Shape of the State

State Morphology

Belgium, True Colour Satellite Image With Boundaries of Regions
Planet Observer/UIG/ Universal Images Group/ Getty Images

The boundaries of a country and the shape of the land which it encompasses can present problems or it can help to unify the nation. The shape or morphology of most countries can be divided into five main categories: compact, fragmented, elongated, perforated, and protruded.


A compact state with a circular shape is the easiest to manage. Belgium is an excellent example because of the cultural division between Flanders and Wallonia within Belgium.

The compact form of Belgium has helped to keep the country together. Compact states are also easier to defend than states of other shapes.


Nations such as Indonesia, which is composed of more than 13,000 islands, are known as fragmented or archipelagic states (because they are composed of archipelagos). It is difficult to govern such a country composed of islands (and more than 200 million people).

Denmark and the Philippines are also archipelagic countries separated by water.


An elongated or attenuated nation such as Chile makes for difficult governance of peripheral areas in the north and south from the central capital region near Santiago. Vietnam is also an elongated state.


South Africa is the classic example of a perforated state, which completely surrounds Lesotho. The surrounded nation can only be reached by going through one country. If there is hostility between the two nations, access to the surrounded nation can be difficult.

Italy is also a perforated state. Both Vatican City and San Marino are surrounded by Italy.


A protruded or panhandle country such as Myanmar (Burma) or Thailand have an extended arm of territory. Like an elongated state, the panhandle complicates that shape of the territory. The state of Oklahoma also has a prominent panhandle.