The Tyranny of Geography

The Tyranny of Geography

Everyone can see that geography determines the fate of a nation in its pursuit of specific historical paths and the adoption of well understood psycho-nationalist orientations. Without wide seas or tall mountains as natural barriers, over time Russia has developed feelings of distrust towards foreigners and a reasonable nervousness with respect to invasions and external dominance.

For Greece, close proximity to Turkey (which is Islamic and, at times, aggressively hostile) has instilled a mindset that would not have been there if the natural environment were different. The hundreds of sparse islands in the Aegean Sea require massive military spending to provide a fleet to defend them.

Countries like China and Japan with enormous physical barriers to protect them — an endless landmass or a vast ocean — historically have managed to avoid numerous or fatal invasions. The exact opposite is true for countries like Poland, Lithuania, Austria, and the Ukraine, whose lack of strong physical defences has condemned them, over the centuries, to be subjected to external aggression, as well as to serve as pathways for invading armies headed toward their goal of conquest.

Very often, events that determine the fate of a specific country unfold on the basis of the geographic idiosyncrasies of that territory. Greece's fortunes, for example, were shaped in accordance with the concerns and interests of the great powers of the time. These were always centred on geography.

The Greek state was formed as a result of a radical shakeup in the structure of the Ottoman Empire and by the needs of the dominant powers of the period to handle the emerging geopolitical vacuum. The sea battle of Navarino, on the western coast of the ancient region of Peloponnese, which clearly signalled the ultimate success of the Greek revolution against the Ottomans, rewarded the efforts of Britain, Russia, and France to put an end to the Ottoman control of the islands of the Aegean, Egypt, and the Black Sea.

Geography is therefore the dominant factor in most developments in international affairs. It commands respect for its whims from ordinary people and close scrutiny of its requirements and its overall needs. It determines the kind of weapons that will be purchased and used and the terrain that will be utilized.

Disregard for Geography usually results in failure and disaster. It crushes advantages and eliminates feelings of superiority. Careful consideration of its attributes produces positive results and builds reputations. In the past it has also favoured the establishment of empires. Politics is really nothing without geography. A nation’s psychology is frequently controlled by its location, and maps have a power that politicians must inevitably find ways to tame. 

Landlocked nations develop particular psychological traits, and usually end up mired in xenophobia and overall feelings of distrust, while their external behaviour depends on their size and their historical relations with their neighbours. It is a very different matter if their closest neighbour is huge China (i.e. Mongolia) or if that country is in the middle of the war-torn Balkans (i.e. the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia or Kosovo). Island or coastal nations are more cosmopolitan, outward looking, and prone to expansion and aggressive economic growth (i.e. Britain, Japan, the Netherlands, and Spain). 

Map reading is an essential skill for contemporary statesmen so that they can develop an adequate understanding of their country's geographic location and its geostrategic challenges. Surprisingly enough, ignorance of geography is quite common among politicians in many countries of the world. 

This is why disasters frequently occur and populations suffer.

It has to be understood that Geography shapes not only history but also human destiny*. In an ever-more complex, chaotic, and interlinked world, Geography plays a crucial role in shaping geopolitics. Comprehending Geography is an efficient way to understand the world and make accurate estimations for the future.

* See. Tim Marshall, PRISONERS OF GEOGRAPHY. London, 2016 and Robert D. Kaplan, THE REVENGE OF GEOGRAPHY. New York, 2017


Tags: Greece