A landlocked state or landlocked country is a sovereign state entirely enclosed by land, or whose only coastlines lie on closed seas. There are currently 49 such countries, including five 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 the degree of development, language barriers, and other considerations. Some landlocked countries are quite affluent, such as Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, and Austria, all of which frequently employ neutrality to their political advantage. The majority, however, are classified as Landlocked Developing Countries (LLDCs). Nine of the twelve 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 important sea resources such 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 neighbourhood is one of four major development “traps” by which a country can be held back. In general, he found that when a neighbouring country experiences better growth, it tends to spill over into favourable 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 neighbours.” 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.
Landlocked developing countries have significantly higher costs of international cargo transportation compared to coastal developing countries (in Asia the ratio is 3:1).