. "9 How Are Geopolitical Shifts Influencing Peace and Stability?." Understanding the Changing Planet: Strategic Directions for the Geographical Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2010.
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Understanding the Changing Planet: Strategic Directions for the Geographical Sciences
insights are of great value in efforts to understand the mix of forces that are shaping conflict and stability in different places.
The place-based approach that characterizes much work in the geographical sciences has also contributed to an understanding of the causes of conflict and peace. Viewed in general terms, many conflicts appear to be the result of a single economic, social, cultural, or environmental catalyst. However, myriad place-based studies have shown that violence is almost never a straightforward consequence of something such as resource scarcity (e.g., Peluso and Watts, 2001; Dalby, 2002; Le Billon, 2007). Instead, historical, political, and social processes operating at multiple scales affect how stakeholders attach value to the environment, contest claims, and struggle for outside support. Similarly, the potential for violent conflict among groups is often tied not only to economic or social inequalities, but also to localized geographical circumstances such as the distribution of groups and the availability of activity spaces that are beyond the reach of state authorities (e.g., Mikesell and Murphy, 1991; Fuller et al., 2000). Geographical perception matters as well, as made clear in White’s (2000) study showing how spaces of particular symbolic significance can help explain patterns of ethnic conflict and compromise in southeastern Europe.
For all the insights that have come from investigations of the geographical dimensions of peace and conflict, there is much to be learned from research on the changing nature and significance of geopolitical ideas and arrangements. The following questions provide examples of some particularly useful lines of inquiry that speak to this theme.
What types of boundary arrangements areparticularly prone to instability, and why?
The combined forces of globalization and new forms of localism are challenging the traditional territorial powers of the state and fostering what some have termed a process of deterritorialization in the international arena. Nonetheless, bounded territories are still of enormous significance in human affairs (Elden, 2006; Newman, 2006), and in some instances boundaries are hardening (e.g., heightened controls at U.S. borders in recent years). The boundaries of some territories are widely accepted, but many are not. Interstate disagreements over boundaries are common, many ethnonationalist groups seek to alter existing territorial arrangements, and de facto internal territorial partitions are under great strain in many places (e.g., Jammu and Kashmir, Moldova, Bosnia). Understanding the potential volatility of different boundary arrangements requires consideration of how they are viewed; whose interests they serve; and how they relate to ethnic, economic, sociocultural, and environmental spaces at different scales (Herb and Kaplan, 1999).
The potential for geographical analysis to advance understanding of the nature and significance of boundaries is suggested by Jordan’s (1993) analysis of the Vance-Owen plan for partitioning Bosnia during the civil war of the early 1990s. Jordan focused on the spatial relationship between the proposed ethnic regions in the Vance-Owen plan and the way people in Bosnia moved around and used space before the outbreak of hostilities (Figure 9.1). Data on preconflict commuting patterns allowed him to construct micro- and macro-“functional regions” (the lighter and darker hashed lines in Figure 9.1), which he then superimposed on the proposed partition map. The clear disconnect between the two patterns on the map provides insight into why the plan was so widely rejected. (Unfortunately, those crafting the plan did not undertake this kind of analysis before the plan was promulgated.)
Assessments of the relationship between territorial arrangements and patterns of ethnicity, environment, economy, and social interaction around contested boundaries could yield significant insights into the sources of conflict in many places. How have the establishment and adjustment of boundaries affected where people live, their activity patterns, and their senses of identity? Under what circumstances have shifting boundary arrangements produced more or less conflict? Circumstances are different from place to place, and part of the point of geographical analysis is to unravel how the particularities of individual circumstances produce certain outcomes. However, comparative geographical assessments of major contested boundaries around the world could yield fundamental insights into the relationships between territorial structures and social, cultural, and environmental patterns that are particularly