March 1, 2016 This week’s map shows the strategic importance of the Louisiana Purchase to the United States. New Orleans was the key to North America. Sea-going vessels could not go very far up the Mississippi. The flat-bottom barges that brought the wealth of the Midwest down the Mississippi could not venture out to sea. New Orleans developed at the point where ships and barges could each safely meet. The barges exchanged cargo with the ships, which then carried it to Europe. Of course to get to this point, the plain between the Rockies and Appalachians had to be settled and farmed. This westward expansion achieved an enormous increase in economic power and gave the U.S. strategic depth. In 1803, France was engaged in the Napoleonic Wars for domination of Europe, and Napoleon was not very interested in the Louisiana Territory. For the Americans, and particularly for President Thomas Jefferson, it was an obsession. The U.S. bought the territory for $3 million dollars, which even in today’s dollar was an absurd amount – about $230 million. That price included the entire Mississippi River and New Orleans.
Feb. 23, 2016 This week’s map highlights the various religious groups in the Middle East. Governments in the region have struggled hold their countries together in the face of deep sectarian divides, while jihadist and rebel groups have taken advantage of them. In Iraq, the Islamic State re-emerged in the Sunni areas with its seizure in June 2014 of the country’s second largest city, Mosul, and its declaration of the caliphate. It is true that since that time, Iraqi and Kurdish security forces have prevented IS from further expanding and have even taken back significant areas. However, the fact of the matter is that neither the Shia nor the Kurds are willing to make the political compromises with the Sunnis or with each other needed to ensure that IS will be defeated. The bottom line is that Iraq is a state broken along triangular fault lines and is dominated by three different entities.
Feb. 16, 2016 This week’s map highlights Saudi Arabia’s royal family. The current monarch, the ailing 80-year-old King Salman, is the last of the sons of King Abdulaziz, the founder of the modern kingdom. After him, third generation princes will most likely take the throne. But the Saudi royal family has exponentially increased in size since King Abdulaziz’s generation. There are many grandsons and thus claimants to the throne and the other top jobs in the kingdom, but no real succession system in place.
King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, who died in January 2015, decreed a succession law and created an Allegiance Council consisting of nine living sons of the founder and 16 grandsons who would chose the new crown prince when the incumbent would assume the throne upon the death of a monarch. This system has been over-ridden by the need to follow the informal line of succession and the practice of appointing a deputy crown prince and a second deputy prime minister. Consequently, the current king elevated his 30-year-old son, Mohammed bin Salman, to the position of deputy crown prince and gave him sweeping powers – ranging from defense minister to leader of a newly formed strategic council overseeing energy and economic affairs – a move that has created apprehension within the royal family.
Feb. 9, 2016 This week’s map shows the major oil and natural gas infrastructure in Saudi Arabia. With oil prices slumping to $27 a barrel, from well over $100 just a couple years ago, the Saudis have already used up as much as 15 percent of their foreign reserves within an 18-month period. This totals more than $100 billion. But despite the significant impact of low oil prices on the kingdom’s economy, the Saudis themselves are in part responsible for the decline in the price of oil. The kingdom exports over 10 million barrels a day.
The view of the Saudis and their Gulf allies has been that they would only cut output after others in OPEC and, more important, non-OPEC producers such as Russia did the same. However, Moscow pumped some 10.88 million barrels per day in December 2015 – slightly ahead of Riyadh’s 10.14 million. The result has been that revenues have declined but the Saudis have not flinched. In fact, they continue to insist that their policy is working well. The outcome, however, is that global oil supply exceeds demand by approximately 2 million barrels a day. This drives the price of oil down further, and the lower it gets, the more the Saudis have to fall back on the use of their foreign reserves.
Feb. 2, 2016 This map indicates the number of casualties the Australian military has suffered in various conflicts, mostly outside of the country’s own borders. Especially significant was Australia’s participation in World War I. This was to be a major turning point in defining Australia’s identity as a nation for two key reasons. The first is that the new Australian navy proved to be a formidable force and the country could now safely say that its first three strategic imperatives had been achieved without any doubt.
The second is that World War I marked the moment in history where the interests of Australia and the British Empire would diverge and this split would be irrevocable. Australia’s population was approximately 4.9 million during the war and over 450,000 Australians enlisted, equivalent to 38.7 percent of males between the ages of 18 and 44, according to Australian historian Ernest Scott. Of those enlisted, about 60,000 died. Moreover, the Gallipoli Campaign, a battle in 1915 in present-day Turkey that claimed 8,000 Australian lives, in hindsight was a paradigm-shifting moment for Australia. The perceived needlessness for which Australians died at Gallipoli led to the conclusion that, while Australia would choose to go to war many more times in the future, it would do so to defend Australia and not simply out of loyalty to Great Britain.
Jan. 26, 2016 Australia is the most influential and important actor in the South Pacific. It has the 12th largest economy in the world in terms of GDP and it is the sixth largest country in the world by land mass. The other countries in the South Pacific that surround Australia – New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and numerous other small island states – pose no threat to Australia by themselves. Indonesia is the largest well-populated country in the vicinity, but it is thousands of miles away from Australia’s population core and also has rarely been unified or strong enough to pose a serious security threat. In fact, Australia is the only significant power in the world that has never faced a land-based existential threat from a neighbor. No country – not even Japan in World War II – has attempted a ground invasion of Australia since British ships seeking to establish a penal colony made landfall in what is today Sydney in 1788.
Jan. 18, 2016 Germany is facing internal political shifts that could ultimately impact the country’s relationship with Europe. Public support for the Euroskeptic, anti-migrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) political party increased from only 4 percent in July 2015 to 11.5 percent in January 2016. With federal elections coming up in 2017, mainstream German political parties are under pressure to compete with forces outside of the traditional mainstream. At the same time, Europe’s crises are accentuating divisions inside Germany’s ruling coalition between the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP), especially when it comes to the country’s refugee policies.
Jan. 12, 2016 In 2008, the recessions in Europe and the United States hurt China’s ability to export, to the point of disrupting the stable functioning of its economy, which had been built to expect massive inflows of cash. This ate away at China’s economy for years, as the Euro-American appetite for Chinese goods never quite returned and new competitors emerged that undercut Chinese prices. China’s growth rate declined, and with it, its consumption of industrial minerals. The eventual recognition that there was a decline in demand for Chinese industrial products and a subsequent decline in China’s need for imports caused commodity prices to slump. This map reveals the countries that will be most impacted by China’s downturn.
Jan. 6, 2016 There have been signs of slowing growth in China’s economy. This week, the Chinese stock market plummeted, before rebounding a day later. While the economic impact of these developments is significant, the political ramifications are the greater question. This map shows some of the challenges the government faces in keeping the country together, particularly during a time of declining economic performance. In China, income levels in the western provinces are far lower than the coastal provinces, while the interior of the country is somewhere in the middle. This indicates both that the benefits of the growth period were not evenly distributed and that the coastal area could view the rest of the country as a threat to its economic interests. The government will have to navigate these challenges as economic growth continues to slow down.
Dec. 29, 2015 The retaking of Ramadi is the first major victory for the Shia-dominated Iraqi government against the Islamic State, which, in the summer of 2014, seized large parts of the Sunni majority areas in the western part of the country. Baghdad still faces an uphill battle as it pushes further into Anbar province and, more importantly, Nineveh province and its capital Mosul, which is where IS has its Iraqi headquarters. This map reveals the proximity between Ramadi and Baghdad, as well as their distance from the IS-controlled city of Mosul.
Dec. 21, 2015 South Korea’s economy is exposed to substantial risk due to the economic slowdown in its largest trading partner, China, and some concerns of resulting political instability are beginning to emerge. The country’s economic difficulties can be seen through its export figures. South Korean exports are thought of as a bellwether in the global financial community because they are released consistently at the beginning of the month and because South Korea is a producer of a wide variety of goods. These numbers have been negative all year and year-to-date South Korean exports are down 7.5 percent.
Dec. 14, 2015 The Schengen agreement removed border controls of 26 European countries and allowed people to move from one country to another without needing to receive visas or stop for border checks once inside the zone. However, there are growing indications that the free movement agreement is under threat, with Greece being threatened with suspension and Germany and France floating a plan to allow for a European border control force to be deployed.