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 constituent countries: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The latter three of these are devolved administrations, each with varying powers, based in their capital cities Belfast, Edinburgh and Cardiff respectively. Associated with the UK, but not constitutionally part of it, are the three Crown dependencies: Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man. The United Kingdom has fourteen British 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 seventh-largest economy by nominal GDP and eighth-largest economy by purchasing power parity. It was the world’s first industrialized country and the world’s foremost power during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The UK remains a great power with leading economic, cultural, military, scientific and political influence. It is a recognized nuclear weapons state and its military expenditure ranks fourth in the world. The UK has been a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council since its first session in 1946. It has been a member of the European Union and its predecessor the European Economic Community since 1973. It is also a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, the Council of Europe, the G7, the G8, the G20, NATO, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the World Trade Organization.
The total area of the United Kingdom is approximately 243,610 square kilometers (94,060 sq mi). The country occupies the major part of the British Islesarchipelago and includes the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern one-sixth of the island of Ireland and some smaller surrounding islands. It lies between the North Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea with the south-east coast coming within 35 kilometers (22 mi) of the coast of northern France, from which it is separated by the English Channel. As of 1993 10% of the UK was forested, 46% used for pastures and 25% used for agriculture. The Royal Greenwich Observatory in London is the defining point of the Prime Meridian.