In the picture
Cover of the book by Pascal Gauchon and Jean-Marc Huissoud 'Los 100 lugares de la geopolítica' (Madrid: Rialp, 2022) 157 pages.
In view of China's growing assertiveness and Russia's aggression in Ukraine, there is currently much discussion on the return of geopolitics and power relations as a fundamental and preferential instrument in International Office. Whatever the opinion held on this matter, it is undeniable that we are witnessing a certain 'revival' of interest in this discipline, which straddles geography, sociology, political science and strategic and security programs of study . As proof of this, it is sufficient to see how the number of titles published in recent years dedicated, directly or indirectly, to issues related to geography and politics has multiplied, many of which have reached prominent positions on sales lists and have even become literary phenomena, true best-sellers.
Far from such pretensions, 'The 100 Places of Geopolitics' joins this list of titles with geopolitical themes. This is not a typical work in which the author, narratively developing a storyline, defends a thesis and reaches some conclusions. It is, rather, a simple vademecum, without great pretensions of academic depth, in which a group of six authors, coordinated by two of them, has selected up to one hundred geographic features considered of importance or interest from the point of view of geopolitics, which can be accessed independently, although they have been grouped thematically in a way that gives coherence to the whole.
The work, as has already been said, does not propose any thesis ; it is, however, conceived and structured around the idea of 'power', the true guiding thread that gives it body and organizes it in its entirety. Interestingly enough, given the centrality of the concept in the book as a whole, no effort is made to define the contours of such a complex and versatile term. This is not a minor shortcoming, since a clarification in this regard would have been necessary to understand the criteria that led the authors to select certain geographical locations over others that are ignored.
In this status, one can only infer 'a posteriori', after reading the hundred points, what the writers consider to be at the heart of the term 'power'. The selection offered suggests a vision of power that oscillates between the economic and the merely cultural, and which gives international organizations a position of relevance, even preeminence, with respect to the nation-states, in the distribution of global power. A vision, moreover, that locates the 'locus' of power in urban centers, from where it seems to radiate to other geographic spaces.
With this conceptual outline , the text is divided into four thematic blocks, built around the idea of power, which make up each chapter. The first of these is entitled "The places from which power radiates". Consistent with the vision of power underlying the work, this section introduces what may be deduced to be the thirteen most significant urban centers from the points of view of power and geopolitics. In this catalog, it is natural to find cities such as New York, London, Brussels or Shanghai. Surprising - without denying their importance - however, is the presence of others such as Sarajevo, Rome, Baghdad or Amritsar, and the absence of others as important as Washington D.C., Frankfurt, Mumbai, or Sao Paulo, to name but a few.
The following chapter refers to "The spaces organized by power", degree scroll under which is concealed, in reality, a tour of a series of geographic groups traced by the authors -endowed, it may be deduced, with their own geopolitical entity- and which cover the entire extension of the planet and, even beyond it, and certainly, outer space and cyberspace.
A third chapter, section , under the heading "Places where control is power", deals with the spaces known as "chokepoints", which are of great value for the control of global maritime traffic and for the projection and exercise of power. From the content of the chapter - which includes such important accidents as the Suez or Panama canals, the Straits of Malacca, Hormuz, Gibraltar or Bab-el-Mandeb - it is easy to conclude how the control of these chokepoints acts as a multiplier of the power of the actor who controls them. Alongside geographical references such as these, of unquestionable value, there are others more dubiously worthy of being part of the list, such as the Beagle Channel, the Otranto Channel, or the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil/gas pipeline.
The last chapter is dedicated to "The places of confrontation between powers", and focuses on reviewing a collection of geographical spaces, grouped by continents, in which friction between actors in the international system, whether nation-states or sub-state entities, is - or has historically been - manifested. This is perhaps the most interesting section of the book because of the exhaustive - though not entirely complete - review of the planet's hot spots and the reasons that cause friction and, if necessary, conflict. Places such as the 38th parallel, Kosovo, the Aegean Sea, the South China Sea, Kashmir or the Senkaku Islands are some of those recorded in this chapter.
Beyond the idea of power, it is difficult to discern the criteria the authors have followed to select their "hundred places of geopolitics". In the four chapters, the same guideline is repeated: together with places whose presence does not require any justification, there are others of more dubious relevance, which could have been left out of the catalog, and notable absences, some of them glaring, are detected.
It is not easy to unravel the reasons that have led them to make such a selection. Without fear of erring too much, it can be said that the work presents a marked Franco-centric bias, sometimes excessive, that permeates all the pages of the text, and that it can offer an answer, even partial, to this doubt. It is from this point of view that one can understand the excessive emphasis placed on the friction caused in Spain by Basque and Catalan independence movements -obviating the fact that France also suffers from them- while omitting the existence of similar problems in places of Gallic sovereignty such as Corsica or Brittany, not to mention the overseas territories. Or why the section dedicated to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), carefully omits any reference letter to Morocco, its problems with the Rif or, much more B, the friction that confronts it with the Polisario Front over Western Sahara. Or why Syria, epitome of the failed state, does not even merit a grade at the bottom.
All in all, 'The 100 Places of Geopolitics' is interesting. It is certainly not a work for the initiated. But it can be very attractive for those who, without great pretensions of erudition, want to become familiar with this discipline, and are curious to better understand the intricate game of geography and politics. Its reading is advisable to get started in geopolitics. Of course, it should be done with a good atlas; strangely for a work of this nature, its almost one hundred and sixty pages do not offer a single map.