geography determines destiny -- 10-2-18
Today's selection -- from The Absent Superpower by Peter Zeihan. Geography in large measure determines national destiny:
"Geopolitics is ultimately the study of the balance between options and limitations. A country's geography determines in large part what vulnerabilities it faces and what tools it holds.
"Countries with flat tracks of land -- think Poland or Russia -- find building infrastructure easier and so become rich faster, but also find themselves on the receiving end of invasions. This necessitates substantial standing armies, but the very act of attempting to gain a bit of security automatically triggers angst and paranoia in the neighbors.
"Countries with navigable rivers -- France and Argentina being premier examples -- start the game with some 'infrastructure' already baked in. Such ease of internal transport not only makes these countries socially unified, wealthy, and cosmopolitan, but also more than a touch self-important. They show a distressing habit of becoming overimpressed with themselves -- and so tend to overreach.
"Island nations enjoy security -- think the United Kingdom and Japan -- in part because of the physical separation from rivals, but also because they have no choice but to develop navies that help them keep others away from their shores. Armed with such tools, they find themselves actively meddling in the affairs of countries not just within arm's reach, but half a world away.
"In contrast, mountain countries -- Kyrgyzstan and Bolivia, to pick a pair -- are so capital-poor they find even securing the basics difficult, making them largely subject to the whims of their less-mountainous neighbors.
|Map of the Rhine basin|
"It's the balance of these restrictions and empowerments that determine both possibilities and constraints, which from my point of view makes it straightforward to predict what most countries will do:
· The Philippines' archipelagic nature gives it the physical stand-off of islands without the navy, so in the face of a threat from a superior country it will prostrate itself before any naval power that might come to its aid.
· Chile's population center is in a single valley surrounded by mountains. Breaching those mountains is so difficult that the Chileans often find it easier to turn their back on the South American continent and interact economically with nations much further afield.
· The Netherlands benefits from a huge portion of European trade because it controls the mouth of the Rhine, so it will seek to unite the Continent economically to maximize its economic gain while bringing in an external security guarantor to minimize threats to its independence.
· Uzbekistan sits in the middle of a flat, arid pancake and so will try to expand like syrup until it reaches a barrier it cannot pass. The lack of local competition combined with regional water shortages adds a sharp, brutal aspect to its foreign policy.
· New Zealand is a temperate zone country with a huge maritime frontage beyond the edge of the world, making it both wealthy and secure -- how could the Kiwis not be in a good mood every day?
"But then there is the United States. It has the fiat lands of Australia with the climate and land quality of France, the riverine characteristics of Germany with the strategic exposure of New Zealand, and the island features of Japan but with oceanic moats -- and all on a scale that is quite literally continental. Such landscapes not only make it rich and secure beyond peer, but also enable its navy to be so powerful that America dominates the global oceans."