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Articles in Struggles Between States

Russian Envelopment? Ukraine’s Geopolitical Complexities

By Martin W. Lewis | March 24, 2014 | 16 Comments

The current issue of Time magazine features an article by Robert Kaplan that emphasizes the geographical aspects of what he refers to as “endless chaos and old-school conflicts,” especially in regard to Ukraine. In general, I appreciate Kaplan’s insistence on the abiding importance of geography and I am impressed by his global scope of knowledge, although I do think that …

India to Send Tank Brigades to the China Border

By Martin W. Lewis | September 20, 2012 | Comments Off on India to Send Tank Brigades to the China Border

India’s military recently announced that it would deploy two tank brigades to guard the country’s border with China, one to be stationed in Ladakh (in northeastern Kashmir), and the other in the north Sikkim Plateau. As Business Standard reports, “Such formations, equipped with main battle tanks and BMP-II infantry combat vehicles, are traditionally used for striking into enemy territory.”

Malawi and Tanzania Spar over Lake Malawi (Nyasa)

By Martin W. Lewis | August 23, 2012 | Comments Off on Malawi and Tanzania Spar over Lake Malawi (Nyasa)

International boundaries in oceanic space are often complex and disputed, especially in areas that abound in hydrocarbons. Boundaries that extend across lakes are usually less contentious and convoluted, but that is not always the case. Consider, for example, Lake Malawi (also known as Lake Nyasa) in southern Africa, widely considered to be the world’s eighth largest lake. As can be seen on the map, the central portion of this lake is evenly divided between Malawi and Mozambique, yet Malawi controls two islands that are well within the territorial waters of its neighbor, Chizumulu and Likoma, which together constitute a Malawian exclave district, with a population of some 13,000.

Russian Military Bases and Other Geopolitical Maneuverings in Tajikistan

By Martin W. Lewis | July 19, 2012 | Comments Off on Russian Military Bases and Other Geopolitical Maneuverings in Tajikistan

After much wrangling, Tajikistan and Russia recently agreed to a 49-year extension of Russia’s military base in the strategically situated Central Asian country. The roughly 6,000 Russian troops stationed in the country, constituting Moscow’s largest foreign deployment, will thus remain in place. As Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin framed the issue, “The forces of NATO in Afghanistan are not eternal but Russia will be an eternal partner of these countries and if, God forbid, the situation deteriorates for security and the people of the countries, they will remember Russia.”

Complex Territorial Disputes in the South China Sea

By Martin W. Lewis | April 17, 2012 | 2 Comments

The headline of an April 15 article in the Washington Post might strike many readers as slightly absurd: “Philippine president says his country won’t start war with China over disputed shoal.” Although the Philippines is hardly in a position to challenge China militarily, the remarks of President Benigno Aquino III did help the country save face as it pulled a warship out of the disputed waters and allowed several Chinese fishing vessels to return home with their catch.

The Colombian-Venezuelan Energy-Led Diplomatic Thaw

By Martin W. Lewis | March 29, 2012 | Comments Off on The Colombian-Venezuelan Energy-Led Diplomatic Thaw

Relations between Colombia and Venezuela have been so tense over the past decade that it sometimes seemed that the two countries were at the verge of war. Such tensions, however, have recently diminished to the point where the neighboring states are now discussing building a pipeline to transport Venezuelan crude oil to Colombian ports, a project enthusiastically backed by China.

Divided Islands, Large and Small

By Martin W. Lewis | March 27, 2012 | 12 Comments

The recent GeoCurrents news post on electronics factories in Tierra del Fuego brought up the issue of a politically divided island. I did a quick mental count and came up with eight examples of such islands: New Guinea, Borneo, Ireland, Hispaniola, Timor, Cyprus, Saint Martin, and Tierra del Fuego (or, more properly, Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego, to differentiate …

Stalled Negotiations in Western Sahara

By Martin W. Lewis | March 23, 2012 | Comments Off on Stalled Negotiations in Western Sahara

Yet again, talks on Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara collapsed without agreement. Representatives from Morocco, the independence-seeking Polisario Front, Algeria, and Mauritania recently met in for three days in a suburb or New York; in the end, “‘Each party continued to reject the proposal of the other as the sole basis for future negotiations, while reiterating their willingness to work together to reach a solution.”

Hindus Flee Pakistan—and Other Indo-Pak Issues

By Martin W. Lewis | March 19, 2012 | One Comment

Indian newspapers have recently been reporting that the large numbers of Hindus are fleeing Pakistan and seeking refuge in India. Such reports focus on southern Pakistan, especially Balochistan and Sindh, where most Pakistani Hindus reside.

The Ethiopian-Eritrean Cold War Heats Up

By Martin W. Lewis | February 26, 2012 | 3 Comments
Wikipedia Map of Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Ranking

The struggle between Ethiopia and Eritrea has recently been extending well beyond the boundaries of the two countries. Ethiopia has accused Eritrea of supporting the radical Islamist group al Shabaab in Somalia, and is now pushing for stronger U.N. sanctions against the Eritrean government.

Growing Iranian-Azerbaijani Tensions and Baku’s Diplomatic Maneuvers

By Martin W. Lewis | February 23, 2012 | Comments Off on Growing Iranian-Azerbaijani Tensions and Baku’s Diplomatic Maneuvers

Tensions between Azerbaijan and Iran have been intensifying in recent days. On February 23, hackers from groups called “Iranian Cyber Army” and “Cocaine Warriors from Persia” attacked several Azerbaijani website, including that of the national airline, AZAL.

The South China Sea or the West Philippine Sea?

By Martin W. Lewis | February 9, 2012 | 3 Comments

As the struggle for the Spratly Islands heats up, basic place names are coming into play. In the Philippines, news outlets and various official agencies now insist…

The Afghan “Graveyard of Empires” Myth and the Wakhan Corridor

By Martin W. Lewis | November 9, 2011 | 3 Comments
Map of Wakhan Corridor, Afghanistan

The idea that Afghanistan is the “Graveyard of Empires,” a country that perennially entices imperial conquerors only to humiliate and expel them, is often encountered.  This potent cliché has been thoroughly debunked, yet it refuses to die. An October 7, 2011 Time magazine article, for example, opens with the provocative headline, “Afghanistan: Endgame in the Graveyard of Empires.” And as …

Saudi-Iranian Tensions and Shia Islam in Saudi Arabia

By Martin W. Lewis | October 14, 2011 | 2 Comments
Ralph Peters Blood Borders Map

After the United States accused Iran of hatching an elaborate and ill-conceived plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States, a number of commentators expressed incredulity, some wondering why the Saudi diplomat would be so targeted. The most common response to such questioning was to outline the history of Saudi-Iranian regional rivalry

Britain Vs. Spain and Spain Vs. Morocco in the Strait of Gibraltar

By Martin W. Lewis | August 23, 2010 | 6 Comments

Maritime chokepoints, where ships must pass through narrow passageways, are sites of geopolitical advantage that have often been contested. Sea-based empires, especially Portugal in the 1500s and Britain in the 1800s, seized and garrisoned towns and fortresses at the entrance to marine chokepoints scattered over vast distances. Today, remnants of earlier imperial projects are evident

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