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The Relevance of Geography in Today's Geopolitics

Unfolding the novel complexities


The Chinese want Taiwan and Arunachal Pradesh (India), Putin has hots for Ukraine, Venezuelans are all in for Esequibo (Guyana), and Azerbaijan has conquered Karabakh; the world seems to be in perpetual turmoil and geography appears to be the fulcrum. Yet the geopolitical pundits are pondering over tech exports, novel trade corridors, AI’s role in defence development and supply chain management. The wars for territorial expansion have scaled down and the world maps in circulation are stable. The paramount question is - has geography in contemporary geopolitics taken a backseat? Let the politics roll out the answer. 


The technological and geo-economical brouhaha has overshadowed the role of geography in today's geopolitics. Learn more.

The tech wars between the US and China kindled by the inherent competition for dominance in international relations between the two have attracted enough limelight in the recent past. Both have imposed tech export embargoes, especially germane to the semiconductors technology whose predominance is self-evident. Taiwan, where resides the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) producing about 60% of the world’s semiconductors with an exclusive grip on the most advanced chips running our smartphones to cars, is China’s target not only because of its historical underpinnings but also for the very fact that it holds the global tech-space inside its fist. This is an insinuation of the emerging role that technology is occupying in the current geopolitical landscape. The 21st-century cold war between the draconian dragon and the ferocious eagle is less about ideology and more about the application of critical technologies that underpin every other sphere of national importance. Both are entangled in cutthroat competition and the geopolitics thereof is informed by the deemed-to-be bipolar world order.

  



The connectivity that globalisation has fostered in recent decades has diminished the scope and motives for outright belligerence by nation-states for the sake of control of natural resources. The formation of complex supply chains is a testimony to that. The laying of international gas pipelines, the transport of oil through open sea lanes of communication and people-to-people exchanges, and the dissemination of cultures throughout the world have squeezed the geographical balloon. The dots on the balloon appear far closer than before and politics between nation-states has hinged a great deal on universal intangibles such as climate change & AI-related contingencies. Colonialism as a conspicuous form of imperialism is a spectre of the past which doesn’t haunt economically and militarily weaker nations anymore. The expediting range of Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) and other advanced weaponry systems such as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and cyber warfare have rendered the notion of ‘geography as a barrier’ redundant. China can easily bring nations such as India to a halt through cyber-attacks which would eschew any strategic planning on the part of high-echelon military officers based on territorial features.

    

The utilisation of Elon Musk’s Starlink services by the Ukrainian army in its retaliation against the Russian forces and Musk’s visit to Israel during the ongoing war in Gaza for the extension of satellite-based internet services demonstrates why technology has absorbed much attention in today’s geopolitics. The rise of geo-economics with day-to-day narratives of bloating trade figures has transferred the attention of political magnates towards managing the trade deficits and ‘de-risking’ themselves from the potent supply chain disruptions and exploitation of dependencies. Even consequential territorial conflict has failed to arrest the burgeoning trade between India & China which has surged to $113 billion in 2022-23. India’s deficit of upwards of $82 billion has brought the reliance for lithium ion and electronics on China to the core of India’s policy concern. Notwithstanding, recent geopolitical developments have as much to showcase the rise of techno-politics as the territorial eventualities.

        

“As Napoleon said, to know a nation's geography is to know its foreign policy.”


                                                                    ― Robert D. Kaplan, The Revenge Of Geography


One can’t refute the aforementioned quote. The immediate neighbours, the vast water environs, nearby islands and straits, all have a bearing on how a nation-state formulates its policy in the international arena. The fact that the US is bordered by the ginormous Pacific and Atlantic oceans on either side adds to its advantage, averting any scope of a war being fought on the US mainland. On the other side, India with vast exposure to the Arabian Sea in the west and the Bay of Bengal in the east is supposed to keep maritime security as a moot point in its foreign policy narrative. Indo-Pacific is the place where the majority of the nation-states’ foreign policies have converged with alliances and forums like AUKUS and QUAD gaining more prominence as time passes. The skirmish between China and the Philippines for the control of Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea is another case in making for the inherent prominence of geography in deciding the geopolitical games.

 



Is the technological and geo-economical brouhaha a fad that will only aid in reforming the approach to geopolitics in the 21st century while keeping intact the sacrosanct position of geography? For what we are witnessing today and what it's worth, one can only discount the role of geographical elements for the sake of analysing the binary contest of the US and China around which the rest of the swing states partake in the geopolitical play-off.



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