Articles in Myth of the Nation-State
While colonial dependencies get at least a token nod on the CIA map, military bases are nowhere to be seen. It is tempting to infer that the reason bases do not appear on political maps is, well, political: would one really expect the CIA to draw attention to American military footholds around the globe? While that may well be part of the story, their omission has an inherent cartographic logic as well (borne out by its recurrence on similar maps made in other countries).
We now come to the most important acknowledged gap between the world model (based on theoretically equivalent national units) and the world map: the remaining colonial and post-colonial dependencies. Most of these territories are so small that they are a challenge to depict when mapping at the global scale.
As this inventory reveals, getting a handle on all the subtleties of the international system is a maddening pursuit. The closer we look, the more irregularities we find. Riddled with contested boundaries and competing claims—and alive with moving borders, shared sovereignties, exclaves and enclaves, ghost states and para-countries—the political patchwork we actually inhabit is a precarious and jerry-rigged affair.
Nesting territories, like temporally fluctuating Pheasant Island, are a good example of geo-anachronisms: survivals of a pre-modern order that was built on radically different premises from the modern norm of clean-cut, stable borders. Geo-anachronism has other telltale expressions as well, especially in Europe.
Thus far we have looked at cases where the official U.S. government map has persisted in showcasing lapsed, divided, or phantom nation-states. Another way that is misleads is by not representing a class of functional states: those whose existence is officially denied by the international community.
Consider the strange case of Belgium. Starting in 2010, the Belgian legislature went for more than a year and a half without being able to form a government, and it failed to do so for an even longer period following a governmental collapse in 2018. While such hiatuses would usually be taken as an alarming indicator of a faltering state, these ones barely raised an eyebrow in the international community…
Consider Somalia and Yemen. In the terms of political scientist Robert Jackson, both today are “quasi-states”that have lost control over most of their putative territory. While it is theoretically possible for Somalia or Yemen to experience a renaissance in the coming years, that scenario seems unlikely.
Insightful though Khanna’s cartography may be, rumors of the death of the state are greatly exaggerated. Despite the undeniable rise of global networks, I see no evidence that territorially bounded polities are going away. As has always been the case, spatially dispersed non-hierarchically structured networks intersect with hierarchically structured and spatially bounded power.
The emergence of the fully territorial state, like the nation that it came to be associated with, was a gradual process. As Michael Biggs shows, cartography was crucial to the process. In the sixteenth century, European states began mapping their lands to enhance their power and prestige, and by the late eighteenth century national map surveys were common.
Capturing Geographical Complexity: Beyond the Standard Map
While the illusion of the universal nation-state has several sources, one is particularly powerful. Since World War II, people around the world have been exposed to one or another variant of a standard world political map. Whatever their differences, all these maps operate in the same fundamental way: by portraying the globe like a …
Some six years ago I suspended GeoCurrents because I felt that I needed to write another scholarly book before I retired to maintain academic credibility. I had long been blogging on and teaching about the mismatch between the conventional political map and actual geopolitical conditions, and figured that it would make a nice book project. As I was already working …
Why Mapping Sovereignty Matters: IR Theory, Realism, John Mearsheimer, and the Failure of U.S. Foreign Policy
While there are problems with the ethnic/civic distinction, it is nonetheless essential for understanding the Russia-Ukraine conflict. The ideology underwriting Putin’s invasion is one of ethnic essentialism, fixated on the world historical destiny of the Russian people, spiritually entwined with the Russian Orthodox Church. It deviates from garden-variety ethnonationalism by its imperial pretensions.
The relationships between language, politics, and geography are highly complicated across the Romance zone of Europe, challenging any facile stories of natural language-based ethnonational solidarity.
[Part 1 can be read here. Thanks to Iryna Novosyolova for a helpful discussion of some of the issues discussed in this post.]
In 2014, the Russian Federation acquired another Muslim group that may prove troublesome both within Russia and globally: the Crimean Tatars. According to the 2002 Russian census, there were only 4,131 Crimean Tatars living in the country, concentrated …
[Thanks to Iryna Novosyolova for a helpful discussion of some of the issues discussed in this post.]
A recent article in Foreign Affairs listed the use of the French language as the best predictor of a country’s rate of Sunni radicalization and violence, and particularly of the percentage of a country’s Muslim population that joins in the international Jihad. According to …