APPROXIMATELY ONE-FIFTH of the world’s countries have no access to the oceans or ocean-connected seas, classifying them as landlocked. Today, there are 42 landlocked countries, including LIECHTENSTEIN and UZBEKISTAN, considered doubly landlocked because they have no access to the oceans and neither does any country that surrounds them. The main issues to consider with a landlocked country include the high transportation costs of trade, coordinating logistics and working trade relationships with neighboring countries, and in some cases, volatile climates.

Fifteen of Africa’s 47 continental countries, including BOTSWANA, BURKINA FASO, BURUNDI, CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC, CHAD, ETHIOPIA, LESOTHO, MALAWI, MALI, NIGER, RWANDA, SWAZILAND, UGANDA, ZAMBIA, and ZIMBABWE, have no access to the ocean.


Most of these countries are among the poorest in the world, and only those rich in gem and mineral resources have escaped extreme poverty. Poor transportation routes have impeded trade and prevented advances in technology from being readily available to many of these countries, facilitating the spread of disease, including HIV/AIDS, in naturally isolated areas. Improved education within the countries only empowers highly trained students to emigrate, and politically, domestic policies do little to combat the geographical barriers between landlocked and neighboring nations.

When the Democratic Republic of the CONGO was created, the country negotiated for a thin strip of land on the north end of ANGOLA, providing the country with just 23 mi (37 km) of access to the ATLANTIC OCEAN—enough to cut transportation costs by half of what they would have been without the ocean access. Botswana, Lesotho, NAMIBIA, and Swaziland have formed a customs union, allowing them greater economic control with South Africa, their main trading partner.

KAZAKHSTAN is the largest landlocked country (1.03 million square mi or 2.67 million square km) and is bordered by CHINA, KYRGYZSTAN, RUSSIA, TURKMENISTAN, Uzbekistan, and the CASPIAN SEA, a landlocked body of water. Kazakhstan is rich in oil and natural gas resources and has become more integrated in the world economy and the development of trade resources among other landlocked countries. In 1994, Kazakhstan joined with the two adjoining landlocked countries—Uzbekistan, doubly landlocked, and the Kyrgyz Republic—to establish a “free-trade zone” among the countries, strengthening their economic standing in Asia. The borders between Kazakhstan and Russia, AZERBAIJAN (across from Kazakhstan on the Caspian Sea), turkmenistan, and the Caspian Sea are currently under negotiation.

Other landlocked countries include the Asian nations of AFGHANISTAN, BHUTAN, LAOS, MONGOLIA, NEPAL, and TAJIKISTAN. The European landlocked nations include ANDORRA, ARMENIA, AUSTRIA, BELARUS, CZECH REPUBLIC, HUNGARY, Liechtenstein, LUXEMBOURG, former Yugoslav republic of MACEDONIA, MOLDOVA, SAN MARINO, SLOVAKIA, SWITZERLAND, and VATICAN CITY, the world’s smallest country. BOLIVIA and PARAGUAY are the only landlocked countries on the American continents and are both located in South America, though Paraguay is able to access the ocean via a long series of river connections over 1,000 mi (1,600 km) long.

Historically, countries have made extreme efforts to avoid being landlocked. In the 16th century, RUSSIA was considered landlocked part of the year when the ARCTIC OCEAN froze the country’s only ports. A prime motivating factor in the country’s expansion was the economic necessity of warmer ports. Ocean access can be an important part of political negotiations because of the economic resources a country can access. Once a part of the Third Reich during World War II, Gdansk (Danzig) was decreed to POLAND in 1945 as part of the Potsdam Conference, providing the country with its only ocean access.

Several countries, including ERITREA, MONTENEGRO, and the Republic of BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA have negotiated independence with access to the ocean as a key element in defining borders. The 12 mi (20 km) of coastline along the ADRIATIC SEA that is part of Bosnia and Herzegovina actually splits the Croatian territories into two segments. But knowing the important economic impact a country’s ocean access plays, compromises to get even a small amount of ocean access was crucial to a successful bid for Croatia’s national independence.