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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.

Article

Definitions of Geopolitics  

Igor Kovac

International relations literature and the foreign policy community offer and use multiple definitions of geopolitics. More often than not, both camps use the term even without providing or hinting at its conceptualization. This causes muddy thinking and misunderstandings among scholars, as well as misunderstandings between scholars and policymakers. It is unrealistic to expect that at some point, the scholarship will agree on a single common definition, nor is this something worth aiming for. Instead, raising awareness about ontological differences when defining geopolitics, as each definition leads to different (foreign) policy implications, makes more sense for academia and policymakers. Being cognizant of ontological diversity propels clarity of academic writing and informs policymaking. Thus, a conceptual analysis of the term geopolitics is needed to facilitate greater transparency when using the term. Probably the best place to start such an analysis is with the etymology of geopolitics, since no one objects to that: two ancient Greek words: gê (earth) and politikós (statesman). Gê personifies objectivity and determinism, while politikós represents subjectivity and interpretivism. Some definitions of geopolitics stress the first set of characteristics, while others emphasize the second. Moreover, two ontological continua—material–ideational and praxis–science—can be formed from this etymology that form an ontological matrix of geopolitics. Using this matrix, nine different types of definitions of geopolitics can be identified: classical geopolitics; geopolitics as strategic geography; cognitive geopolitics; global geopolitics; critical geopolitics; geopolitics as philosophy of statesmen; anti-geopolitics; geopolitics as logos, pathos, and ethos; and geopolitics as nexus. Each of them carries its unique ontological take on geopolitics, as well as lays particular foundations for policymakers. Such a typology excels other endeavors of classifying geopolitics, since they suffer from one or more vices: they are not systemic, they lack clear classification criteria, they cannot encapsulate all definitions of geopolitics, and their classroom and policy utility are mediocre. Finally, the functionality of the ontological matrix of geopolitics for didactical purposes and for bridging the gap between academia and policymaking is apparent. Namely, making students understand that meta-theoretical issues matter is much easier if visualization is possible. Depicting and explaining ontological positions on the geopolitical matrix is instrumental as similarities and differences become illustrative. Being exposed to the geopolitical matrix equips the people committed to the process of bridging the gap between academia and practice with a new and helpful tool.

Article

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

The Coloniality of the Scientific Anthropocene  

Vishwas Satgar

The discipline of International Relations is not at the cutting edge of dealing with planetary ecological problems such as the worsening climate crisis. The notion of the Anthropocene developed by earth scientists highlights the extent to which humans are a geological force shaping earth’s ecosystems. This official scientific discourse has gained traction in the United Nations climate negotiations process and is beginning to shape the knowledge project even in the academy. However, the discipline of International Relations has not engaged in any serious way with the Anthropocene discourse. Its claim that the Anthropos, the human as a species, and more generally 7.8 billion people on the planet are responsible causally for dangerous impacts such as climate change clashes with how the discipline of International Relations understands and seeks to explain global politics through its theoretical frameworks, relations, dynamics, and institutions. This claim warrants critical engagement from the International Relations discipline. However, mainstream International Relations epistemology reinforces coloniality in international relations such that an oppressive and relational hierarchy between the Global North and South is reproduced while being oblivious to how the ecological substratum of our lifeworld is being destroyed through replicating modes of living central to global modernity. Ecological relations are not part of mainstream International Relations thinking. Within mainstream International Relations, its hegemonic theories and frameworks are the problem. The conception of the international and international relations operating within the Anthropocene discourse also reproduces coloniality. Although the science it furnishes to understand the human–nature relationship is compelling and important, its human-centered explanation of how global power works is inadequate and reinforces the subordination of the Global South. To overcome these problems, a decolonized approach to the discipline of International Relations is crucial. At the same time, given the urgency of the climate crisis, countries in the Global South need to remake the world order and its future through decolonized International Relations. Several Southern decolonial thinkers are crucial for this task.