The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a sovereign state off the north-western coast of continental Europe. The country includes the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland and many smaller islands. Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that shares a land border with another sovereign state—the Republic of Ireland. Apart from this land border the UK is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, the North Sea, the English Channel and the Irish Sea.
The United Kingdom is a unitary state governed under a constitutional monarchy and a parliamentary system, with its seat of government in the capital city of London. It is a country in its own right and consists of four countries: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. There are three devolved national administrations, each with varying powers, situated in Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh; the capitals of Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland respectively. Associated with the UK, but not constitutionally part of it, are three Crown Dependencies and fourteen overseas territories. These are remnants of the British Empire which, at its height in 1922, encompassed almost a quarter of the world’s land surface and was the largest empire in history. British influence can still be observed in the language, culture and legal systems of many of its former territories.
The UK is a developed country and has the world’s sixth-largest economy by nominal GDP and seventh-largest economy by purchasing power parity. It was the world’s first industrialised country and the world’s foremost power during the 19th and early 20th centuries although the economic and social cost of two world wars and the decline of its empire in the latter half of the 20th century diminished its leading role in global affairs. The UK nevertheless remains a great power with leading economic, cultural, military, scientific and political influence. It is a recognised nuclear weapons state and its military expenditure ranks third or fourth in the world, depending on the method of calculation. It is a member state of the European Union, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, and is also a member of: the Commonwealth of Nations, G8, G20, NATO, the OECD, the Council of Europe and the World Trade Organization.
United Kingdom’s Country Profile at the CIA World Fact Book
United Kingdom’s page on the U.S. Department of Sate Web Site