Revisiting the Tricky Lines of Geopolitical History
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because when politics impact geography, the repercussions ripple outward.
Last week rang a historical bell. On June 28, a hundred years ago, one man in the Balkans changed the world forever — with two shots from a pistol in the dusty provincial town of Sarajevo, killing Austria’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand and setting off the diplomatic donnybrook that led to four years of world war (1914–1918). A century later, there are obvious parallels between 1914 and 2014 — think technological booms, globalization and redrawing borders. Some have speculated about whether we are at one of those times Mark Twain referred to when he famously said: “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme.” Which ought to make us all pretty nervous. What looks similar in 2014 and 1914? Read the story here.
Turns out, the Third World is not a place — it’s a state of mind. And the term owes its origin to the French Revolution. Or rather Alfred Sauvy, a French demographer and the first director of the Institut National d’Etudes Démographiques. Sauvy wrote a column, “Trois Mondes, Une Planète,” worried that poor countries would get lost in the Cold War. Engaged in an arms race, the capitalist West and communist East would neglect world hunger, poverty and disease. And it would be to their peril, he warned. “After all, this Third World — ignored, exploited, scorned like the Third Estate — wants to be something too.” Today, on political, sociolgical and philosophical levels, use of the term still stirs debate. But what’s the alternative? Read the story here.
In December 1948, Costa Rica abolished its national army. And 65 years later, the decision seems visionary. Unlike its neighbors in Central America, the nation hasn’t suffered a coup d’état in more than six decades. Demilitarization inoculated the country against a civil war and from being a pawn in anyone’s Cold War strategy — and to this day, Costa Rican leaders use its absence of a military to shame territorial aggrandizers. Instead of guns, Costa Rica invested in education and eco-tourism, the story goes, and now huge swaths of the nation are Edenic. The country also ranks first in some “happiness” indexes. But there are some holes in the happily-ever-after story. Read the story here.
Vladimir Putin is hardly the only world leader who’s gotten away with seizing on a nation’s moment of vulnerability to pad borders, assert spheres of influence and protect national interests. We’ve seen it happen again and again — from Kashmir to the Western Sahara to the Falkland Islands. And while there are exceptions to the “might makes right” school of national sovereignty (I.e., Kuwait), Putin knows the strategy involved here and (up to this point) just how far to push the envelope. And if China’s behavior towards disputed islands in the South and East China Sea are any indication, Beijing’s leaders appear to have mastered such history lessons as well — which makes neighboring countries jittery. And it’s one of the major reasons why the Obama administration is not just stepping up its rhetoric towards China on those maritime claims, but backing up those statements with military muscle. Read the story here.