Reportage

Prisoners of Geography

The new book by journalist Tim Marshall…

timThere are few foreign correspondents in the current British media who can present an overview of a political situation quite like Tim Marshall. The former Diplomatic Editor at Sky News, he has a long and impressive CV in foreign journalism covering conflicts in Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Israel and in his new book, Prisoners of Geography he presents this knowledge and experience quite brilliantly.

The premise of the book is not surprising for anyone who has seen one of his many reports on television. He frequently begins any discussion with a brief reminder of how that particular situation came to be. So often in world politics ‘we’, the public forget or do not realise the implication both history and geography have on a difficult situation and this book sets out these key factors as an integral part of the background to the current global problems we see being played out on a daily basis.

Marshall emphasises the importance of the map and the geopolitical problems countries face because of their borders, their types of terrain, access to sea and so on. The chapter on Putin’s Russia is a fascinating one, Marshall explains how its vastness has so often proved its undoing and how China in particular could, and indeed is, extending its sphere of influence as Chinese immigrants begin to outnumber Siberian Russians whose birth rate is in a steady decline. Such is the vastness of Russia’s Far East and the difficulties its weather patterns and landscape pose to maximizing its natural sources, that any thoughts Putin may have of exerting influence in Asia remain doubtful. Nothing, other than a dwindling population has fundamentally changed in that regards since the height of the Soviet Union. Marshall also points out the country’s lack of warm water ports and the effect that has on shipping and year-round trade routes when the bitter winter sets in. I didn’t realise this was a considerable factor in Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan with its access to major trading routes rather than a desire to spread the communist doctrine.

The book also covers China, the USA, Western Europe, the Middle East, the Arctic, Latin America, Korea and Japan, India and Pakistan and Africa. Each one of them a current or potential hotbed for conflict with their toxic mix of geography, history and religion. It’s a cleverly written book and underlines what makes Tim Marshall such an effective voice on world affairs. He argues that coming from a geographical base point clarifies what differentiates one people from another, explains their movements and their leaders actions which have always and continue to be shaped and constrained by the geographical as much as the political landscape.

Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall

Published by Elliott and Thompson Limited

ISBN: 978-1-78396-141-2

 

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