Academic journal article Geography

The End of Geography and the Power of Maps

Academic journal article Geography

The End of Geography and the Power of Maps

Article excerpt

There are those who deny the influence of geography on the life of nations altogether. In line with such thinking was the powerful and overly simplistic 'end of geography' thesis formulated in the closing years of the twentieth century. This thesis emerged from an infatuation with the phenomenon of globalisation. The truth of the matter is, however, much more complex, because the 'end of geography' thesis is in permanent collision with a reality which has still not been able to free itself from geography. For, despite the blinding pace of globalisation, territories, distances and borders have not lost their meaning: quite simply, geography still matters. Although, modernity is loosening some of our ties to spatial reality, others remain strong and perhaps it is even creating new ones (Pietras, 2006). Geography is thus neither an absolute dictator, nor a powerless spectator, and, although location (territories), distance and borders influence (sometimes significantly), they do not determine the activity of nations.

One is tempted to paraphrase Mark Twain, by saying that rumours of 'the death of geography' in our age of rapid and comprehensive globalisation 'are greatly exaggerated'. This situation is constantly proven by such contemporary developments as the conflict in the Eastern Ukraine since 2014 (borders), the Scottish independence referendum in 2014 (territory) or the Ebola virus epidemic in West Africa (from 2013 to 2015) (distances). Perhaps, therefore, it is true that 'if of history they say that it is "the mistress of life", then of geography they should say that it is "the director of life" [and] he who forgets geography in moments decisive for the nation and the state, may expose public affairs to severe failures and painful losses' (Pawfowski, 1939, pp. 1-2). This article presents evidence from the field of political geography that geography (and ipso facto maps) still helps to describe, understand and shape the world as well as to predict its future. The series of maps presented here help to challenge the 'end of geography' thesis.

There is a Greek proverb 'every tale can be told in a different way'. Although every society organised in the form of a state seems (in essence) to tell the same story, because every nation ultimately expects to achieve success, security, prestige, respect and prosperity, the individual narratives are sometimes very different. The sources of these differences are, of course, many and varied, but one of the most basic is that each country has its own geopolitical horizon, determined by its location on the map of the world. Within the limits of this location (and hence this geopolitical horizon), individual countries attempt to pursue their goals and interests, or at least should do. (Currently, perhaps only the USA is sufficiently powerful to be considered able to operate effectively, vigorously and with world-wide reach on the international stage irrespective of locations, distances and borders.) These factors have to be taken into account, however, by other members of the international community as they attempt to mark out the spatial extent of their own interests and activities to ensure that they do not overreach themselves. Only such a mode of operation can guarantee the effectiveness of a country's foreign policy. While there are countries that consciously (or subconsciously) practice the extremely risky I'art de se surestimer (the art of over-estimation), this can expose such countries to painful setbacks due to a misreading of the relationship between the power of a given state and its geography. Yet, ultimately, long-term, successful foreign policy is always determined by a state's political, military and economic potential in its geographical context: i.e. its geopolitical horizon.

The international activity of most countries is both closely linked to their location on the political map and limited by geographical distance. Often a glance at the world map may be sufficient incentive for a country to restrain its ambitions and expectations without the need to (sometimes painfully) be confronted with reality in the game of international politics. …

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