April 26, 2016 There is widespread interest in the rising tensions over the waters east of China. China has become increasingly assertive in the region, and regional powers from Japan to Singapore have become alarmed at China’s behavior. The Chinese recently built an island in the South China Sea, apparently as a potential airbase. The United States sent a carrier battle group there as well. For all the activity and discussion, it is not clear that people really understand what all this is about. This week’s map will help clarify the situation.
There are two seas to the east of China – the East China Sea to the north and the South China Sea to the south, with Taiwan positioned in between. Air and naval forces based in Taiwan are, at least in theory, able to prevent movement between the two seas. The Taiwan Strait is fairly narrow and movement by the Chinese to Taiwan’s east forces China to pass near the Philippines to the south, or through the Ryukyu Islands to the north. Passage through the Ryukyu Islands could be blocked by hostile naval forces or by land-based aircraft and missiles.
Sept. 3, 2016 When we speak about the U.S. economy, we often pay less attention to the economies of the individual states. The states, however, are also political and economic entities. California, for example, would have roughly the seventh largest GDP in the world if it were a country. To understand the U.S. economy, you have to be able to see both the forest and the trees.
This week’s graphic demonstrates the level of dependency each U.S. state has on exports and breaks down each state’s top three international trading partners. Overall, the economy of the United States is not reliant on exports, which made up a mere 12.6 percent of GDP in 2015. Only five states, including Louisiana (20.18 percent), Washington (19.48 percent) and Texas (15.79 percent), get more of their GDP from exports than the national average. The most common export destinations for U.S. states are Canada, Mexico and China.
April 12, 2016 South America is an island, connected to North America by a land bridge. We all know that. But South America is not a single entity. It is made up of smaller islands, divided not by the ocean, but by impassable jungles and mountains. The Amazon and the Andes create three islands. The eastern island consists of parts of Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia, as well as Paraguay and Uruguay. The second island is Venezuela and Colombia. The third is a long, thin island in the west, running from Ecuador through Peru and Chile.
If you have ever wondered why South America was never formed into a single entity like North America, or into transcontinental countries, think about the Amazon and the Andes. South America only looks like a single landmass. It is deeply divided by these barely passable barriers. In a real sense, the center of South America is a blank. A great deal of South American history can be explained by this.
Maps can deceive. They can also reveal. It all depends how you look at it and what you see. Geopolitical Futures sees deep, and seeing deep, it will surprise you.
May 3, 2016 This map is designed to show some of the hidden fault lines underlying the states of the Middle East, and the reasons these states, which were held together by foreign powers and domestic tyrants, disintegrated.
The Ottoman Empire lasted for about six centuries before it collapsed after World War I. Towards the waning years of the 17th century, its forces had penetrated as far west as Vienna. Its power and reach were enormous and enduring. The green areas of the map show what remained of the empire in the mid-19th century, after it was long past its prime. Its power had declined, but the extent of its rule, even in decline, bound together a region reaching from the Balkans to the Arabian Peninsula and to a large part of North Africa.
July 28, 2017 The defining characteristic of South America is that its geography will not allow any nation to project power across the continent. Those that have come to power have been confined to either the Pacific Coast or the Atlantic Coast. Some were even able to hold power on both coasts, but none were able to form a seamless political entity.
Their separation is largely due to the Andes Mountains, which span the entire length of South America near the continent’s western edge. Other geographic features, however, accentuate the east-west divide. In the north, the vast Amazon rainforest prevents the movement of people from one population center to another and stunts urban development. The Amazon River and its tributaries, which flow from the west to the east, enable ventures farther inland, but upstream waters quickly become unnavigable to large ships.
Violence in Mexico is on the rise, particularly homicides, kidnappings and extortion by drug trafficking organizations and other organized crime groups. This trend raises the issue of the potential for spillover into the United States. A significant increase in spillover violence would likely lead to a redefinition of the bilateral relationship. While other places in the world have higher rates of violence than Mexico, greater scrutiny is placed on Mexico because of its proximity to the U.S. and the impact violence may have on Mexico’s emergence as an economic power.