Posts Tagged ‘remapping the Middle East’

How the map of the Middle East could develop

October 5, 2013

Once upon a time maps were dawn primarily as symbolic and pictorial descriptions of physical geography. Then came the nation states and “Nations of the Mind” became nations on the ground. With their dark under-belly of nationalism and jingoism, maps have become – nearly always – political, religious or ideological maps superimposed on and tied to physical geography. Some day humans will outgrow the limitations of nation-states and nationalism. “Nations” tied to a geography will eventually become obsolete but it will not be in my lifetime.

The dynamics in the Middle East are particularly volatile and give rise to much speculation about how new nations could form and how the map of the region could develop. But much of the new formations – which are already ongoing – are not by design but by the realities on the ground. Many forces are engaged and much blood is being shed as the various parties try to impose their own designs.

A few years ago Ralph Peters imagined a “better Middle East” in  “Blood Borders: How a Better Middle East Would Look” and was heavily criticised for his provocative work.

The map was prepared by Lieutenant-Colonel Ralph Peters. It was published in the Armed Forces Journal in June 2006, Peters is a retired colonel of the U.S. National War Academy. (Map Copyright Lieutenant-Colonel Ralph Peters 2006). The map is included in Peters’ book Never Quit the Fight.

Ralph-Peters-Remapped-Middle-East

Ralph-Peters-Remapped-Middle-East

As Geo Currents remarked in 2010:

For all of Peters’s miscues, many of his core ideas are sound. His initial assertion – that misplaced boundaries often generate injustice and strife – is spot on. And he is right to point out that the foreign policy establishment refuses to acknowledge the violence engendered by geopolitical misalignment for fear of opening a Pandora’s Box of separatist demands. Because of that fear, any suggestions for alternative arrangements tend to be dismissed out of hand. Such a stance, Peters argues, is intellectually dishonest. New countries sometimes do appear on the map without ruffling the international order. Think of Montenegro, 2006. Such neophyte states must, however, come into being through the channels of global diplomacy if they want international recognition. Should they emerge on their own, their existence will be denied by the powers that be. In this way the system of international diplomacy that Peters mocks can indeed become a masquerade. Grant diplomatic recognition to Somaliland, the only effectively administered territory in the bedlam called Somalia? Impossibly destabilizing: surely anarchy would be loosed across the Horn of Africa!

The New York Times has just carried an article by Robin Wright returning to the same subject

Imagining a Remapped Middle East

Robin-Wrights-Remapped-Middle-East

Robin-Wrights-Remapped-Middle-East – NYT

THE map of the modern Middle East, a political and economic pivot in the international order, is in tatters. Syria’s ruinous war is the turning point. But the centrifugal forces of rival beliefs, tribes and ethnicities — empowered by unintended consequences of the Arab Spring — are also pulling apart a region defined by European colonial powers a century ago and defended by Arab autocrats ever since.

A different map would be a strategic game changer for just about everybody, potentially reconfiguring alliances, security challenges, trade and energy flows for much of the world, too.

Syria’s prime location and muscle make it the strategic center of the Middle East. But it is a complex country, rich in religious and ethnic variety, and therefore fragile. After independence, Syria reeled from more than a half-dozen coups between 1949 and 1970, when the Assad dynasty seized full control. Now, after 30 months of bloodletting, diversity has turned deadly, killing both people and country. Syria has crumbled into three identifiable regions, each with its own flag and security forces. A different future is taking shape: a narrow statelet along a corridor from the south through Damascus, Homs and Hama to the northern Mediterranean coast controlled by the Assads’ minority Alawite sect. In the north, a small Kurdistan, largely autonomous since mid-2012. The biggest chunk is the Sunni-dominated heartland.

…………

Saudi-Arabia-Remapped-by-Robin-Wright

Saudi-Arabia-Remapped-by-Robin-Wright

GeoCurrents reviews the NYT article:

Wright’s article, however, shows that her purpose is different from that of Peters. Whereas Peters sought to depict a more rationally constituted political map, Wright rather speculates about a map that might be developing on its own, regardless of her personal preferences, much less her country’s geo-strategic designs. In this regard, the map has much to recommend it. Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Iraq could well be in the process of disintegration, splitting into de facto states or state-like entities that might bear some resemblance to the territories depicted by Wright’s map. The likelihood of Iraq and Syria regaining stability as effective states within their internationally recognized boundaries seems remote, given the viciousness of the conflicts currently being waged. As things already stand, the non-country of Iraqi Kurdistan is almost as much of a state as Iraq itself, and arguable more of a nation. Whether Libya and Yemen can politically reintegrate is also an open matter. Mapping how the Middle East appears today, rather than how the international political community thinks it should be configured, is thus an essential task. Thinking about where such processes might lead is equally important. Wright’s thoughts on the subject are generally insightful, and her map has many pertinent and intriguing features. I commend the New York Times for publishing such a provocative piece. ……

…….. My serious misgivings concern Wright’s  treatment of Saudi Arabia. She realizes that she goes out on a limb here, noting that “The most fantastical ideas involve the Balkanization of Saudi Arabia…” Unlike the other countries that she remaps, Saudi Arabia is a relatively stable state, with no serious challenges to its territorial integrity. Imagining the division of this country thus does not involve speculating about the possible end-points of processes already in motion, as is the case in the other countries considered. It is not at all clear, moreover, why Wright has divided Saudi Arabia as she has, as her article is largely silent here. Presumably, her division is based on the idea that the non-Wahhabi peripheries of the country could detach themselves from the Wahhabi core, potentially resulting in the emergence of the new states of North Arabia, Eastern Arabia, South Arabia, and Western Arabia.

Fascinating stuff.


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