Colonial Powers in Sub-Saharan Africa

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June 4, 2016 European powers strongly shaped the geopolitics of contemporary sub-Saharan Africa. In the colonial era, they saw sub-Saharan Africa as a means to an end, initially encountering the continent as they looked for sea trading routes to India and East Asia. France, Great Britain, Portugal, Germany and Belgium had the largest presence.

From the 16th century through the 18th century, major European governments established ports to support long voyages to the East Indies. When we look at the location of former colonies, we can observe how each location served as a resting and refueling point in the long journey east.

Germany’s Perspective

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Sept. 10, 2016 This map shows the geographical perspective of Germany. It is situated on the North European Plain, characterized by relatively flat topography, which it shares with parts of France, Belgium, the Netherlands, southern Scandinavia, Poland and western Russia. Though bordered to the north by the Baltic and North seas and to the south by the Alps, Germany has no significant natural boundaries to the east or west. Germany’s geographical position leaves the country permanently vulnerable to invasion – particularly from France in the west and Russia in the east.

Germany’s geographical reality and the subsequent deep-rooted fear of invasion has been a driving force in the country’s political history. In the 1870s, Prussian strategists created an alliance of independent German-speaking states to form a cohesive economic bloc and political unit that would be able to deter – or fight – potential invaders. In 1905, fear of invasion led Count Alfred von Schlieffen to propose a two-front war against France and Russia, believing that striking first would give Germany an advantage. Today, Germany continues to try to protect itself from outside threats, using the European Union and ensuing European integration to dominate the North European Plain and shield itself from historical rivals. By entangling itself in the EU’s web of political and economic alliances and dependencies, Germany hopes to keep its adversaries subdued.

Turkey and the Southern Gas Corridor

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Last week, Turkey and Azerbaijan inaugurated the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline, bringing Europe one step closer to securing access to Azerbaijani natural gas.

Obstacles to Mexico’s Territorial Control

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Mexico City, the seat of Mexico’s government, has a very basic problem: It has a lot of territory to govern and many physical obstacles between itself and much of that territory.

Is Australia’s Real Estate Bubble About to Burst?

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As China tightens controls on investment capital outflow and Australia increases restrictions on foreign buyers of property, real estate prices in some Australian cities have plummeted.

The King of Cobalt

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The Democratic Republic of Congo has as much cobalt reserves as the rest of the world combined.

Presence of Salafism in the Middle East and North Africa

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April 14, 2017 Salafism originated in the mid-18th century in an area that now encompasses Saudi Arabia. It can best be described as a tendency that envisions an austere form of Islam. This modern trend within Islam began as a corrective movement in 18th century Arabia to bring Muslims back to the religion’s original creed.

For many decades, the kingdom exported Salafism and associated ultraconservative ideas by constructing and purchasing mosques, underwriting seminaries, publishing literature, dispatching clerics, supporting charities and so on. Over time, however, it gradually lost control over the Salafist ideology itself, and three distinct branches formed: quietist, jihadist and electoral.

Growing Tensions and Shrinking Affordability in Russia

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There are plans for more protests in Moscow this weekend.

Saudi Kings and Key Princes

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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.

A New Route From Asia to Europe

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Last month, Maersk, one of the world’s largest logistics firms, sailed a cargo ship from Asia to Europe through a route north of Russia for the first time. The melting Arctic ice has opened up new possibilities for the shipping industry.

The Islamic State Changes Course in Syria and Iraq

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June 9, 2017 The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces began an invasion of eastern Raqqa on June 6. They captured the neighborhood of al-Mashalab before IS stopped their advance. Meanwhile, Syrian army forces loyal to Bashar Assad crossed into Raqqa province and are now less than 50 miles (80 kilometers) west of Raqqa city.

The Syrian army has also moved against IS in Aleppo province and outside of the city of Hama, and continues to push east from Palmyra toward the IS heartland. The Islamic State is reeling, no longer in a good position to defend its capital. That means its strategy must change, and along with it, our baseline assessment of its strategic imperatives in Syria.

Kashmir’s Political Division

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Nov. 4, 2016 Over the past six weeks, an unmistakable escalation has occurred between Indian and Pakistani forces – largely in the disputed region of Kashmir. Occasional cease-fire violations have occurred since 2003, when both sides walked away from the brink of full-scale war that could have assumed a nuclear dimension. Control of Kashmir has been a bone of contention between India and Pakistan since both countries were created in 1947.