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News Definitions of geo-political terms

  1. Jan 4, 2004 #1
    To avoid misunderstandings and mistakes in threads, I thought I would put together this little lot of definitions of geo-political terms.


    A continent is a large, unbroken section of Earth's crust above sea level. It is important to specify above sea level, since some huge sections of unbroken crust lie almost entirely below sea level (such as the Pacific plate) and are not included in the list of continents. Often a continent is defined as a large section of unbroken crust surrounded by water. However, Europe and Asia, for example, are neighbours over a border of dry land. Not all land masses above sea level are continents, however. For example, the islands of the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian oceans. Also, not all continents are actually surrounded by water. In short, the continents are:
    • North America.
    • South America.
    • Europe.
    • Asia.
    • Africa.
    • Australia.
    • Antarctica.
    Once again, not all countries are part of continents. For example, the most populous Islamic nation, Indonesia, is not a part of the unbroken, above sea level landmass of Asia. Much of what we term the Middle East sits on its own tectonic plate, with land borders (as Europe and Asia) against three other plates. Australia, recently refered to as part of a mythical continent named "Oceania", has no actual geological connection to many of the other land-masses supposedly resident in Oceania.

    According to the US Geological Survey ( http://pubs.usgs.gov/publications/text/slabs.html ) , the major plates are:
    • Eurasian plate.
    • North American plate.
    • South American plate.
    • African plate.
    • Arabian plate.
    • Indian plate.
    • Australian plate.
    • Caribbean plate.
    • Nazca plate.
    • Scotia plate.
    • Philippine plate.
    • Pacific plate.
    • Antarctic plate.
    Continents are separated by faults or gaps between tectonic plates. For example, Europe and Asia are separated by the fault which caused the Ural Mountains.


    A country is a human-defined area of the Earth which does not necessarily conform to any geological features. For example, Hawaii is considered a part of the country United States of America, yet is not even on the same plate. I have never found on the internet an absolutely complete list of all the nations of Earth, but here are a few incomplete lists:


    First we have the often used and always misused "Eastern" and "Western". Several centuries back, France was considered the hub of diplomacy, which is why French was considered the language of diplomacy. At that time, given that France was the hub, Britain and the New World were considered "the West". Eastern Europe was "the East". The "Middle East" was precisely the region we call by that name today. And the "Far East" was Asia. In recent years it has become popular to refer to all nations allied with the USA as "Western", but this is of course erroneous, since many such nations do not reside in Britain or the Americas.

    During World War Two, nations were often classified according to whether they fought for or against the NAZIs. Axis nations included Germany, Italy, and Japan, and often the other nations which fought on their side were referred to as Axis nations or Axis supporters. The Allies were Britain, the USA, Australia, Russia, France, and many others.

    After WW2 we had the Cold War. During this period, many classified nations according to whether they supported the USA or the USSR. Those industrialised nations which supported the USA (and the USA itself) were called First World nations. Those industrialised nations which supported the USSR (also the USSR itself) were called Second World nations. Non-industrialised nations which neither side particularly cared about, primarily in South America, Asia, and Africa, were called Third World nations.

    Since the end of the Cold War, most classification systems have been determined by a nation's social and economic progress and the international trading blocks with which they are associated. For example, ASEAN, OPEC, EU, Developing, Least Developed Countries, et cetera.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 20, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 4, 2004 #2
    *edited for being off-topic*
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 6, 2004
  4. Jan 10, 2004 #3


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    Nice post Adam.

    May be of interest to guests and members to say a few words about the main processes by which today's countries have come into being, especially since WW II.

    I'm curious about 'failed states'. I've seen Somalia thus classified - is it a US invention?

    Also, what's the status of 'trust territories' - are they countries or not?
  5. Jan 11, 2004 #4


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    Optimal size for a nation?

    "The Economist" recently reviewed a new book* on the economic viability of countries, particularly looking at what an optimal size is. Interesting review, suggesting that the book would be a good read too (unfortunately the article on the Economist's website is 'premium content', so posting a link to it won't be very helpful).

    *"The Size of Nations", Alberto Alesina and Enrico Spolaore, MIT Press
  6. Jan 11, 2004 #5


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    I've seen this book discossed on some political science blogs. The accusation has been raised that the authors cherry pick their cases by cutting off the wealth figure to include the US, which they can treat as an outlier, but exclude most of the large European countries, which would destroy the correlation.
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