The Screaming Pen

Providing Global Insight, Context, and Perspective

Herodotus Wouldn’t be Pleased

The policy of a state lies in its geography.
– Napoleon

Political scientists bicker constantly over the factors most influential to international affairs. Economics, race, force, power, globalization, culture, religion, and others are frequently mooted, yet there is at least one dimension routinely given short-shrift: geography. So fundamental is the field that it’s routinely overlooked, especially when viewed from an America that misses local fault lines in its broad, global sweep of the world, and which is fortuitously largely free of geographical conflicts itself. Other places aren’t so lucky. Here’s a survey of how geography affects three selected political and social issues around the world:

For Pete’s Sake Herodotus, Stop Making Maps of Far-Away Lands & Put On Some Clothes!

Turkey & the European Union. Turkey has been working towards admission to the EU since the 1960’s, and is now closer than ever to entry. Yet the path to membership is still far from certain, due mainly to obstreperousness from France, the Netherlands and others. The debate hinges on many angles – the nature of Turkey’s government and society, Islam, disparities in GDP per capita, and more – but one assertion routinely voiced has to do with geography: dissenters point out that most of Turkey in fact lies not in Europe, but in Asia. Divided from Europe by the Bosporus and the Sea of Marmara, Turkey does indeed touch Syria, Iraq and Iran. But the protesters’ claim is disingenuous and belied by the fact that Cyprus (the Greek half at least) – just off the coasts of Syria, Lebanon, and Israel – is an EU country that lies further from Europe than does Turkey. Geographers aren’t pleased that their trade is a guise for prejudice and insecurity.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The SCO was founded in 2001 by six nations – China, Russia, Kazahkstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgystan – and was based initially on the “Treaty of Deepening Military Trust in Border Regions” and the “Treaty on Reduction of Military Forces in Border Regions,” and now includes political, economic, cultural, and security cooperation. The group’s six members are officially “equal partners” but the locus of the group is clearly China. As China’s neighbors to the South and East are warier of the country’s hemorrhaging might, Beijing is looking towards Central Asia to build regional security hub. And only a cursory knowledge of the SCO’s member governments is needed to know that they are wicked. The Screaming Pen is losing sleep in a bad way that will only be remedied through a post in the near future.

Kurds: Cutting a Wide Swath

Kurdistan. If you’ve never heard of Kurdistan, it’s probably because it doesn’t exist; at least as a state that is. Despite numbering some 25 million, Kurdish people make up the largest ethnic group anywhere without a country. Kurdistan, however, is the term used to refer to areas dominated by Kurds, and which includes northern Iraq, southeast Turkey, northeastern Syria, and northeast Iran. An unfortunate product of haphazard colonial-era boundary-making, Kurdistan was dissected and abused by governments in faraway capitals, and – with the exception of in Iraq now – still is. In fact, the Kurdish issue is supreme in Turkey’s discussions with America over Iraq, and Turkey’s troops prey along the mountains between the two countries searching intently for Kurdish rebels.

A simple perusing of maps often confirms or explains global events and always has. When the Germans sent the Zimmerman Telegram to Mexico in 1917, in an effort to cause trouble for the United States in its own backyard, it was pure geopolitics. So next time you want to know who’s spooning with who, make sure you’ve got a good atlas on hand.

Note: The Perry-Castaneda Library Map Collection at the University of Texas, Austin, has the most comprehensive collection of maps on the internet, and is the source of most Screaming Pen plots. And in case you were wondering, Herodotus is often considered the father of history and was the maker of some of the world’s earliest maps.


 2006. All rights reserved.

June 25, 2006 Posted by | Asia, China, Europe, European Union, International Relations, Kurdistan, SCO, Turkey, Uncategorized | Leave a comment