Democratic Ideals and Reality: An Enduring Tension

Portrait of Halford Mackinder
Portrait of Halford Mackinder (James Lafayette)

A century ago, a British member of Parliament and geographer, Halford Mackinder, wrote one of the famous books of geopolitics, Democratic Ideals and Reality. The book discussed the tension between what nations want (“democratic ideals”) and what they often get (geographic “reality”).

That tension seems especially topical this week. Read more

Countries That Almost Existed

The world could soon add two new countries. In Catalonia and Kurdistan, referendums have been held to secede from Spain and Iraq, respectively.

Neither would be universally recognized. Spain doesn’t even recognize a Catalan right to self-determination. Iran, Iraq and Turkey all oppose Kurdish statehood.

International recognition is often a stumbling block for would-be states. Consider the likes of Kosovo, Somaliland, South Ossetia and Transnistria.

Others don’t even get to that point. Here is a selection of countries that remained on the drawing board. Read more

The Many Scenarios of a Republican Civil War

Members of the Texas delegation listen to a speech at the Republican National Convention in Saint Paul, Minnesota, September 2, 2008
Members of the Texas delegation listen to a speech at the Republican National Convention in Saint Paul, Minnesota, September 2, 2008 (PBS/Tom LeGro)

In August 2016, I was penning an article titled “The Coming Republican Civil War”. The premise was simple: after a self-inflicted Trumpian defeat in November, the party of Lincoln would tear itself asunder assigning blame and shedding factions.

But Hillary lost. For a few brief months, the Grand Old Party looked triumphant.

Not so much anymore.

The long-term trajectory of the Republican Party isn’t great; factional infighting has already sunk several attempts to roll back the Affordable Care Act and by the end of the month we’ll know just how deep the divides go should tax reform and the Graham-Cassidy health-care bill fail. Read more

Russia’s Arctic Posture: Defensive or Offensive?

The Russian nuclear submarine Orel arrives in Murmansk, April 11
The Russian nuclear submarine Orel arrives in Murmansk, April 11 (Russian Ministry of Defense)

Many Westerners interpret Russia’s behavior in the Arctic as offensive, going back to 2007, when the country resumed air and naval patrols in the area and planted its flag under the North Pole.

Alexander Sergunin, a professor of international relations at Saint Petersburg State University, argues The Wilson Quarterly that the reality is more nuanced. On balance, he writes, Moscow’s policy is pragmatic. Read more

The Impossible Partition of India

Map of the partition of India from Life magazine, August 18, 1947
Map of the partition of India from Life magazine, August 18, 1947

Seventy years ago this week British India was split in two, creating the nations of India and Pakistan, which have been at each other’s throats since.

The partition was carried out a little-known British civil servant, Cyril Radcliffe. A lawyer by training, Radcliffe was given the impossible task of dividing the subcontinent into Hindu- and Muslim-majority states. Read more

The Octopus in Political Cartoons

Octopuses are a popular trope in political art. They came in vogue in the 1870s, when Frederick W. Rose depicted Russia as a giant octopus lording over Eastern Europe. The sea monster was quickly given to Germany when it posed a bigger threat to peace in Europe. During the early Cold War, it was Russia’s turn again. The octopus was the perfect metaphor for spreading communism.

Here is a selection of the best and worst tentacled sea creatures. Read more

So Much for Yet Another Russian Reset

A flag of the Russian Federation
A flag of the Russian Federation (Amanda Graham)

From Reuters:

US president Donald Trump grudgingly signed into law on Wednesday new sanctions against Russia that Congress had approved overwhelmingly last week, criticizing the legislation as having “clearly unconstitutional” elements.

Ever since the United States entered the stage as a world power, it’s brushed up against Russia. From the 1918-20 international intervention that halfheartedly tried to prevent the rise of Soviet communism to this latest American sanctions bill, the US has long hoped to turn Russia into yet another reliable ally, joined together in a liberal order of peace and prosperity.

That geopolitical naivety is deeply embedded in the American body politic: candidate after candidate has hoped to defang the Russian bear with arms outreached, only to discover that Moscow sees not friendship but subjugation.

It is a relationship between an idealistic, extremely safe nation state and a cynical, deeply insecure one. One finds every betrayal or turnabout shocking; the other sees them as a natural course of events. Read more