Table of Contents
Getting Organized: Politics and Geography
Humans have been organizing and structuring themselves from the beginning. Geographers are interested in such structuring because it is an expression of the human organization of space and is closely related to other spatial evidences of culture, such as religion, language and ethnicity.
Political Geography is the study of the organization and distribution of political phenomena, including their impact on other spatial components of society and culture.
Political geography is concerned with the study of both the spatially uneven outcomes of political processes and the ways in which political processes are themselves affected by spatial structures. Conventionally political geography adopts a three-scale structure for the purposes of analysis with the study of the state at the center, above this is the study of international relations (or geopolitics), and below it is the study of localities. The primary concerns of the sub-discipline can be summarized as the inter-relationships between people, state and territory.
Political geography has extended the scope of traditional political science approaches by acknowledging that the exercise of power is not restricted to states and bureaucracies, but is part of everyday life. This has resulted in the concerns of political geography increasingly overlapping with those of other human geography sub-disciplines such as economic geography, and, particularly, with those of social and cultural geography in relation to the study of the politics of place. Modern political geography often considers:
For now we will define state on the international level as an independent political unit occupying a defined, permanently populated territory and having full sovereign control over its internal and foreign affairs.
In contrast a nation is a cultural concept defining a group of people with a common culture occupying a particular territory, bound together by a strong sense of unity arising from shared beliefs and customs.
The composite term nation-state properly refers to a state whose territorial extent coincides with that occupied by a distinct nation or people. There are very few 100% nation-states.
A multi-nation state (or multinational state) is one that contains more than one nation … the opposite of a nation-state.
A part-nation state occurs when a nation is dispersed across and is predominant in two or more states.
A stateless nation is a people without state … The world is populated by more than 1,600 stateless nations, most of which are in one way or another engaged in national movements. The classic instance of a stateless nation has been the Jewish people who for long centuries suffered for lack of a homeland until 1948. Other examples include
many indigenous peoples that have been maneuvered into minority status in their home countries by colonial powers
the gypsy / Roma people of Europe
the Kurds: numbering an estimated 20 million, are commonly seen as the world's largest nation without a state.
About 10 million are in Turkey, 4 million in Iraq, 5 million in Iran and a million in Syria.
There may be another million in the former Soviet Union.
About 400,000 of the 1.8 million guest workers from Turkey living in Germany are of Kurdish origin.
The Modern State
The earliest forms of the state emerged once it became possible to centralize power in a durable way. Agriculture and writing are almost everywhere associated with this process. Agriculture allowed for the production and storing of a surplus, which in turn allowed and encouraged the emergence of a class of people who controlled and protected the agricultural stores and thus did not have to spend most of their time providing for their own subsistence. Writing made possible the centralization of vital information.
The story of the development of the specifically modern state begins with the dissolution of the western Roman Empire. This led to the fragmentation of the imperial state into the hands of private and decentralized lords whose political, judicial and military roles corresponded to the organization of economic production. In place of the fragmented system of feudal rule, with its often indistinct territorial claims, large unitary states with extensive control over definite territories emerged. This process gave rise to the highly centralized and increasingly bureaucratic forms of absolute monarchical rule of the 17th and 18th centuries, when the principal features of the contemporary state system took form, including the introduction of a standing army, a central taxation system, diplomatic relations with permanent embassies, and the development of state economic policy — mercantilism.
The Peace of Westphalia ended both the Thirty Years' War in Germany and the Eighty Years' War between Spain and the Netherlands. The treaties involved the Holy Roman Emperor, the Kingdoms of Spain, France and Sweden, the Dutch Republic and their respective allies among the princes of the Holy Roman Empire. The Peace of Westphalia resulted from the first modern diplomatic congress and initiated a new order in central Europe based on the concept of state sovereignty. Sovereignty is the exclusive right to control a government, a country and a people.
The now universal idea of the modern state was developed by European political philosophers in the 18th century which advanced the concept that people owe their allegiance to a state and the people it represents rather than its leader or king. The new concept coincided in France with the French Revolution and spread throughout Western Europe to England, Spain and Germany.
This idea of state was passed on to much of Africa, Asia and the Americas during the European expansion in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Indigenous people had their own organized used of space, but the borders were drawn for the convenience of the Europeans who ignored the existing cultures and political structure. As many of these former colonies have gained political independence, they have maintained the idea of state and the borders established by the Europeans.
The idea of separate statehood grew slowly at first. In 1800 there were 35 countries in the world. By 1939 there were 70 countries. After World War II, the end of the colonial era brought a rapid increase in the number of sovereign states. At present there are over 200 sovereign states.
Size, shape and location have great effect on the power and stability of states. Keep in mind that some states are bigger than others but resources are not evenly distributed.
In general, the larger the state, the better the chance that there will be enough resources to support the state, but Canada, Russia and Australia are large states with relatively small areas capable of supporting agriculture.
Size can also hinder the effective control of a state’s people and/or resources.
Like size, shape can affect the well-being of a state by fostering or hindering effective organization.
Compact states: states that are roughly circular in shape … the distance from the center to any point on the boundary exhibits little variation … Cambodia, Poland, Zimbabwe and Uruguay are examples.
Prorupt states: nearly compact but possess one or sometimes two narrow extensions of territory. Proruption may simply reflect peninsular elongations of land area, such as with Thailand. In other instances, the extensions have an economic or strategic significance - securing access to resources or water routes. Namibia strip was designed by the Germans to give access to the Zambezi River.
Elongated states: a state whose territory is decidedly long and narrow; its length is at least six times greater than its average width. the least efficient shape administratively is represented by countries like Vietnam, Norway or Chile which are long and narrow. Parts of the country far from the capital are likely to be isolated. These countries are likely to encompass more diversity of climate, resources and people.
Fragmented states: countries composed entirely of islands (Philippines, Indonesia), countries partly on islands and partly on mainland (Italy and Malaysia) and countries that are chiefly on the mainland, but whose territory is separated by another state (US). Pakistan was once a fragmented country until 1971 when the eastern part broke away and became Bangladesh.
The whole world, even Antarctica, is divided up and claimed by countries.
Boundary disputes are constant sources of problems in the world. Since World War II almost one-half of the countries in the world have been involved in some kind of boundary dispute.
There are four general types of boundary disputes.
Types of Governments
Classification of governments can be based on several different variables.
Remember: Nearly every country in the world is based on a system that combines 2 or more of the types above. For example, the US is not a true capitalist society since the government actually provides some services for its citizens. Additionally, one person's opinion of the type of government may differ from another's. Many argue that the US is actually a plutocracy rather than a democracy.
Additional Sources of Information
Bureau of African Affairs (AF)
Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs (EAP)
Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs (EUR)
Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA)
Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA)
Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA)
Bureau of International Organization Affairs (IO)
Janes is a defense and open-source intelligence firm.
At any moment in time, a state can be characterized by forces that promote unity and by forces that disrupt unity.
Forces form within a state that unite it … forces that keep a country together.
Memory Hint: centripetal = pull together
One of the most powerful centripetal forces is nationalism which is an identification with the state and the acceptance of its national goals. Nationalism is based on the concept of allegiance to a single country, its ideals and way of life. Most countries have more than one culture and in multi-cultural societies, nationalism helps to integrate groups into a unified population. This kind of consensus nationalism has emerged in the US.
Unifying institutions like schools are expected to instill a society’s goals, values and traditions, and to teach a common language.
Organization and administration is a binding force when there is public confidence in the effective organization of the state.
Good transportation and communication networks foster political integration by promoting interaction between areas and by joining them economically and socially.
Other Examples: a strong common culture, religion, language, history, a popular national hero, a common outside threat, colonialism, an historical enemy
Forces from within a state that tend to divide it … causes of conflicts within a state.
Memory Hint: centrifugal = go apart
Nationalism is one of the most powerful centripetal forces but it also can be a disruptive centrifugal force. The idea of the nation-state is that states are formed around nations of people. It is a small step from that to the idea that every nation has the right to its own state or territory.
A dissident minority that has total or partial secession of the state as its primary goal is said to be guided by separatism or autonomous nationalism. Canada, for example, has a powerful secessionist movement in French-speaking Quebec … a vote in 1995 just barely lost 51 to 49%.
Separatist movements are expressions of regionalism, which is minority group identification with a region rather than a state.
Other Examples: religion, language, ethnicity, ideology
The fragmentation of a region into smaller, often hostile, political units … usually results in a new independent state. The term comes from the Balkan Peninsula of Europe, a region that has balkanized many times and is still undergoing balkanization.
Examples: Yugoslavia, USSR, East Timor
Unsuccessful Attempts: Kashmir, Sri Lanka, Kurdistan
The process by which regions within a state demand and gain political strength and growing autonomy at the expense of the central government. Devolutionary pressures result in increased autonomy for a region. (If strong enough, these devolutionary pressures may result in balkanization.)
Examples: US Indian Reservations, Scotland, Chechnya in Russia (changing), Quebec
A policy of cultural extension and potential political expansion aimed at a national group living in a neighboring country. For example, when India mistreated Muslims living in the states of Jammu and Kashmir, the Muslim government of neighboring Pakistan threatened and ultimately went to war. Irredentism is often a cause of cultural conflicts as countries protect members of their cultural group living in neighboring countries.
Examples: the Marsh Shiites, Armenians in Azerbaijan, Muslims in Kashmir, Serbs in Bosnia, Somalis in Ethiopia and Kenya, Afghanis in Pakistan
Solutions: relocate borders, resettle population, devolution / autonomy