A Country's Shape Can Impact Its Fortunes and Destiny

Nation-states fall into one of five configurations

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

A country's boundaries, as well as the shape of the land it encompasses, can present problems or help to unify the nation. The morphology of most countries can be divided into five main categories: compact, fragmented, elongated, perforated, and protruded. Read on to learn how the configurations of nation-states have impacted their destinies.

Compact

A compact state with a circular shape is the easiest to manage. Belgium is an example because of the cultural division between Flanders and Wallonia. Belgium's population is divided into two distinct groups: The Flemings, the larger of the two, live in the northern region—called Flanders—and speak Flemish, a language closely related to Dutch. The second group lives in Wallonia, a region in the south, and consists of the Walloons who speak French. 

The government long ago divided the country into these two regions, giving each control over its cultural, linguistic, and educational matters. Yet, despite this division, Belgium's compact form has helped to keep the country together despite numerous European wars and attacks by neighboring countries.

Fragmented

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. Denmark and the Philippines are also archipelagic countries separated by water. As you might expect, the Philippines has been attacked, invaded, and occupied numerous times over the centuries due to its fragmented shape, starting in 1521 when Ferdinand Magellan claimed the islands for Spain. 

Elongated

An elongated or attenuated nation such as Chile makes for difficult governance of peripheral areas in the north and south, which are from the central capital of Santiago. Vietnam is also an elongated state, which has battled numerous attempts by other countries to divide it, such as the 20-year Vietnam War, where first French and then U.S. forces tried unsuccessfully to keep the southern part of the nation separated from the north.

Perforated

South Africa is the classic example of a perforated state, which completely surrounds Lesotho. The surrounded nation of Lesotho can only be reached by going through South Africa. If there is hostility between the two nations, access to the surrounded nation can be difficult. Italy is also a perforated state. Vatican City and San Marino—both independent countries—are completely surrounded by Italy.

Protruded

A protruded or panhandle country such as Myanmar (Burma) or Thailand has an extended arm of territory. Like an elongated state, the panhandle complicates management of the country. Myanmar has existed in one form or other for thousands of years, for example, but the country's shape has made it an easy target for many other nations and people, dating to the Nanzhao kingdom in the mid-800s to the Khmer and Mongol empires.

Though it's not a nation, you can get an idea of how hard it would be to defend a protruded country if you picture the state of Oklahoma, which has a prominent panhandle.