Prisoners of Geography

prisoners of geographyThe book of the above title was on Waterstones’ blockbuster non-fiction table, so I thought I’d give it a go. ‘Ten maps that tell you all about global politics’ seemed a good subtitle. The author is Tim Marshall.

The book actually does do what it says, shows how geography is the major factor in much of global politics, and explains how this works in different areas of the world.

It was interesting to read about the main geographical features and conflicts in each area of the world, although I did get the impression that a lot of today’s political problems are caused not by geography but by the arbitrary lines drawn on maps by dominant Europeans in that brief period of colonial expansion of the 19th century and subsequent decolonisation – such as the borders of Iraq, Syria, lack of Kurdish state, India/Pakistan,…

The relevance of the north European plain for both Western Europe and Russia is quite striking – how easy it is to attack on a wide plain rather than through mountains, as indeed Napoleon and Hitler did at their peril, as supply lines became over-stretched. The importance of a non-aligned Ukraine to Russia is also clearly explained, as is the impeccable logic that led to the recent Russian taking of the Crimea.

And if you want insight into the likely problems in the China Sea and the Arctic Ocean over coming decades, this book gives a fair idea.

I guess the question for humanity is whether we are going to continue to be prisoners of geography, and fight the same battles over and over again, or whether we are going to move beyond that to de-emphasise the national ego in favour of the collective well being that will come increasingly under threat with the changes caused by global warming and pollution. At the end of the day, all these geographies are interconnected, as are all their populations. We are really one humanity living in one world.

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