The Nile: A Source of Life and Discord

The Red Sea is an immensely valuable region strategically. It has been an active trade zone since the time of the ancient Egyptians, and today some 20 percent of global trade by volume passes through it. It is also a volatile region – in great part because of its value.

China: Between Dynasties and Warlords

May 21, 2016 Chinese civilization is one of the world’s oldest. Communities began to form on the Yellow and Yangtze rivers thousands of years ago. By 2,000 B.C., dynasties had emerged and lasted in various forms until the Qing were deposed in 1912. The People’s Republic of China is the heir to this long history, and as is often the case, understanding China’s past is a crucial part of forecasting China’s future.

Although China’s history is long and complex, the story of China’s rise is essentially two stories that repeat themselves over and over again. China is incredibly diverse in terms of the cultures and languages that have developed within its modern-day borders. Despite this diversity, there have been periods when a ruler emerged who was strong enough to unite the disparate parts of the country. These dynasties may rule for hundreds of years, only for China’s internal divisions to reassert themselves and cause fragmentation and regionalization.


The King of Cobalt

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

French Languages and Dialects

March 17, 2017 What does it mean to be French? Inherent in this question is a fundamental tension within French nationalism that is unique to France. One aspect of French nationalism is that it views itself as a universal program. This is best embodied by the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. This nationalism views French ideas about “liberté, égalité, fraternité” as equally important to what it means to be French as speaking French and living on French soil. In this sense, anyone who adopts these principles can be French, and anyone who becomes a French citizen is heir to these principles.

French nationalism was based on the idea that the nation was of paramount importance and was defined by class and a set of ideas about how society ought to be structured. All of the various factions in the French Revolution believed they were unifying the nation, but each faction had to exclude certain groups from the nation in order to define the whole. This has morphed far beyond the original exclusion of the aristocracy and has been used to exclude immigrants to France. The question that the National Front is posing is whether Muslims can truly be assimilated as full members of the French state.

Asylum Claims in Europe

Aug. 27, 2016 This week’s graphic shows asylum claims in Europe in 2015, when over 1.3 million people sought refuge in Europe. To prevent an intensification of the migration crisis, the EU signed a deal with Turkey. In exchange for 3 billion euros (with the possibility of 3 billion more by 2018) and the promise of visa-free travel in the EU, Turkey said it would accept returned migrants from Greece. Before the deal, more than a thousand refugees were arriving in Greece every day. Since the deal, the number has dropped to approximately 60.

Conflict and Competition in Sudan

Middle Eastern powers are closely monitoring the protests in Sudan.

The United Kingdom’s Perspective

June 18, 2016 British citizens will vote on June 23 in a referendum on whether the United Kingdom should remain part of the European Union. As Britain grapples with the question of Brexit, understanding the strategic considerations behind the U.K.’s relationships with its partners is critical. The U.K.’s geopolitical challenges shaped its decision to join the bloc and will also shape London’s relations with Brussels should British voters opt to leave the union.

A map of the region from Britain’s perspective reveals its primary traditional threats: from the northeast across the sea are the Nordic states, where the Vikings originated; in the south across the channel is France, Britain’s traditional rival; and further to the east, Germany, which became a major player on the Continent after unification in the late 19th century.

Low Oil Prices Can’t Stop US Shale Oil Surge

June 16, 2017 The United States has benefited from the shale revolution more than any other country. Not only does it have extensive shale formations, but most of its wells are located entirely within its territory, so producers don’t have to compete for jurisdiction or share their profits.

Hydraulic fracturing, more commonly referred to as fracking, is a process by which oil deposits found in shale rock formations are extracted. Shale oil, also called tight oil, is enmeshed in shale rock, which is located thousands of feet beneath the Earth’s surface and is generally less permeable than other rock types, making deposits more difficult to access – difficult, but not impossible.

In the 1990s, producers began to combine fracking with a separate process known as horizontal drilling, which allows a well to be drilled vertically, then, when the drill hits the desired sedimentary layer, it is turned to drill parallel to the layer. In 1991, a well was successfully horizontally drilled and fractured for the first time, and in 1998 the first profitable horizontally fractured well was completed. The supply of U.S. shale gas, and later shale oil, has increased ever since.

Saudi Arabia’s Oil and Gas Infrastructure

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.

Examining Canada’s Debt Exposure

The country’s mounting debt is creating vulnerabilities that could make recovery more difficult in the event of another recession.

Rare Earth Elements: Global Reserves and Production

With China's recent threat to ban exports of rare earth elements to the United States, it may be time to find an alternative.

Relative Advantage of Mexican States

July 30, 2016 This map illustrates that two different economies coexist within Mexico. Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography generated this data by measuring several development indicators, including housing infrastructure, basic furnishings, overcrowding, health, education and employment levels. The higher a state’s overall standard of living, the higher its ranking.

Economic activity in each state correlates with these rankings. Mexico’s central and northern states are home to advanced industry, attract foreign direct investment and/or are strategically located near strong trade flows associated with the U.S. border. Meanwhile, the southern states’ economies are more dependent on agriculture and primitive industry, with higher numbers of informal, low-wage laborers. Government figures show that from 1980 to 2014, per capita GDP in central and northern states grew by about 50 percent. In the south, this figure increased a mere 9 percent.