A landlocked state or country is a sovereign state entirely enclosed by land, or whose only coastlines lie on closed seas. There are currently 48 such countries, including four partially recognised states. Only two, Bolivia and Paraguay in South America, lie outside Afro-Eurasia (the Old World).
As a rule, being landlocked creates political and economic handicaps that access to the high seas avoids. For this reason, states large and small across history have striven to gain access to open waters, even at great expense in wealth, bloodshed, and political capital.
The economic disadvantages of being landlocked can be alleviated or aggravated depending on degree of development, language barriers, and other considerations. Some historically landlocked countries are quite affluent, such as Switzerland, Luxembourg, and Liechtenstein, all of which frequently employ neutrality to their political advantage. The majority, however, are classified as Landlocked Developing Countries (LLDCs). 9 of the 12 countries with the lowest Human Development Indices (HDI) are landlocked.
Historically, being landlocked has been disadvantageous to a country's development. It cuts a nation off from such important sea resources as fishing, and impedes or prevents direct access to seaborne trade, a crucial component of economic and social advance. As such, coastal regions tended to be wealthier and more heavily populated than inland ones. Paul Collier in his book The Bottom Billion argues that being landlocked in a poor geographic neighborhood is one of four major development "traps" by which a country can be held back. In general, he found that when a neighboring country experiences better growth, it tends to spill over into favorable development for the country itself. For landlocked countries, the effect is particularly strong, as they are limited in their trading activity with the rest of the world. He states, "If you are coastal, you serve the world; if you are landlocked, you serve your neighbors." Others have argued that being landlocked may actually be a blessing as it creates a "natural tariff barrier" which protects the country from cheap imports. In some instances, this has led to more robust local food systems.
Efforts to avoid
Countries thus have made particular efforts to avoid being landlocked, by acquiring land that reaches the sea:
- As result of a 2005 territorial exchange with Ukraine, Moldova received a 600m-long bank of the Danube River (which is an international waterway), subsequently building its Port of Giurgiulești there.
- The International Congo Society, which owned the modern-day Democratic Republic of the Congo, was awarded a narrow piece of land cutting through Angola to connect it to the sea by the Conference of Berlin in 1885.
- The Republic of Ragusa once gave the town of Neum to the Ottoman Empire because it did not want to have a land border with Venice; this small municipality was inherited by Bosnia and Herzegovina and now provides limited sea access, splitting the Croatian part of the Adriatic coast in two. Since Bosnia and Herzegovina is a new country, railways and ports have not been built for its need. There is no freight port along its short coast line at Neum, making it effectively landlocked, although there are plans to change this. Instead the port of Ploče in Croatia is used.
- After World War I, in the Treaty of Versailles, a part of Germany designated "the Polish corridor" was given to the new Second Polish Republic, for access to the Baltic Sea. This gave Poland a short coastline, but without a large harbour. This was also the pretext for making Danzig (now Gdańsk) with its harbour the Free City of Danzig, to which Poland was given free access. However, the Germans placed obstacles to this free access, especially when it came to military material. In response, the small fishing harbour of Gdynia was soon greatly enlarged.
- Until the dissolution of Austria-Hungary in 1918 at the end of World War I, Austrians, Hungarians and that empire's other nationalities had served in that country's navy, but since then, Austria and Hungary have both been landlocked countries.
Countries can make agreements on getting free transport of goods through neighbour countries:
- The Treaty of Versailles required Germany to offer Czechoslovakia a lease for 99 years of parts of the ports in Hamburg and Stettin, allowing Czechoslovakia sea trade via the Elbe and Oder rivers. Stettin was annexed by Poland after World War II, but Hamburg continued the contract so that part of the port (now called Moldauhafen) may still be used for sea trade by a successor of Czechoslovakia, the Czech Republic.
- The Danube is an international waterway, and thus landlocked Austria, Hungary, Moldova, Serbia, and Slovakia have secure access to the Black Sea (the same access is given to inland parts of Germany and Croatia, though Germany and Croatia are not landlocked). However, oceangoing ships cannot use the Danube, so cargo must be transloaded anyway, and many overseas imports into Austria and Hungary use land transport from Atlantic and Mediterranean ports. A similar situation exists for the Rhine river where Switzerland has boat access, but not oceangoing ships. Luxembourg has such through the Moselle, but Liechtenstein has no boat access, even though it is located along the Rhine, as the Rhine is not navigable that far upstream.
- The Mekong is an international waterway so that landlocked Laos has secure access to the South China Sea (since Laos became independent from French Indochina). However, it is not entirely navigable due to the Khone Phapheng Falls.
- Free ports allow transshipment to short-distance ships or river vessels.
- The TIR Treaty allows sealed road transport without customs checks and charges, mostly in Europe.
Losing access to the sea is generally a great blow to a nation, politically, militarily, and particularly with respect to international trade and therefore economic security:
- The independence of Eritrea, brought about by successful separatist movements, has caused Ethiopia to become landlocked.
- Montenegro's decision to abandon the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro caused the federal unit of Serbia to become a landlocked independent state.
- Bolivia lost its coastline to Chile in the War of the Pacific. The Bolivian Navy still trains in Lake Titicaca for an eventual recovery, and the Bolivian people annually celebrate a patriotic "Dia del Mar" (Day of the Sea) to remember its territorial loss, which included both the coastal city of Antofagasta and what has proven to be one of the most significant and lucrative copper deposits in the world. In the 21st century, the selection of the route of gas pipes from Bolivia to the sea fueled popular uprisings.
- Austria and Hungary also lost their access to the sea as a consequence of the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye (1919) and the Treaty of Trianon (1920) respectively. Previously, although Croatia had a limited constitutional autonomy within the Kingdom of Hungary, the City of Fiume/Rijeka on the Croatian coast was governed directly from Budapest by an appointed governor as a corpus separatum, to provide Hungary with its only international port in the periods 1779–1813, 1822–1848 and 1868–1918.
- By 1801, the Nizam's dominion of Hyderabad State assumed the shape it is now remembered for: that of a landlocked princely state with territories in central Deccan, bounded on all sides by British India, whereas 150 years earlier it had had a considerable coastline on the Bay of Bengal which was annexed by the British.
- It is possible that one of the causes of the Paraguayan War was Paraguay's lack of direct ocean access (although this is disputed; see the linked article).
- When the Entente Powers divided the former Ottoman Empire under the Treaty of Sèvres at the close of World War I, Armenia was promised part of the Trebizond vilayet (roughly corresponding to the modern Trabzon and Rize provinces in Turkey). This would have given Armenia access to the Black Sea. However, the Sèvres treaty collapsed with the Turkish War of Independence and was superseded by the Treaty of Lausanne, which firmly established Turkish rule over the area.
- In 2011, South Sudan broke off from Sudan, causing the former to become landlocked. There still remains conflict over the oil fields in South Sudan between the two countries.
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea now gives a landlocked country a right of access to and from the sea without taxation of traffic through transit states. The United Nations has a programme of action to assist landlocked developing countries, and the current responsible Undersecretary-General is Anwarul Karim Chowdhury.
Some countries have a long coastline, but much of it may not be readily usable for trade and commerce. For instance, in its early history, Russia's only ports were on the Arctic Ocean and frozen shut for much of the year. The wish to gain control of a warm-water port was a major motivator of Russian expansion towards the Baltic Sea, Black Sea and Pacific Ocean. On the other hand, some landlocked countries can have access to the ocean along wide navigable rivers. For instance, Paraguay (and Bolivia to a lesser extent) have access to the ocean by the Paraguay and Parana rivers.
Several countries have coastlines on landlocked seas, such as the Caspian and the Aral. Since these seas are in effect lakes without access to wider seaborne trade, countries such as Kazakhstan are still considered landlocked. Although the Caspian Sea is connected to the Black Sea via the man-made Volga-Don Canal, large oceangoing ships are unable to traverse it.
Landlocked countries may be bordered by a single country having access to the high seas, two or more such countries, or be surrounded by another landlocked country (making a country doubly landlocked):
Landlocked by a single country
Three countries are landlocked by a single country:
- Lesotho, a state surrounded by South Africa.
- San Marino, a state surrounded by Italy.
- Vatican City, a state forming part of Rome, thereby surrounded by Italy.
Landlocked by two countries
Seven landlocked countries are surrounded by only two mutually bordering neighbors:
- Andorra (between France and Spain)
- Bhutan (between India and China)
- Liechtenstein (one of the "doubly landlocked" countries, between Switzerland and Austria)
- Moldova (between Ukraine and Romania)
- Mongolia (between Russia and China)
- Nepal (between India and China)
- Swaziland (between South Africa and Mozambique)
To this group could be added two de facto states with no or limited international recognition:
A country is "doubly landlocked" or "double-landlocked" when it is surrounded entirely by one or more landlocked countries (requiring the crossing of at least two national borders to reach a coastline).
There are currently only two such countries:
- Liechtenstein in Central Europe, surrounded by Switzerland and Austria.
- Uzbekistan in Central Asia, surrounded by Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.
There were no doubly landlocked countries in recent times from the unification of Germany in 1871 until the end of World War I. Liechtenstein bordered the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which had an Adriatic coastline, and Uzbekistan was then part of the Russian Empire, which had both ocean and sea access.
With the dissolution of Austria-Hungary in 1918 and creation of an independent, landlocked Austria, Liechtenstein became the sole doubly landlocked country until 1938. In the Nazi Anschluss that year Austria was absorbed into the Third Reich, which possessed a border on the Baltic Sea and the North Sea.
After World War II, Austria regained its independence and Liechtenstein once again became doubly landlocked. Uzbekistan, which had been absorbed by the new Soviet Union upon the toppling of the Russian throne in 1917, gained its independence with the dissolution of the U.S.S.R. in 1991 and became the second doubly landlocked country.
However, Uzbekistan's doubly landlocked status depends on the Caspian Sea's status dispute: some countries, especially Iran and Turkmenistan, claim that the Caspian Sea should be considered as a real sea (mainly because this way they would have larger oil and gas fields), and in this case, Uzbekistan is only a simple landlocked country, because both Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan have access to the Caspian Sea from their neighbors.
List of landlocked countries
|Burkina Faso||274,222||15,746,232||Central Africa|
|Central African Republic||622,984||4,422,000||Central Africa|
|Czech Republic||78,867||10,674,947||Central Europe|
|South Sudan||619,745||8,260,490||Central Africa|
|Percentage of World||11.4%||6.9%|
- a Has a coast on the saltwater Caspian Sea
- b Has a coast on the saltwater Aral Sea
- c Disputed region with limited international recognition
- d Landlocked by just one country
They can be grouped in contiguous groups as follows:
- Central Asian cluster (6): Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan
- Central European cluster (9): Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Kosovo (partially recognized), Liechtenstein, Macedonia, Serbia, Slovakia and Switzerland
- Central and East African cluster (10): Burkina Faso, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Ethiopia, Mali, Niger, Rwanda, South Sudan, Uganda
- South African cluster (4): Botswana, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe
- Caucasian cluster (3): Armenia, Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh (unrecognized)
- South American cluster (2): Bolivia, Paraguay
If Transnistria is included then Moldova and Transnistria form their own cluster, listed in parentheses in the table.
If it were not for the 40 km of coastline at Muanda, DR Congo would join the two African clusters into one, making them the biggest contiguous group in the world. Also, the Central Asian and Caucasian clusters can be considered contiguous, joined by the landlocked Caspian Sea.
There are the following "single" landlocked countries (each of them borders no other landlocked country):
- Africa (2): Lesotho, Swaziland
- Asia (4): Bhutan, Laos, Mongolia, Nepal
- Europe (6): Andorra, Belarus, Luxembourg, Moldova (if Transnistria is excluded), San Marino, and the State of the Vatican City
- Caucasus (1): South Ossetia (partially recognized)
If the Caucasian countries are counted as part of Europe, then Europe has the most landlocked countries, at 19. Kazakhstan is also sometimes regarded as a transcontinental country, so if that is included, the count for Europe goes up to 20. If these countries are included in Asia, then Africa has the most, at 16. Depending on the status of the three transcontinental countries, Asia has between 9 and 14, while South America has only 2. North America and Australia are the only continents with no landlocked countries (not including Antarctica).
- Convention on Transit Trade of Land-locked States
- Declaration recognising the Right to a Flag of States having no Sea-coast
- Enclave and exclave
- List of countries and territories by land and maritime borders
- List of countries that border only one other country
- Navies of landlocked countries
- List of landlocked U.S. states
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- UN Report
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- CIA World Factbook Uzbekistan
- MacKellar, Landis; Wörgötter, Andreas; Wörz, Julia. "Economic Development Problems of Landlocked Countries" (PDF). Wien Institute for Advanced Studies. p. 12.