Prasanna Aditya reviews The Power of Geography: Ten Maps that Reveal the Future of Our World, by Tim Marshall

Physical characteristics shape global politics, says Tim Marshall, and with the world order changing, more countries are looking to expand their influence

Physical characteristics shape global politics, says Tim Marshall, and with the world order changing, more countries are looking to expand their influence

International relations theorists might argue about the inevitability of competition between states, but regardless of what one believes, there is one element of the field whose overriding importance no scholar or practitioner can dispute – geography. Tim Marshall hammered home this truth forcefully in his 2015 bestseller
Prisoners of geography. The influence of geography is twofold – it can make or break politics. The high mountains of northern and northeastern India, for example, serve as a natural boundary. The United States’ subcontinental expanse, far from the theater of conflict in Europe and with unfettered access to two oceans on either flank, contributed to its rise to superpower status.

However, the lack of free access to the sea in China motivated Beijing to build a strong Blue-Water Navy. In many ways, the physical characteristics of the earth profoundly shape global politics and the nature of engagement between nation states.

Geopolitical orientations

In the sequel to
Prisoners, title
theThe power of geography: ten maps that reveal the future of our world, Marshall considers 10 different regions of the world and examines their geopolitical options over the next few decades. With his typically happy and witty writing, he begins each chapter by introducing the reader to the fundamental geographical realities of an area and its ancient history, eventually winding its way through to the 20th century and then to the present day. . “The choices people make, now and in the future, are never separated from their physical context,” he writes. “We are entering a new era of great power rivalry in which many actors, even smaller actors, are jostling for center stage.”

The choice of regions and countries considered in the book is timely. Australia, which finds itself in a defining dilemma for the time of trying not to antagonize China while remaining close allies of the United States, is treated carefully in the first chapter. “Australia looks at its neighborhood and wonders what role it should play and with whom it should play it.” Ethiopia, which is currently embroiled in a bloody and heartbreaking civil war with Tigrayan militias, is also the subject of sharp analysis by Marshall. Despite the many ethnic fault lines that define the country, he believes the union could still be preserved through greater prosperity and a fair distribution of resources.

Marshall also discusses the indispensability of water to Ethiopia’s existence and how this could potentially drag the country into conflict with its neighbours.

In the final part, Marshall foresees an escalation of geopolitical confrontation between the great powers in space, which he says is likely to pose the kind of threat to the planet that the nuclear arms race has done in the second half of the last century. “With several countries vying to become the preeminent power in space and private companies entering the fray, the stage is set for a dangerous cutting-edge arms race unless we can learn from the mistakes of the past. and accept the many benefits of international cooperation -operation.”

Thoughtful Introduction

Although the book offers an intelligent overview of the international relations of ten specific regions, it is not an in-depth study of any of them. An expert in geopolitics or regional studies would still learn a thing or two about his craft
The power of geography. It should also be pointed out that it
is not superficial work. The author is cultured and has personal experiences as a journalist in several regions he writes about in the book.

Where the book excels, just like its predecessor
Prisoners of geography , is to give the reader a thoughtful introduction to the crucial concepts of international politics through the prism of geography. It would entice the reader to learn more about the ideas discussed, but it is not nor is it intended to be a comprehensive assessment of the topics it covers.

The power of geography: ten maps that reveal the future of our world ; Tim Marshall, Simon & Schuster, ₹699.

The examiner is a student of international relations.

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