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China’s Belt and Road Initiative: Debates, Impacts, and Trends  

Xiang Li, Mengqi Shao, and May Tan-Mullins

President Xi Jinping announced the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI一带一路) in 2013. The BRI, which will pass through over 60 countries in Asia, Europe, Middle East, and Africa, aims at improving and creating new trading routes and investment opportunities. It consists of the Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB) and the Maritime Silk Road Initiative (MSRI), and is a continuation of China’s “opening up” policy. It comprises six overland and one maritime economic cooperation corridors, supporting the expansion of Chinese enterprises abroad to facilitate industrial upgrading at home, paving the way for Chinese outward foreign direct investment (OFDI) and trade abroad, and advancing the internationalization of the Chinese currency. In addition, the project is welcomed by recipient countries due to their need for infrastructure investment. China remains the biggest player in the initiation and implementation of BRI projects. As such, the impact of Chinese projects on the economic, political, cultural, and environmental fabric of host countries will likely be dramatic, especially since many BRI projects are large-scale infrastructure projects that cut across different regions and states. The COVID-19 pandemic further implicated the progress of BRI projects in these areas.

Article

De Facto States in the 21st Century  

James Ker-Lindsay

De facto states have become an increasingly interesting topic for scholars and policy makers. Regarded as an anomaly in the international system, their increasing prevalence is raising serious questions about the nature of statehood and secession in the contemporary international system. But they present a number of definitional and conceptual issues. Quite apart from how they should be called, which is a debate that seems to be close to settlement, there have been debates about which territories should qualify as de facto states. More importantly, what hope do these territories have of being legalized or legitimized in the future? It seems that the strong aversion to recognizing unilateral acts of secession will remain in force. It is also worth noting that the very nature of the international system is now changing. The international system focused almost exclusively on states is disappearing rapidly. All sorts of bodies, organizations, and companies now interact on the world stage. In this sense, de facto states may well find that they find a place in their own right in an evolving and expanding international community.

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The Geography of Diplomacy  

Herman van der Wusten and Virginie Mamadouh

The fields of geography and diplomacy have traditionally been closely intertwined. Diplomacy is conventionally the conduct of statecraft in the nonviolent manifestations of external relations by a specific institution. These nonviolent manifestations can be variously merged with the use of armed force. The political order of the system of states—statecraft emanates from its separate entities—is deeply permeated by geography, notably by the application of territorial control. The art of diplomacy is inextricably linked to spatial perceptions, aims at place-based assets, and plays out in a given geographical context. As the system of states has evolved by incremental increase, functional cooperation, fragmentations and mergers, and internal centralization and decentralization of separate states, the diplomatic institution has had to adapt. As more and more non-state parties commit themselves to transboundary relations or find themselves so implicated, diplomatic practice becomes more widely required, the core of the diplomatic institution still settled in the apparatus of states. This article is consecutively concerned with different aspects of the overlap of geography and diplomacy. In the introduction the ways in which academic geographers have over time shed light on this common ground is briefly reviewed. The next section provides an inventory of the mappings of the diplomatic web to get a sense of its general cartography, followed by descriptions of the diplomatic niche, the places where diplomacy is practiced. In the diplomatic worldview and the geographic frame, the geographic notions that are relevant to the diplomatic institution are followed according to reasoning and travel practice. Finally, shifts in the practice, contents, and functions of diplomacy are dealt with over time, based on the major geographical forces that affect the system of states in and beyond which diplomacy operates.

Article

International Competition and Cooperation in the New Eastern Mediterranean  

Zenonas Tziarras

In the 21st century and particularly during the 2010s, the Eastern Mediterranean acquired unprecedented attention and significance as a distinct geopolitical space with new international and security dynamics. This “new” Eastern Mediterranean geopolitical order was largely “constructed” by global and regional power shifts as well as local developments, such as the trajectory of Turkish foreign policy and the discovery of offshore hydrocarbon reserves. The result was a change in the region’s patterns of interstate conflict and cooperation. On the one hand, countries such as Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, and Israel became part of an emerging network of cooperation and security architecture. On the other hand, owing to its problematic relations with these states, Turkey remained an outsider wanting to “deconstruct” this new state of affairs and change it to its own benefit. As such, the new Eastern Mediterranean was ushered in during a period of geopolitical polarization that is more conducive to crisis rather than peace and stability and often transcends its boundaries.

Article

Israeli Foreign Policy  

Aviad Rubin

The main principles of Israeli foreign policy emerged during the pre-state period and were shaped by Zionist ideology and the lessons of the Holocaust. The primary goal of this policy was, and still is, to secure a sovereign Jewish state in the land of Israel, and a safe haven for world Jewry. Another dominant factor in the shaping of the foreign policy of Israel was the need to encounter the country’s challenging geostrategic situation—small territory; lack of natural resources, until the discovery of natural gas depots in water in the Israeli exclusive economic zone during the last decade; fragile Jewish communities around the world; and a hostile neighborhood. Combined together, these considerations are the issues that rank high on the agenda of Israeli foreign policy and affect Israel’s relationship with the international community, ranging from the global superpowers to third world countries. After maintaining a relatively steady foreign policy program throughout the 20th century, in the 21st century the state made some significant policy shifts, especially under Benjamin Netanyahu’s consecutive governments. These included a halt in Israeli–Palestinian negotiations for peace; a high-profile campaign against Iran’s nuclear weapons program; more emphasis on the maritime domain; and strengthening ties with illiberal leaders around the world. In 2021, the seeming epilogue of Netanyahu’s tenure as prime minister leaves an open question about the relative weight of structural and ideational factors vs. powerful political agents in the design of Israel’s foreign policy.

Article

Muslim Views of the Polity: Citizenry, Authority, Territoriality, and Sovereignty  

Nassef Manabilang Adiong

Muslim views on the polity represent the paradigmatic understandings of how Muslims relate citizenry, authority, territoriality, and sovereignty to the overarching influence of the Western nation-state system. For instance, the meaning of citizenry in the modern state system was adopted by several Muslim societies during the decolonization period. Faith or submission to the will of God was the main criterion to become part of the group (usually referred to as the ummah). However, orientalists regarded ummah as a synonym for tribe, while Arab linguists insisted on a religious connotation. Authority, on the other hand, is ultimately enshrined in the personhood of the Prophet who is the spiritual leader, executor, legislator, and judicial interpreter of God’s message. Since in reality the Prophet is no longer existing, leadership is bestowed on the subsequent followers, and sometimes the ummah may possess leadership status through a social contract between the ruler and the ruled. The manifestation of operationalized authority needs a political space, domain, or place, which is attainable via the notion of territoriality. This is loosely conceptualized as an ummah that has geographical aspects, cultural traits, and a lingua franca. In the 8th century, jurists divided Muslim territoriality into two analytical terms, the abode of Islam (dar al-Islam) and the abode of war/the enemy (dar al-Harb), while the Shia version of abodes rests in the Qur’anic dichotomy of “oppressed–oppressor.” The last concept pertains to sovereignty (hakimiyyah), commonly understood as “the will of God” and advanced by Islamists in the 20th century. In medieval times, it was understood as the promotion of public welfare envisaged in Shari’ah, while in modern times, Islamic modernists argued that Islamists wrongfully understood sovereignty and that the root word used in the Qur’an meant “to govern.” Nowadays, the assertion that symbolizes God’s sovereignty can be found in some modern Muslim states.