Geopolitical Implications Literature Review Examples
The increase in global conflicts is characteristic of international politics. Globalization challenges the political authority of states amidst a world that is becoming more inter-connected. Alliances, trade agreements and borders all present unique challenges and reinforcements to state security. In this essay, I will summarize the findings of various political geographers and examine the areas of agreement and disagreement.
First, Martin, Mayer and Thoenig (2008) article titled “Make Trade Not War” presents an interesting argument on what we know on military conflicts. The authors based their findings on a study that analyzed military conflicts between 1950 and 2000. This study is unique as it is one of the only one that has looked at how military conflicts are impacted by trade. The long held belief in political science is that globalization and trade decreases the chances of military conflicts among trade states. However, the authors surmise that this is not always the case. Between 1870-2001, the authors noted the rise of military conflicts such as World War 1, while trade openness was relatively high. In the years after World War 2, world trade increased as an era of decreased conflicts was enjoyed. In the 1990s, the authors noted the increase again in trade as this was the period of globalization but this did not represent an era of decreased military conflicts either.
One of the findings the authors noted to explain the rise and fall of military conflicts and trade was that bilateral trade resulted in a lower incidence of military conflicts, but multi-lateral trade led to the opposite event. Globalization “decreases probability of global conflicts but increases the probability of any bilateral conflict.” (Martin,Mayer and Thoenig 2008: p.867). This phenomenon was due to the nature of the geography of states. Since globalization represents the possibility in the number of trading partners, exporters and suppliers, concessions among states engaged in multi-lateral agreements are decreased. In turn, the authors claim this leads to an increase of states engaged in local disputes such as shared borders, resources and ethnic minorities.
One solution to this problem the authors posit is implementing regional trade agreements that may pacify local disputes and result in economic gains for all parties involved.
On the theme of geography, Ikenberry (2014) links the unique geographical isolation of the United States to its ability to wield alliances and project world power, something that “illiberal” authoritarian states such as China and Russia have not been able to do, especially in a way that is not perceived as threatening to its neighboring states. Given the spheres of influence that these latter countries have crafted, Ikenberry noted the ability of the U.S. to build multi-lateral institutions that have allowed it to project power and influence state behavior. The alliances are especially what make the U.S. powerful. The author claims “the military capabilities aggregated in this U.S.-led alliance system outweigh anything China or Russia might generate for decades to come.” (Ikenberry 2014) Alliances are strategic tools that allow large countries such as the U.S. to share the burden of security as well as projection of power in areas of distant parts of the world.
The theme of geopolitics and border security is especially relevant in Ikenberry’s article. He notes the threat that China poses to its neighboring states such as Vietnam, Japan and Taiwan. As a response to the growing military power of China, Japan’s alliance with the U.S. is growing closer as a way of counter-balancing the military might of China.
While Ikenberry and Martin, Mayer and Thoenig agree to some extent is that globalization act as a pacifying element to deter states from waging war. However, Martin et al claim that even rational thinking is not enough to prevent conflicts. Ikenberry’s critique on illiberal countries is their inability to wield alliances is one reason for their failure to succeed in the international framework and that the great powers won’t be able to stand up to American national interests.
Conflicts over resources continue to play out in the international realm. Energy security is one of the key areas that states may engage in conflicts in order to stave off political unrest and economic turmoil. On this topic, D. Yergin’s essay on “Ensuring Energy Security” (2006) is especially relevant to the discussion on geopolitics.
This theme is important given the need to secure a stable energy source, stave off geopolitical rivalries, nationalism, instability in some exporting nations, threat of terrorism and unstable oil market prices. (Yergin 2006: 69).
Increasingly, critical infrastructure has become the latest targets of terrorist activities as well as vulnerable to natural disasters resulting in energy shocks, disruptions of oil, natural gas and electric power. For this reason, Yergin wants to expand our current understanding of energy security to include those on the energy supply chain as well as infrastructure sites.
Yergin lays the foundation of our current understanding of the energy security system. Enveloped within this framework, are four principles of energy security: diversification of supply, resilience (“security margin”), reality of integration and information. These elements are important as they help to explain the abundance of energy resources that is available to satisfy the growing demands of countries. Furthermore, by diversifying energy sources will help to ensure that states’ demands for energy will be satisfied. One helpful point that this article makes is its distinguishing the energy security needs of states. That is, the energy supply needs of exporting countries are necessarily different from those of an industrialized country which is different from that of an emerging state. Lastly, one of the biggest challenges Yergin makes is that energy security will be dependent on how countries manage their relations to each other, either through bilateral or multi-lateral exchanges, which brings us back to the claim made by Martin, Mayer and Thoenig.
Yergin further discusses the concept of environmental security. This, he says, is a link between natural resources, the environment and violent conflict (Yergin 2006: 72). The aim of environmental security that gained around prevalence after the Cold War was considered in the after concerns of international security. Many argue that resources such as energy and environmental concerns may lead to dangerous conflicts among nations. Others, however, argue that creating a link between geographical concerns with international security only but serves to reproduce negative mindsets while at the same failing to address the realities of future challenges in the environment (Martin,Mayer and Thoenig 2008: p.873)
The theme of role of geography in conflict is nearly agreed by most authors. Geography acts as a source, facilitator and influence of war and conflicts. When geography is used as a factor of influence is when the epitome of opportunity and willingness. This actually refers to the possibility of interactions between nations. The willingness and opportunity are influenced by geographical factors as well as environmental factors. These factors influence the decisions to be made especially on whether to go to war or not. On this, Yergin argues that the physical as well as social situations enhance or limit actions which nations can partake or not (Yergin 2006: 75).
When geography is used as a facilitator, it means that the sharing of borders and the proximities of countries can influence the occurrence of war. The third concept of geography as a source of war or conflict is based on the conditions surrounding territorial disputes (Ikenberry, 2014). Ikenberry states that hydro strategic territories and resources play a big role in conflicts. For example, rivers, which serve as a valuable land marks and as barriers against tanks and troops can be useful boundaries delineators. Thus the control of such water sources is “hydro strategic” as it can have military roles and functions (Ikenberry 2014).
Other geopolitical factors have been considered by many researchers as containing military-strategic influences. Boundaries, borders and hydro strategic territory influences draw the line for physical contact between nations. Some states view this as a either an opportunity for cooperation or a conflict. Ikenberrry uses the example of water as a hydro strategic advantage. He says that water is a unique natural resource and for a long has caused some boundary conflicts. Border conflicts have arisen especially when the water body marks the boundary separating states (Ikenberry 2014). These form the basis of a fair share of functional disputes and are agreed upon by Yergin’s assertions about conflicts.
There are precise and common points evident on both Yergin and Ikenberry is that water as a source has very contrasting elements. Given that there are various roles it plays. As earlier mentioned, it helps in delineating boundaries, have traditional uses in a domestic sense, and as a strategic functional use- all of which help to define water as a hydro strategic element (Ikenberry 2014; Yergin 2006: 76). A hydro strategic territory is created when that territory is primarily valued because it has accessibility to water resources. Those water resources are put to use in irrigation, for electricity-generating and/ or drinking purposes. Such a territory is distinguishable in a political or military sense due strategic elements and possible conflicts created.
Conflicts and violence are not sudden events but slow and strategic processes. This thinking can help us understand why some states in the world view borders as identity markers. There are many tactical, strategic national and international politics playing a role regarding boundary marking. The concepts of geopolitics need enhancements especially in conflicting nations around the world. This is according to Flint (2006) who studied the extent of strategic concerns in the Horn of Africa region. Flint argued that finding solutions for border conflicts should be comprehensive. Geopolitics argues that solutions for border conflicts should be looked at beyond the two conflicting states (Flint 2006: 121)
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