in 2019 to facilitate the implementation of the labor components of USMCA.

Mexico is currently the US's second-largest goods trading partner, after Canada. Ongoing economic and social concerns include low real wages, high underemployment, inequitable income distribution, and few advancement opportunities, particularly for the largely indigenous population in the impoverished southern states. Since 2007, Mexico's powerful transnational criminal organizations have engaged in a struggle to control criminal markets, resulting in tens of thousands of drug-related homicides and forced disappearances.

Micronesia, Federated States of

Each of the four states that compose the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) -- Chuuk, Kosrae, Pohnpei, and Yap -- has its own unique history and cultural traditions. The first humans arrived in what is now the FSM in the second millennium B.C. In the 800s A.D., construction of the artificial islets at the Nan Madol complex in Pohnpei began, with the main architecture being built around 1200. At its height, Nan Madol united the approximately 25,000 people of Pohnpei under the Saudeleur Dynasty. By 1250, Kosrae was united in a kingdom centered in Leluh. Yap’s society became strictly hierarchical, with chiefs receiving tributes from islands up to 1,100 km (700 mi) away. Widespread human settlement in Chuuk began in the 1300s, and the different islands in the Chuuk Lagoon were frequently at war with one another.

Portuguese and Spanish explorers visited a few of the islands in the 1500s, and Spain began exerting nominal, but not day-to-day, control over some of the islands -- which they named the Caroline Islands -- in the 1600s. In 1899, Spain sold all of the FSM to Germany. Japan seized the islands in 1914 and was granted a League of Nations mandate to administer them in 1920. The Japanese navy built bases across most of the islands and headquartered their Pacific naval operations in Chuuk. The US bombed Chuuk in 1944 but largely bypassed the other islands in its leapfrog campaign across the Pacific. 

In 1947, the FSM came under US administration as part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, which comprised six districts: Chuuk, the Marshall Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, Pohnpei, and Yap; Kosrae was separated from Pohnpei into a separate district in 1977. In 1979, Chuuk, Kosrae, Pohnpei, and Yap ratified the FSM Constitution and declared independence while the other three districts opted to pursue separate political status. There are significant inter-island rivalries stemming from their different histories and cultures. Chuuk, the most populous but poorest state, has pushed for secession, but an independence referendum has been repeatedly postponed and may not be held.

Moldova

A large portion of present-day Moldovan territory became a province of the Russian Empire in 1812 and then unified with Romania in 1918 in the aftermath of World War I. This territory was then incorporated into the Soviet Union at the close of World War II. Although Moldova has been independent from the Soviet Union since 1991, Russian forces have remained on Moldovan territory east of the Nistru River in the breakaway region of Transnistria.

Years of Communist Party rule in Moldova from 2001 to 2009 ultimately ended with election-related violent protests and a rerun of parliamentary elections in 2009. A series of pro-Europe ruling coalitions governed Moldova from 2010 to 2019, but pro-Russia candidate Igor DODON won the presidency in 2016, and his Socialist Party of the Republic of Moldova won a plurality in the legislative election in 2019. Pro-EU reformist candidate Maia SANDU defeated DODON in his reelection bid in 2020, and SANDU's Party of Action and Solidarity won a parliamentary majority in an early legislative election in 2021. Prime Minister Natalia GAVRILITA and her cabinet took office in 2021. In early 2023, Moldova's parliament confirmed a new cabinet led by Prime Minister Dorin RECEAN, which retained the majority of the former ministers.

 

Monaco

The Genoese built a fortress on the site of present-day Monaco in 1215. The current ruling GRIMALDI family first seized control in 1297 but was not able to permanently secure its holding until 1419. Economic development was spurred in the late 19th century with a railroad linkup to France and the opening of a casino. Since then, the principality's mild climate, coastal Mediterranean scenery, and gambling facilities have made Monaco world-famous as a tourist and recreation center.

Mongolia

The peoples of Mongolia have a long history under a number of nomadic empires dating back to the Xiongnu in the 4th century B.C., and the name Mongol goes back to at least the 11th century A.D. The most famous Mongol, TEMÜÜJIN (aka Genghis Khan), emerged as the ruler of all Mongols in the early 1200s. By the time of his death in 1227, he had created through conquest a Mongol Empire that extended across much of Eurasia. His descendants, including ÖGÖDEI and KHUBILAI (aka Kublai Khan), continued to conquer Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and the rest of China, where KHUBILAI established the Yuan Dynasty in the 1270s. The Mongols attempted to invade Japan and Java before their empire broke apart in the 14th century. In the 17th century, Mongolia fell under the rule of the Manchus of the Chinese Qing Dynasty. After Manchu rule collapsed in 1911, Mongolia declared independence, finally winning it in 1921 with help from the Soviet Union. Mongolia became a socialist state (the Mongolian People’s Republic) in 1924. Until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, Mongolia was a Soviet satellite state and relied heavily on economic, military, and political assistance from Moscow. The period was also marked by purges, political repression, economic stagnation, and tensions with China.

Mongolia peacefully transitioned to an independent democracy in 1990. In 1992, it adopted a new constitution and established a free-market economy. Since the country's transition, it has conducted a series of successful presidential and legislative elections. Throughout the period, the ex-communist Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party -- which took the name Mongolian People’s Party (MPP) in 2010 -- has competed for political power with the Democratic Party and several other smaller parties. For most of its democratic history, Mongolia has had a divided government, with the presidency and the parliamentary majority held by different parties but that changed in 2021, when the MPP won the presidency after having secured a supermajority in parliament in 2020. Mongolia’s June 2021 presidential election delivered a decisive victory for MPP candidate Ukhnaagiin KHURELSUKH. 

Mongolia maintains close cultural, political, and military ties with Russia, while China is its largest economic partner. Mongolia’s foreign relations are focused on preserving its autonomy by balancing relations with China and Russia, as well as its other major partners, Japan, South Korea, and the US.

Montenegro

The use of the name Crna Gora or Black Mountain (Montenegro) began in the 13th century in reference to a highland region in the Serbian province of Zeta. Under Ottoman control beginning in 1496, Montenegro was a semi-autonomous theocracy ruled by a series of bishop princes until 1852, when it became a secular principality. Montenegro fought a series of wars with the Ottomans and eventually won recognition as an independent sovereign principality at the Congress of Berlin in 1878. In 1918, the country was absorbed by the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, which became the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1929. At the end of World War II, Montenegro joined the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY). When the SFRY dissolved in 1992, Montenegro and Serbia created the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY), which shifted in 2003 to a looser State Union of Serbia and Montenegro. Montenegro voted to restore its independence on 3 June 2006. Montenegro became an official EU candidate in 2010 and joined NATO in 2017.

Montserrat

English and Irish colonists from St. Kitts first settled on Montserrat in 1632; the first African slaves arrived three decades later. The British and French fought for possession of the island for most of the 18th century, but it finally was confirmed as a British possession in 1783. The island's sugar plantation economy was converted to small farm landholdings in the mid-19th century. The Soufriere Hills Volcano erupted in 1995, devastating much of the island; two thirds of the population fled abroad. Montserrat has endured volcanic activity since, with the last eruption occurring in 2013.

Morocco

In 788, about a century after the Arab conquest of North Africa, a series of Muslim dynasties began to rule in Morocco. In the 16th century, the Sa'adi monarchy, particularly under Ahmad al-MANSUR (1578-1603), repelled foreign invaders and inaugurated a golden age. The Alaouite Dynasty, to which the current Moroccan royal family belongs, dates from the 17th century. In 1860, Spain occupied northern Morocco and ushered in a half-century of trade rivalry among European powers that saw Morocco's sovereignty steadily erode; in 1912, the French imposed a protectorate over the country. A protracted independence struggle with France ended successfully in 1956. The internationalized city of Tangier and most Spanish possessions were turned over to the new country that same year. Sultan MOHAMMED V, the current monarch's grandfather, organized the new state as a constitutional monarchy and in 1957 assumed the title of king.

Since Spain's 1976 withdrawal from Western Sahara, Morocco has extended its de facto administrative control to roughly 75% of this territory; however, the UN does not recognize Morocco as the administering power for Western Sahara. The UN since 1991 has monitored a cease-fire, which broke down in late 2020, between Morocco and the Polisario Front -- an organization advocating the territory’s independence -- and restarted negotiations over the status of the territory in 2018. In 2020, the US recognized Morocco's sovereignty over all of Western Sahara.

In 2011, King MOHAMMED VI responded to the spread of pro-democracy protests in the North Africa region by implementing a reform program that included a new constitution, passed by popular referendum, under which some new powers were extended to parliament and the prime minister, but ultimate authority remains in the hands of the monarch. Later that year, the Justice and Development Party (PJD) -- a moderate Islamist democratic party -- won the largest number of seats in parliamentary elections, becoming the first Islamist party to lead the Moroccan Government. In 2015, Morocco held its first direct elections for regional councils, which was one of the reforms included in the 2011 constitution. The PJD again won the largest number of seats in nationwide parliamentary elections in 2016, but it lost its plurality to the probusiness National Rally of Independents (RNI) in 2021. In 2020, Morocco signed a normalization agreement with Israel, similar to those that Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Sudan had concluded with Israel earlier that year.

Mozambique

In the first half of the second millennium A.D., northern Mozambican port towns were frequented by traders from Somalia, Ethiopia, Egypt, Arabia, Persia, and India. The Portuguese were able to wrest much of the coastal trade from Arab Muslims in the centuries after 1500, and they set up their own colonies. Portugal did not relinquish Mozambique until 1975. Large-scale emigration, economic dependence on South Africa, a severe drought, and a prolonged civil war hindered the country's development until the mid-1990s.

The ruling Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO) party formally abandoned Marxism in 1989, and a new constitution the following year provided for multiparty elections and a free-market economy. A UN-negotiated peace agreement between FRELIMO and rebel Mozambique National Resistance (RENAMO) forces ended the fighting in 1992. In 2004, Mozambique underwent a delicate transition as Joaquim CHISSANO stepped down after 18 years in office. His elected successor, Armando GUEBUZA, served two terms and then passed executive power to Filipe NYUSI in 2015. RENAMO’s residual armed forces intermittently engaged in a low-level insurgency after 2012, but a 2016 cease-fire eventually led to the two sides signing a comprehensive peace deal in 2019.

Since 2017, violent extremists -- who an official ISIS media outlet recognized as ISIS's network in Mozambique for the first time in 2019 -- have been conducting attacks against civilians and security services in the northern province of Cabo Delgado. In 2021, Rwanda and the Southern African Development Community deployed forces to support Mozambique’s efforts to counter the extremist group.

Namibia

Various ethnic groups occupied southwestern Africa prior to Germany establishing a colony over most of the territory in 1884. South Africa occupied the colony, then known as German South West Africa, in 1915 during World War I and administered it as a mandate until after World War II, when it annexed the territory. In 1966, the Marxist South-West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) guerrilla group launched a war of independence for the area that became Namibia, but it was not until 1988 that South Africa agreed to end its administration in accordance with a UN peace plan for the entire region. Namibia gained independence in 1990, and SWAPO has governed it since, although the party has dropped much of its Marxist ideology. President Hage GEINGOB was elected in 2014 in a landslide victory, replacing Hifikepunye POHAMBA, who stepped down after serving two terms. SWAPO retained its parliamentary super majority in the 2014 elections. In 2019 elections, GEINGOB was reelected but by a substantially reduced majority, and SWAPO narrowly lost its super majority in parliament.

Nauru

By 1000 B.C., Micronesian and Polynesian settlers inhabited Nauru, and the island was divided among 12 clans. Nauru developed in relative isolation because ocean currents made landfall on the island difficult. As a result, the Nauruan language does not clearly resemble any other in the Pacific region. In 1798, British sea captain John FEARN became the first European to spot the island. By 1830, European whalers used Nauru as a supply stop, trading firearms for food. In 1878, a civil war erupted on the island, reducing the population by more than a third. Germany forcibly annexed Nauru in 1888 by holding the 12 chiefs under house arrest until they consented to the annexation. Germany banned alcohol, confiscated weapons, instituted strict dress codes, and brought in Christian missionaries to convert the population. Phosphate was discovered in 1900 and was heavily mined, although Nauru and Nauruans earned about one tenth of one percent of the profits from the phosphate deposits.

Australian forces captured Nauru from Germany during World War I, and in 1919, it was placed under a joint Australian-British-New Zealand mandate with Australian administration. Japan occupied Nauru during World War II and used its residents as forced labor elsewhere in the Pacific while destroying much of the infrastructure on the island. After the war, Nauru became a UN trust territory under Australian administration. In 1962, recognizing the phosphate stocks would eventually be depleted, Australian Prime Minister Robert MENZIES offered to resettle all Nauruans on Curtis Island in Queensland, but Nauruans rejected that plan and opted for independence, which was achieved in 1968. In 1970, Nauru purchased the phosphate mining assets, and income from the mines made Nauruans among the richest people in the world. However, Nauru subsequently began a series of unwise investments in buildings, musical theater, and an airline, and the country went nearly bankrupt by 2000. Nauru sued Australia in 1989 for the damage caused by mining when Australia administered the island. Widespread phosphate mining officially ceased in 2006.

As its economy faltered, Nauru briefly tried to rebrand itself as an offshore banking haven, an initiative that ended in 2005, and the country made a successful bid for Russian humanitarian aid in 2008. In 2001, Australia set up the Nauru Regional Processing Center (NRPC), an offshore refugee detention facility, paying Nauru per person at the center. The NRPC closed in 2008 but reopened in 2012. The number of refugees steadily declined after 2014, and in 2020, the remaining people were moved to a hotel in Brisbane, Australia, effectively shuttering the NRPC. However, in 2023, Australia agreed to continue funding NRPC for two years and restarted settling asylees in the center in mid-2023. The center remains the Government of Nauru’s largest source of income.  

Navassa Island

The US claimed uninhabited Navassa Island in 1857 for its guano. Mining took place between 1865 and 1898. The lighthouse, built in 1917, was shut down in 1996, and administration of Navassa Island was transferred from the US Coast Guard to the Department of the Interior, Office of Insular Affairs. A 1998 scientific expedition to the island described it as a "unique preserve of Caribbean biodiversity." The following year it became a National Wildlife Refuge, and annual scientific expeditions have continued.

Nepal

During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the principality of Gorkha united many of the other principalities and states of the sub-Himalayan region into a Nepali Kingdom. Nepal retained its independence after the Anglo-Nepalese War of 1814-16, and the subsequent peace treaty laid the foundations for two centuries of amicable relations between Britain and Nepal. (The Brigade of Gurkhas continues to serve in the British Army to the present day.) In 1951, the Nepali monarch ended the century-old system of hereditary rule and instituted a cabinet system that brought political parties into the government. That arrangement lasted until 1960, when political parties were again banned, but it was reinstated in 1990 with the establishment of a multiparty democracy within the framework of a constitutional monarchy.

A Maoist-led insurgency broke out in 1996. During the ensuing 10-year civil war between Maoist and government forces, the monarchy dissolved the cabinet and parliament. In 2001, Crown Prince DIPENDRA first massacred the royal family and then shot himself. His brother GYANENDRA became king, and the monarchy reassumed absolute power the next year. A peace accord in 2006 led to the promulgation of an interim constitution in 2007. After a nationwide Constituent Assembly (CA) election in 2008, the newly formed CA declared Nepal a federal democratic republic, abolished the monarchy, and elected the country's first president.

When the CA failed to draft a Supreme Court-mandated constitution, then-Prime Minister Baburam BHATTARAI dissolved the CA. An interim government held elections in 2013, in which the Nepali Congress (NC) won the largest share of seats. In 2014, NC formed a coalition government with the second-place Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML). Nepal's new constitution came into effect in 2015, at which point the CA became the Parliament and Khagda Prasad Sharma OLI the first post-constitution prime minister (2015-16). He resigned ahead of a no-confidence motion, and Parliament elected Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M) leader Pushpa Kamal DAHAL as prime minister.

The parties headed by OLI and DAHAL ran in coalition and swept the parliamentary elections in 2017, and OLI was sworn in as prime minister in 2018. OLI's efforts to dissolve parliament and hold elections were declared unconstitutional in 2021, and the opposition-supported NC leader Sher Bahadur DEUBA was named prime minister. The NC won a majority of seats in the parliamentary elections in 2022, but DAHAL then broke with the ruling coalition and partnered with OLI and the CPN-UML to become prime minister. DAHAL's first cabinet lasted about two months, until OLI withdrew his support over disagreements about ministerial assignments. In early 2023, DAHAL survived a vote of confidence and formed a coalition with the NC to remain prime minister.

Netherlands

The Dutch United Provinces declared their independence from Spain in 1581; during the 17th century, they became a leading seafaring and commercial power, with settlements and colonies around the world. After 18 years of French domination, the Netherlands regained its independence in 1813. In 1830, Belgium seceded and formed a separate kingdom. The Netherlands remained neutral in World War I but suffered German invasion and occupation in World War II. A modern, industrialized nation, the Netherlands is also a large exporter of agricultural products. The country was a founding member of NATO and the EEC (now the EU) and participated in the introduction of the euro in 1999. In 2010, the former Netherlands Antilles was dissolved and the three smallest islands -- Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, and Saba -- became special municipalities in the Netherlands administrative structure. The larger islands of Sint Maarten and Curacao joined the Netherlands and Aruba as constituent countries forming the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

In 2018, the Sint Eustatius island council (governing body) was dissolved and replaced by a government commissioner to restore the integrity of public administration. According to the Dutch Government, the intervention will be as "short as possible and as long as needed."

New Caledonia

The first humans settled in New Caledonia around 1600 B.C. The Lapita were skilled navigators, and evidence of their pottery around the Pacific has served as a guide for understanding human expansion in the region. Successive waves of migrants from other islands in Melanesia intermarried with the Lapita, giving rise to the Kanak ethnic group considered indigenous to New Caledonia. British explorer James COOK was the first European to visit New Caledonia in 1774, giving it the Latin name for Scotland. Missionaries first landed in New Caledonia in 1840. In 1853, France annexed New Caledonia to preclude any British attempt to claim the island. France declared it a penal colony in 1864 and sent more than 20,000 prisoners to New Caledonia in the ensuing three decades.

Nickel was discovered in 1864, and French prisoners were directed to mine it. France brought in indentured servants and enslaved labor from elsewhere in Southeast Asia to work the mines, blocking Kanaks from accessing the most profitable part of the local economy. In 1878, High Chief ATAI led a rebellion against French rule. The Kanaks were relegated to reservations, leading to periodic smaller uprisings and culminating in a large revolt in 1917 that colonial authorities brutally suppressed. During World War II, New Caledonia became an important base for Allied troops, and the US moved its South Pacific headquarters to the island in 1942. Following the war, France made New Caledonia an overseas territory and granted French citizenship to all inhabitants in 1953, thereby permitting the Kanaks to move off the reservations.

The Kanak nationalist movement began in the 1950s, but most voters chose to remain a territory in an independence referendum in 1958. The European population of New Caledonia boomed in the 1970s with a renewed focus on nickel mining, reigniting Kanak nationalism. Key Kanak leaders were assassinated in the early 1980s, leading to escalating violence and dozens of fatalities. The Matignon Accords of 1988 provided for a 10-year transition period. The Noumea Accord of 1998 transferred increasing governing responsibility from France to New Caledonia over a 20-year period and provided for three independence referenda. In the first held in 2018, voters rejected independence by 57% to 43%; in the second held in 2020, voters rejected independence 53% to 47%. In the third referendum held in 2021, voters rejected independence 96% to 4%; however, a boycott by key Kanak groups spurred challenges about the legitimacy of the vote. Pro-independence parties subsequently won a majority in the New Caledonian Government for the first time. France and New Caledonia officials remain in talks about the status of the territory.

New Zealand

Polynesians settled New Zealand between the late 1200s and the mid-1300s. They called the land Aotearoa, which legend holds is the name of the canoe that Kupe, the first Polynesian in New Zealand, used to sail to the country; the name Aotearoa is now in widespread use as the local Maori name for the country. By the 1500s, competition for land and resources led to intermittent fighting between different Maori tribes as large game became extinct. Dutch explorer Abel TASMAN was the first European to see the islands in 1642 but left after an encounter with local Maori. British sea captain James COOK arrived in 1769, followed by whalers, sealers, and traders. The UK only nominally claimed New Zealand and included it as part of New South Wales in Australia. Concerns about increasing lawlessness led the UK to appoint its first British Resident in New Zealand in 1832, although he had few legal powers. In 1835, some Maori tribes from the North Island declared independence. Fearing an impending French settlement and takeover, the majority of Maori chiefs signed the Treaty of Waitangi with the British in 1840. Land tenure issues stemming from the treaty are still being actively negotiated in New Zealand.

The UK declared New Zealand a separate colony in 1841 and granted limited self-government in 1852. Different traditions of authority and land use led to a series of wars between Europeans and various Maori tribes from the 1840s to the 1870s. Along with disease, these conflicts halved the Maori population. In the 1890s, New Zealand initially expressed interest in joining independence talks with Australia but ultimately opted against it and changed its status to an independent dominion in 1907. New Zealand provided more than 100,000 troops during each World War, many of whom fought as part of the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC). New Zealand reaffirmed its independence in 1947 and signed the Australia, New Zealand, and US (ANZUS) Treaty in 1951. Beginning in 1984, New Zealand began to adopt nuclear-free policies, contributing to a dispute with the US over naval ship visits that led the US to suspend its defense obligations to New Zealand in 1986.

In recent years, New Zealand has explored reducing some of its ties to the UK. There in an active, minority movement to change New Zealand to a republic, and in 2015-16, a referendum on changing the New Zealand flag to remove the Union Jack failed, 57% to 43%.

Nicaragua

The Pacific coast of Nicaragua was settled as a Spanish colony in the early 16th century. Independence from Spain was declared in 1821, and the country became an independent republic in 1838. Britain occupied the Caribbean Coast in the first half of the 19th century, but gradually ceded control of the region in subsequent decades. By 1978, violent opposition to governmental manipulation and corruption resulted in a short-lived civil war that brought a civil-military coalition to power in 1979, spearheaded by Marxist Sandinista guerrillas led by Daniel ORTEGA Saavedra. Nicaraguan aid to leftist rebels in El Salvador prompted the US to sponsor anti-Sandinista Contra guerrillas through much of the 1980s.

After losing free and fair elections in 1990, 1996, and 2001, ORTEGA was elected president in 2006, 2011, 2016, and most recently in 2021. Municipal, regional, and national-level elections since 2008 have been marred by widespread irregularities. Democratic institutions have lost their independence under the ORTEGA regime as the president has assumed full control over all branches of government, as well as cracking down on a nationwide pro-democracy protest movement in 2018 and shuttering over 3,300 civil society organizations between 2018 and 2024. In the lead-up to the 2021 presidential election, authorities arrested over 40 individuals linked to the opposition, including presidential candidates, private sector leaders, NGO workers, human rights defenders, and journalists. Only five lesser-known presidential candidates from mostly small parties allied to ORTEGA's Sandinistas were allowed to run against ORTEGA. He then awarded the Sandinistas control of all 153 of Nicaraguan municipalities in the 2022 municipal elections, consolidating one-party rule. 

Niger

Nomadic peoples from the Saharan north and agriculturalists from the south settled present-day Niger. The Taureg kingdom of Takedda was one of the largest kingdoms in the north and played a prominent role in regional trade in the 14th century. In the south, the primary ethnic groups were the Songhai-Zarma in the west, the Hausa in the center, and the Kanuri in the east. When European colonizers arrived in the 19th century, the region was an assemblage of disparate local kingdoms.

In the late 19th century, the British and French agreed to partition the middle regions of the Niger River, and France began its conquest of what would become the colony of Niger.  France experienced determined local resistance -- particularly during the Tuareg uprising (1916-1917) -- but established a colonial administration in 1922.

After achieving independence from France in 1960, Niger experienced single-party or military rule until 1991, when political pressure forced General Ali SAIBOU to allow multiparty elections. Political infighting and democratic backsliding led to coups in 1996 and 1999. In 1999, military officers restored democratic rule and held elections that brought Mamadou TANDJA to power. TANDJA was reelected in 2004 and spearheaded a 2009 constitutional amendment allowing him to extend his presidential term. In 2010, military officers led another coup that deposed TANDJA. ISSOUFOU Mahamadou was elected in 2011 and reelected in 2016. In 2021, BAZOUM Mohamed won the presidential election, marking Niger’s first transition from one democratically elected president to another. Nonetheless, a military junta led by General Abdourahamane TIANI once again seized power in July 2023, detaining President BAZOUM and announcing the creation of a National Council for the Safeguarding of the Homeland (CNSP).

Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world with minimal government services and insufficient funds to develop its resource base. It is ranked fourth to last in the world on the UN Development Program's Human Development Index of 2023/2024. The largely agrarian and subsistence-based economy is frequently disrupted by extended droughts common to the Sahel region of Africa. The Nigerien Government continues its attempts to diversify the economy through increased oil production and mining projects. In addition, Niger is facing increased security concerns on its borders from various external threats including insecurity in Libya, spillover from the conflict and terrorism in Mali, and violent extremism in northeastern Nigeria.

Nigeria

In ancient and pre-colonial times, the area of present-day Nigeria was occupied by a variety of ethnic groups with different languages and traditions. These included large Islamic kingdoms such as Borno, Kano, and the Sokoto Caliphate dominating the north, the Benin and Oyo Empires that controlled much of modern western Nigeria, and more decentralized political entities and city states in the south and southeast. In 1914, the British amalgamated their separately administered northern and southern territories into a Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria.

Nigeria achieved independence from Britain in 1960 and transitioned to a federal republic with three constituent states in 1963 under President Nnamdi AZIKIWE. This structure served to enflame regional and ethnic tension, contributing to a bloody coup led by predominately southeastern military officers in 1966 and a countercoup later that year masterminded by northern officers. In the aftermath of this tension, the governor of Nigeria’s Eastern Region, centered on the southeast, declared the region independent as the Republic of Biafra. The ensuring civil war (1967-1970), resulted in more than a million deaths, many from starvation. While the war forged a stronger Nigerian state and national identity, it contributed to long-lasting mistrust of the southeast’s predominantly Igbo population. Wartime military leader Yakubu GOWON ruled until a bloodless coup by frustrated junior officers in 1975. This generation of officers, including Olusegun OBASANJO, Ibrahim BABANGIDA, and Muhammadu BUHARI, who would all later serve as president, continue to exert significant influence in Nigeria to the present day.

Military rule predominated until the first durable transition to civilian government and adoption of a new constitution in 1999. The elections of 2007 marked the first civilian-to-civilian transfer of power in the country's history. National and state elections in 2011 and 2015 were generally regarded as credible. The 2015 election was also heralded for the fact that the then-umbrella opposition party, the All Progressives Congress, defeated the long-ruling (since 1999) People's Democratic Party and assumed the presidency, marking the first peaceful transfer of power from one party to another. Presidential and legislative elections in 2019 and 2023 were deemed broadly free and fair despite voting irregularities, intimidation, and violence. The government of Africa's most populous nation continues to face the daunting task of institutionalizing democracy and reforming a petroleum-based economy whose revenues have been squandered through decades of corruption and mismanagement. In addition, Nigeria faces increasing violence from Islamic terrorism, largely in the northeast, large scale criminal banditry, secessionist violence in the southeast, and competition over land and resources nationwide.

Niue

Voyagers from Samoa first settled on Niue around A.D. 900, and a second main group of settlers came from Tonga around 1500. With only one reliable source of fresh water, conflict was high on the island. Samoan and Tongan customs heavily influenced Niuean culture, including the formation of an island-wide elected kingship system in the early 1700s. In 1774, British explorer James COOK abandoned attempts to land on the island after several unsuccessful tries, and he named it Savage Island because of the Niueans' warlike appearance. Missionaries arrived in 1830 but were also largely unsuccessful at staying on the island until 1846, when a Niuean trained as a Samoan missionary returned to the island and provided a space from which the missionaries could work. In addition to converting the population, the missionaries worked to stop the violent conflicts and helped establish the first parliament in 1849.

In 1889, King FATAAIKI and other chiefs asked the UK for protectorate status, a request that was repeated in 1895. The UK finally agreed in 1900 and King TOGIA-PULU-TOAKI formally ceded Niue that year. In 1901, Niue was annexed to New Zealand and included as part of the Cook Islands. Niue’s remoteness and cultural and linguistic differences with the Cook Islands led New Zealand to separate Niue into its own administration in 1904. The island became internally self-governing in 1974; it is an independent member of international organizations but is in free association with New Zealand, which is responsible for defense and foreign affairs. In September 2023, the US recognized Niue as a sovereign and independent state.

Norfolk Island

Polynesians lived on Norfolk Island between 1200 and 1500, but the remote island was uninhabited by the time British explorer James COOK landed on the island in 1774. Two British attempts at establishing the island as a penal colony (1788-1814 and 1825-55) were ultimately abandoned.

In 1856, almost 200 Pitcairn Islanders -- descendants of the Bounty mutineers and their Tahitian companions -- were relocated to Norfolk Island because of overcrowding on the Pitcairn Islands. Some returned to the Pitcairn Islands over the next few years, but most settled permanently on Norfolk Island and recreated their previous land tenure and governance structures. Norfolk Island retained a great degree of local control until 1897, when it became a dependency of New South Wales. During World War II, Norfolk Island was an airbase and an important refueling stop in the South Pacific. In 1976, an Australian judge recommended Norfolk Island be incorporated fully into Australia, which Norfolk Islanders rejected. After an appeal to the UN, Australia granted limited self-government to Norfolk Island in 1979.

With growing financial troubles during the 2000s, Australia abolished the Norfolk Island Legislative Assembly in 2015, reduced Norfolk Island’s autonomy in 2016, and suspended the local council in 2020. Most services are provided by a mix of the Australian Capital Territory and the states of New South Wales and Queensland. These moves were unpopular on Norfolk Island, which has sought to have its self-government restored.

North Macedonia

North Macedonia gained its independence peacefully from Yugoslavia in 1991 under the name of "Macedonia." Greece objected to the new country’s name, insisting it implied territorial pretensions to the northern Greek province of Macedonia, and democratic backsliding for several years stalled North Macedonia's movement toward Euro-Atlantic integration. Immediately after Macedonia declared independence, Greece sought to block its efforts to gain UN membership if the name "Macedonia" was used. The country was eventually admitted to the UN in 1993 as "The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia," and at the same time it agreed to UN-sponsored negotiations on the name dispute. In 1995, Greece lifted a 20-month trade embargo and the two countries agreed to normalize relations, but the issue of the name remained unresolved amid ongoing negotiations. As an interim measure, the US and over 130 other nations recognized Macedonia by its constitutional name, Republic of Macedonia.

Ethnic Albanian grievances over perceived political and economic inequities escalated into an armed conflict in 2001 that eventually led to the internationally brokered Ohrid Framework Agreement, which ended the fighting and established guidelines for constitutional amendments and new laws that enhanced the rights of minorities. In 2018, the government adopted a new law on languages, which elevated the Albanian language to an official language at the national level and kept the Macedonian language as the sole official language in international relations, but ties between ethnic Macedonians and ethnic Albanians remain complicated.

In 2018, Macedonia and Greece signed the Prespa Agreement whereby Macedonia agreed to change its name to North Macedonia, and the agreement went in to force on 12 February 2019. North Macedonia joined NATO in 2020 after amending its constitution as agreed and opened EU accession talks in 2022 after a two-year veto by Bulgaria over identity, language, and historical disputes. The 2014 legislative and presidential election triggered a political crisis that lasted almost three years and escalated in 2015 when the opposition party began releasing wiretapped material revealing alleged widespread government corruption and abuse. The country still faces challenges, including fully implementing reforms to overcome years of democratic backsliding, stimulating economic growth and development, and fighting organized crime and corruption. 

Northern Mariana Islands

Austronesian people settled the Northern Mariana Islands around 1500 B.C. These people became the indigenous Chamorro and were influenced by later migrations, including Micronesians in the first century A.D. and island Southeast Asians around 900. Spanish explorer Ferdinand MAGELLAN sailed through the Mariana Islands in 1521, and Spain claimed them in 1565. Spain formally colonized the Mariana Islands in 1668 and administered the archipelago from Guam. Spain’s brutal repression of the Chamorro, along with new diseases and intermittent warfare, reduced the indigenous population by about 90% in the 1700s. With a similar dynamic occurring on Guam, Spain forced the Chamorro from the Northern Mariana Islands to resettle there. By the time they returned, many other Micronesians, including Chuukese and Yapese, had already settled on their islands.

In 1898, Spain ceded Guam to the US after the Spanish-American War but sold the Northern Mariana Islands to Germany under the German-Spanish Treaty of 1899. Germany administered the territory from German New Guinea but took a hands-off approach to day-to-day life. Following World War I, Japan administered the islands under a League of Nations mandate. Japan focused on sugar production and brought in thousands of Japanese laborers, who quickly outnumbered the Chamorro on the islands. During World War II, Japan invaded Guam from the Northern Mariana Islands and used Marianan Chamorro as translators with Guamanian Chamorro, creating friction between the two Chamorro communities that continues to this day. The US captured the Northern Mariana Islands in 1944 after the Battle of Saipan and later administered them as part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (TTPI).

On four occasions in the 1950s and 1960s, voters opted for integration with Guam, which Guam rejected in 1969. In 1978, the Northern Mariana Islands was granted self-governance separate from the rest of the TTPI, and in 1986, islanders were granted US citizenship, with the territory coming under US sovereignty as the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). In 2009, the CNMI became the final US territory to elect a nonvoting delegate to the US Congress.

Norway

Two centuries of Viking raids into Europe tapered off after King Olav TRYGGVASON adopted Christianity in 994; conversion of the Norwegian kingdom occurred over the next several decades. In 1397, Norway was absorbed into a union with Denmark that lasted more than four centuries. In 1814, Norwegians resisted the cession of their country to Sweden and adopted a new constitution. Sweden then invaded Norway but agreed to let Norway keep its constitution in return for accepting the union under a Swedish king. Rising nationalism throughout the 19th century led to a 1905 referendum granting Norway independence. Norway remained neutral in World War I and proclaimed its neutrality at the outset of World War II, but Nazi Germany nonetheless occupied the country for five years (1940-45). In 1949, Norway abandoned neutrality and became a member of NATO. Discovery of oil and gas in adjacent waters in the late 1960s boosted Norway's economic fortunes. In referenda held in 1972 and 1994, Norway rejected joining the EU. Key domestic issues include immigration and integration of ethnic minorities, maintaining the country's extensive social safety net with an aging population, and preserving economic competitiveness.

Oman

The inhabitants of the area of present-day Oman have long prospered from Indian Ocean trade. In the late 18th century, the nascent sultanate in Muscat signed the first in a series of friendship treaties with Britain. Over time, Oman's dependence on British political and military advisors increased, although the sultanate never became a British colony. In 1970, QABOOS bin Said Al Said overthrew his father and ruled as sultan for the next five decades. His extensive modernization program opened the country to the outside world. He prioritized strategic ties to the UK and US, and his moderate, independent foreign policy allowed Oman to maintain good relations with its neighbors and avoid external entanglements.

In 2011, the popular uprisings that swept the Middle East and North Africa inspired demonstrations in Oman that called for more jobs and economic benefits and an end to corruption. In response, QABOOS implemented economic and political reforms such as granting Oman’s legislative body more power and authorizing direct elections for its lower house. Additionally, the sultan increased unemployment benefits and issued a royal directive mandating a national public- and private-sector job creation plan. As part of the government's efforts to decentralize authority and allow greater citizen participation in local governance, Oman successfully conducted its first municipal council elections in 2012. QABOOS, Oman's longest reigning monarch, died on in 2020. His cousin, HAYTHAM bin Tariq Al Said, former Minister of Heritage and Culture, was sworn in as Oman's new sultan the same day.

Pacific Ocean

The Pacific Ocean is the largest of the world's five ocean basins (followed by the Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, Southern Ocean, and Arctic Ocean). Strategically important access waterways include the La Perouse, Tsugaru, Tsushima, Taiwan, Singapore, and Torres Straits. The International Hydrographic Organization decision in 2000 to delimit a fifth world ocean basin, the Southern Ocean, removed the portion of the Pacific Ocean south of 60 degrees south. For convenience and because of its immense size, the Pacific Ocean is often divided at the Equator and designated as the North Pacific Ocean and the South Pacific Ocean.

Pakistan

The Indus Valley civilization, one of the oldest in the world and dating back at least 5,000 years, spread over much of modern-day Pakistan. During the second millennium B.C., remnants of this culture fused with the migrating Indo-Aryan peoples. The area underwent successive invasions in subsequent centuries from the Persians, Greeks, Scythians, Arabs (who brought Islam), Afghans, and Turks. The Mughal Empire flourished in the 16th and 17th centuries; the British came to dominate the region in the 18th century. The partition in 1947 of British India into the Muslim state of Pakistan (with West and East sections) and largely Hindu India created lasting tension between the two countries. They have fought two wars and a limited conflict -- in 1947-48, 1965, and 1999 respectively -- over the Kashmir territory, a dispute that continues to this day. A third war in 1971 -- in which India assisted an indigenous movement reacting to Bengali marginalization in Pakistani politics -- resulted in East Pakistan becoming the separate nation of Bangladesh.

In response to Indian nuclear weapons testing, Pakistan conducted its own tests in 1998. Pakistan has been engaged in a decades-long armed conflict with militant groups, including the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other militant networks that target government institutions and civilians.

Palau

Humans arrived in the Palauan archipelago from Southeast Asia around 1000 B.C. and developed a complex, highly organized matrilineal society where high-ranking women picked the chiefs. The islands were the westernmost part of the widely scattered Pacific islands north of New Guinea that Spanish explorers named the Caroline Islands in the 17th century. There were several failed attempts by Spanish Jesuit missionaries to visit the islands in the early 1700s. Spain gained some influence in the islands and administered it from the Philippines but sold Palau to Germany in 1899 after losing the Philippines in the Spanish-American War.

Japan seized Palau in 1914, was granted a League of Nations mandate to administer the islands in 1920, and made Koror the capital of its South Seas Mandate in 1922. By the outbreak of World War II, there were four times as many Japanese living in Koror as Palauans. In 1944, the US invasion of the island of Peleliu was one of the bloodiest island fights of the Pacific War. After the war, Palau became part of the US-administered Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands.

Palau voted against joining the Federated States of Micronesia in 1978 and adopted its own constitution in 1981, which stated that Palau was a nuclear-free country. In 1982, Palau signed a Compact of Free Association (COFA) with the US, which granted Palau financial assistance and access to many US domestic programs in exchange for exclusive US military access and defense responsibilities. However, many Palauans saw the COFA as incompatible with the Palauan Constitution because of the US military’s nuclear arsenal, and seven referenda failed to achieve ratification. Following a constitutional amendment and eighth referendum in 1993, the COFA was ratified and entered into force in 1994 when the islands gained their independence. Its funding was renewed in 2010.

Palau has been on the frontlines of combatting climate change and protecting marine resources. In 2011, Palau banned commercial shark fishing and created the world’s first shark sanctuary. In 2017, Palau began stamping the Palau Pledge into passports, reminding visitors to act in ecologically and culturally responsible ways. In 2020, Palau banned coral reef-toxic sunscreens and expanded its fishing prohibition to include 80% of its exclusive economic zone.

Panama

Explored and settled by the Spanish in the 16th century, Panama broke with Spain in 1821 and joined a union of Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela that was named the Republic of Gran Colombia. When the union dissolved in 1830, Panama remained part of Colombia. With US backing, Panama seceded from Colombia in 1903 and promptly signed a treaty with the US allowing for the construction of a canal and US sovereignty over a strip of land known as the Panama Canal Zone on either side of the structure. The US Army Corps of Engineers built the Panama Canal between 1904 and 1914. In 1977, an agreement was signed for the complete transfer of the Canal from the US to Panama by the end of the century. Certain portions of the Zone and increasing responsibility over the Canal were turned over in the subsequent decades. With US help, Panamanian dictator Manuel NORIEGA was deposed in 1989. The entire Panama Canal, the area supporting the Canal, and remaining US military bases were transferred to Panama by the end of 1999. An ambitious expansion project to more than double the Canal's capacity by allowing for more Canal transits and larger ships was carried out between 2007 and 2016.

Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea (PNG) occupies the eastern half of the island of New Guinea; the western half is part of Indonesia. PNG was first settled between 50,000 and 60,000 years ago. Its harsh geography of mountains, jungles, and numerous river valleys kept many of the arriving groups isolated, giving rise to PNG’s ethnic and linguistic diversity. Around 500 B.C., Austronesian voyagers settled along the coast. Spanish and Portuguese explorers periodically visited the island starting in the 1500s, but none made it into the country’s interior. American and British whaling ships frequented the islands off the coast of New Guinea in the mid-1800s. In 1884, Germany declared a protectorate -- and eventually a colony -- over the northern part of what would become PNG and named it German New Guinea; days later the UK followed suit on the southern part and nearby islands and called it Papua. Most of their focus was on the coastal regions, leaving the highlands largely unexplored.

The UK put its colony under Australian administration in 1902 and formalized the act in 1906. At the outbreak of World War I, Australia occupied German New Guinea and continued to rule it after the war as a League of Nations Mandate. The discovery of gold along the Bulolo River in the 1920s led prospectors to venture into the highlands, where they found about 1 million people living in isolated communities. The New Guinea campaign of World War II lasted from January 1942 to the Japanese surrender in August 1945. After the war, Australia combined the two territories and administered PNG as a UN trusteeship. In 1975, PNG gained independence and became a member of the Commonwealth. 

Between 1988-1997, a secessionist movement on the island province of Bougainville, located off the eastern PNG coast, fought the PNG Government, resulting in 15,000-20,000 deaths. In 1997, the PNG Government and Bougainville leaders reached a cease-fire and subsequently signed a peace agreement in 2001. The Autonomous Bougainville Government was formally established in 2005. Bougainvilleans voted in favor of independence in a 2019 non-binding referendum. The Bougainville and PNG governments are in the process of negotiating a roadmap for independence, which requires approval by the PNG parliament. 

Paracel Islands

The Paracel Islands are surrounded by productive fishing grounds and potential oil and gas reserves. In 1932, French Indochina annexed the islands and set up a weather station on Pattle Island. China has occupied all the Paracel Islands since 1974, when its troops seized a South Vietnamese garrison occupying the western islands. China has built a military installation on Woody Island with an airfield and artificial harbor, and it has scattered garrisons on some of the other islands. Taiwan and Vietnam also claim the Paracel Islands.

Paraguay

Several Indigenous groups, principally belonging to the Guarani language family, inhabited the area of modern Paraguay before the arrival of the Spanish in the early 16th century, when the territory was incorporated into the Viceroyalty of Peru. Paraguay achieved its independence from Spain in 1811 with the help of neighboring states. In the aftermath of independence, a series of military dictators ruled the country until 1870. During the disastrous War of the Triple Alliance (1864-70) -- fought against Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay -- Paraguay lost two thirds of its adult males and much of its territory. The country stagnated economically for the next half-century and experienced a tumultuous series of political regimes. Following the Chaco War of 1932-35 with Bolivia, Paraguay gained a large part of the Chaco lowland region. The 35-year military dictatorship of Alfredo STROESSNER ended in 1989, and Paraguay has held relatively free and regular presidential elections since the country's return to democracy.

Peru

Ancient Peru was the seat of several prominent Andean civilizations, most notably that of the Incas whose empire was captured by Spanish conquistadors in 1533. Peru declared its independence in 1821, and remaining Spanish forces were defeated in 1824. After a dozen years of military rule, Peru returned to democratic leadership in 1980 but experienced economic problems and the growth of a violent insurgency. President Alberto FUJIMORI's election in 1990 ushered in a decade that saw a dramatic turnaround in the economy and significant progress in curtailing guerrilla activity. Nevertheless, an economic slump and the president's increasing reliance on authoritarian measures in the late 1990s generated mounting dissatisfaction with his regime, which led to his resignation in 2000.

A caretaker government oversaw a new election in 2001 that installed Alejandro TOLEDO Manrique as the new head of government - Peru's first democratically elected president of indigenous ethnicity. The presidential election of 2006 saw the return of Alan GARCIA Perez who, after a disappointing presidential term from 1985 to 1990, presided over a robust economic rebound. Former army officer Ollanta HUMALA Tasso was elected president in 2011 and carried on the market-oriented economic policies of the three preceding administrations. Pedro Pablo KUCZYNSKI Godard won a very narrow runoff in the 2016 presidential election. Facing impeachment after evidence surfaced of his involvement in a vote-buying scandal, KUCZYNSKI offered his resignation in 2018, and First Vice President Martin Alberto VIZCARRA Cornejo was sworn in as president. In 2019, VIZCARRA invoked his constitutional authority to dissolve Peru's Congress after months of battling with the body over anticorruption reforms. New congressional elections in 2020 resulted in an opposition-led legislature. The Congress impeached VIZCARRA for a second time and removed him from office after accusations of corruption and mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of vacancies in the vice-presidential positions, the President of the Peruvian Congress, Manuel MERINO, became the next president. His ascension to office was not well received, and large protests forced his resignation later in 2020. Francisco SAGASTI assumed the position of President of Peru after being appointed President of the Congress the previous day. Jose Pedro CASTILLO Terrones won presidential election in 2021 but was impeached and ousted the following year; his vice president, Dina BOLUARTE, assumed the presidency by constitutional succession in 2022.

Philippines

The Philippine Islands became a Spanish colony during the 16th century; they were ceded to the US in 1898 following the Spanish-American War.  Led by Emilio AGUINALDO, the Filipinos conducted an insurgency against US rule from 1899-1902, although some fighting continued in outlying islands as late as 1913. In 1935, the Philippines became a self-governing commonwealth. Manuel QUEZON was elected president and was tasked with preparing the country for independence after a 10-year transition. The islands fell under Japanese occupation during World War II, and US forces and Filipinos fought together during 1944-45 to regain control. On 4 July 1946 the Republic of the Philippines attained its independence.

Twenty-one years of authoritarian rule under Ferdinand MARCOS ended in 1986, when a "people power" movement in Manila ("EDSA 1") forced him into exile and installed Corazon AQUINO as president. Several coup attempts hampered her presidency, and progress on political stability and economic development faltered until Fidel RAMOS was elected president in 1992. The US closed its last military bases on the islands the same year. Joseph ESTRADA was elected president in 1998. His vice-president, Gloria MACAPAGAL-ARROYO, succeded him in 2001 after ESTRADA's stormy impeachment trial on corruption charges broke down and another "people power" movement ("EDSA 2") demanded his resignation. MACAPAGAL-ARROYO was elected president in 2004. Corruption allegations marred her presidency, but the Philippine economy was one of the few to avoid contraction after the 2008 global financial crisis. Benigno AQUINO III was elected as president in 2010, followed by Rodrigo DUTERTE in 2016. During his term, DUTERTE pursued a controversial drug war that garnered international criticism for alleged human rights abuses. Ferdinand MARCOS, Jr. was elected president in 2022 with the largest popular vote in a presidential election since his father's ouster.

For decades, the country has been challenged by armed ethnic separatists, communist rebels, and Islamic terrorist groups, particularly in the southern islands and remote areas of Luzon.

Pitcairn Islands

Polynesians were the first settlers on the four tiny islands that are now called the Pitcairn Islands, but all four were uninhabited by the time Europeans discovered them in 1606. Pitcairn Island -- the only one now inhabited -- was rediscovered by British explorer Philip CARTERET in 1767. In 1789, Fletcher CHRISTIAN led a mutiny on the HMS Bounty, and after several months of searching for Pitcairn Island, he landed on it with eight other mutineers and their Tahitian companions. They lived in isolation and evaded detection by English authorities until 1808, when only one man, 10 women, and 23 children remained. In 1831, with the population of 87 proving too big for the island, the British attempted to move all the islanders to Tahiti, but they were soon returned to Pitcairn Island. The island became an official British colony in 1838, and in 1856, the British again determined that the population of 193 was too high and relocated all the residents to Norfolk Island. Several families returned in 1858 and 1864, bringing the island’s population to 43, and almost all of the island’s current population are descendants of these returnees. 

The UK annexed the nearby uninhabited islands of Henderson, Oeno, and Ducie in 1902 and incorporated them into the Pitcairn Islands colony in 1938. The population peaked at 233 in 1937 as outmigration, primarily to New Zealand, has since thinned the population. Only two children were born between 1986 and 2012, and in 2005, a couple became the first outsiders to obtain citizenship in more than a century. Since 2013, the Pitcairn Islands has tried to attract new migrants but has had no applicants because it requires prospective migrants to front significant sums of money and prohibits employment during a two-year trial period, at which point the local council can deny long-term resident status.

Poland

Poland's history as a state began near the middle of the 10th century. By the mid-16th century, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth ruled a vast tract of land in Central and Eastern Europe. During the 18th century, internal disorder weakened the nation, and in a series of agreements between 1772 and 1795, Russia, Prussia, and Austria partitioned Poland among themselves. Poland regained its independence in 1918 only to be overrun by Germany and the Soviet Union in World War II. It became a Soviet satellite state following the war. Labor turmoil in 1980 led to the formation of the independent trade union Solidarity that over time became a political force with over 10 million members. Free elections in 1989 and 1990 won Solidarity control of the parliament and the presidency, bringing the communist era to a close. A "shock therapy" program during the early 1990s enabled the country to transform its economy into one of the most robust in Central Europe. Poland joined NATO in 1999 and the EU in 2004.

Portugal

A global maritime power during the 15th and 16th centuries, Portugal lost much of its wealth and status with the destruction of Lisbon in a 1755 earthquake, occupation during the Napoleonic Wars, and the independence of Brazil, its wealthiest colony, in 1822. A revolution deposed the monarchy in 1910, and for most of the next six decades, repressive governments ran the country. In 1974, a left-wing military coup ushered in broad democratic reforms. The following year, Portugal granted independence to all its African colonies. Portugal is a founding member of NATO and entered the EC (now the EU) in 1986.

Puerto Rico

Populated for centuries by aboriginal peoples, Puerto Rico was claimed by the Spanish Crown in 1493 after Christopher COLUMBUS' second voyage to the Americas. In 1898, after 400 years of colonial rule that saw the indigenous population nearly exterminated and African slave labor introduced, Puerto Rico was ceded to the US as a result of the Spanish-American War. Puerto Ricans were granted US citizenship in 1917. Popularly elected governors have served since 1948. In 1952, a constitution was enacted that provided for internal self-government. In plebiscites held in 1967, 1993, and 1998, voters chose not to alter the existing political status with the US, but the results of a 2012 vote left open the possibility of American statehood. A referendum held in late 2020 showed a narrow preference for statehood.

Economic recession on the island has led to a net population loss since about 2005, as large numbers of residents moved to the US mainland. In 2017, Hurricane Maria was the worst storm to hit the island in eight decades, and damage was estimated in the tens of billions of dollars. 

Qatar

Ruled by the Al Thani family since the mid-1800s, Qatar within the last 60 years transformed itself from a poor British protectorate noted mainly for pearling into an independent state with significant hydrocarbon revenues. Former Amir HAMAD bin Khalifa Al Thani, who overthrew his father in a bloodless coup in 1995, ushered in wide-sweeping political and media reforms, unprecedented economic investment, and a growing Qatari regional leadership role, in part through the creation of the pan-Arab satellite news network Al-Jazeera and Qatar's mediation of some regional conflicts. In the 2000s, Qatar resolved its longstanding border disputes with both Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, and by 2007, Doha had attained the highest per capita income in the world. Qatar did not experience domestic unrest or violence like that seen in other Near Eastern and North African countries in 2011, due in part to its immense wealth and patronage network. In mid-2013, HAMAD peacefully abdicated, transferring power to his son, the current Amir TAMIM bin Hamad. TAMIM is popular with the Qatari public for his role in shepherding the country through an economic embargo from some other regional countries, for his efforts to improve the country's healthcare and education systems, and for his expansion of the country's infrastructure in anticipation of hosting international sporting events. Qatar became the first country in the Arab world to host the FIFA Men’s World Cup in 2022.

Following the outbreak of regional unrest in 2011, Doha prided itself on its support for many popular revolutions, particularly in Libya and Syria. This stance was to the detriment of Qatar’s relations with Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which temporarily recalled their respective ambassadors from Doha in 2014. TAMIM later oversaw a warming of Qatar’s relations with Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE in November 2014 following Kuwaiti mediation and signing of the Riyadh Agreement. This reconciliation, however, was short-lived. In 2017, Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE (the "Quartet") cut diplomatic and economic ties with Qatar in response to alleged violations of the agreement, among other complaints. They restored ties in 2021 after signing a declaration at the Gulf Cooperation Council Summit in Al Ula, Saudi Arabia. In 2022, the United States designated Qatar as a major non-NATO ally.

 

Romania

The principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia -- for centuries under the control of the Turkish Ottoman Empire -- secured their autonomy through the Treaty of Paris in 1856. They were de facto linked in 1859 and formally united in 1862 under the new name of Romania. The country joined the Allied Powers in World War I and subsequently acquired new territories -- most notably Transylvania -- that more than doubled its size. In 1940, Romania allied with the Axis powers and participated in the 1941 German invasion of the USSR. Three years later, overrun by the Soviets, Romania signed an armistice. The post-war Soviet occupation led to the formation of a communist "people's republic" in 1947 and the abdication of the king. The decades-long rule of dictator Nicolae CEAUSESCU, who took power in 1965, and his Securitate police state became increasingly oppressive and draconian through the 1980s. CEAUSESCU was overthrown and executed in late 1989. Former communists dominated the government until 1996 when they were swept from power. Romania joined NATO in 2004, the EU in 2007, and the Schengen Area for air and sea travel in 2024.

Russia

Founded in the 12th century, the Principality of Muscovy emerged from over 200 years of Mongol domination (13th-15th centuries) and gradually conquered and absorbed surrounding principalities. In the early 17th century, a new ROMANOV dynasty continued this policy of expansion across Siberia to the Pacific. Under PETER I (1682-1725), hegemony was extended to the Baltic Sea and the country was renamed the Russian Empire. During the 19th century, more territorial acquisitions were made in Europe and Asia. Defeat in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 contributed to the Revolution of 1905, which resulted in the formation of a parliament and other reforms. Devastating defeats and food shortages in World War I led to widespread rioting in the major cities of the Russian Empire and to the overthrow of the ROMANOV Dynasty in 1917. The communists under Vladimir LENIN seized power soon after and formed the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).

The brutal rule of Iosif STALIN (1928-53) strengthened communist control and Russian dominance of the Soviet Union at a cost of tens of millions of lives. After defeating Germany in World War II as part of an alliance with the US (1939-1945), the USSR expanded its territory and influence in Eastern Europe and emerged as a global power. The USSR was the principal US adversary during the Cold War (1947-1991). The Soviet economy and society stagnated in the decades following Stalin's rule, until General Secretary Mikhail GORBACHEV (1985-91) introduced glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) in an attempt to modernize communism. His initiatives inadvertently released political and economic forces that by December 1991 led to the dissolution of the USSR into Russia and 14 other independent states. In response to the ensuing turmoil during President Boris YELTSIN's term (1991-99), Russia shifted toward a centralized authoritarian state under President Vladimir PUTIN (2000-2008, 2012-present) in which the regime seeks to legitimize its rule through managed elections, populist appeals, a foreign policy focused on enhancing the country's geopolitical influence, and commodity-based economic growth.

In 2014, Russia purported to annex Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and occupied large portions of two eastern Ukrainian oblasts. In sporadic fighting over the next eight years, more than 14,000 civilians were killed or wounded as a result of the Russian invasion in eastern Ukraine. On 24 February 2022, Russia escalated its conflict with Ukraine by invading the country on several fronts in what has become the largest conventional military attack on a sovereign state in Europe since World War II. The invasion received near-universal international condemnation, and many countries imposed sanctions on Russia and supplied humanitarian and military aid to Ukraine. In September 2022, Russia unilaterally declared its annexation of four Ukrainian oblasts -- Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhia -- even though none were fully under Russian control. The annexations remain unrecognized by the international community. 

Rwanda

Rwanda -- a small and centralized country dominated by rugged hills and fertile volcanic soil -- has exerted disproportionate influence over the African Great Lakes region for centuries. A Rwandan kingdom increasingly dominated the region from the mid-18th century onward, with the Tutsi monarchs gradually extending the power of the royal court into peripheral areas and expanding their borders through military conquest. While the current ethnic labels Hutu and Tutsi predate colonial rule, their flexibility and importance have varied significantly over time and often manifested more as a hierarchical class distinction than an ethnic or cultural distinction. The majority Hutu and minority Tutsi have long shared a common language and culture, and intermarriage was frequent. The Rwandan royal court centered on the Tutsi king (mwami), who relied on an extensive network of political, cultural, and economic relationships. Social categories became more rigid during the reign of RWABUGIRI (1860-1895), who focused on aggressive expansion and solidifying Rwanda’s bureaucratic structures. German colonial conquest began in the late 1890s, but the territory was ceded to Belgian forces in 1916 during World War I. Both European nations quickly realized the benefits of ruling through the already centralized Rwandan Tutsi kingdom. Colonial rule reinforced existing trends toward autocratic and exclusionary rule, leading to the elimination of traditional positions of authority for Hutus and a calcification of ethnic identities. Belgian administrators significantly increased requirements for communal labor and instituted harsh taxes, increasing frustration and inequality. Changing political attitudes in Belgium contributed to colonial and Catholic officials shifting their support from Tutsi to Hutu leaders in the years leading up to independence.

Newly mobilized political parties and simmering resentment of minority rule exploded in 1959, three years before independence from Belgium, when Hutus overthrew the Tutsi king. Thousands of Tutsis were killed over the next several years, and some 150,000 were driven into exile in neighboring countries. Army Chief of Staff Juvenal HABYARIMANA seized power in a coup in 1973 and ruled Rwanda as a single-party state for two decades. HABYARIMANA increasingly discriminated against Tutsis, and extremist Hutu factions gained prominence after multiple parties were introduced in the early 1990s. The children of Tutsi exiles later formed a rebel group, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and began a civil war in 1990. The civil war exacerbated ethnic tensions and culminated in the shooting down of HABYARIMANA’s private jet in 1994. The event sparked a state-orchestrated genocide in which Rwandans killed more than 800,000 of their fellow citizens, including approximately three-quarters of the Tutsi population. The genocide ended later that same year when the predominantly Tutsi RPF, operating out of Uganda and northern Rwanda, defeated the national army and Hutu militias and established an RPF-led government of national unity. Rwanda held its first local elections in 1999 and its first post-genocide presidential and legislative elections in 2003, formalizing President Paul KAGAME’s de facto role as head of government. KAGAME was formally elected in 2010, and again in 2017 after changing the constitution to allow him to run for a third term.

Saint Barthelemy

In 1493, Christopher COLUMBUS named Saint Barthelemy for his brother Bartolomeo, but the island was first settled by the French in 1648. In 1784, France sold the island to Sweden, which renamed the largest town Gustavia after the Swedish King GUSTAV III and made it a free port; the island prospered as a trade and supply center during the colonial wars of the 18th century. France repurchased the island in 1877 and took control the following year, placing it under the administration of Guadeloupe. Saint Barthelemy retained its free port status along with various Swedish appellations such as Swedish street and town names, and the three-crown symbol on the coat of arms. In 2003, the islanders voted to secede from Guadeloupe, and in 2007, the island became a French overseas collectivity. In 2012, it became an overseas territory of the EU, allowing it to exert local control over the permanent and temporary immigration of foreign workers, including non-French European citizens. Hurricane Irma hit the island in 2017 and caused extensive damage.

Saint Helena, Ascension, and Tristan da Cunha

Saint Helena is a British Overseas Territory off the coast of Africa in the South Atlantic Ocean, and it consists of Saint Helena, Ascension Island, and the island group of Tristan da Cunha.

Saint Helena: The island was uninhabited when the Portuguese first discovered it in 1502, and the British garrisoned troops on Saint Helena during the 17th century. It acquired fame as the place of Napoleon BONAPARTE's exile from 1815 until his death in 1821, but its importance as a port of call declined after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. During the Anglo-Boer War in South Africa, several thousand Boer prisoners were confined on the island between 1900 and 1903.

Saint Helena is one of the most remote populated places in the world. The British Government committed to building an airport on Saint Helena in 2005. After more than a decade of delays and construction, a commercial air service to South Africa via Namibia was inaugurated in 2017. The weekly service to Saint Helena from Johannesburg via Windhoek in Namibia takes just over six hours (including the refueling stop in Windhoek) and replaces the mail ship that had made a five-day journey to the island every three weeks.

Ascension Island: This barren and uninhabited island was discovered and named by the Portuguese in 1503. The British garrisoned the island in 1815 to prevent a rescue of NAPOLEON from Saint Helena. It served as a provisioning station for the Royal Navy's West Africa Squadron on anti-slavery patrol. The island remained under Admiralty control until 1922, when it became a dependency of Saint Helena. During World War II, the UK permitted the US to construct an airfield on Ascension in support of transatlantic flights to Africa and anti-submarine operations in the South Atlantic. In the 1960s, the island became an important space tracking station for the US. In 1982, Ascension was an essential staging area for British forces during the Falklands War. It remains a critical refueling point in the air-bridge from the UK to the South Atlantic.

The island hosts one of four dedicated ground antennas that assist in the operation of the Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation system -- the others are on Diego Garcia (British Indian Ocean Territory), Kwajalein (Marshall Islands), and at Cape Canaveral, Florida (US). NASA and the US Air Force also operate a Meter-Class Autonomous Telescope (MCAT) on Ascension as part of the deep space surveillance system for tracking orbital debris, which can be a hazard to spacecraft and astronauts.

Tristan da Cunha: The island group consists of Tristan da Cunha, Nightingale, Inaccessible, and Gough Islands. Tristan da Cunha, named after its Portuguese discoverer (1506), was garrisoned by the British in 1816 to prevent any attempt to rescue NAPOLEON from Saint Helena. Gough and Inaccessible Islands have been designated World Heritage Sites. South Africa leases a site for a meteorological station on Gough Island.

Saint Kitts and Nevis

Carib Indians occupied the islands of the West Indies for hundreds of years before the British and French began settlement in 1623. During the 17th century, Saint Kitts became the premier base for British and French expansion into the Caribbean. The French ceded the territory to the UK in 1713. At the turn of the 18th century, Saint Kitts was the richest British Crown Colony per capita in the Caribbean, a result of the sugar trade. Although small in size and separated by only 3 km (2 mi) of water, Saint Kitts and Nevis were viewed and governed as different states until the late-19th century, when the British forcibly unified them along with the island of Anguilla. In 1967, the island territory of Saint Christopher-Nevis-Anguilla became an associated state of the UK with full internal autonomy. The island of Anguilla rebelled and was allowed to secede in 1971. The remaining islands achieved independence in 1983 as Saint Kitts and Nevis. In 1998, a referendum on Nevis to separate from Saint Kitts fell short of the necessary two-thirds majority.

Saint Lucia

England and France contested Saint Lucia -- with its fine natural harbor at Castries and burgeoning sugar industry -- throughout the 17th and early 18th centuries, with possession changing 14 times; it was finally ceded to the UK in 1814 and became part of the British Windward Islands colony. Even after the abolition of slavery on its plantations in 1834, Saint Lucia remained an agricultural island, dedicated to producing tropical commodity crops. In the mid-20th century, Saint Lucia joined the West Indies Federation (1958–1962) and in 1967 became one of the six members of the West Indies Associated States, with internal self-government. In 1979, Saint Lucia gained full independence.

Saint Martin

Christopher COLUMBUS claimed Saint Martin for Spain in 1493, naming it after the feast day of St. Martin of Tours, but it was the Dutch who occupied the island in 1631 to exploit its salt deposits. The Spanish retook Saint Martin in 1633, but the Dutch continued to assert their claims. The Spanish finally relinquished the island to the French and Dutch, who divided it between themselves in 1648. The border frequently fluctuated over the next 200 years because of friction between the two countries, with the French eventually holding the greater portion of the island (about 61%).

The cultivation of sugarcane introduced African slavery to the island in the late 18th century; the practice was not abolished until 1848. The island became a free port in 1939, and the tourism industry was dramatically expanded during the 1970s and 1980s. In 2003, the populace of Saint Martin voted to secede from Guadeloupe, and in 2007, the northern portion of the island became a French overseas collectivity. In 2010, the southern Dutch portion of the island became the independent nation of Sint Maarten within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. In 2017, Hurricane Irma passed over the island of Saint Martin, causing extensive damage to roads, communications, electrical power, and housing; the UN estimated that 90% of the buildings were damaged or destroyed.

Saint Pierre and Miquelon

First settled by the French in the early 17th century, Saint Pierre and Miquelon are the sole remaining vestige of France's once vast North American possessions. They attained the status of an overseas collectivity in 2003.

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

Resistance from native Caribs prevented colonization on Saint Vincent until 1719. France and England disputed the island for most of the 18th century, but it was ceded to England in 1783. The British prized Saint Vincent because of its fertile soil, which allowed for thriving slave-run plantations of sugar, coffee, indigo, tobacco, cotton, and cocoa. In 1834, the British abolished slavery. Immigration of indentured servants eased the ensuing labor shortage, as did subsequent immigrant waves from Portugal and East India. Conditions remained harsh for both former slaves and immigrant agricultural workers, however, as depressed world sugar prices kept the economy stagnant until the early 1900s. The economy then went into a period of decline, with many landowners abandoning their estates and leaving the land to be cultivated by liberated slaves.

Between 1960 and 1962, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines was a separate administrative unit of the Federation of the West Indies. Autonomy was granted in 1969 and independence in 1979. In 2021, the eruption of the La Soufrière volcano in the north of Saint Vincent destroyed much of Saint Vincent’s most productive agricultural lands. Unlike most of its tourism-dependent neighbors, the Vincentian economy is primarily agricultural. 

Samoa

The first Austronesian settlers arrived in Samoa around 1000 B.C., and early Samoans traded and intermarried with Fijian and Tongan nobility. The fa’amatai system of titles and nobility developed, which dominates Samoan politics to this day; all but two seats in the legislature are reserved for matai, or heads of families. A Dutch explorer was the first European to spot the islands in 1722. Christian missionaries arrived in the 1830s and were followed by an influx of American and European settlers and influence. By the 1880s, Germany, the UK, and the US had trading posts and claimed parts of the kingdom. In 1886, an eight-year civil war broke out, with rival matai factions fighting over royal succession and the three foreign powers providing support to the factions. Germany, the UK, and the US all sent warships to Apia in 1889 and came close to conflict, but a cyclone damaged or destroyed the ships of all three navies.  

At the end of the civil war in 1894, Malietoa LAUPEPA was installed as king, but upon his death in 1898, a second civil war over succession broke out. When the war ended in 1899, the Western powers abolished the monarchy, giving the western Samoan islands to Germany and the eastern Samoan islands to the US. The UK abandoned claims in Samoa and received former German territory in the Solomon Islands. 

New Zealand occupied Samoa during World War I but was accused of negligence and opposed by many Samoans, particularly an organized political movement called the Mau (“Strongly Held View”) that advocated for independence. During the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic, about 20% of the population died. In 1929, New Zealand police shot into a crowd of peaceful Mau protestors, killing 11, in an event known as Black Sunday. In 1962, Samoa became the first Polynesian nation to reestablish its independence as Western Samoa but dropped the “Western” from its name in 1997. The Human Rights Protection Party dominated politics from 1982 until Prime Minister FIAME Naomi Mata'afa's Fa'atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (FAST) party gained a majority in elections in 2021.

San Marino

Geographically the third-smallest state in Europe (after the Holy See and Monaco), San Marino also claims to be the world's oldest republic. According to tradition, it was founded by a Christian stonemason named MARINUS in A.D. 301. San Marino's foreign policy is aligned with that of the EU, although it is not a member.  San Marino is negotiating an Association Agreement that is expected to allow participation in the EU’s internal market and cooperation in other policy areas by late 2024. Social and political trends in the republic track closely with those of its larger neighbor, Italy.

Sao Tome and Principe

Portugal discovered and colonized the uninhabited Sao Tome and Principe islands in the late 15th century, setting up a sugar-based economy that gave way to coffee and cocoa in the 19th century -- all grown with African slave labor, a form of which lingered into the 20th century. While independence was achieved in 1975, democratic reforms were not instituted until the late 1980s.

The country held its first free elections in 1991, but frequent internal wrangling among the various political parties precipitated repeated changes in leadership and failed, non-violent coup attempts in 1995, 1998, 2003, and 2009. In 2012, three opposition parties combined in a no-confidence vote to bring down the majority government of former Prime Minister Patrice TROVOADA, but legislative elections returned him to the office two years later. President Evaristo CARVALHO, of the same political party as TROVOADA, was elected in 2016, marking a rare instance in which the same party held the positions of president and prime minister. TROVOADA resigned in 2018 and was replaced by Jorge BOM JESUS. Carlos Vila NOVA was elected president in 2021. TROVOADA began his fourth stint as prime minister in 2022, after his party's victory in legislative elections. 

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Islam and home to Islam's two holiest shrines in Mecca and Medina. The king's official title is the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. ABD AL-AZIZ bin Abd al-Rahman AL SAUD (Ibn Saud) founded the modern Saudi state in 1932 after a 30-year campaign to unify most of the Arabian Peninsula. One of his male descendants rules the country today, as required by the country's 1992 Basic Law. After Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, Saudi Arabia took in the Kuwaiti royal family and 400,000 refugees, while allowing Western and Arab troops to deploy on its soil and liberate Kuwait the following year. Major terrorist attacks in 2003 spurred a strong ongoing campaign against domestic terrorism and extremism. US troops returned to the Kingdom in 2019 after attacks on Saudi oil infrastructure.

From 2005 to 2015, King ABDALLAH bin Abd al-Aziz Al Saud incrementally modernized the Kingdom through a series of social and economic initiatives that included expanding employment and social opportunities for women, attracting foreign investment, increasing the private sector's role in the economy, and discouraging the hiring of foreign workers. Saudi Arabia saw some protests during the 2011 Arab Spring but not the level of bloodshed seen in protests elsewhere in the region; Riyadh took a cautious but firm approach, arresting and quickly releasing some protesters and using its state-sponsored clerics to counter political and Islamist activism. The government held its first-ever elections in 2005 and 2011, when Saudis voted for municipal councilors. King ABDALLAH's reforms accelerated under King SALMAN bin Abd al-Aziz, who ascended to the throne in 2015 and lifted the Kingdom's ban on women driving, implemented education reforms, funded green initiatives, and allowed cinemas to operate for the first time in decades. In 2015, women were allowed to vote and stand as candidates for the first time in municipal elections, with 19 women winning seats. King SALMAN initially named his nephew, MUHAMMAD BIN NAYIF bin Abd al-Aziz Al Saud, as the Crown Prince, but a palace coup in 2017 resulted in King SALMAN's son, Deputy Crown Prince MUHAMMAD BIN SALMAN bin Abd al-Aziz Al Saud, taking over as Crown Prince. King SALMAN appointed MUHAMMAD BIN SALMAN as prime minister in 2022.

In 2015, Saudi Arabia led a coalition of 10 countries in a military campaign to restore Yemen's legitimate government, which had been ousted by Houthi forces. The war in Yemen has drawn international criticism for civilian casualties and its effect on the country’s dire humanitarian situation. The same year, MUHAMMAD BIN SALMAN announced that Saudi Arabia would lead a multi-nation Islamic Coalition to fight terrorism, and in 2017, Saudi Arabia inaugurated the Global Center for Combatting Extremist Ideology (also known as "Etidal"). 

The country remains a leading producer of oil and natural gas and holds about 17% of the world's proven oil reserves as of 2020. The government continues to pursue economic reform and diversification -- particularly since Saudi Arabia's accession to the WTO in 2005 -- and promotes foreign investment in the Kingdom. In 2016, the Saudi Government announced broad socio-economic reforms known as Vision 2030. Low global oil prices in 2015 and 2016 significantly lowered Saudi Arabia’s governmental revenue, prompting cuts to subsidies on water, electricity, and gasoline; reduced government-employee compensation; and new land taxes. In coordination with OPEC and some key non-OPEC countries, Saudi Arabia agreed to cut oil output in 2017 to regulate supply and help boost global prices. In 2020, this agreement collapsed, and Saudi Arabia launched a price war by flooding the market with low-priced oil before returning to the negotiating table to agree to a major output cut that helped buoy prices. 

Senegal

Senegal is one of the few countries in the world with evidence of continuous human life from the Paleolithic period to present. Between the 14th and 16th centuries, the Jolof Empire ruled most of Senegal. Starting in the 15th century, Portugal, the Netherlands, France, and Great Britain traded along the Senegalese coast. Senegal’s location on the western tip of Africa made it a favorable base for the European slave trade. European powers used the Senegalese island of Goree as a base to purchase slaves from the warring chiefdoms on the mainland, and at the height of the slave trade in Senegal, over one-third of the Senegalese population was enslaved. In 1815, France abolished slavery and began expanding inland. During the second half of the 19th century, France took possession of Senegal as a French colony. In 1959, the French colonies of Senegal and French Sudan were merged and granted independence in 1960 as the Mali Federation. The union broke up after only a few months. In 1982, Senegal joined with The Gambia to form the nominal confederation of Senegambia. The envisaged integration of the two countries was never implemented, and the union dissolved in 1989.

Since the 1980s, the Movement of Democratic Forces in the Casamance -- a separatist movement based in southern Senegal -- has led a low-level insurgency. Several attempts at reaching a comprehensive peace agreement have failed. Since 2012, despite sporadic incidents of violence, an unofficial cease-fire has remained largely in effect. Senegal is one of the most stable democracies in Africa and has a long history of participating in international peacekeeping and regional mediation. The Socialist Party of Senegal ruled for 40 years until Abdoulaye WADE was elected president in 2000 and re-elected in 2007. WADE amended Senegal's constitution over a dozen times to increase executive power and weaken the opposition. In 2012, WADE’s decision to run for a third presidential term sparked public backlash that led to his loss to current President Macky SALL. A 2016 constitutional referendum limited future presidents to two consecutive five-year terms. President Bassirou Diomaye FAYE took office in April 2024.

Serbia

In 1918, the Croats, Serbs, and Slovenes formed a kingdom known after 1929 as Yugoslavia. The monarchy remained in power until 1945, when the communist Partisans headed by Josip Broz (aka TITO) took control of the newly created Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY). After TITO died in 1980, communism in Yugoslavia gradually gave way to resurgent nationalism. In 1989, Slobodan MILOSEVIC became president of the Republic of Serbia, and his calls for Serbian domination led to the violent breakup of Yugoslavia along ethnic lines. In 1991, Croatia, Slovenia, and Macedonia declared independence, followed by Bosnia in 1992. The remaining republics of Serbia and Montenegro declared a new Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) in 1992, and MILOSEVIC led military campaigns to unite ethnic Serbs in neighboring republics into a "Greater Serbia." These actions ultimately failed, and international intervention led to the signing of the Dayton Accords in 1995.

In 1998, an ethnic Albanian insurgency in the formerly autonomous Serbian province of Kosovo resulted in a brutal Serbian counterinsurgency campaign. Serbia rejected a proposed international settlement, and NATO responded with a bombing campaign that forced Serbian forces to withdraw from Kosovo in June 1999. In 2003, the FRY became the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro, a loose federation of the two republics. In 2006, Montenegro seceded and declared itself an independent nation. 

In 2008, Kosovo also declared independence -- an action Serbia still refuses to recognize. In 2013, Serbia and Kosovo signed the first agreement of principles governing the normalization of relations between the two countries. Additional agreements were reached in 2015 and 2023, but implementation remains incomplete. Serbia has been an official candidate for EU membership since 2012, and President Aleksandar VUCIC has promoted the ambitious goal of Serbia joining the EU by 2025.

Seychelles

Seychelles was uninhabited before Europeans discovered the islands early in the 16th century. After a lengthy struggle, France eventually ceded control of the islands to Great Britain in 1814. During colonial rule, a plantation-based economy developed that relied on imported labor, primarily from European colonies in Africa. Seychelles gained independence in 1976 through negotiations with Great Britain. In 1977, Prime Minister France-Albert RENE launched a coup against the country’s first president, and Seychelles became a socialist one-party state until adopting a new constitution and holding elections in 1993. RENE continued to lead Seychelles through two election cycles until he stepped down in 2004. Vice President James Alix MICHEL took over the presidency and in 2006 was elected to a new five-year term; he was reelected in 2011 and again in 2015. In 2016, James MICHEL resigned and handed over the presidency to his vice-president, Danny FAURE. In 2020, Wavel RAMKALAWAN was elected president, the first time an opposition candidate has won the presidency.

Sierra Leone

Continuously populated for at least 2,500 years, the area now known as Sierra Leone is covered with dense jungle that allowed the region to remain relatively protected from invading West African empires. Traders introduced Sierra Leone to Islam, which occupies a central role in Sierra Leonean culture and history. In the 17th century, the British set up a trading post near present-day Freetown. The trade originally involved timber and ivory but later expanded to enslaved people. In 1787, after the American Revolution, Sierra Leone became a destination for Black British loyalists from the new United States. When Britain abolished the slave trade in 1807, British ships delivered thousands of liberated Africans to Sierra Leone. During the 19th century, the colony gradually expanded inland.

In 1961, Sierra Leone became independent of the UK. Sierra Leone held free and fair elections in 1962 and 1967, but Siaka STEVENS -- Sierra Leone’s second prime minister -- quickly reverted to authoritarian tendencies, outlawing most political parties and ruling from 1967 to 1985. In 1991, Sierra Leonean soldiers launched a civil war against STEVENS’ ruling party. The war caused tens of thousands of deaths and displaced more than 2 million people (about one third of the population). In 1998, a Nigerian-led West African coalition military force intervened, installing Tejan KABBAH -- who was originally elected in 1996 -- as prime minister. In 2002, KABBAH officially announced the end of the war. Since 1998, Sierra Leone has conducted democratic elections dominated by the two main political parties, the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) and the All People’s Congress (APC) party. In 2018, Julius Maada BIO of the Sierra Leone People’s Party won the presidential election that saw a high voter turnout despite some allegations of voter intimidation. BIO won again in June 2023, although irregularities were noted that called into question the integrity of the results.  In October 2023, the Government of Sierra Leone and the main opposition party, the All People’s Congress, signed the Agreement for National Unity to boost cooperation between political parties and begin the process of reforming the country’s electoral system.

Singapore

A Malay trading port known as Temasek existed on the island of Singapore by the 14th century. The settlement changed hands several times in the ensuing centuries and was eventually burned in the 17th century, falling into obscurity. In 1819, the British founded modern Singapore as a trading colony on the same site and granted it full internal self-government for all matters except defense and foreign affairs in 1959.  Singapore joined the Malaysian Federation in 1963 but was ousted two years later and became independent. Singapore subsequently became one of the world's most prosperous countries, with strong international trading links and per capita GDP among the highest globally. The People’s Action Party has won every general election in Singapore since the end of the British colonial era, aided by its success in delivering consistent economic growth, as well as the city-state's fragmented opposition and electoral procedures that strongly favor the ruling party. 

Sint Maarten

Christopher COLUMBUS claimed Saint Martin for Spain in 1493, naming it after the feast day of St. Martin of Tours, but it was the Dutch who occupied the island in 1631 to exploit its salt deposits. The Spanish retook Saint Martin in 1633, but the Dutch continued to assert their claims. The Spanish finally relinquished the island to the French and Dutch, who divided it between themselves in 1648. The border frequently fluctuated over the next 200 years because of friction between the two countries, with the Dutch eventually holding the smaller portion of the island (about 39%) and adopting the Dutch spelling of the island's name for their territory. 

The establishment of cotton, tobacco, and sugar plantations dramatically expanded African slavery on the island in the 18th and 19th centuries; the practice was not abolished in the Dutch half until 1863. The island's economy declined until 1939 when it became a free port; the tourism industry was dramatically expanded beginning in the 1950s. In 1954, Sint Maarten and several other Dutch Caribbean possessions became part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands as the Netherlands Antilles. In a 2000 referendum, the citizens of Sint Maarten voted to become a self-governing country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, effective in 2010. In 2017, Hurricane Irma hit Saint Martin/Sint Maarten, causing extensive damage to roads, communications, electrical power, and housing; the UN estimated that 90% of the buildings were damaged or destroyed.

Slovakia

Slovakia traces its roots to the 9th century state of Great Moravia. The Slovaks then became part of the Hungarian Kingdom, where they remained for the next 1,000 years. After the formation of the dual Austro-Hungarian monarchy in 1867, language and education policies favoring the use of Hungarian (known as "Magyarization") led to a public backlash that boosted Slovak nationalism and strengthened Slovak cultural ties with the closely related Czechs, who fell administratively under the Austrian half of the empire. When the Austro-Hungarian Empire dissolved at the end of World War I, the Slovaks joined the Czechs to form Czechoslovakia. During the interwar period, Slovak nationalist leaders pushed for autonomy within Czechoslovakia, and in 1939, in the wake of Germany's annexation of the Sudetenland, the newly established Slovak Republic became a German client state for the remainder of World War II.

After World War II, Czechoslovakia was reconstituted and came under communist rule within Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe. In 1968, Warsaw Pact troops invaded and ended the efforts of Czechoslovakia's leaders to liberalize communist rule and create "socialism with a human face," ushering in a period of repression known as "normalization." The peaceful Velvet Revolution swept the Communist Party from power at the end of 1989 and inaugurated a return to democratic rule and a market economy. On 1 January 1993, Czechoslovakia underwent a nonviolent "velvet divorce" into its two national components, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Slovakia joined both NATO and the EU in 2004 and the euro zone in 2009.

Slovenia

The Slovene lands were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the latter's dissolution at the end of World War I. In 1918, Slovenia became part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, which was renamed Yugoslavia in 1929. After World War II, Slovenia joined Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia as one of the constituent republics in the new Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY). In 1990, Slovenia held its first multiparty elections, as well as a referendum on independence. Serbia responded with an economic blockade and military action, but after a short 10-day war, Slovenia declared independence in 1991. Slovenia acceded to both NATO and the EU in the spring of 2004; it joined the euro zone and the Schengen Area in 2007.

Solomon Islands

Settlers from Papua arrived on the Solomon Islands around 30,000 years ago. About 6,000 years ago, Austronesian settlers came to the islands, and the two groups mixed extensively. Despite significant inter-island trade, no attempts were made to unite the islands into a single political entity. In 1568, a Spanish explorer became the first European to spot the islands. After a failed Spanish attempt at creating a permanent European settlement in the late 1500s, the Solomon Islands remained free of European contact until a British explorer arrived in 1767. European explorers and US and British whaling ships regularly visited the islands into the 1800s.

Germany declared a protectorate over the northern Solomon Islands in 1885, and the UK established a protectorate over the southern islands in 1893. In 1899, Germany transferred its islands to the UK in exchange for the UK relinquishing all claims in Samoa. In 1942, Japan invaded the islands, and the Guadalcanal Campaign (August 1942-February 1943) proved a turning point in the Pacific war. The fighting destroyed large parts of the Solomon Islands, and a nationalist movement emerged near the end of the war. By 1960, the British allowed some local autonomy. The islands were granted self-government in 1976 and independence two years later under Prime Minister Sir Peter KENILOREA.

In 1999, longstanding tensions between ethnic Guale in Honiara and ethnic Malaitans in Honiara’s suburbs erupted in civil war, leading thousands of Malaitans to take refuge in Honiara and prompting Guale to flee the city. In 2000, newly elected Prime Minister Manasseh SOGAVARE focused on peace agreements and distributing resources equally among groups, but his actions bankrupted the government in 2001 and led to his ouster. In 2003, the Solomon Islands requested international assistance to reestablish law and order; the Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands, which ended in 2017, improved the security situation. In 2006, however, riots broke out in Honiara, and the city’s Chinatown was burned amid allegations that the prime minister took money from China. SOGAVARE was reelected prime minister for a fourth time in 2019. When a small group of protestors, mostly from the island of Malaita, approached parliament to lodge a petition calling for SOGAVARE’s removal and more development in Malaita in 2021, police fired tear gas into the crowd which sparked rioting and looting in Honiara. 

Somalia

Between A.D. 800 and 1100, immigrant Muslim Arabs and Persians set up coastal trading posts along the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, solidifying present-day Somalia’s close trading relationship with the Arab Peninsula. In the late 19th century, Britain, France, and Italy established colonies in the Somali Peninsula that lasted until 1960, when British Somaliland gained independence and joined with Italian Somaliland to form the Republic of Somalia.

The country functioned as a parliamentary democracy until 1969, when General Mohamed SIAD Barre took control in a coup, beginning a 22-year socialist dictatorship. In an effort to centralize power, SIAD called for the eradication of the clan, the key cultural and social organizing principle in Somali society. Resistance to SIAD’s socialist leadership, which was causing a rapid deterioration of the country, prompted allied clan militias to overthrow SIAD in 1991, resulting in state collapse. Subsequent fighting between rival clans for resources and territory overwhelmed the country, causing a manmade famine and prompting international intervention. Beginning in 1993, the UN spearheaded an international humanitarian mission, but the international community largely withdrew by 1995 after an incident that became known as Black Hawk Down, in which two US military helicopters were shot down in Mogadishu. The fighting and subsequent siege and rescue resulted in 21 deaths and 82 wounded among the international forces.

International peace conferences in the 2000s resulted in a number of transitional governments that operated outside Somalia. Left largely to themselves, Somalis in the country established alternative governance structures; some areas formed their own administrations, such as Somaliland and Puntland, while others developed localized institutions. Many local populations turned to sharia courts, an Islamic judicial system that implements religious law. Several of these courts came together in 2006 to form the Islamic Courts Union (ICU). The ICU established order in many areas of central and southern Somalia, including Mogadishu, but was forced out when Ethiopia intervened militarily in 2006 on behalf of the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG). As the TFG settled in the capital, the ICU fled to rural areas or left Somalia altogether, but the organization reemerged less than a year later as the Islamic insurgent and terrorist movement al-Shabaab, which is still active today.

In 2007, the African Union (AU) established a peacekeeping force, took over security responsibility for the country, and gave the TFG space to develop Somalia’s new government. By 2012, Somali powerbrokers agreed on a provisional constitution with a loose federal structure and established a central government in Mogadishu called the Somali Federal Government (SFG). Since then, the country has seen several interim regional administrations and three presidential elections, but significant governance and security problems remain because al-Shabaab still controls large portions of the country.

South Africa

Some of the earliest human remains in the fossil record were found in South Africa. By about A.D. 500, Bantu-speaking groups began settling into what is now northeastern South Africa, displacing Khoisan-speaking groups to the southwest. Dutch traders landed at the southern tip of present-day South Africa in 1652 and established a stopover point on the spice route between the Netherlands and the Far East, founding the city of Cape Town. After the British seized the Cape of Good Hope area in 1806, many settlers of Dutch descent -- known then as "Boers," or farmers, but later called Afrikaners -- trekked north to found their own republics, Transvaal and Orange Free State. In the 1820s, several decades of wars began as the Zulus expanded their territory, moving out of what is today southeastern South Africa and clashing with other indigenous peoples and the growing European settlements. The discovery of diamonds (1867) and gold (1886) spurred mass immigration, predominantly from Europe.

The Zulu kingdom's territory was incorporated into the British Empire after the Anglo-Zulu War in 1879, and the Afrikaner republics were incorporated after their defeat in the Second South African War (1899-1902). Beginning in 1910, the British and the Afrikaners ruled together under the Union of South Africa, which left the British Commonwealth to become a fully self-governing republic in 1961 after a Whites-only referendum. In 1948, the National Party was voted into power and instituted a policy of apartheid -– billed as "separate development" of the races -- which favored the White minority and suppressed the Black majority and other non-White groups. The African National Congress (ANC) led the resistance to apartheid, and many top ANC leaders such as Nelson MANDELA spent decades in South Africa's prisons. Internal protests and insurgency, as well as boycotts from some Western nations and institutions, led to the regime's eventual willingness to unban the ANC and negotiate a peaceful transition to majority rule.

The first multi-racial elections in 1994 ushered in majority rule under an ANC-led government. South Africa has since struggled to address apartheid-era imbalances in wealth, housing, education, and health care under successive administrations. President Cyril RAMAPHOSA, who was reelected as the ANC leader in 2022, has made some progress in reigning in corruption. 

South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands

South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands lie approximately 1,000 km east of the Falkland Islands and have been under British administration since 1908 -- except for a brief period in 1982 when Argentina occupied them. Grytviken, on South Georgia, was a 19th- and early 20th-century whaling station. Famed explorer Ernest SHACKLETON stopped there in 1914 en route to his ill-fated attempt to cross Antarctica on foot. He returned some 20 months later with a few companions in a small boat and arranged a successful rescue for the rest of his crew, which was stranded off the Antarctic Peninsula. He died in 1922 on a subsequent expedition and is buried in Grytviken. Today, the station houses scientists from the British Antarctic Survey. Recognizing the importance of preserving the marine stocks in adjacent waters, the UK extended the exclusive fishing zone in 1993, from 12 nm to 200 nm around each island.

South Sudan

South Sudan, which gained independence from Sudan in 2011, is the world’s newest country. Home to a diverse array of mainly Nilotic ethnolinguistic groups that settled in the territory in the 15th through 19th centuries, South Sudanese society is heavily dependent on seasonal migration and seasonal fluctuations in precipitation. Modern-day South Sudan was conquered first by Egypt and later ruled jointly by Egyptian-British colonial administrators in the late 19th century. Christian missionaries helped spread the English language and Christianity in the area, leading to significant cultural differences with the northern part of Sudan, where Arabic and Islam are dominant. When Sudan gained its independence in 1956, the southern region received assurances that it would participate fully in the political system. However, the Arab government in Khartoum reneged on its promises, prompting two periods of civil war (1955-1972 and 1983-2005) in which as many as 2.5 million people died -- mostly civilians -- due largely to starvation and drought. The second Sudanese civil war was one of the deadliest since WWII and left southern Sudanese society devastated. Peace talks resulted in a US-backed Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005, which granted the South six years of autonomy followed by a referendum on final status. The result of this referendum, held in 2011, was a vote of 98% in favor of secession.

Since independence, South Sudan has struggled to form a viable governing system and has been plagued by widespread corruption, political conflict, and communal violence. In 2013, conflict erupted between forces loyal to President Salva KIIR, a Dinka, and forces loyal to Vice President Riek MACHAR, a Nuer. The conflict quickly spread through the country along ethnic lines, killing tens of thousands and creating a humanitarian crisis with millions of South Sudanese displaced. KIIR and MACHAR signed a peace agreement in 2015 that created a Transitional Government of National Unity the next year. However, renewed fighting broke out in Juba between KIIR and MACHAR’s forces, plunging the country back into conflict and drawing in additional armed opposition groups. A "revitalized" peace agreement was signed in 2018, mostly ending the fighting and laying the groundwork for a unified national army, a transitional government, and elections. The transitional government was formed in 2020, when MACHAR returned to Juba as first vice president. Since 2020, implementation of the peace agreement has been stalled amid wrangling over power-sharing, which has contributed to an uptick in communal violence and the country’s worst food crisis since independence, with 7 of 11 million South Sudanese citizens in need of humanitarian assistance. The transitional period was extended an additional two years in 2022, pushing elections to late 2024.

Southern Ocean

A large body of recent oceanographic research has shown that the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC), an ocean current that flows from west to east around Antarctica, plays a crucial role in global ocean circulation. The region where the cold waters of the ACC meet and mingle with the warmer waters of the north defines a distinct border -- the Antarctic Convergence -- which fluctuates with the seasons but encompasses a discrete body of water and a unique ecologic region. The Convergence concentrates nutrients, which promotes marine plant life, which in turn allows for a greater abundance of animal life. In 2000, the International Hydrographic Organization delimited the waters within the Convergence as a fifth world ocean basin -- the Southern Ocean -- by combining the southern portions of the Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, and Pacific Ocean. The Southern Ocean extends from the coast of Antarctica north to 60 degrees south latitude, which coincides with the Antarctic Treaty region and which approximates the extent of the Antarctic Convergence. As such, the Southern Ocean is now the fourth largest of the world's five ocean basins (after the Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean, and Indian Ocean). It should be noted that inclusion of the Southern Ocean does not imply US Government recognition of this feature as one of the world's primary ocean basins.

Spain

Spain's powerful world empire of the 16th and 17th centuries ultimately yielded command of the seas to England.  Spain remained neutral during both World Wars but suffered through a devastating civil war (1936-39) resulting in a dictatorship. A peaceful transition to democracy after the death of dictator Francisco FRANCO in 1975 and rapid economic modernization after Spain joined the EU in 1986 gave Spain a dynamic and rapidly growing economy. After a severe recession in the wake of the global financial crisis in 2008, Spain has posted solid years of GDP growth above the EU average. Unemployment has fallen but remains high, especially among youth. Spain is the euro-zone's fourth-largest economy. The country has faced increased domestic turmoil in recent years due to the independence movement in its restive Catalonia region.

Spratly Islands

The Spratly Islands consist of more than 100 small islands or reefs surrounded by rich fishing grounds -- and potentially by gas and oil deposits. China, Taiwan, and Vietnam all claim the islands in their entirety, while portions are claimed by Malaysia and the Philippines. About 45 islands are occupied by relatively small numbers of military forces from China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam. Since 1985, Brunei has claimed a continental shelf that overlaps a southern reef but has not made any formal claim to the reef. Brunei claims an exclusive economic zone over this area.

Sri Lanka

The first Sinhalese arrived in Sri Lanka late in the 6th century B.C., probably from northern India. Buddhism was introduced circa 250 B.C., and the first kingdoms developed at the cities of Anuradhapura (from about 200 B.C. to about A.D. 1000) and Polonnaruwa (from about A.D. 1070 to 1200). In the 14th century, a South Indian dynasty established a Tamil kingdom in northern Sri Lanka. The Portuguese controlled the coastal areas of the island in the 16th century, followed by the Dutch in the 17th century. The island was ceded to the British in 1796, became a crown colony in 1802, and was formally united under British rule by 1815. As Ceylon, it became independent in 1948; the name was changed to Sri Lanka in 1972. Prevailing tensions between the Sinhalese majority and Tamil separatists erupted into war in 1983. Fighting between the government and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) continued for over a quarter-century. Although Norway brokered peace negotiations that led to a cease-fire in 2002, the fighting slowly resumed and was again in full force by 2006. The government defeated the LTTE in 2009.

During the post-conflict years under then-President Mahinda RAJAPAKSA, the government initiated infrastructure development projects, many of which were financed by loans from China. His regime faced allegations of human rights violations and a shrinking democratic space for civil society.  In 2015, a new coalition government headed by President Maithripala SIRISENA of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and Prime Minister Ranil WICKREMESINGHE of the United National Party came to power with pledges to advance economic, political, and judicial reforms. However, implementation of these reforms was uneven. In 2019, Gotabaya RAJAPAKSA won the presidential election and appointed his brother Mahinda prime minister. Civil society raised concerns about the RAJAPAKSA administration’s commitment to pursuing justice, human rights, and accountability reforms, as well as the risks to foreign creditors that Sri Lanka faced given its ongoing economic crisis. A combination of factors including the COVID-19 pandemic; severe shortages of food, medicine, and fuel; and power outages triggered increasingly violent protests in Columbo beginning in 2022. In response, WICKREMESINGHE -- who had already served as prime minister five times -- was named to replace the prime minister, but he became president within a few months when Gotabaya RAJAPAKSA fled the country. 

Sudan

Long referred to as Nubia, modern-day Sudan was the site of the Kingdom of Kerma (ca. 2500-1500 B.C.) until it was absorbed into the New Kingdom of Egypt. By the 11th century B.C., the Kingdom of Kush gained independence from Egypt; it lasted in various forms until the middle of the 4th century A.D. After the fall of Kush, the Nubians formed three Christian kingdoms of Nobatia, Makuria, and Alodia, with the latter two enduring until around 1500. Between the 14th and 15th centuries, Arab nomads settled much of Sudan, leading to extensive Islamization between the 16th and 19th centuries. Following Egyptian occupation early in the 19th century, an agreement in 1899 set up a joint British-Egyptian government in Sudan, but it was effectively a British colony.

Military regimes favoring Islamic-oriented governments have dominated national politics since Sudan gained independence from Anglo-Egyptian co-rule in 1956. During most of the second half of the 20th century, Sudan was embroiled in two prolonged civil wars rooted in northern domination of the largely non-Muslim, non-Arab southern portion of the country. The first civil war ended in 1972, but another broke out in 1983. Peace talks gained momentum in 2002-04, and the final North/South Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005 granted the southern rebels autonomy for six years, followed by a referendum on independence for Southern Sudan. South Sudan became independent in 2011, but Sudan and South Sudan have yet to fully implement security and economic agreements to normalize relations between the two countries. Sudan has also faced conflict in Darfur, Southern Kordofan, and Blue Nile starting in 2003.

In 2019, after months of nationwide protests, the 30-year reign of President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-BASHIR ended when the military forced him out. Economist and former international civil servant Abdalla HAMDOUK al-Kinani was selected to serve as the prime minister of a transitional government as the country prepared for elections in 2022. In late 2021, however, the Sudanese military ousted HAMDOUK and his government and replaced civilian members of the Sovereign Council (Sudan’s collective Head of State) with individuals selected by the military. HAMDOUK was briefly reinstated but resigned in January 2022. General Abd-al-Fatah al-BURHAN Abd-al-Rahman, the Chair of Sudan’s Sovereign Council and Commander-in-Chief of the Sudanese Armed Forces, currently serves as de facto head of state and government. He presides over a Sovereign Council consisting of military leaders, former armed opposition group representatives, and military-appointed civilians. A cabinet of acting ministers handles day-to-day administration. 

Suriname

The Spaniards first explored Suriname in the 16th century, and the English then settled it in the mid-17th century. Suriname became a Dutch colony in 1667. With the abolition of African slavery in 1863, workers were brought in from India and Java. The Netherlands granted the colony independence in 1975. Five years later, the civilian government was replaced by a military regime that soon declared Suriname a socialist republic. It continued to exert control through a succession of nominally civilian administrations until 1987, when international pressure finally forced a democratic election. In 1990, the military overthrew the civilian leadership, but a democratically elected government -- a four-party coalition -- returned to power in 1991. The coalition expanded to eight parties in 2005 and ruled until 2010, when voters returned former military leader Desire BOUTERSE and his opposition coalition to power. President BOUTERSE ran unopposed in 2015 and was reelected. Opposition parties campaigned hard against BOUTERSE in the run-up to the 2020 elections, and a multi-party coalition led by Chandrikapersad SANTOKHI’s VHP and Ronnie Brunswijk’s ABOP was installed. 

Svalbard

Norse explorers may have first discovered the Svalbard archipelago in the 12th century. The islands served as an international whaling base during the 17th and 18th centuries. Norway's sovereignty was internationally recognized by treaty in 1920, and five years later Norway officially took over the territory. Coal mining started in the 20th century, and a Norwegian company and a Russian company are still in operation today. Travel between the settlements is accomplished with snowmobiles, aircraft, and boats.

Sweden

A military power during the 17th century, Sweden maintained a policy of military non-alignment until it applied to join NATO in 2022. Sweden has not participated in any war for two centuries. Stockholm preserved an armed neutrality in both World Wars. Since then, Sweden has pursued a successful economic formula consisting of a capitalist system intermixed with substantial welfare elements. Sweden joined the EU in 1995, but the public rejected the introduction of the euro in a 2003 referendum. The share of Sweden’s population born abroad increased from 11.3% in 2000 to 20% in 2022.

 

Switzerland

The Swiss Confederation was founded in 1291 as a defensive alliance among three cantons. In succeeding years, other localities joined the original three. The Swiss Confederation secured its independence from the Holy Roman Empire in 1499. A constitution of 1848, which was modified in 1874 to allow voters to introduce referenda on proposed laws, replaced the confederation with a centralized federal government. The major European powers have long honored Switzerland's sovereignty and neutrality, and the country was not involved in either World War. The political and economic integration of Europe over the past half-century, as well as Switzerland's role in many UN and international organizations, has strengthened Switzerland's ties with its neighbors. However, the country did not officially become a UN member until 2002. Switzerland remains active in many UN and international organizations but retains a strong commitment to neutrality.

 

Syria

After World War I, France acquired a mandate over the northern portion of the former Ottoman Empire province of Syria. The French administered the area until granting it independence in 1946. The new country lacked political stability and experienced a series of military coups. Syria united with Egypt in 1958 to form the United Arab Republic. In 1961, the two entities separated, and the Syrian Arab Republic was reestablished. In the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Syria lost control of the Golan Heights region to Israel. During the 1990s, Syria and Israel held occasional, albeit unsuccessful, peace talks over its return. In 1970, Hafiz al-ASAD, a member of the socialist Ba'ath Party and the minority Alawi sect, seized power in a bloodless coup and brought political stability to the country. Following the death of al-ASAD, his son, Bashar al-ASAD, was approved as president by popular referendum in 2000. Syrian troops that were stationed in Lebanon since 1976 in an ostensible peacekeeping role were withdrawn in 2005. During the 2006 conflict between Israel and Hizballah, Syria placed its military forces on alert but did not intervene directly on behalf of its ally Hizballah. In 2007, Bashar al-ASAD's second term as president was again approved in a referendum.

In the wake of major uprisings elsewhere in the region, antigovernment protests broke out in the southern province of Dar'a in 2011. Protesters called for the legalization of political parties, the removal of corrupt local officials, and the repeal of the restrictive Emergency Law allowing arrests without charge. Demonstrations and violent unrest spread across Syria, and the government responded with concessions, but also with military force and detentions that led to extended clashes and eventually civil war. International pressure on the Syrian Government intensified after 2011, as the Arab League, the EU, Turkey, and the US expanded economic sanctions against the ASAD regime and those entities that supported it. In 2012, more than 130 countries recognized the Syrian National Coalition as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people. In 2015, Russia launched a military intervention on behalf of the ASAD regime, and domestic and foreign-government-aligned forces recaptured swaths of territory from opposition forces. With foreign support, the regime continued to periodically regain opposition-held territory until 2020, when Turkish firepower halted a regime advance and forced a stalemate between regime and opposition forces. The government lacks territorial control over much of the northeastern part of the country, which the predominantly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) hold, and a smaller area dominated by Turkey.

Since 2016, Turkey has conducted three large-scale military operations to capture territory along Syria's northern border. Some opposition forces organized under the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army and Turkish forces have maintained control of northwestern Syria along the Turkish border with the Afrin area of Aleppo Province since 2018. The violent extremist organization Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (formerly the Nusrah Front) emerged in 2017 as the predominant opposition force in Idlib Province, and still dominates an area also hosting Turkish forces. Negotiations have failed to produce a resolution to the conflict, and the UN estimated in 2022 that at least 306,000 people have died during the civil war. Approximately 6.7 million Syrians were internally displaced as of 2022, and 14.6 million people were in need of humanitarian assistance across the country. An additional 5.6 million Syrians were registered refugees in Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, and North Africa. The conflict in Syria remains one of the two largest displacement crises worldwide (the other is the full-scale invasion of Ukraine).

Taiwan

First inhabited by Austronesian people, Taiwan became home to Han immigrants beginning in the late Ming Dynasty (17th century). In 1895, military defeat forced China's Qing Dynasty to cede Taiwan to Japan, which then governed Taiwan for 50 years. Taiwan came under Chinese Nationalist (Kuomintang, KMT) control after World War II. With the communist victory in the Chinese civil war in 1949, the Nationalist-controlled Republic of China government and 2 million Nationalists fled to Taiwan and continued to claim to be the legitimate government for mainland China and Taiwan, based on a 1947 constitution drawn up for all of China. Until 1987, however, the Nationalist Government ruled Taiwan under a civil war martial law declaration dating to 1948. Beginning in the 1970s, Nationalist authorities gradually began to incorporate the native population into the governing structure beyond the local level.

The democratization process expanded rapidly in the 1980s, leading to the then-illegal founding of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Taiwan’s first opposition party, in 1986 and the lifting of martial law the following year. Taiwan held legislative elections in 1992, the first in over 40 years, and its first direct presidential election in 1996. In the 2000 presidential elections, Taiwan underwent its first peaceful transfer of power with the KMT loss to the DPP and afterwards experienced two additional democratic transfers of power in 2008 and 2016. Throughout this period, the island prospered and turned into one of East Asia's economic "Tigers," becoming a major investor in mainland China after 2000 as cross-Strait ties matured. The dominant political issues continue to be economic reform and growth, as well as management of sensitive relations between Taiwan and China.

Tajikistan

The Tajik people came under Russian imperial rule in the 1860s and 1870s, but Russia's hold on Central Asia weakened following the Revolution of 1917. At that time, bands of indigenous guerrillas (known as "basmachi") fiercely contested Bolshevik control of the area, which was not fully reestablished until 1925. Tajikistan was first established as an autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic within the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic in 1924, but in 1929 the Soviet Union made Tajikistan as a separate republic and transferred to it much of present-day Sughd Province. Ethnic Uzbeks form a substantial minority in Tajikistan, and ethnic Tajiks an even larger minority in Uzbekistan. Tajikistan became independent in 1991 after the breakup of the Soviet Union, and the country experienced a civil war among political, regional, and religious factions from 1992 to 1997.

Despite Tajikistan's general elections for both the presidency (once every seven years) and legislature (once every five years), observers note an electoral system rife with irregularities and abuse, and results that are neither free nor fair. President Emomali RAHMON, who came to power in 1992 during the civil war and was first elected president in 1994, used an attack planned by a disaffected deputy defense minister in 2015 to ban the last major opposition party in Tajikistan. RAHMON further strengthened his position by having himself declared "Founder of Peace and National Unity, Leader of the Nation," with limitless terms and lifelong immunity through constitutional amendments ratified in a referendum. The referendum also lowered the minimum age required to run for president from 35 to 30, which made RAHMON's first-born son Rustam EMOMALI, the mayor of the capital city of Dushanbe, eligible to run for president in 2020. RAHMON orchestrated EMOMALI's selection in 2020 as chairman of the Majlisi Milli (the upper chamber of Tajikistan's parliament), positioning EMOMALI as next in line of succession for the presidency. RAHMON opted to run in the presidential election later that year and received 91% of the vote.

The country remains the poorest of the former Soviet republics. Tajikistan became a member of the WTO in 2013, but its economy continues to face major challenges, including dependence on remittances from Tajikistani migrant laborers in Russia and Kazakhstan, pervasive corruption, the opiate trade, and destabilizing violence emanating from neighboring Afghanistan. Tajikistan has endured several domestic security incidents since 2010, including armed conflict between government forces and local strongmen in the Rasht Valley and between government forces and informal leaders in Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast. Tajikistan suffered its first ISIS-claimed attack in 2018, when assailants attacked a group of Western bicyclists, killing four. Friction between forces on the border between Tajikistan and the Kyrgyz Republic flared up in 2021, culminating in fatal clashes between border forces in 2021 and 2022.

Tanzania

Tanzania contains some of Africa’s most iconic national parks and famous paleoanthropological sites, and its diverse cultural heritage reflects the multiple ethnolinguistic groups that live in the country. Its long history of integration into trade networks spanning the Indian Ocean and the African interior led to the development of Swahili as a common language in much of east Africa and the introduction of Islam into the region. A number of independent coastal and island trading posts in what is now Tanzania came under Portuguese control after 1498 when they began to take control of much of the coast and Indian Ocean trade. By 1700, the Sultanate of Oman had become the dominant power in the region after ousting the Portuguese, who were also facing a series of local uprisings. During the next hundred years, Zanzibar -- an archipelago off the coast that is now part of Tanzania -- became a hub of Indian Ocean trade, with Arab and Indian traders establishing and consolidating trade routes with communities in mainland Tanzania that contributed to the expansion of the slave trade. Zanzibar briefly became the capital of the Sultanate of Oman before it split into separate Omani and Zanzibar Sultanates in 1856. Beginning in the mid-1800s, European explorers, traders, and Christian missionaries became more active in the region. The Germans eventually established control over mainland Tanzania -- which they called Tanganyika -- and the British established control over Zanzibar. Tanganyika came under British administration after the German defeat in World War I.

Tanganyika gained independence from Great Britain in 1961, and Zanzibar followed in 1963 as a constitutional monarchy. In Tanganyika, Julius NYERERE, a charismatic and idealistic socialist, established a one-party political system that centralized power and encouraged national self-reliance and rural development. In 1964, a popular uprising overthrew the Sultan in Zanzibar and either killed or expelled many of the Arabs and Indians who had dominated the isles for more than 200 years. Later that year, Tanganyika and Zanzibar combined to form the United Republic of Tanzania, but Zanzibar retained considerable autonomy. Their two ruling parties combined to form the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party in 1977, which has since won every presidential election. Tanzania held its first multi-party elections in 1995, but CCM candidates have continued to dominate politics. The ruling party has claimed victory in four contentious elections since 1995, despite international observers' claims of voting irregularities. In 2001, 35 people died in Zanzibar when soldiers fired on protestors. John MAGUFULI won the 2015 and 2020 presidential elections, and the CCM won over two-thirds of the seats in Parliament in both elections. MAGUFULI died in 2021 while in office and was succeeded by his vice president, Samia Suluhu HASSAN.

Thailand

Two unified Thai kingdoms emerged in the mid-13th century. The Sukhothai Kingdom, located in the south-central plains, gained its independence from the Khmer Empire to the east. By the late 13th century, Sukhothai’s territory extended into present-day Burma and Laos. Sukhothai lasted until the mid-15th century. The Thai Lan Na Kingdom was established in the north with its capital at Chang Mai; the Burmese conquered Lan Na in the 16th century. The Ayutthaya Kingdom (14th-18th centuries) succeeded the Sukhothai and would become known as the Siamese Kingdom. During the Ayutthaya period, the Thai/Siamese peoples consolidated their hold on what is present-day central and north-central Thailand. Following a military defeat at the hands of the Burmese in 1767, the Siamese Kingdom rose to new heights under the military ruler TAKSIN, who defeated the Burmese occupiers and expanded the kingdom’s territory into modern-day northern Thailand (formerly the Lan Na Kingdom), Cambodia, Laos, and the Malay Peninsula. The kingdom fought off additional Burmese invasions and raids in the late 1700s and early 1800s. In the mid-1800s, Western pressure led to Siam signing trade treaties that reduced the country’s sovereignty and independence. In the 1890s and 1900s, the British and French forced the kingdom to cede Cambodian, Laotian, and Malay territories that had been under Siamese control.

A bloodless revolution in 1932 led to the establishment of a constitutional monarchy. After the Japanese invaded Thailand in 1941, the government split into a pro-Japan faction and a pro-Allied faction backed by the king. Thailand became a US treaty ally in 1954 after sending troops to Korea and later fighting alongside the US in Vietnam. Thailand since 2005 has experienced several rounds of political turmoil, including a military coup in 2006 that ousted then Prime Minister THAKSIN Chinnawat and large-scale street protests led by competing political factions in 2008, 2009, and 2010. In 2011, THAKSIN's youngest sister, YINGLAK Chinnawat, led the Puea Thai Party to an electoral win and assumed control of the government.

In 2014, after months of major anti-government protests in Bangkok, the Constitutional Court removed YINGLAK from office, and the Royal Thai Army, led by Gen. PRAYUT Chan-ocha, then staged a coup against the caretaker government. The military-affiliated National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) ruled the country under PRAYUT for more than four years, drafting a new constitution that allowed the military to appoint the entire 250-member Senate and required a joint meeting of the House and Senate to select the prime minister -- which effectively gave the military a veto on the selection. King PHUMIPHON Adunyadet passed away in 2016 after 70 years on the throne; his only son, WACHIRALONGKON (aka King RAMA X), formally ascended the throne in 2019. The same year, a long-delayed election allowed PRAYUT to continue his premiership, although the results were disputed and widely viewed as skewed in favor of the party aligned with the military. The country again experienced major anti-government protests in 2020. The reformist Move Forward Party won the most seats in the 2023 election but was unable to form a government, and Srettha THRAVISIN from the Pheu Thai Party replaced PRAYUT as prime minister after forming a coalition of moderate and conservative parties.

Timor-Leste

The island of Timor was actively involved in Southeast Asian trading networks for centuries, and by the 14th century, it exported sandalwood, slaves, honey, and wax. The sandalwood trade attracted the Portuguese, who arrived in the early 16th century; by mid-century, they had colonized the island, which was previously ruled by local chieftains. In 1859, Portugal ceded the western portion of the island to the Dutch. Imperial Japan occupied Portuguese Timor from 1942 to 1945, but Portugal resumed colonial authority after the Japanese defeat in World War II. The eastern part of Timor declared itself independent from Portugal on 28 November 1975, but Indonesian forces invaded and occupied the area nine days later. It was incorporated into Indonesia in 1976 as the province of Timor Timur (East Timor or Timor Leste). Indonesia conducted an unsuccessful pacification campaign in the province over the next two decades, during which an estimated 100,000 to 250,000 people died.

In a UN-supervised referendum in 1999, an overwhelming majority of the people of Timor-Leste voted for independence from Indonesia. However, anti-independence Timorese militias -- organized and supported by the Indonesian military -- began a large-scale, scorched-earth campaign of retribution. The militias killed approximately 1,400 Timorese and displaced nearly 500,000. Most of the country's infrastructure was destroyed, including homes, irrigation systems, water supply systems, schools, and most of the electrical grid. Australian-led peacekeeping troops eventually deployed to the country and ended the violence. In 2002, Timor-Leste was internationally recognized as an independent state.

In 2006, Australia and the UN had to step in again to stabilize the country, which allowed presidential and parliamentary elections to be conducted in 2007 in a largely peaceful atmosphere. In 2008, rebels staged an unsuccessful attack against the president and prime minister. Since that attack, Timor-Leste has made considerable progress in building stability and democratic institutions, holding a series of successful parliamentary and presidential elections since 2012. Nonetheless, weak and unstable political coalitions have led to periodic episodes of stalemate and crisis. The UN continues to provide assistance on economic development and strengthening governing institutions. Currently, Timor-Leste is one of the world's poorest nations, with an economy that relies heavily on energy resources in the Timor Sea.

Togo

From the 11th to the 16th centuries, various ethnic groups settled the Togo region. From the 16th to the 18th centuries, the coastal region became a major trading center for enslaved people, and the surrounding region took on the name of "The Slave Coast." In 1884, Germany declared the area a protectorate called Togoland, which included present-day Togo. After World War I, colonial rule over Togo was transferred to France. French Togoland became Togo upon independence in 1960.

Gen. Gnassingbe EYADEMA, installed as military ruler in 1967, ruled Togo with a heavy hand for almost four decades. Despite the facade of multi-party elections instituted in the early 1990s, EYADEMA largely dominated the government. His Rally of the Togolese People (RPT) party has been in power almost continually since 1967, with its successor, the Union for the Republic, maintaining a majority of seats in today's legislature. Upon EYADEMA's death in 2005, the military installed his son, Faure GNASSINGBE, as president and then engineered his formal election two months later. Togo held its first relatively free and fair legislative elections in 2007. Since then, GNASSINGBE has started the country along a gradual path to democratic reform. Togo has held multiple presidential and legislative elections, and in 2019, the country held its first local elections in 32 years.

Despite those positive moves, political reconciliation has moved slowly, and the country experiences periodic outbursts of protests from frustrated citizens, leading to violence between security forces and protesters. Constitutional changes in 2019 to institute a runoff system in presidential elections and to establish term limits have done little to reduce the resentment many Togolese feel after more than 50 years of one-family rule. GNASSINGBE became eligible for his current fourth term and one additional fifth term under the new rules. The next presidential election is set for 2025. 

Tokelau

Tokelau is composed of three atolls (Fakaofo, Atafu, and Nukunonu), and it was first settled by Polynesians around A.D. 1000. The atolls operated relatively independently, but Fakaofo Atoll eventually subjugated the others. British explorers first saw the atolls in 1765 and 1791. Catholic and Protestant missionaries arrived in the 1840s and converted the population on the islands on which they landed.

In 1863 Peruvian slave raiders abducted many islanders, and roughly contemporary outbreaks of disease reduced the population to about 200. Settlers of diverse nationalities subsequently intermarried with Tokelauans. In the same period, local governance moved to a system based on a Council of Elders, which still exists today. British interest began in the late 1870s, and Tokelau became a British protectorate in 1889, and in 1916 under the name Union Group, Tokelau became part of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony. In 1925, the UK placed Tokelau under New Zealand administration. The Tokelau Islands Act of 1948 formally transferred sovereignty from the UK to New Zealand, and Tokelauans were granted New Zealand citizenship. In 1979, the US relinquished its claim to Tokelau in the Treaty of Tokehega, and Tokelau relinquished its claim to Swains Island, which is part of American Samoa.

Economic opportunities in Tokelau are sparse, and about 80% of Tokelauans live in New Zealand. Tokelau held self-governance referendums in 2006 and 2007 in which more than 60% of voters chose free association with New Zealand; however, the referendums failed to achieve the two-thirds majority necessary to enact a status change. 

Tonga

The first humans arrived in Tonga around 1000 B.C. The islands’ politics were highly centralized under the Tu’i Tonga, or Tongan king, by A.D. 950, and by 1200, the Tu’i Tonga had expanded his influence throughout Polynesia and into Melanesia and Micronesia. The Tongan Empire began to decline in the 1300s, with civil wars, a military defeat to Samoa, and internal political strife. By the mid-1500s, some Tu’i Tongans were ethnic Samoan, and day-to-day administration of Tonga was transferred to a new position occupied by ethnic Tongans.

Dutch navigators explored the islands in the 1600s, followed by the British in the 1770s, who named them the Friendly Islands. Between 1799 and 1852 Tonga went through a period of war and disorder. In the 1830s, a low-ranking chief from Ha’apai began to consolidate control over the islands and was crowned King George TUPOU I in 1845, establishing the only still-extant Polynesian monarchy. During TUPOU's reign (1845–93), Tonga became a unified and independent country with a modern constitution (1875), legal code, and administrative structure. In separate treaties, Germany (1876), Great Britain (1879), and the US (1888) recognized Tonga’s independence. His son and successor, King George TUPOU II, agreed to enter a protectorate agreement with the UK in 1900 after rival Tongan chiefs tried to overthrow him. As a protectorate, Tonga never completely lost its indigenous governance, but it did become more isolated and the social hierarchy became more stratified between a group of nobles and a large class of commoners. Today, about one third of parliamentary seats are reserved for nobles.

Tonga regained full control of domestic and foreign affairs and became a fully independent nation within the Commonwealth in 1970. A pro-democracy movement gained steam in the early 2000s, led by ‘Akilisi POHIVA, and in 2006, riots broke out in Nuku’alofa to protest the lack of progress on reform. To appease the activists, in 2008, King George TUPOU V announced he was relinquishing most of his powers leading up to parliamentary elections in 2010 and henceforth most of the monarch’s governmental decisions, except those relating to the judiciary, were to be made in consultation with the prime minister. The 2010 Legislative Assembly was called Tonga’s first democratically elected Parliament. King George TUPOU V died in 2012 and was succeeded by his brother Crown Prince Tupouto‘a Lavaka who ruled as George TUPOU VI. In 2015, ‘Akalisi POHIVA became Tonga’s first non-noble prime minister.

Trinidad and Tobago

First colonized by the Spanish, Trinidad and Tobago came under British control in the early 19th century. The emancipation of enslaved people in 1834 disrupted the twin islands' sugar industry. Contract workers arriving from India between 1845 and 1917 augmented the labor force, which boosted sugar production as well as the cocoa industry. The discovery of oil on Trinidad in 1910 added another important export that remains the country's dominant industry. Trinidad and Tobago attained independence in 1962. The country is one of the most prosperous in the Caribbean, thanks largely to petroleum and natural gas production and processing. The government is struggling to reverse a surge in violent crime.

Tunisia

Many empires have controlled Tunisia, including the Phoenicians (as early as the 12 century B.C.), Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, various Arab and Berber kingdoms, and Ottomans (16th to late-19th centuries). Rivalry between French and Italian interests in Tunisia culminated in a French invasion in 1881 and the creation of a protectorate. Agitation for independence in the decades after World War I finally convinced the French to recognize Tunisia as an independent state in 1956. The country's first president, Habib BOURGUIBA, established a strict one-party state. He dominated the country for 31 years, repressing Islamic fundamentalism and establishing rights for women. In 1987, Zine el Abidine BEN ALI replaced BOURGUIBA in a bloodless coup.

Street protests that began in Tunis in 2010 over high unemployment, corruption, widespread poverty, and high food prices escalated in 2011, culminating in rioting that led to hundreds of deaths and later became known as the start of the regional Arab Spring uprising. BEN ALI dismissed the government and fled the country, and a "national unity government" was formed. Elections for the new Constituent Assembly were held later that year, and human rights activist Moncef MARZOUKI was elected as interim president. The Assembly began drafting a new constitution in 2012 and, after several iterations and a months-long political crisis that stalled the transition, ratified the document in 2014. Parliamentary and presidential elections for a permanent government were held at the end of 2014. Beji CAID ESSEBSI was elected as the first president under the country's new constitution. After ESSEBSI’s death in office in 2019, Kais SAIED was elected. SAIED's term, as well as that of Tunisia's 217-member parliament, was set to expire in 2024. However, in 2021, SAIED used the exceptional powers allowed under Tunisia's constitution to dismiss the prime minister and suspend the legislature. Tunisians approved a new constitution through public referendum in 2022, expanding presidential powers and creating a new bicameral legislature. 

Turkey (Turkiye)

Modern Turkey was founded in 1923 from the remnants of the Ottoman Empire by reformer and national hero Mustafa KEMAL, known as Ataturk or "Father of the Turks." One-party rule ended in 1950, and periods of instability and military coups have since fractured the multiparty democracy, in 1960, 1971, 1980, 1997, and 2016. 

Turkey joined the UN in 1945 and NATO in 1952. In 1963, Turkey became an associate member of the European Community; it began accession talks with the EU in 2005. Turkey intervened militarily on Cyprus in 1974 to prevent a Greek takeover of the island and has since acted as patron state to the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus," which only Turkey recognizes. The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a US-designated terrorist organization, began a separatist insurgency in Turkey in 1984, and the struggle has long dominated the attention of Turkish security forces. In 2013, the Turkish Government and the PKK conducted negotiations aimed at ending the violence, but intense fighting resumed in 2015. 

The Turkish Government conducted a referendum in 2017 in which voters approved constitutional amendments changing Turkey from a parliamentary to a presidential system. 

Turkmenistan

Present-day Turkmenistan has been at the crossroads of civilizations for centuries. Various Persian empires ruled the area in antiquity, and Alexander the Great, Muslim armies, the Mongols, Turkic warriors, and eventually the Russians conquered it. In medieval times, Merv (located in present-day Mary province) was one of the great cities of the Islamic world and an important stop on the Silk Road. Annexed by Russia in the late 1800s, Turkmen territories later figured prominently in the anti-Bolshevik resistance in Central Asia. In 1924, Turkmenistan became a Soviet republic; it achieved independence when the USSR dissolved in 1991.

President for Life Saparmurat NIYAZOV died in 2006, and Gurbanguly BERDIMUHAMEDOV, a deputy chairman under NIYAZOW, emerged as the country's new president. BERDIMUHAMEDOV won Turkmenistan's first multi-candidate presidential election in 2007, and again in 2012 and 2017 with over 97% of the vote in elections widely regarded as undemocratic. In 2022, BERDIMUHAMEDOV announced that he would step down from the presidency and called for an election to replace him. His son, Serdar BERDIMUHAMEDOV, won the ensuing election with 73% of the vote. Gurbanguly BERDIMUHAMEDOV, although no longer head of state, maintains an influential political position as head of the Halk Maslahaty (People’s Council) and as National Leader of the Turkmen People, a title that provides additional privileges and immunity for him and his family. Since Gurbanguly BERDIMUHAMEDOV stepped down from the presidency, state-controlled media upgraded his honorific from Arkadag (protector) to Hero-Arkadag, and began referring to Serdar BERDIMUHAMEDOV as Arkadagly Serdar, which can be translated as "Serdar who has a protector to support him."

Turkmenistan has sought new export markets for its extensive hydrocarbon/natural gas reserves, which have yet to be fully exploited. Turkmenistan's reliance on gas exports has made the economy vulnerable to fluctuations in the global energy market, and economic hardships since the drop in energy prices in 2014 have led many citizens of Turkmenistan to emigrate, mostly to Turkey.

Turks and Caicos Islands

The islands were part of the UK's Jamaican colony until 1962, when they assumed the status of a separate Crown colony upon Jamaica's independence. The governor of The Bahamas oversaw affairs from 1965 to 1973. With Bahamian independence, the islands received a separate governor in 1973. Although independence was agreed upon for 1982, the policy was reversed, and the islands remain a British overseas territory. Grand Turk Island suffered extensive damage from Hurricane Maria in 2017.

Tuvalu

Voyagers from either Samoa or Tonga first populated Tuvalu in the first millennium A.D., and the islands provided a stepping-stone for various Polynesian communities that subsequently settled in Melanesia and Micronesia. Tuvalu eventually came under Samoan and Tongan spheres of influence, although proximity to Micronesia allowed some Micronesian communities to flourish in Tuvalu, in particular on Nui Atoll. In the late 1700s and early 1800s, a series of American, British, Dutch, and Russian ships visited the islands, which were named the Ellice Islands in 1819. 

The UK declared a protectorate over islands in 1892 and merged them with the Micronesian Gilbert Islands. The Gilbert and Ellice Islands Protectorate became a colony in 1916. During World War II, the US set up military bases on a few islands, and in 1943, after Japan captured many of the northern Gilbert Islands, the UK transferred administration of the colony southward to Funafuti. After the war, Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands was once again made the colony’s capital, and the center of power was firmly in the Gilbert Islands, including the colony’s only secondary school. Amid growing tensions with the Gilbertese, Tuvaluans voted to secede from the colony in 1974, were granted self-rule in 1975, and gained independence in 1978 as Tuvalu. In 1979, the US relinquished its claims to the Tuvaluan islands in a treaty of friendship.

Uganda

An ancient crossroads for various migrations, Uganda has as many as 65 ethnic groups that speak languages from three of Africa’s four major linguistic families. As early as 1200, fertile soils and regular rainfall in the south fostered the formation of several large, centralized kingdoms, including Buganda, from which the country derives its name. Muslim traders from Egypt reached northern Uganda in the 1820s, and Swahili merchants from the Indian Ocean coast arrived in the south by the 1840s. The area attracted the attention of British explorers seeking the source of the Nile River in the 1860s, and this influence expanded in subsequent decades with the arrival of Christian missionaries and trade agreements; Uganda was declared a British protectorate in 1894. Buganda and other southern kingdoms negotiated agreements with Britain to secure privileges and a level of autonomy that were rare during the colonial period in Africa. Uganda's colonial boundaries grouped together a wide range of ethnic groups with different political systems and cultures, and the disparities between how Britain governed southern and northern areas compounded these differences, complicating efforts to establish a cohesive independent country.

Uganda gained independence in 1962 with one of the more developed economies and one of the strongest education systems in Sub-Saharan Africa, but it descended within a few years into political turmoil and internal conflict that lasted more than two decades. In 1966, Prime Minister Milton OBOTE suspended the constitution and violently deposed President Edward MUTESA, who was also the king of Buganda. Idi AMIN seized power in 1971 through a military coup and led the country into economic ruin and rampant mass atrocities that killed as many as 500,000 civilians. AMIN’s annexation of Tanzanian territory in 1979 provoked Tanzania to invade Uganda, depose AMIN, and install a coalition government. In the aftermath, Uganda continued to experience atrocities, looting, and political instability and had four different heads of state between 1979 and 1980. OBOTE regained the presidency in 1980 through a controversial election that sparked renewed guerrilla warfare, killing as an estimated 300,000 civilians. Gen. Tito OKELLO seized power in a coup in 1985, but his rule was short-lived, with Yoweri MUSEVENI becoming president in 1986 after his insurgency captured the capital. MUSEVENI is widely credited with restoring relative stability and economic growth to Uganda but has resisted calls to leave office. In 2017, parliament removed presidential age limits, making it possible for MUSEVENI to remain in office for life. 

Ukraine

Ukraine was the center of the first eastern Slavic state, Kyivan Rus, which was the largest and most powerful state in Europe during the 10th and 11th centuries. Weakened by internecine quarrels and Mongol invasions, Kyivan Rus was incorporated into the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and eventually into the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The cultural and religious legacy of Kyivan Rus laid the foundation for Ukrainian nationalism. A new Ukrainian state, the Cossack Hetmanate, was established during the mid-17th century after an uprising against the Poles. Despite continuous Muscovite pressure, the Hetmanate managed to remain autonomous for well over 100 years. During the latter part of the 18th century, the Russian Empire absorbed most Ukrainian territory. After czarist Russia collapsed in 1917, Ukraine -- which has long been known as the region's "bread basket" for its agricultural production -- achieved a short-lived period of independence (1917-20), but the country was reconquered and endured a Soviet rule that engineered two famines (1921-22 and 1932-33) in which over eight million died. In World War II, German and Soviet armies were responsible for seven to eight million more deaths. In 1986, a sudden power surge during a reactor-systems test at Ukraine's Chernobyl power station triggered the worst nuclear disaster in history, releasing massive amounts of radioactive material. Although Ukraine overwhelmingly voted for independence in 1991 as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) dissolved, democracy and prosperity remained elusive, with the legacy of state control, patronage politics, and endemic corruption stalling efforts at economic reform, privatization, and civil liberties.

In 2004 and 2005, a mass protest dubbed the "Orange Revolution" forced the authorities to overturn a presidential election and allow a new internationally monitored vote that swept into power a reformist slate under Viktor YUSHCHENKO. Rival Viktor YANUKOVYCH became prime minister in 2006 and was elected president in 2010. In 2012, Ukraine held legislative elections that Western observers widely criticized as corrupt. In 2013, YANUKOVYCH backtracked on a trade and cooperation agreement with the EU -- in favor of closer economic ties with Russia -- and then used force against protestors who supported the agreement, leading to a three-month protestor occupation of Kyiv's central square. The government's use of violence to break up the protest camp in 2014 led to multiple deaths, international condemnation, a failed political deal, and the president's abrupt departure for Russia. Pro-West President Petro POROSHENKO took office later that year; Volodymyr ZELENSKYY succeeded him in 2019.

Shortly after YANUKOVYCH's departure in 2014, Russian President Vladimir PUTIN ordered the invasion of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula. In response, the UN passed a resolution confirming Ukraine's sovereignty and independence. In mid-2014, Russia began an armed conflict in two of Ukraine's eastern provinces. International efforts to end the conflict failed, and by 2022, more than 14,000 civilians were killed or wounded. On 24 February 2022, Russia escalated the conflict by invading the country on several fronts, in what has become the largest conventional military attack on a sovereign state in Europe since World War II. Russia made substantial gains in the early weeks of the invasion but underestimated Ukrainian resolve and combat capabilities. Despite Ukrainian resistance, Russia has laid claim to four Ukrainian oblasts -- Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhia -- although none is fully under Russian control. The international community has not recognized the annexations. The invasion has also created Europe's largest refugee crisis since World War II, with over six million Ukrainian refugees recorded globally. It remains one of the two largest displacement crises worldwide (the other is the conflict in Syria). President ZELENSKYY has focused on boosting Ukrainian identity to unite the country behind the goals of ending the war through reclaiming territory and advancing Ukraine’s candidacy for EU membership. 

United Arab Emirates

The Trucial States of the Persian Gulf coast granted the UK control of their defense and foreign affairs in 19th-century treaties. In 1971, six of these states -- Abu Dhabi, 'Ajman, Al Fujayrah, Ash Shariqah, Dubayy, and Umm al Qaywayn -- merged to form the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Ra's al Khaymah joined in 1972.

The UAE's per-capita GDP is on par with those of leading West European nations. For more than three decades, oil and global finance drove the UAE's economy. In 2008-09, the confluence of falling oil prices, collapsing real estate prices, and the international banking crisis hit the UAE especially hard. The UAE did not experience the "Arab Spring" unrest seen elsewhere in the Middle East in 2010-11, partly because of the government's multi-year, $1.6-billion infrastructure investment plan for the poorer northern emirates, and its aggressive pursuit of advocates for political reform.

The UAE in recent years has played a growing role in regional affairs. In addition to donating billions of dollars in economic aid to help stabilize Egypt, the UAE was one of the first countries to join the Defeat ISIS coalition, and to participate as a key partner in a Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen. In 2020, the UAE and Bahrain signed a peace agreement (the Abraham Accords) with Israel -- brokered by the US -- in Washington, D.C. The UAE and Bahrain thus became the third and fourth Middle Eastern countries, along with Egypt and Jordan, to recognize Israel.

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland was created when the Kingdoms of England and Scotland -- which previously had been distinct states under a single monarchy -- were joined under the 1701 Acts of Union. The island of Ireland was incorporated under the 1800 Acts of Union, while Wales had been part of the Kingdom of England since the 16th century. The United Kingdom has historically played a leading role in developing parliamentary democracy and in advancing literature and science. The 18th and 19th centuries saw the rapid expansion of the British Empire despite the loss of the Thirteen Colonies, and at its zenith in the early 20th century, the British Empire stretched over one fourth of the earth's surface. The first half of the 20th century saw two World Wars seriously deplete the UK's strength and the Irish Republic withdraw from the union. The second half witnessed the dismantling of the Empire and the UK rebuilding itself into a modern and prosperous European nation. As one of five permanent members of the UN Security Council and a founding member of NATO and the Commonwealth of Nations, the UK pursues a global approach to foreign policy. The devolved Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales, and the Northern Ireland Assembly were established in 1998.

The UK was an active member of the EU after its accession in 1973, although it chose to remain outside the Economic and Monetary Union. However, motivated in part by frustration at a remote bureaucracy in Brussels and massive migration into the country, UK citizens in 2016 voted by 52 to 48 percent to leave the EU. On 31 January 2020, the UK became the only country to depart the EU -- a move known as "Brexit" -- after prolonged negotiations on EU-UK economic and security relationships.

United States

Britain's American colonies broke with the mother country in 1776 and were recognized as the new nation of the United States of America following the Treaty of Paris in 1783. During the 19th and 20th centuries, 37 new states were added to the original 13 as the nation expanded across the North American continent and acquired a number of overseas possessions. Two of the most traumatic experiences in the nation's history were the Civil War (1861-65), in which a northern Union of states defeated a secessionist Confederacy of 11 southern slave states, and the Great Depression of the 1930s, an economic downturn during which about a quarter of the labor force lost its jobs. Buoyed by victories in World Wars I and II and the end of the Cold War in 1991, the US remains the world's most powerful nation state. Since the end of World War II, the economy has achieved relatively steady growth, low unemployment and inflation, and rapid advances in technology.

United States Pacific Island Wildlife Refuges

All of the following US Pacific Island territories except Midway Atoll constitute the Pacific Remote Islands National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) Complex and as such are managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service of the US Department of the Interior. Midway Atoll NWR has been included in a Refuge Complex with the Hawaiian Islands NWR and also designated as part of Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. These remote refuges are the most widespread collection of marine- and terrestrial-life protected areas on the planet under a single country's jurisdiction. They sustain many endemic species including corals, fish, shellfish, marine mammals, seabirds, water birds, land birds, insects, and vegetation not found elsewhere.

Baker Island: The US took possession of the island in 1857. US and British companies mined its guano deposits during the second half of the 19th century. In 1935, a short-lived attempt at colonization began but was disrupted by World War II, and the island was thereafter abandoned. Baker Island was declared a National Wildlife Refuge in 1974.

Howland Island: The US discovered the island early in the 19th century and officially claimed it in 1857. Both US and British companies mined guano on the island until about 1890. Earhart Light, a day beacon near the middle of the west coast, was partially destroyed during World War II but subsequently rebuilt; it is named in memory of famed aviatrix Amelia EARHART. The US Department of the Interior administers the island as a National Wildlife Refuge.

Jarvis Island: First discovered by the British in 1821, the uninhabited island was annexed by the US in 1858 but abandoned in 1879 after tons of guano deposits were removed for use in producing fertilizer. The UK annexed the island in 1889 but never carried out plans for further exploitation. The US occupied and reclaimed the island in 1935. Abandoned after World War II, the island is currently a National Wildlife Refuge administered by the US Department of the Interior.

Johnston Atoll: Both the US and the Kingdom of Hawaii annexed Johnston Atoll in 1858, but it was the US that mined the guano deposits until the late 1880s. Johnston Atoll was designated a wildlife refuge in 1926. The US Navy took over the atoll in 1934, and the US Air Force assumed control in 1948. The site was used for high-altitude nuclear tests in the 1950s and 1960s, and until 2000, the atoll was maintained as a storage and disposal site for chemical weapons. Cleanup and closure of the weapons facility ended in 2005.

Kingman Reef: The US annexed Kingman Reef in 1922. Its sheltered lagoon served as a way station for flying boats on Hawaii-to-American Samoa flights during the late 1930s. There are no terrestrial plants on the reef, which is frequently awash, but it does support abundant and diverse marine fauna and flora. In 2001, the waters surrounding the reef out to 12 nm were designated a US National Wildlife Refuge.

Midway Islands: The US took formal possession of the Midway Islands in 1867. The laying of the trans-Pacific cable, which passed through the islands, brought the first residents in 1903. Between 1935 and 1947, Midway was used as a refueling stop for trans-Pacific flights. The US naval victory over a Japanese fleet off Midway in 1942 was one of the turning points of World War II. The islands continued to serve as a naval station until 1993. Today the islands are a US National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge was open to the public from 1996 to 2002 and again from 2008 to 2012, but it is now closed.

Palmyra Atoll: The Kingdom of Hawaii claimed the atoll in 1862, and the US included it among the Hawaiian Islands when it annexed the archipelago in 1898. The Hawaii Statehood Act of 1959 did not include Palmyra Atoll, which is now partly privately owned by the Nature Conservancy and partly US Government-owned and administered as a nature preserve. The lagoons and surrounding waters within the 12-nautical-mile US territorial seas were transferred to the US Fish and Wildlife Service and were designated a National Wildlife Refuge in 2001.

Uruguay

The Spanish founded the city of Montevideo in modern-day Uruguay in 1726 as a military stronghold, and it soon became an important commercial center due to its natural harbor. Argentina initially claimed Uruguay, but Brazil annexed the country in 1821. Uruguay declared its independence in 1825 and secured its freedom in 1828 after a three-year struggle. The administrations of President Jose BATLLE in the early 20th century launched widespread political, social, and economic reforms that established a statist tradition. A violent Marxist urban guerrilla movement named the Tupamaros (or Movimiento de Liberación Nacional-Tupamaros) launched in the late 1960s and pushed Uruguay's president to cede control of the government to the military in 1973. By year-end, the rebels had been crushed, but the military continued to expand its hold over the government. Civilian rule was restored in 1985. In 2004, the left-of-center Frente Amplio (FA) Coalition won national elections that effectively ended 170 years of political control by the Colorado and National (Blanco) parties. The left-of-center coalition retained the presidency and control of both chambers of congress until 2019. Uruguay's political and labor conditions are among the freest on the South American continent.

Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan is the geographic and population center of Central Asia, with a diverse economy and a relatively young population. Russia conquered and united the disparate territories of present-day Uzbekistan in the late 19th century. Stiff resistance to the Red Army after the Bolshevik Revolution was eventually suppressed and a socialist republic established in 1924. During the Soviet era, intensive production of "white gold" (cotton) and grain led to the overuse of agrochemicals and the depletion of water supplies, leaving the land degraded and the Aral Sea and certain rivers half-dry. Independent since the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) dissolved in 1991, the country has diversified agricultural production while developing its mineral and petroleum export capacity and increasing its manufacturing base, although cotton remains a major part of its economy. Uzbekistan’s first president, Islom KARIMOV, led Uzbekistan for 25 years until his death in 2016. His successor, former Prime Minister Shavkat MIRZIYOYEV, has improved relations with Uzbekistan’s neighbors and introduced wide-ranging economic, judicial, and social reforms. MIRZIYOYEV was reelected in 2021 with 80% of the vote and again following a 2023 constitutional referendum with 87% of the vote.

Vanuatu

Austronesian speakers from the Solomon Islands first settled Vanuatu around 2000 B.C. By around 1000, localized chieftain systems began to develop on the islands. Around 1600, Melanesian Chief ROI MATA united some of the islands of modern-day Vanuatu under his rule. In 1606, a Portuguese explorer was the first European to see Vanuatu's Banks Islands and Espiritu Santo, setting up a short-lived settlement on the latter. The next European explorers arrived in the 1760s, and the islands -- then known as the New Hebrides -- were frequented by whalers in the 1800s. European interest in harvesting the islands’ sandalwood trees caused conflict with the inhabitants. In the 1860s, European planters in Australia, Fiji, New Caledonia, and Samoa needed labor and kidnapped almost half the adult males on the islands to work as indentured servants.

With growing and overlapping interests in the islands, France and the UK agreed that the New Hebrides would be neutral in 1878 and established a joint naval commission in 1887. In 1906, the two countries created the UK-France condominium to jointly administer the islands, with separate laws, police forces, currencies, and education and health systems. The condominium arrangement was dysfunctional, and the UK used France’s initial defeat in World War II to assert greater control over the islands. During the war, the US stationed up to 50,000 soldiers in Vanuatu. In 1945, they withdrew and sold their equipment, leading to the rise of political and religious movements known as "cargo cults," such as the John Frum movement. 

The UK-France condominium was reestablished after World War II. The UK was interested in moving the condominium toward independence in the 1960s, but France was hesitant. Political parties agitating for independence began to form, largely divided along linguistic lines. France eventually relented, and elections were held in 1974, with independence granted to the newly named Vanuatu in 1980 under English-speaking Prime Minister Walter LINI. The Nagriamel Movement, with support from French-speaking landowners, then declared the island of Espiritu Santo independent from Vanuatu, but the short-lived state was dissolved 12 weeks later. Linguistic divisions have lessened over time, but highly fractious political parties have led to weak coalition governments that require support from both Anglophone and Francophone parties. Since 2008, prime ministers have been ousted more than a dozen times through no-confidence motions or temporary procedural issues.

Venezuela

Venezuela was one of three countries that emerged from the collapse of Gran Colombia in 1830, the others being Ecuador and New Granada (Colombia). For most of the first half of the 20th century, military strongmen ruled Venezuela and promoted the oil industry while allowing some social reforms. Democratically elected governments largely held sway until 1999, but Hugo CHAVEZ, who was president from 1999 to 2013, exercised authoritarian control over other branches of government. This trend continued in 2018 when Nicolas MADURO claimed the presidency for his second term in an election boycotted by most opposition parties and widely viewed as fraudulent. The legislative elections in 2020 were also seen as fraudulent, and most opposition parties and many international actors consider the resulting National Assembly illegitimate. In 2021, many opposition parties broke a three-year election boycott and participated in mayoral and gubernatorial elections, despite flawed conditions. As a result, the opposition more than doubled its representation at the mayoral level and retained four of 23 governorships. The 2021 regional elections marked the first time since 2006 that the EU was allowed to send an electoral observation mission to Venezuela.

MADURO has placed strong restrictions on free speech and the press. Since CHAVEZ, the ruling party has expanded the state's role in the economy through expropriations of major enterprises, strict currency exchange and price controls, and over-dependence on the petroleum industry for revenues. Years of economic mismanagement left Venezuela ill-prepared to weather the global drop in oil prices in 2014, sparking an economic decline that has resulted in reduced government social spending, shortages of basic goods, and high inflation. Worsened living conditions have prompted nearly 8 million Venezuelans to emigrate, mainly settling in nearby countries. The US imposed financial sanctions on MADURO and his representatives in 2017 and on sectors of the Venezuelan economy in 2018. Limited sanctions relief followed when the MADURO administration began making democratic and electoral concessions.

The government's mismanagement and lack of investment in infrastructure has also weakened the country's energy sector. Caracas has relaxed some controls to mitigate the impact of its sustained economic crisis, such as allowing increased import flexibility for the private sector and the informal use of US dollars and other international currencies. Ongoing concerns include human rights abuses, rampant violent crime, political manipulation of the judicial and electoral systems, and corruption.

Vietnam

Vietnam's early history included periods of occupation by outside forces and eventual power consolidation under Vietnamese dynastic families. A succession of Han Chinese emperors ruled the area, which was centered on the Red River Valley, until approximately the 10th century. The Ly Dynasty (11th-13th century) created the first independent Vietnamese state, which was known as Dai Viet, and established their capital at Thang Long (Hanoi). Under the Tran Dynasty (13th-15th century), TRAN Hung Dao, one of Vietnam’s national heroes, led Dai Viet forces to fight off Mongol invaders in 1279. After a brief Chinese occupation in the early 1400s, Vietnamese resistance leader LE Thai To made himself emperor and established the Le Dynasty, which lasted until the late 18th century despite decades of political turmoil, civil war, and division. During this period, Dai Viet expanded southward to the Central Highlands and Mekong Delta, reaching the approximate boundaries of modern-day Vietnam by the 1750s. Dai Viet suffered additional civil war and division in the latter half of the 18th century, but it was reunited and renamed Vietnam under Emperor NGUYEN Phuc Anh (aka Gia Long) in 1802.

France began its conquest of Vietnam in 1858 and made Vietnam part of French Indochina in 1887. Vietnam declared independence after World War II, but the French continued to rule until communist forces under Ho Chi MINH defeated them in 1954. Under the Geneva Accords of 1954, Vietnam was divided into the communist North and anti-communist South. Fighting erupted between the two governments shortly afterwards with the North supporting communist rebels in the South and eventually committing thousands of combat troops. The US provided to the South significant economic and military assistance, including large numbers of US military forces, which reached a peak strength of over 500,000 troops in 1968. US combat forces were withdrawn following a cease-fire agreement in 1973. Two years later, North Vietnamese forces overran the South, reuniting the country under communist rule. The conflict, known as the Second Indochina War (1955-1975), caused more than 58,000 US combat and non-combat deaths and created deep domestic divisions in the US. It also devastated Vietnam, spilled over into the neighboring countries of Cambodia and Laos, and is estimated to have resulted in the deaths of up to 3 million Vietnamese civilians and soldiers. 

Despite the return of peace, the country experienced little economic growth for over a decade because of its diplomatic isolation, leadership policies, and the persecution and mass exodus of citizens, many of them successful South Vietnamese merchants. However, since the enactment of Vietnam's "doi moi" (renovation) policy in 1986, the economy has seen strong growth, particularly in agricultural and industrial production, construction, exports, foreign investment, and tourism. Nevertheless, the Communist Party maintains tight political and social control of the country, and Vietnam faces many related challenges, such as rising income inequality and corruption.

Since withdrawing its military occupation forces from Cambodia in the late 1980s and the end of Soviet aid in 1991, Vietnam has practiced a non-aligned foreign policy that emphasizes friendly ties with all members of the international community. Vietnam adheres to a security doctrine called the "Four Nos" (no alliances, no siding with one country against another, no foreign bases, and no using force in international relations). Despite longstanding tensions with Beijing over maritime boundaries in the South China Sea, Vietnam puts a priority on stable relations with China, given its proximity, size, and status as Vietnam's largest trading partner.

Virgin Islands

The Danes secured control over the southern Virgin Islands of Saint Thomas, Saint John, and Saint Croix during the 17th and early 18th centuries. Sugarcane, produced by African slave labor, drove the islands' economy during the 18th and early 19th centuries. In 1917, the US purchased the Danish holdings, which had been in economic decline since the abolition of slavery in 1848. In 2017, Hurricane Irma passed over the northern Virgin Islands of Saint Thomas and Saint John and inflicted severe damage to structures, roads, the airport on Saint Thomas, communications, and electricity. Less than two weeks later, Hurricane Maria passed over the island of Saint Croix in the southern Virgin Islands, inflicting considerable damage with heavy winds and flooding rains.

Wake Island

Early Micronesian and Polynesian settlers probably visited Wake Island, and oral legends tell of periodic voyages to the islands by people from the Marshall Islands. Wake Island was uninhabited when Spanish explorer Alvaro de Mendana de NEYRA became the first European to see it in 1568 and still had no inhabitants when English captain Samuel WAKE sailed by it in 1796. The United States Exploring Expedition visited the island in 1841, and the US annexed it in 1899 to use as a cable and refueling station for its newly acquired Pacific territories of Hawaii, the Philippines, and Guam. In the 1930s, Pan American Airways built facilities on Wake Island so that it could be used as a stopover for flights from the US to China. In 1941, the US began to install military assets on Wake Island, and Japan then captured the island and held it until the end of World War II. In 1946, commercial airlines resumed using Wake Island as a refueling stop. 

In 1973, the Marshall Islands claimed Wake Island, based on the oral legends, although the US has not recognized these claims. In 1974, the US military took exclusive control of the island’s airstrip and restricted visitors. In 1978, Bikini Islanders from the Marshall Islands, who were evacuated in the 1950s and 1960s because of US nuclear tests, considered rehoming on Wake Island, but the US military rejected that plan. Since the 1970s, the island has been important for missile defense testing. In 2009, Wake Island was included in the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.

Wallis and Futuna

Around 800 B.C., the first settlers arrived on the islands of Wallis and Futuna, which are a natural midpoint between Fiji and Samoa. Around A.D. 1500, Tongans invaded Wallis, and a chiefdom system resembling Tonga’s formal hierarchy developed on the island. Tongans attempted to settle Futuna but were repeatedly rebuffed. Samoans settled Futuna in the 1600s, and a slightly less centralized chiefdom system formed. Dutch explorers were the first Europeans to see the islands in 1616, followed intermittently by other Europeans, including British explorer Samuel WALLIS in 1767. French Catholic missionaries were the first Europeans to permanently settle Wallis and Futuna in 1837, and they converted most of the population of both islands by 1846. The missionaries and newly converted King LAVELUA of Uvea on Wallis asked France for a protectorate in 1842 following a local rebellion. France agreed, although the protectorate status would not be ratified until 1887. In 1888, King MUSULAMU of Alo and King TAMOLE of Sigave, both on Futuna, signed a treaty establishing a French protectorate; the Wallis and Futuna protectorate was integrated into the territory of New Caledonia the same year. France renegotiated the terms of the protectorate with the territory’s three kings in 1910, expanding French authority.

Wallis and Futuna was the only French colony to side with the Vichy regime during World War II, until the arrival of Free French and US troops in 1942. In 1959, inhabitants of the islands voted to separate from New Caledonia, becoming a French overseas territory in 1961. Despite the split, a significant Wallisian and Futunan community still lives in New Caledonia. In 2003, Wallis and Futuna became a French overseas collectivity. The islands joined the Pacific Islands Forum as an associate member in 2018, two years after France’s other Pacific territories became full members of the organization.

West Bank

The landlocked West Bank -- the larger of the two Palestinian territories -- is home to some three million Palestinians. Inhabited since at least the 15th century B.C., the area currently known as the West Bank has been dominated by a succession of different powers. In the early 16th century, it was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire. The West Bank fell to British forces during World War I, becoming part of the British Mandate of Palestine. After the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Transjordan (later renamed Jordan) captured the West Bank and annexed it in 1950; Israel then captured it in the Six-Day War in 1967. Under the Oslo Accords -- a series of agreements that were signed between 1993 and 1999 -- Israel transferred to the newly created Palestinian Authority (PA) security and civilian responsibility for the many Palestinian-populated areas of the West Bank, as well as the Gaza Strip.

In addition to establishing the PA as an interim government, the Oslo Accords divided the West Bank into three areas, with one fully managed by the PA (Area A), another fully managed by Israel (Area C), and a third with shared control (Area B) until a permanent agreement could be reached between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel. In 2000, a violent intifada, or uprising, began across the Palestinian territories, and in 2001, negotiations for a permanent agreement between the PLO and Israel on final status issues stalled. Subsequent attempts to re-start direct negotiations have not resulted in progress toward determining final status of the area. 

The PA last held national elections in 2006, when the Islamic Resistance Movement (HAMAS) won a majority of seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC). Fatah, the dominant Palestinian political faction in the West Bank, and HAMAS failed to maintain a unity government, leading to violent clashes between their respective supporters and to HAMAS's violent seizure of all PA military and governmental institutions in the Gaza Strip in 2007. In 2018, the Palestinian Constitutional Court dissolved the PLC. In recent years, Fatah and HAMAS have made several attempts at reconciliation, but the factions have been unable to implement agreements. 

World

Globally, the 20th century was marked by: (a) two devastating World Wars; (b) the Great Depression of the 1930s; (c) the end of vast colonial empires; (d) rapid advances in science and technology; (e) the Cold War between the Western alliance and the Warsaw Pact nations; (f) a sharp rise in living standards in North America, Europe, and Japan; (g) increased concerns about environmental degradation including deforestation, energy and water shortages, declining biological diversity, and air pollution; and (h) the ultimate emergence of the US as the only world superpower. The planet's population continues to expand at a fast rate: from 1 billion in 1820 to 2 billion in 1930, 3 billion in 1960, 4 billion in 1974, 5 billion in 1987, 6 billion in 1999, 7 billion in 2012, and 8 billion in 2022. For the 21st century, the continued exponential growth in science and technology raises both hopes (e.g., advances in medicine and agriculture) and fears (e.g., development of even more lethal weapons of war).

Yemen

The Kingdom of Yemen (colloquially known as North Yemen) became independent from the Ottoman Empire in 1918 and in 1962 became the Yemen Arab Republic. The British, who had set up a protectorate area around the southern port of Aden in the 19th century, withdrew in 1967 from what became the People's Republic of Southern Yemen (colloquially known as South Yemen). Three years later, the southern government adopted a Marxist orientation and changed the country's name to the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen. The exodus of hundreds of thousands of Yemenis from the south to the north contributed to two decades of hostility between the states, which were formally unified as the Republic of Yemen in 1990. A southern secessionist movement and brief civil war in 1994 was quickly subdued. In 2000, Saudi Arabia and Yemen agreed to delineate their border. Fighting in the northwest between the government and the Houthis, a Zaydi Shia Muslim minority, continued intermittently from 2004 to 2010, and then again from 2014 to the present. The southern secessionist movement was revitalized in 2007.

Public rallies in Sana'a against then President Ali Abdallah SALIH -- inspired by similar Arab Spring demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt -- slowly gained momentum in 2011, fueled by complaints over high unemployment, poor economic conditions, and corruption. Some protests resulted in violence, and the demonstrations spread to other major cities. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) mediated the crisis with the GCC Initiative, an agreement in which the president would step down in exchange for immunity from prosecution. SALIH eventually agreed to step down and transfer some powers to Vice President Abd Rabuh Mansur HADI. After HADI's uncontested election victory in 2012, SALIH formally transferred all presidential powers. In accordance with the GCC Initiative, Yemen launched a National Dialogue Conference (NDC) in 2013 to discuss key constitutional, political, and social issues. HADI concluded the NDC in 2014 and planned to proceed with constitutional drafting, a constitutional referendum, and national elections.

The Houthis, perceiving their grievances were not addressed in the NDC, joined forces with SALIH and expanded their influence in northwestern Yemen, which culminated in a major offensive against military units and rival tribes and enabled their forces to overrun the capital, Sana'a, in 2014. In 2015, the Houthis surrounded key government facilities, prompting HADI and the cabinet to resign. HADI fled first to Aden -- where he rescinded his resignation -- and then to Oman before moving to Saudi Arabia and asking the GCC to intervene militarily in Yemen. Saudi Arabia assembled a coalition of Arab militaries and began airstrikes, and ground fighting continued through 2016. In 2016, the UN initiated peace talks that ended without agreement. Rising tensions between the Houthis and SALIH culminated in Houthi forces killing SALIH. In 2018, the Houthis and the Yemeni Government participated in UN-brokered peace talks, agreeing to a limited cease-fire and the establishment of a UN mission.

In 2019, Yemen’s parliament convened for the first time since the conflict broke out in 2014. Violence then erupted between HADI's government and the pro-secessionist Southern Transitional Council (STC) in southern Yemen. HADI's government and the STC signed a power-sharing agreement to end the fighting, and in 2020, the signatories formed a new cabinet. In 2020 and 2021, fighting continued as the Houthis gained territory and also conducted regular UAV and missile attacks against targets in Saudi Arabia. In 2022, the UN brokered a temporary truce between the Houthis and the Saudi-led coalition. HADI and his vice-president resigned and were replaced by an eight-person Presidential Leadership Council. Although the truce formally expired in 2022, the parties nonetheless refrained from large-scale conflict through the end of 2023. Saudi Arabia, after the truce expired, continued to negotiate with the Yemeni Government and Houthis on a roadmap agreement that would include a permanent ceasefire and a peace process under UN auspices.

Zambia

Bantu-speaking groups mainly from the Luba and Lunda Kingdoms in the Congo River Basin and from the Great Lakes region in East Africa settled in what is now Zambia beginning around A.D. 300, displacing and mixing with previous population groups in the region. The Mutapa Empire developed after the fall of Great Zimbabwe to the south in the 14th century and ruled the region, including large parts of Zambia, from the 14th to 17th century. The empire collapsed as a result of the growing slave trade and Portuguese incursions in the 16th and 17th centuries. The region was further influenced by migrants from the Zulu Kingdom to the south and the Luba and Lunda Kingdoms to the north, after invading colonial and African powers displaced local residents into the area around the Zambezi River, in what is now Zambia. In the 1880s, British companies began securing mineral and other economic concessions from local leaders. The companies eventually claimed control of the region and incorporated it as the protectorate of Northern Rhodesia in 1911. The UK took over administrative control from the British South Africa Company in 1924. During the 1920s and 1930s, advances in mining spurred British economic ventures and colonial settlement. 

Northern Rhodesia’s name was changed to Zambia upon independence from the UK in 1964, under independence leader and first President Kenneth KAUNDA. In the 1980s and 1990s, declining copper prices, economic mismanagement, and a prolonged drought hurt the economy. Elections in 1991 brought an end to one-party rule and propelled the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) into power. The subsequent vote in 1996, however, saw increasing harassment of opposition parties and abuse of state media and other resources. Administrative problems marked the election in 2001, with three parties filing a legal petition challenging the election of ruling party candidate Levy MWANAWASA. MWANAWASA was reelected in 2006 in an election that was deemed free and fair. Upon his death in 2008, he was succeeded by his vice president, Rupiah BANDA, who won a special presidential byelection later that year. BANDA and the MMD lost to Michael SATA and the Patriotic Front (PF) in the 2011 general elections. SATA, however, presided over a period of haphazard economic management and attempted to silence opposition to PF policies. SATA died in 2014 and was succeeded by his vice president, Guy SCOTT, who served as interim president until 2015, when Edgar LUNGU won the presidential byelection and completed SATA's term. LUNGU then won a full term in the 2016 presidential elections. Hakainde HICHILEMA was elected president in 2021.

Zimbabwe

The hunter-gatherer San people first inhabited the area that eventually became Zimbabwe. Farming communities migrated to the area around A.D. 500 during the Bantu expansion, and Shona-speaking societies began to develop in the Limpopo valley and Zimbabwean highlands around the 9th century. These societies traded with Arab merchants on the Indian Ocean coast and organized under the Kingdom of Mapungubwe in the 11th century. A series of powerful trade-oriented Shona states succeeded Mapungubwe, including the Kingdom of Zimbabwe (ca. 1220-1450), Kingdom of Mutapa (ca. 1450-1760), and the Rozwi Empire. The Rozwi Empire expelled Portuguese colonists from the Zimbabwean plateau, but the Ndebele clan of Zulu King MZILIKAZI eventually conquered the area in 1838 during the era of conflict and population displacement known as the Mfecane.

In the 1880s, colonists arrived with the British South Africa Company (BSAC) and obtained a written concession for mining rights from Ndebele King LOBENGULA. The king later disavowed the concession and accused the BSAC agents of deceit. The BSAC annexed Mashonaland and then conquered Matabeleland during the First Matabele War of 1893-1894, establishing company rule over the territory. In 1923, the UK annexed BSAC holdings south of the Zambezi River, which became the British colony of Southern Rhodesia. The 1930 Land Apportionment Act restricted Black land ownership and established rules that would favor the White minority for decades. A new constitution in 1961 further cemented White minority rule.

In 1965, the government under White Prime Minister Ian SMITH unilaterally declared its independence from the UK. London did not recognize Rhodesia’s independence and demanded more voting rights for the Black majority in the country. International diplomacy and an uprising by Black Zimbabweans led to biracial elections in 1979 and independence (as Zimbabwe) in 1980. Robert MUGABE, who led the uprising and became the nation's first prime minister, was the country's only ruler (as president since 1987) from independence until 2017. In the mid-1980s, the government tortured and killed thousands of civilians in a crackdown on dissent known as the Gukurahundi campaign. Economic mismanagement and chaotic implementation of land redistribution policies periodically crippled the economy. General elections in 2002, 2008, and 2013 were severely flawed and widely condemned but allowed MUGABE to remain president. In 2017, Vice President Emmerson MNANGAGWA became president after a military intervention that forced MUGABE to resign, and MNANGAGWA cemented power by sidelining rival Grace MUGABE (Robert MUGABE’s wife). In 2018, MNANGAGWA won the presidential election, and he has maintained the government's longstanding practice of violently disrupting protests and politicizing institutions. Economic conditions remain dire under MNANGAGWA.