9
How Are Geopolitical Shifts Influencing Peace and Stability?

Sweeping geopolitical changes have unfolded during the past two decades. The bipolar system of Cold War alliances has disintegrated, several states have broken up (the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia), new states have emerged (Er-itrea, East Timor), and suprastate blocs have grown in significance, especially the European Union. Moreover, extrastate groups and institutions have challenged the state’s geopolitical primacy (e.g., Lashkar-e-Taiba, Mercy Corps, the European Union),1 even as new extensions of state power have undermined traditional sovereignty arrangements (e.g., the doctrine of preemptive warfare invoked to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq). At the same time, the globalization of capital, labor, and finance is challenging the state as the prime actor in the international arena—albeit with mixed success.

These developments highlight the inadequacy of the long-standing tendency to view international relations as the product of a set of static spaces (i.e., countries) jockeying for position on the world stage (see generally Agnew, 1994; Taylor, 1994). Instead, a high priority for researchers is to understand the nature, significance, and relationships among multiple spaces of political relevance. Taking up this challenge requires exploring how power, interest groups, and territorial ideologies are spatially configured; how political patterns relate to environmental, ethnic, and other kinds of patterns; and how geopolitical conceptions reflect and shape social and environmental outcomes.

Research into such themes is important because the remaking of geopolitical space carries with it changing conceptions of “us” and “them” that influence how people view their collective interests. At the same time, the prospects for war and peace in different parts of the globe are fundamentally rooted in changing political-geographical arrangements and understandings. To what extent is “the Islamic World” a meaningful geopolitical construct, and how does that construct relate to other geopolitical constructs? Are new spaces of geopolitical significance emerging around access to water, oil, or other resources? To what extent are local or subnational ethnic divisions undermining traditional geopolitical arrangements? These types of questions hold significance for researchers seeking to elucidate key contemporary sociopolitical trends and for policy makers struggling to design arrangements that will promote peace and stability.

ROLE OF THE GEOGRAPHICAL SCIENCES

As an arena of inquiry focused on analyzing the organization of phenomena on the surface of Earth, the geographical sciences are necessarily central to the effort to examine the changing geopolitical scene. Their contribution is rooted in a concern with how and why political-territorial arrangements come into being, how

1

Lashkar-e-Taiba is a South Asian militant organization that seeks to promote the Islamization of the region and to contest Indian authority over the Muslims of Kashmir. Mercy Corps is an extrastate nonprofit organization with headquarters in the United States and Europe that seeks to combat poverty, suffering, and oppression through community action projects. The European Union is the most far-reaching suprastate integration initiative in the world, encompassing 27 European countries.



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9 How Are Geopolitical Shifts Influencing Peace and Stability? S weeping geopolitical changes have unfolded exploring how power, interest groups, and territorial during the past two decades. The bipolar system ideologies are spatially configured; how political pat- of Cold War alliances has disintegrated, several terns relate to environmental, ethnic, and other kinds of states have broken up (the Soviet Union, Czechoslo- patterns; and how geopolitical conceptions reflect and vakia, and Yugoslavia), new states have emerged (Er- shape social and environmental outcomes. itrea, East Timor), and suprastate blocs have grown in Research into such themes is important because the significance, especially the European Union. Moreover, remaking of geopolitical space carries with it chang- extrastate groups and institutions have challenged the ing conceptions of “us” and “them” that influence how state’s geopolitical primacy (e.g., Lashkar-e-Taiba, people view their collective interests. At the same time, Mercy Corps, the European Union),1 even as new the prospects for war and peace in different parts of the extensions of state power have undermined traditional globe are fundamentally rooted in changing political- sovereignty arrangements (e.g., the doctrine of pre- geographical arrangements and understandings. To emptive warfare invoked to justify the 2003 invasion what extent is “the Islamic World” a meaningful of Iraq). At the same time, the globalization of capital, geopolitical construct, and how does that construct labor, and finance is challenging the state as the prime relate to other geopolitical constructs? Are new spaces actor in the international arena—albeit with mixed of geopolitical significance emerging around access to success. water, oil, or other resources? To what extent are local These developments highlight the inadequacy or subnational ethnic divisions undermining traditional of the long-standing tendency to view international geopolitical arrangements? These types of questions relations as the product of a set of static spaces (i.e., hold significance for researchers seeking to elucidate countries) jockeying for position on the world stage key contemporary sociopolitical trends and for policy (see generally Agnew, 1994; Taylor, 1994). Instead, a makers struggling to design arrangements that will high priority for researchers is to understand the nature, promote peace and stability. significance, and relationships among multiple spaces of political relevance. Taking up this challenge requires role oF The geograPhical scieNces As an arena of inquiry focused on analyzing the 1Lashkar-e-Taiba is a South Asian militant organization that organization of phenomena on the surface of Earth, seeks to promote the Islamization of the region and to contest the geographical sciences are necessarily central to the Indian authority over the Muslims of Kashmir. Mercy Corps is an extrastate nonprofit organization with headquarters in the United effort to examine the changing geopolitical scene. Their States and Europe that seeks to combat poverty, suffering, and contribution is rooted in a concern with how and why oppression through community action projects. The European political-territorial arrangements come into being, how Union is the most far-reaching suprastate integration initiative in the world, encompassing 27 European countries. 

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 UNDERSTANDING THE CHANGING PLANET they function given their geographical character, and 2000); and the relationship between territorial sources how they relate to other economic, political, social, and of authority and those that are not place specific (e.g., environmental spaces (Gottmann, 1973; Sack, 1986; Flint, 2005a; Sparke, 2005). A study by Agnew and Paasi, 1996; Agnew, 2003). Researchers focusing on Min (2008) on the impacts of the U.S.-led surge in spatial orientation have also made significant contribu- Iraq is suggestive of the value of probing the relation- tions to the understanding of political developments, ship between spaces of conflict and other geographical ranging from voting patterns (e.g., Shelley et al., 1996) patterns. Using nighttime satellite images of Baghdad, to the distribution of armed conflicts (see Box 9.1). Agnew and his colleagues were able to show that Sunni In the geopolitical arena, work by geographical sci- Arabs were driven out of many neighborhoods by mili- entists has focused particularly on the cultural, political, tant Shiites in the lead-up to the surge. The research and environmental impacts of boundaries (e.g., Rumley suggests that the reduction of conflict in the aftermath and Minghi, 1991; Newman and Paasi, 1998); the of the surge was not just a product of increased troop nature and implications of different geopolitical world numbers, but of presurge ethnic cleansing and an as- views (e.g., Ó Tuathail, 1996; Dodds and Atkinson, sociated spatial segregation of Sunnis and Shiites. Such BOX 9.1 Spatial Distribution of Conflict O’Loughlin, in collaboration with other researchers, has undertaken a series of studies on the spatial distribution of conflict that have provided insights into the causes and consequences of instability (e.g., O’Loughlin and Anselin, 1991; O’Loughlin and Raleigh, 2007). In one recent study O’Loughlin and Witmer (Forthcoming) compiled and mapped geocoded information on politically motivated violent events in the North Caucasus. Their research showed a steady spatial diffusion of military, rebel, and police engagements to the west and east from Chechnya’s capital into North Ossetia and close to Makhachkala in Dagestan, but much less expansion to the north and south (see Figure). Their study revealed how conflict diffused from Chechnya to neighboring republics and provided insight into both the spatial strategies of participants and the types of areas that are more prone to instability. Mean center and standard deviational ellipse of violent events in the North Caucasus, August 1999-August 2007 by type of event. SOURCE: O’Loughlin and Witmer (Forthcoming).

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 GEOPOLITICS insights are of great value in efforts to understand the boundaries are hardening (e.g., heightened controls at mix of forces that are shaping conflict and stability in U.S. borders in recent years). The boundaries of some different places. territories are widely accepted, but many are not. Inter- The place-based approach that characterizes much state disagreements over boundaries are common, many work in the geographical sciences has also contributed ethnonationalist groups seek to alter existing territorial to an understanding of the causes of conflict and peace. arrangements, and de facto internal territorial parti- Viewed in general terms, many conflicts appear to tions are under great strain in many places (e.g., Jammu be the result of a single economic, social, cultural, or and Kashmir, Moldova, Bosnia). Understanding the environmental catalyst. However, myriad place-based potential volatility of different boundary arrangements studies have shown that violence is almost never a requires consideration of how they are viewed; whose straightforward consequence of something such as interests they serve; and how they relate to ethnic, resource scarcity (e.g., Peluso and Watts, 2001; Dalby, economic, sociocultural, and environmental spaces at 2002; Le Billon, 2007). Instead, historical, political, different scales (Herb and Kaplan, 1999). and social processes operating at multiple scales affect The potential for geographical analysis to advance how stakeholders attach value to the environment, understanding of the nature and significance of bound- contest claims, and struggle for outside support. Simi- aries is suggested by Jordan’s (1993) analysis of the larly, the potential for violent conflict among groups Vance-Owen plan for partitioning Bosnia during the is often tied not only to economic or social inequali- civil war of the early 1990s. Jordan focused on the spa- ties, but also to localized geographical circumstances tial relationship between the proposed ethnic regions such as the distribution of groups and the availability in the Vance-Owen plan and the way people in Bosnia of activity spaces that are beyond the reach of state moved around and used space before the outbreak of authorities (e.g., Mikesell and Murphy, 1991; Fuller hostilities (Figure 9.1). Data on preconflict commuting et al., 2000). Geographical perception matters as well, patterns allowed him to construct micro- and macro- as made clear in White’s (2000) study showing how “functional regions” (the lighter and darker hashed lines spaces of particular symbolic significance can help in Figure 9.1), which he then superimposed on the explain patterns of ethnic conflict and compromise in proposed partition map. The clear disconnect between southeastern Europe. the two patterns on the map provides insight into why For all the insights that have come from investiga- the plan was so widely rejected. (Unfortunately, those tions of the geographical dimensions of peace and con- crafting the plan did not undertake this kind of analysis flict, there is much to be learned from research on the before the plan was promulgated.) changing nature and significance of geopolitical ideas Assessments of the relationship between territorial and arrangements. The following questions provide arrangements and patterns of ethnicity, environment, examples of some particularly useful lines of inquiry economy, and social interaction around contested that speak to this theme. boundaries could yield significant insights into the sources of conflict in many places. How have the estab- lishment and adjustment of boundaries affected where research suBQuesTioNs people live, their activity patterns, and their senses of identity? Under what circumstances have shifting What types of boundary arrangements are boundary arrangements produced more or less conflict? particularly prone to instability, and why? Circumstances are different from place to place, and part The combined forces of globalization and new of the point of geographical analysis is to unravel how forms of localism are challenging the traditional ter- the particularities of individual circumstances produce ritorial powers of the state and fostering what some certain outcomes. However, comparative geographical have termed a process of deterritorialization in the assessments of major contested boundaries around the international arena. Nonetheless, bounded territories world could yield fundamental insights into the rela- are still of enormous significance in human affairs tionships between territorial structures and social, cul- (Elden, 2006; Newman, 2006), and in some instances tural, and environmental patterns that are particularly

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94 UNDERSTANDING THE CHANGING PLANET FIGURE 9.1  Map  based  on  Jordan’s  (1993)  study  of  the  relationship between functional  regions in Bosnia and the Vance- Owen partition plan. SOURCE:  As  modified  by  Alexander  Murphy  for  Geographical Ap- proaches to Democratization: A Report to the National Sci- ence Foundation (printed by the  University  of  Oregon  Press  for  the  Geography  and  Regional  Science Program, National Sci- ence Foundation). destabilizing. Such assessments should focus not only body of contemporary work is aimed at highlighting on spatial patterns, but also on territorial conceptions the problems of attributing geopolitical circumstances as well. Past work has shown how dominant “senses of solely to environmental or resource variables. Such territory” are influenced by boundary arrangements and work includes critiques of simplistic attempts to link affect patterns of interstate and intergroup territorial conflict to resource scarcity (Fairhead, 2001), resource conflict (e.g., Painter, 1995; Yiftachel, 2001; Murphy, abundance (Watts, 2004), and common property re- 2005). What is needed is research that looks at both sources (Turner, 2004). Although work in this vein has on-the-ground material circumstances and the senses deepened understanding of the links between the envi- of territory that are at play in different circumstances. ronment and social stability, the combination of rapid environmental change and shifting resource demands opens a set of new research challenges that can only be What are the implications of changing met through analysis employing the approaches and environmental circumstances and resource techniques of the geographical sciences. demands for geopolitical stability? One particularly promising realm of research con- The environmental circumstances and resource cerns the geopolitical impacts of sea-level rise in the endowments of different geopolitical entities have an wake of climate change. The relatively conservative predictions for the next century set forth in the latest impact on patterns of conflict and cooperation, power report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate and political fragility. Yet these factors do not operate Change (IPCC, 2007) point to a degree of sea-level in isolation from other political, economic, and social rise in the 21st century that is likely to have significant forces (Clark, 2006b). As noted above, a significant

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5 GEOPOLITICS implications for many millions of coastal dwellers how participatory resource management regimes may around the world, including those living in the United enable communities to prevent unproductive conflict States (Figure 9.2). However, those implications are (e.g., Martin, 2005). Still lacking, however, is much likely to be especially politically destabilizing in places understanding of where and when such cooperation with fragile governments, weak infrastructural coping occurs at broader scales. Sneddon and Fox (2006) pro- capacities, and low standards of living. Assessments of vide a useful starting point in their study of regional the coping capacities of places with low-lying, densely agreements on the sharing of water in the Mekong populated coasts could provide useful insights into the Basin. A systematic assessment of a variety of resource- geopolitical impacts of shifting coastlines (Heberger et sharing arrangements in other world regions could al., 2009). Coastline changes will also alter the baselines direct attention to the types of circumstances in which that have been used to establish maritime boundaries. cooperation has been achieved and could pave the way Determining where those changes are most likely to to a better understanding of how general economic or disrupt fragile agreements on ocean rights could help political influences interact with local circumstances to scholars and policy makers anticipate where problems promote stability. are likely to arise and could promote understanding of the geography of conflict potential in the maritime are territorial arrangements and ideas developing arena. in ways that are consistent with the geopolitical It is important to recognize that environmental visions of influential governmental and stresses are sometimes associated with cooperation, nongovernmental actors? not just conflict (Wolf, 2002). Resource scarcity is a Ever since the publication of Samuel Huntington’s case in point. A body of work has yielded insights into (1996) controversial book on the Clash of Civilizations, the conditions that have produced cooperation in the debate has swirled around the geographical framework face of resource competition at the local scale (e.g., that underlies his analysis. Huntington’s thesis is pre- Ostrom, 1990; Giordano, 2003). Others have examined FIGURE 9.2 Focusing just on areas that are at “very high” risk from sea­level rise in one country is suggestive of the potential for rising sea levels to alter coastlines and disrupt the lives and livelihoods of people. SOURCE: USGS (2007).

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6 UNDERSTANDING THE CHANGING PLANET mised on the rising significance of broad-scale religious formulated by international organizations, think tanks, identity as an organizing force in the contemporary insurgency networks, and militaries; initiatives such as world. Proponents of his thesis point to the growing the National Intelligence Council’s 2020 Project (NIC, salience of geopolitical movements with an explicitly 2004) shape decisions that can have sweeping social, religious agenda (most obviously Al-Qaeda). Critics economic, and environmental impacts. What do such argue that Huntington has ignored the long history initiatives include and ignore? What is the relationship of divisions within religious realms (see Bassin, 2007). between the visions set forth in them and underlying The stakes in this debate are high because geopolitical patterns of economic activity, cultural interaction, re- framings can greatly influence policy and practice source access, and territorial ideology? Which cultural, (Gregory, 2004). economic, or environmental circumstances are high- Moving the debate forward requires consideration lighted or obscured? Geographically grounded explora- of the extent to which identity constructs based on gen- tions of such questions can foster informed reflection eralized notions of religious or cultural continuities are on the often-unexamined geopolitical assumptions challenging national and local loyalties. Even though that guide policy making and scholarly analysis. The the state system does not have deep historical roots in 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq prompted an outpouring most parts of the world, states play an extraordinarily of scholarship on U.S.-based geopolitical visions (see influential role in defining contemporary identity e.g., Flint, 2005b; Bialasiewicz et al., 2007; Dalby, communities (Murphy, 1996; Wimmer, 2002). At the 2007), but much work remains to be done to assess the advantages and limitations of different geographical same time, in many places localized ethnic identities framings of this and other geopolitical issues (see have a powerful grip on the collective imagination. To Elden, 2009). It is also important to extend research what extent do nationalist and localized ethnic identi- beyond the major global powers of the 20th century. ties—along with the institutions and arrangements As Cutter et al. (2003), Flint (2003), and others make that support them—represent a serious obstacle to the clear, to date relatively little attention has been paid to formation of the kinds of civilizational blocs posited the assumptions and goals of emergent global actors, by Huntington? Addressing this question requires whether they be states (e.g., China or India), regional empirical research focused on where, and under what blocs (e.g., the European Union or the Association of circumstances, commitments to large-scale religious- Southeast Asian Nations), or extrastate religious and cultural communities are superseding national and ethnic movements (e.g., Hezbollah or the Tibetan local identities, and where they are not. Of particular Autonomy Movement). importance are intensive field studies focused on the in- stitutional arrangements, spatial networks, and cultural practices that are shaping senses of place and identity summarY in particular places and regions (see Carnegie, 2008, Research by geographical scientists along the lines out- for a discussion of the utility of this kind of research lined above will deepen our understanding of some of in the effort to understand conflict). Those in the best the fundamental geopolitical forces shaping the security position to undertake such studies are researchers with landscape of the 21st century. What is needed is a significant regional knowledge and linguistic skills sustained effort to investigate the spatial character of who are interested in investigating geographical pat- geopolitical developments and conceptualizations and terns and variations, both at the local scale (e.g., Secor, to analyze their relationship to key political-economic, 2004; Mills, 2006) and at broader scales (e.g., Leitner, environmental, and social patterns. Without studies 2003). in this vein, our understanding of key sources of geo- The Huntington thesis is just one example of an in- political stability and instability will be impoverished. fluential geopolitical conception. Such conceptions are