Chapter 4: Political Borders, Boundaries, and Governments

In the chapter on population, we discussed how and why population growth exploded in the 20th century. Recall that as nations evolve from Stage 1 to Stage 2, death rates plummet, but birth rates are maintained at their current levels, causing an explosion in population. Europe and America were the first nations to enter Stage 2, but today no nation is in Stage 1. Most nations are still in Stage 2, and the result of this is that the human population is now over 7.5 billion. Our numbers are expected to peak at 9 billion by 2100.

The 20th century was also the deadliest century, in terms of war, in human history.  This century experienced two world wars, multiple civil wars, genocides in Rwanda (Tutsis and moderate Hutus), Sudan, Yugoslavia, and the Holocaust that decimated the Jewish population in Europe during WWII. In addition to WWI and WWII, this century experienced the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, and the first Gulf War. Additionally, this century saw regional and civil conflicts such as those experienced in the Congo (6 million people died), as well as an upsurge in child soldiers and modern slavery.

4.1 Defining Nation-States

Organization and Control

Political geography is the study of how humans have divided up the surface of the Earth for purposes of management and control. Looking beyond the patterns on political maps helps us to understand the spatial outcomes of political processes and how political processes are themselves affected by spatial features. Political spaces exist at multiple scales, from a kid’s bedroom to the entire planet. At each location, somebody or some group seeks to establish the rules governing what happens in that space, how power is shared (or not), and who even has the right to access those spaces. This is also known as territoriality.

Many people have tried to exert control over the physical world to exert power for religious, economic, or cultural reasons. Scholars have developed many theories of how political power has been expressed geographically as leaders and nations vie to control people, land, and resources. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, scholars developed many theories about how political power is expressed geographically. These theories have been used to both justify and work to avoid conflict.

Organic Theory

The Organic Theory states that nations must continually seek nourishment in the form of gaining land to survive in the same way that a living organism seeks nourishment from food to survive. As a result, it implies that if a nation does not seek out and conquer new territories, it will risk failing because other nations also behave organically. This is akin to the law of the jungle – eat or be eaten.

Hitler was a proponent of organic theory and used Raztel’s term Lebensraum or “living space” as justification for Germany’s behavior during World War II. He claimed that if Germany did not grow in this way, it would fall victim again to the rest of Europe and eventually the world as it did during the First World War.

Heartland Theory

Heartland Theory, also known as “The Geographic Pivot of History” theory, Mackinder thought that whoever controlled Eastern Europe, the heartland, would control the world. The idea is that the heartland is a pivot point for controlling all of Asia and Africa, which he referred to as the World Island. Why was the heartland so crucial at this time? Eastern Europe is abundant in raw materials and farmland, which are needed to support a vast army that could then control the coasts and water ports that make international trade possible.

Both Hitler and the USSR believed this was possible, but both failed because they did not foresee the rise of other world powers such as the United States and China. Nor did they know that military technology would soon advance far beyond tanks and ground troops to include nuclear weapons, high-tech missiles, and drone airplanes.

Rimland Theory

According to Spykman’s Rimland Theory, Mackinder’s “lands of the outer rim” were the key to controlling Eurasia and then the world. He theorized that because the Rimland contains most of the world’s people as well as a large share of the world’s resources, it was more important than heartland. The Rimland’s defining characteristic is that it is an intermediate region, lying between the heartland and the marginal sea powers. As the amphibious buffer zone between the land powers and sea powers, it must defend itself from both sides, and therein lies its fundamental security problems.

Politically, Spykman called for the consolidation of the Rimland countries to ensure their survival during World War II. With the defeat of Germany and the emergence of the USSR, Spykman’s views were embraced during the formulation of the Cold War American policy containing communist influence.

The State of States

Independent states are the primary building blocks of the world political map. A state (also called a nation or country) is a territory with defined boundaries organized into a political unit and ruled by an established government that has control over its internal and foreign affairs. When a state has total control over its internal and foreign affairs, it is called a sovereign state. A location claimed by a sovereign state is called a territory. According to the United Nations, in 2016, the world had 193 nations; however, many of those nations dispute their boundaries.

Some nations are stateless. This means that there are groups of people who share a collective identity and history, but who have no parcel of land that they fully control. The Palestinians are perhaps the world’s best-known stateless nation, owed to their long struggle with Israeli Jews – some of whom, until 1948, belonged to the previously best-known nation without a state.

Federalism is a system of government with one, strong, central governing authority as well as smaller units, such as states. If the central government grows too strong, then federalism comes closer to a unitary state, where the governing body has supreme authority and dictates how much power the units are allowed to have. In those places like Egypt, France, and Japan, where nationalist feelings are strong, and there are many centripetal forces like language, religion, and economic prosperity uniting people, a unitary state makes much sense. Unitary systems work best where there is no strong opposition to central control. Therefore, the political elite in a capital city (like Paris or Tokyo) frequently have outsized power over the rest of the country. Fights over local control are minimal, and the power of local (provincial) governments is relatively weak.

Many countries have an underdeveloped sense of nationhood and therefore are better suited to use a Federalist style of government where power is geographically distributed among several subnational units. This style of governance makes sense when a country is “young” – and is still in the process of nation-building or developing a common identity necessary to the establishment of a unified nationality. Federations may also work best when nations have multi-ethnic or multi-national countries. Rather than break into multiple smaller states, a country can choose to give each of its ethnicities or nationalities some measure of political autonomy. If they want to speak their language or teach their specific religion in the local schools, then the central government allows local people to make those decisions. The central government in a federal system focuses on things like national defense, managing interstate transportation, and regulating a common currency. The U.S. began as a federalist system.

Occasionally, a particularly troublesome provincial region or ethnicity will result in a sort of compromise situation, or devolution, in which a unitary system, like China, will grant a special exemption to one region or group to allow that location semi-autonomy or greater local control. Puerto Rico (United States) and Hong Kong (China) are excellent examples. However, there are many dozens of other similarly self-governing regions around the globe, most with names designating their status. This process is often beneficial to the unitary nations to prevent political instability and conflict; however, it can be withdrawn by the central government at any time.

The hostile fragmentation of a region into smaller, political units is called Balkanization. This is often the result of unresolved centrifugal forces pulling the nation apart from within, such as economic disparity and ethnic or religious conflicts. The term Balkanization refers to an area that was known as the Ottoman Empire, and it occupied the area where we have current countries like Bulgaria, Albania, and  Serbia. Nowadays, we use this term to refer to any country that breaks apart to form several countries or several states, usually the consequence of civil war or ethnic cleansing as was seen in Armenia and Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia and Yugoslavia.

The United States has had a challenging time resolving whether it wants to pursue a unitary or federal style government. This question has been one of the central political issues in the U.S., since even before the War for Independence. Initially, the United States was organized as a confederation, a loosely allied group of independent states united in a common goal to defeat the British. Operating under the Articles of Confederation from roughly 1776-1789, the new and decentralized country found itself challenged to do simple things like raise taxes, sign treaties with foreign countries, or print a common currency because the central government (Congress) was so very weak. The Constitution that the U.S. Government, operates under today was adopted to help create a balance of powers between the central government headquartered in Washington DC, and the multiple state governments. Initially, states continued to operate primarily as separate countries. This is why, in the United States, the word state is used to designate major subnational government units, rather than the word province, as is common in much of the world. In our early history, Americans thought they were living in “The United Countries of America.”

The idea or concept of a state originated in the Fertile Crescent between the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea. The first ancient states that formed during this time were called city-states. A city-state is a sovereign state that encompasses a town and the surrounding landscape. Often, city-states secured the town by surrounding it with walls, and farmlands were located outside of the city walls. Later, empires formed when a single city-state militarily controlled several city-states.

The agrarian revolution and the Industrial Revolution were powerful movements that altered human activity in many ways. Innovations in food production and the manufacturing of products transformed Europe, and in turn, political currents were undermining the established empire mentality fueled by warfare and territorial disputes. The political revolution that transformed Europe as a result of various actions that focused on ending continual warfare for the control of territory and introducing peaceful agreements that recognized the sovereignty of territory ruled by representative government structures. Various treaties and revolutions continued to shift the power from dictators and monarchs to the general populace. The Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 and those that followed helped establish a sense of peace and stability in Central Europe, which had been dominated by the Holy Roman Empire and competing powers. The Holy Roman Empire, which was centered on the German states of Central Europe from 962–1806, should not be confused with the Roman Empire, which was based in Rome and ended centuries earlier. The French Revolution (1789–95) was an example of the political transformation taking place across Europe to establish democratic processes for governance.

The concept of the modern nation-state began in Europe as a political revolution laid the groundwork for a sense of nationalism: a feeling of devotion or loyalty to a specific nation. The term nation refers to a homogeneous group of people with a common heritage, language, religion, or political ambition. The term state refers to the government; for example, the United States has a State Department with a Secretary of State. When nations and states come together, there is a true nation-state, wherein most citizens share a common heritage and a united government.

European countries have progressed to the point where the concept of forming or remaining a nation-state is a driving force in many political sectors. To state it plainly, most Europeans, and to an extent every human, want to be a member of a nation-state where everyone is alike and shares the same culture, heritage, and government. The result of the drive for nation-states in Europe is Italy for Italians, a united Germany for Germans, and France for the French, for example. The truth is that this ideal goal is challenging to come by. Though the political boundaries of many European countries resemble nation-states, there is too much diversity within the nations to consider the idea of creating a nation-state an actual reality.

After the concept of the nation-state had gained a foothold in Europe, the ruling powers focused on establishing settlements and political power around the world by imposing their military, economic, political, and cultural influence through colonialism. Colonialism is the control of previously uninhabited or sparsely inhabited land. Europeans used colonialism to promote political control over religion, extract natural resources, increase economic influence, and to expand political and military power. The European states first colonized the New World of the Americas, but later redirected their focus to Africa and Asia. This colonial expansion across the globe is called imperialism.

Imperialism is the control of territory already occupied and organized by an indigenous society. These two factors helped to spread nationalism around the globe and have influenced modern political boundaries.

The Shape of States

While not the only factor in determining the political landscape, the shape of a state is important because it helps determine potential communication internally, military protection, access to resources, and more. Find the example listed on a political map and try to find one other state that has the same physical shape.

Compact states have relatively equal distances from their center to any boundary, much like a circle. They are often regarded as efficient states. An example of a compact state would be Kenya.

Elongated states have a long and narrow shape. The major problem with these states is with internal communication, which causes isolation of towns from the capital city. Vietnam is an example of this.

Prorupted states occur when a compact state has a portion of its boundary extending outward exceedingly more than the other portions of the boundary. Some of these types of states exist so that the citizens can have access to a specific resource, such as a large body of water. In other circumstances, the extended boundary was created to separate two other nations from having a common boundary. An example of a prorupted state would be Namibia.

Perforated states have other state territories or states within them. A great example of this is Lesotho, which is a sovereign state within South Africa.

Fragmented states exist when a state is separated. Sometimes large bodies of water can fragment a state. Indonesia is an example of a fragmented state.

Landlocked states lack a direct outlet to a major body of water, such as a sea or ocean. This becomes problematic specifically for exporting trade and can hinder a state’s economy. Landlocked states are most common in Africa, where the European powers divided up Africa into territories during the Berlin Conference of 1884. After these African territories gained their independence and broke into sovereign states, many became landlocked from the surrounding ocean. An example here would be Uganda.


Boundaries are often divided into two categories: (1) natural – following the course of a physical feature such as a river or ridgeline; (2) artificial – drawn by humans. However, so-called natural boundaries are still products of human choice — why establish that river, rather than this other one, as the boundary? Moreover, the political border may persist even after the physical feature, which created the original boundary has changed its location. Thus, the boundaries of states bordering the Mississippi River are fixed to the river’s old course, though the location of its meanders has changed.

Boundaries play a critical role in how people interpret the world around them and can often be sources of conflict at all scales, from two neighbors arguing over where a fence should be placed to nation-states laying claim to parts of (or sometimes all) other sovereign nations. The Atlantic has an article titled, “The Case for Getting Rid of Borders – Completely” that argues that morally and ethically, people should have more equal rights no matter which nation-state they belong to.

It is important to look at how political boundaries are created, determined, and occasionally redrawn. Consider the case of Kashmir, a territory disputed between India and Pakistan. Within India, publishers are required to show Kashmir as part of India. In 2011, the Indian government ordered the Economist magazine to remove or cover such a map in 28,000 copies of its May edition which were for sale in India. Even well-known multi-national companies like Google Maps are censored if they show the area as “disputed.” This means that Indians grow up always seeing Kashmir as a part of their country, of equal standing with undisputed states like Tamil Nadu or Assam. Any proposal to recognize Pakistani control over part or all of Kashmir would then provoke severe resistance from the Indian populace. Maps outside the disputant countries commonly show both boundaries, noting their disputed status. However, this compromise is not neutral, as it sends a message that both claims are equally legitimate. Imagine, for example, if Canada announced a claim to Washington State, and maps published outside North America began showing that state as a disputed territory.

Another interesting question comes up when learning about boundaries, “Who owns the sea?” A maritime boundary is a conceptual division of the Earth’s water surface areas. As such, it usually defines areas of exclusive national rights over any natural resources within that boundary. A maritime boundary is delineated at a particular distance from the coastline. Although in some countries, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea defines the boundary of international waters.

Controversies about territorial waters tend to encompass two dimensions: (a) territorial sovereignty, which is a legacy of history, and (b) relevant jurisdictional rights and interests in maritime boundaries, which are mainly due to differing interpretations of the law of the sea. Many disputes have been resolved through negotiations, but not all.

For instance, The Strait of Juan de Fuca is the wide waterway stretching from the Pacific Ocean on the West to the San Juan Islands on the east, with Vancouver Island to the north and the Olympic Peninsula to the south. This strait remains the subject of a maritime boundary dispute between Canada and the United States. The dispute is only over the seaward boundary extending 200 miles (320 km) west from the mouth of the strait. Both governments have proposed a boundary based on the principle of equidistance, but with different base point selections, resulting in small differences in the line. Also, the government of British Columbia has rejected proposals by the United States, instead of arguing that the Juan de Fuca submarine canyon is the appropriate “geomorphic and physio-geographic boundary.” The resolution of the issue should be simple but has been hindered because it might influence other unresolved maritime boundary issues between Canada and the United States around the Gulf of Maine.

Theories of a State

State Formation and the Centralization of Power

Today we take it for granted that different societies are governed by different states, but this has not always been the case. Since the late nineteenth century, virtually the entirety of the world’s inhabitable land has been parceled up into areas with more or less definite borders claimed by various states. Earlier, quite large land areas had been either unclaimed or uninhabited, or inhabited by nomadic peoples who were not organized as states. In fact, for most of human history, people have lived in stateless societies, characterized by a lack of concentrated authority, and the absence of significant inequalities in economic and political power.

The first known states were created in Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, China, the Americas (e.g., Aztec civilization, Inca civilization). Most agree that the earliest states emerged when agriculture and writing made it possible to centralize power durable. Agriculture allowed communities to settle and also led to class division: some people devoted all their time to food production, while others were freed to specialize in other activities, such as writing or ruling. Thus, states, as an institution, were a social invention. Political sociologists continue to debate the origins of the state and the processes of state formation.

Most political theories of the state can roughly be classified into two categories. The first, which includes liberal or conservative theories, treats capitalism as a given and concentrates on the function of states in a capitalist society. Theories of this variety view the state as a neutral entity distinct from both society and the economy.

Marxist Theory

Marxist theory, on the other hand, sees politics as intimately intermingled with economic relations, and emphasizes the relationship between economic power and political power. Marxists view the state as a partisan instrument that primarily serves the interests of the upper class. Marx and Engels were clear that communism’s goal was a classless society in which the state would have “withered away. ” For Marxist theorists, the role of the non-socialist state is determined by its function in the global capitalist order. Marx’s early writings portrayed the state as “parasitic,” built upon the superstructure of the economy and working against the public interest. He believed that the state mirrored societal class relations, that it regulated and repressed class struggle, and that it was a tool of political power and domination for the ruling class.


Anarchism is a political philosophy that considers states immoral and instead promotes a stateless society, anarchy. Anarchists believe that the state is inherently an instrument of domination and repression, no matter who is in control of it. Anarchists believe that the state apparatus should be dismantled entirely and an alternative set of social relations created, which would be unrelated to state power.


Pluralists view society as a collection of individuals and groups competing for political power. They then view the state as a neutral body that enacts the will of whichever group dominates the electoral process. Within the pluralist tradition, Robert Dahl developed the theory of the state as a neutral arena for contending interests. He also viewed governmental agencies as merely another set of competing interest groups. The pluralist approach suggests that the modern democratic state acts in response to pressures that are applied by a variety of related interests. Dahl called this kind of state a polyarchy. Pluralism has been challenged on the ground that it is not supported by empirical evidence.

Hydraulic Civilization

According to one early theory of state formation, the centralized state was developed to administer large public works systems (such as irrigation systems) and to regulate complex economies. This theory was articulated by German American historian Karl August Wittfogel in his book 1957 Oriental Despotism. Wittfogel argued that most of the earliest states were formed in hydraulic civilizations, by which he meant civilizations where leaders controlled people by controlling the water supply. Often, these civilizations relied on complex irrigation systems that had to be centrally managed. The people, therefore, had good reason to give control to a central state, but in giving up control over the irrigation system, they also gave up control over their livelihoods and, thus, the central state gained immense control over people in general. Although Wittfogel’s theory is well known, it has also been criticized as inaccurate. Modern archaeological and anthropological evidence shows that many early societies were not as centralized, despotic, or unequal as the hydraulic theory would suggest.

Coercion, War, and the State

An alternative theory of state formation focuses on the rise of more modern nation-states and explains their rise by arguing they became necessary for leveraging the resources necessary to fight and defend against wars. Sociologist Charles Tilly is the best-known theorist in this tradition. Tilly examined the political, social, and technological change in Europe from the Middle Ages to the present and attempted to explain the unprecedented success of the nation-state as the dominant form of state on Earth. In other words, instead of asking (like Wittfogel) where the very first states came from, Tilly asked where the types of states with which we are most familiar came from, and why they became so prevalent.

According to Tilly’s theory, military innovation in pre-modern Europe (especially gunpowder and mass armies) made war extremely expensive. As a result, only states with a sufficient amount of capital and a large population could afford to pay for their security and ultimately survive in a hostile environment. Thus, the modern states and their institutions (such as taxes) were created to enable war-making.

Rationalization and Bureaucracy

Another theory of state formation focuses on the long, slow, process of rationalization and bureaucratization that began with the invention of writing. The Greeks were the first people known to have explicitly formulated a political philosophy of the state, and to have rationally analyzed political institutions. In Medieval Europe, feudalism furthered the rationalization and formalization of the state. Feudalism was based on the relationship between lord and vassal, which became central to social organization and, indeed to the state organization. The Medieval state was organized by Estates, or parliaments in which key social groups negotiated with the king about legal and economic matters. Since then, states have continued to grow more rational and bureaucratic, with expanding executive bureaucracies, such as the extensive cabinet system in the United States. Thus, states have evolved from relatively simple but powerful central powers to sophisticated and highly organized institutions.

4.2 Political Identities

Separatist Movements

Occasionally people within a country find themselves unable to agree on the rules under which they can all live peaceably. When this happens, a separatist movement is likely to ensue. Often separatist movements revolve around questions of control over religious practice, language, or other cultural questions. Usually, it is a minority group, often living in a peripheral region of the country that is the offended party ready to break away from the majority group living in the country’s hearth or core region.

Thousands of separatist movements have marked world history, and hundreds of separatist groups are active today. Even within prosperous Europe, dozens of ethnic groups (nations) would like to break away to establish their nation-state in Europe alone. In principle, Americans and American foreign policy support the right to self-determination, which is essentially the right of a group of people to control the political system of the territory in which they live. Indeed, the United States itself was born of a rebellion by separatists living in a marginalized, peripheral region of the British Empire. American colonists’ rallying cry for self-determination was “no taxation without representation.” For many years, Scotland has debated its inclusion in the United Kingdom (England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland).

Scottish people, many of whom are resentful of the dominance of their more numerous English neighbors, held a parliamentary vote in late 2014 to decide the question, “Should Scotland be an independent country?” Ultimately, the Scots voted to stay part of the United Kingdom but to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom; the English gave into several demands by Scottish separatists for additional autonomy from the British (English) control. Fast forward to June 2016 when the U.K. shocked the world by voting to leave the European Union; Scottish separatists took advantage of the political and social instability to renew their call for independence and self-determination.

Politics and Identity

Separatist movements do not always arise from perceived differences in identity. Just as often, the real difference is economical, but those who would lead a group to rebel rarely admit this basic fact. The American Civil War was less a fight over identity as it was over the control over rules governing slavery and the economics of slavery. Both sides of the conflict identified as American, but Southerners believed control should be local, and most Northerners believed that some of that local control regarding slavery, should be a matter of national control.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about civil wars and separatist movements is that often those who suffer the most gain the least when fighting breaks out. As was the case in the American Civil War, the vast majority of soldiers from the South owned no slaves, and stood to gain from wage competition in the labor market upon emancipation. It was the elite Southerners that needed slavery. So how is it that people without much to fight for can be convinced to fight?

Some of the answers lie in the ability of people in power to manipulate the opinions of segments of a population effectively. Populist politicians often convince people that their individual or their groups’ problems are the results of unfair treatment by another group. Sometimes, these arguments are legitimate and can be supported by fact; other times, there is insufficient evidence to justify rebellion or secession.

It is often nearly impossible to determine precisely whose interests a secessionist group represents. Sometimes, secession movements are led by a small political elite that claims the right to represent a more substantial majority. However, the elite may not be representative of the majority of the people, and their motives may be strictly personal (wealth, power). This is why the United States’ foreign policy finds questions of self-determination, especially perplexing. Our government has yet to find a consistent response to those groups who desire to control their territory. In some cases, the U.S. has supported the rights of subnational groups to create a new country. The Clinton administration largely supported the dissolution of Yugoslavia into multiple new countries.

In other instances, the U.S. has worked with groups trying to exercise that right. Take, for example, the Kurdish people, an ethnic minority in northern Iraq, eastern Turkey and northwestern Iran. The Kurds have a separate language, history and identity from the Iraqis, Iranians and the Turks with whom they share space. Many Kurdish nationalists argue that there should be a new nation-state called Kurdistan. It would seem the Kurds have a legitimate argument, and there have been several Kurdish insurrections over the years. Each time though, Kurdish rebellions have been met with violence by the governments of Turkey, Iraq, and Iran. The U.S. government supported some measures of Kurdish autonomy in Iraq and Iran, but not in Turkey, presumably because that country is a strategic ally of the U.S.


Terrorism is proving to be an enduring global threat, because modern terrorist groups have become more lethal, networked, and technologically savvy. Today, groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al-Qa’ida can control land and hold entire cities hostage. This power mainly stems from their ability to generate revenue from numerous criminal activities with almost complete impunity.

During the time of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, al-Qa’ida numbered around 300 mujahedeen in Afghanistan with the support of the Taliban. Fifteen years later, two global terrorist groups have emerged, transforming the global threat landscape – al-Qa’ida and ISIS. At the end of 2015, ISIS controlled 6-8 million people in an area the size of Belgium, and maintained a force of between 30,000- 50,000 fighters while attracting the most significant number of foreign fighters in history.

Currently, al-Qa’ida and ISIS are escalating their attacks in an intense rivalry for global prowess and international reach while competing for affiliates worldwide. With its determination to govern and control territories in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, ISIS is currently a more significant threat than al-Qa’ida. It represents a three- dimensional threat: a core situated in Iraq and Syria, ISIS regional affiliates, and ISIS online. This constellation has spawned ISIS-inspired foreign fighters, ISIS self-inspired radicalized cells, ISIS affiliates, and, most importantly, ISIS criminal financing operations. As will be shown, ISIS criminal networks and operations are supported by all three dimensions.

Since ISIS declared its caliphate in June 2014, ISIS core, regional affiliates, and inspired groups have carried out more than 4,000 attacks in 28 countries. ISIS’s geographic presence has grown exponentially since it hit the world stage in 2014. ISIS has a total of 30 self- proclaimed wilayats or provinces, ten of which are outside of ISIS’s core base in Syria and Iraq. These include regional affiliates in Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, as well as allied affiliates in Afghanistan and Pakistan. ISIS in Afghanistan consists of former members of the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani Network, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and it is supported by Jamaat Ul Dawa al Quran (JDQ). These groups have generated millions annually from narcotics trafficking and illegal extraction of precious stones and timber. As former members continue to splinter off, ISIS is thus not only generating an income from its wiliyats, but also through criminal markets of other groups. ISIS is actively making links to Southeast Asian terror groups as well. Home to 62 percent of the world’s Muslims, the Asia Pacific region offers ISIS not only a new base to establish power, but also new avenues of revenue to exploit.

Al-Qa’ida similarly operates on a franchise model, with offshoots in Africa and Asia, and it is developing new relationships with groups in the Caucasus, India, and Tunisia. Al-Qa’ida is also working towards territorial control, and in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) continues to have a strong presence in Yemen and remains the group’s greatest direct threat to the United States.

The opportunistic ability for criminal-terrorist groups to take over geographic areas is due to collapsing state power and conflict in the Middle East and North Africa. The instability brought on after the wake of the Arab Spring, which led to hundreds of thousands of people trying to escape to Europe, further undermined state control challenging the authoritarian order in six Arab states. Four states — Libya, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen – are failing or partially failing, leading to chronic conflict, lawlessness, and extreme poverty in the region. This has created an opportunity for radical religious extremists, terrorists, and criminal groups to prosper. Several states in the region can now no longer entirely control and contain criminality and violent terror within their borders.

States worldwide are being challenged by criminal-terrorist networks, especially in prisons, urban areas, and cyberspace. Prisons have become a place where terrorists and criminals meet, plan, plot, and recruit. The most prominent example was Abu-Bakhr al- Baghdadi, the leader, and self- declared caliph of ISIS, who spent formative time at Camp Bucca, a US-controlled prison in Iraq, where he met Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi, a former colonel in the intelligence service of Saddam Hussein’s air defense forces, who was the architect of the ISIS strategy for the takeover of towns, focusing heavily on surveillance and espionage. The Iraqi government estimates that 17 of the 25 most crucial ISIS leaders spent time in U.S. prisons in Iraq, planning the creation of ISIS and its ideology.

In the West, prisons have also become a networking and learning environment where terrorists and criminals can share an ideology and build networks. A large percentage of terrorist recruits, some estimates are as high as 80 percent, have criminal records varying from petty to serious crimes. The recruitment of criminals provides terrorists with the skill sets needed to succeed: a propensity to carry out violent acts, the ability to act discreetly, and access to criminal markets for weapons, and bomb-building resources. A study on extremists who plotted attacks in Western Europe found that 90 percent of the cells were involved in income-generating criminal activities, and a half was entirely self-financed: only one in four received funding from international terrorist organizations.

For Islamist extremist groups, the prison has become a vital recruitment location. They especially target young petty criminals with Middle Eastern backgrounds. The Charlie Hebdo attackers Amedy Coulibaly and Cherif Kouachi, for example, met in prison. There, they also met al-Qa’ida’s top operative in France, Djamel Beghal, who served time for attempting to bomb the U.S. Embassy in Paris in 2001. Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the mastermind of the Paris plot, as well as his co-conspirator Salah Abdeslam, also followed a trajectory from petty crime to armed robbery, both ending up in prison, where they met and were radicalized by Fouad Belkacem, the former leader of the Brussels terrorist recruiting organization Sharia4Belgium.

State power is also progressively being weakened in large cities and ports. Urban centers harbor lawless enclaves that are exploited by criminals, terrorists, militants, and bandits. In so-called feral cities, such as Mogadishu, Caracas, Ciudad Juárez, and Raqqa, governments have lost their ability to govern or maintain the rule of law. To build up more resilience in cities, the U.N. launched the Strong Cities Network (SCN) in September 2015.

While terrorists have created insecurity in the real world for decades, there has been a significant paradigm shift for the last 15 years: terrorists are now engaged in the world’s greatest open space, the internet. ISIS’s growing global influence marks the first time in history that a terrorist group has held sway in both the real and virtual worlds. Cyberspace has become a new domain for violence. It is used to project force with videos of torture and assassinations as well as to recruit.

In cyberspace, extremist groups’ greatest success is their ability to use propaganda in a strategic way to entice fighters and followers. ISIS uses the digital world to create an idealized version of itself, a reality show that is designed to find resonance and meaning among its diverse supporters. For the adventure seeker, it broadcasts its military power and violence; for those looking for a home, job, refuge, religious fulfillment, or meaning in life, it uses this medium to present an idyllic world by depicting the caliphate as a peaceful, benevolent state committed to helping the poor. ISIS maintains a successful media wing, Al-Furqan, which includes over 36 separate media offices. Together, they produce hundreds of videos, as well as Roumiay (formerly Dabiq), ISIS’s online propaganda magazine. A study by RAND found that ISIS supporters sent over six million tweets from July 2014-May, 2015.

More than 40,000 foreign fighters from over 120 countries have flooded into Syria since the start of the country’s civil war, including 6,900 from the West, the vast majority of whom joined ISIS. The group is dependent on recruits from Europe for significant funding. It advises aspiring fighters to raise funds before leaving to join ISIS. European recruits’ moneymaking schemes include petty theft, as well as defrauding public institutions and service providers. British foreign fighters committed large-scale fraud by pretending to be police officers and targeting U.K. pensioners for their bank details, earning more than US$1.8 million before being apprehended.

ISIS has also been successful at using cybercrime to fund itself. It advises fighters on how to transfer funds through money service businesses, pre-paid debit cards, Apple Wallet, informal money transfer systems (hawala), and Dark Wallet, a dark web app that claims to anonymize bitcoin transactions. ISIS also instructs its followers to use the internet to acquire weapons. Cells planning attacks in Europe and ‘lone wolves’ are increasingly turning to the dark web to obtain weapons: 57 people were arrested in France in 2015 for buying firearms over the internet.

The recent increase in global terrorism can be explained by several factors that have converged: war, religious and ethnic conflict, corrosive governments, weak militaries, failing states, and the growth of information technology. However, one of the most important developments is the increasing collaboration between criminal and terrorist networks. While political motives drove criminals used to focus only on revenue generation and terrorists, we are currently witnessing a convergence of terrorism and crime. These new hybrid groups are driven by both, revenue generation and political motives, resulting in criminal and terrorist groups with historically unprecedented resources and transgressive aims. The consequence of this expanding threat can be measured by how terrorist groups have increased their sphere of influence worldwide. Below are other examples of terrororism that is occuring around the world.

Geospatial Intelligence

Geospatial technology is used heavily in geopolitical conflicts within the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, and the Department of Homeland Security, and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to name a few. The video on the right is a section of the Geospatial Revolution, Episode 3 that focuses on war and conflict.

Geospatial technology can also be used for humanitarian efforts as a way to end conflict or monitor situations before they escalate. One organization, called the Satellite Sentinal Project, was created by The Enough Project and the largest private satellite imagery corporation called Maxar (formally called Digital Globe). The organization was first used satellite imagery from satellite imagery and Google Earth to monitor potential humanitarian conflicts along the border of Sudan and the newly created South Sudan. Now it is using satellite imagery to track poachers who use the money from the black market to fund civil wars like the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

4.3 International Relations

The study and practice of international relations have led international relations scholars to suggest different ways that states might and should behave about their neighbors around the world.

Theories of International Relations


Realism suggests that states should and do look out for their interests first. Realism presumes that states are out for themselves first and foremost. The world is, therefore, a dangerous place; a state has to look out for No. 1 and prepare for the worst. When George W. Bush convinced the U.S. Congress that he should send in U.S. soldiers into Iraq in 2003 and take out Saddam Hussein, this was realism in action. Realism suggests that international relations are driven by competition between states, and states therefore do and should try to further their interests. What matters, then, is how much economic and military power a state has. When your neighbor misbehaves, you cannot call the police.

Classical realists, say this is just human nature. People, by nature, are at some level greedy and insecure and behave accordingly. So even if you are not greedy and insecure, you have to behave that way, because that is the game. Structural realists say it is more about how the world is organized—an anarchic system creates the Hobbesian state of nature, referring to the 16th century English philosopher who justified the existence of the state by comparing it to a somewhat hypothetical “state of nature,” a war of all against all. So states should seek peace, but prepare for war.

This tends to make national security look like a zero-sum game: Anything I do to make myself more secure tends to make you feel less secure, and vice versa. A realist might counter that a balance of power between states, in fact, preserves the peace, by raising the cost of any aggression to an unacceptable level.

Realists argue that war, at some point, is inevitable. Anarchy persists, and it is not going away anytime soon.


Liberalism suggests in fact, states can peacefully co-exist, and that states are not always on the brink of war. Liberal scholars point to the fact that despite the persistence of armed conflict, most nations are not at war most of the time. Most people around the world do not get up and start chanting “Death to America!” and trying to figure out who they can bomb today. Liberalism argues that relations between nations are not always a zero-sum game. A zero-sum game is one in which any gain by one player is automatically a loss by another player. My gains in security, for example, do not make you worse off, and your gains in anything do not make me worse off. The liberal theory also points to the fact that despite the condition of anarchy in the world, most nations are not at war, most of the time. So the idea that international relations must be conducted as though one were always under the threat of attack is not necessarily indicative of reality.

There are different flavors of liberalism. Liberal institutionalism puts some faith in the ability of global institutions to eventually coax people into getting along as opposed to going to war. Use of the United Nations, for example, as a forum for mediating and settling the dispute, will eventually promote respect for the rule of international law in a way that parallels respect for the law common in advanced democracies. Liberal commercialism sees the advance of global commerce as making less likely. War is not very profitable for most people, and it is not suitable for the economy. Liberal internationalism trades on the idea that democracies are less likely to make war than are dictatorships, if only because people can say no, either in legislatures or in elections. Consider that public protest in the U.S. helped end U.S. involvement in Vietnam – that kind of thing does not always happen in non-democratic states although it can. Argentina’s misadventures in Las Malvinas – the Falkland Islands – led to protests that brought down a longstanding military dictatorship and restored democracy to the nation in 1982. Together, these three are sometimes called the Kantian triangle, after the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), who outlined them in a 1795 essay, Perpetual Peace.

The liberal argument that states can learn to get along is somewhat supported by the work of Robert Axelrod’s publication, The Evolution of Cooperation, who used an actual experiment involving a lot of players and the prisoner’s dilemma game to show how people and perhaps states could learn to cooperate. The prisoner’s dilemma is a relatively simple game that is useful for understanding various parts of human behavior. In this game, you have two players, both prisoners. Each player has two choices: Defect to the authorities and rat out the other player in exchange for a reduced sentence, or cooperate with the other player and go free. If the players each defect they get 1 point apiece; if they cooperate, they get 3 points apiece. If, however, one player cooperates and the other defects, the defector gets 5 points, and the cooperator gets zero.

Given that set of constraints, in a realist world, both players defect and score only 1 point each. The best result would be for both to cooperate, go free, and generate the most points between them. In the Axelrod experiment, the game was iterated or repeated, so that in a round-robin featuring dozens of players, each player played the other player multiple times. The players were all notable game theorists, and each devised a particular strategy in an attempt to win the game. What Axelrod found was the player in his experiment who used a strategy called “tit-for-tat” won. Tit-for-tat began by cooperating and then did whatever the other player did last time in the next round. In a repeated game, which certainly describes relations between states, players eventually learned to cooperate. Axelrod cites real-world examples of where this kind of behavior occurred, such as the German and Allied soldiers in the trenches of World War I, who agreed at various times not to shoot each other, or to shell incoming shipments of food. As the soldiers came to understand that they would be facing each other for some time, refraining from killing each other meant that they all got to live.


Constructivism is another and also interesting way of looking at international relations. It may tell us more about why things are happening the way they do, but somewhat less about what we should do about it. Constructivism argues that culture, social structures, and human, institutional frameworks matter. Constructivism relies in part on the theory of the social construction of reality, which says that whatever reality is perceived to be, for the most part, people have invented it. Of course, if the theory were entirely true, then the very idea of the social construction of reality would also be socially constructed, and therefore potentially untrue. To the extent that reality is socially constructed, people can make choices. Hence the constructivist argument is, in part, that while the world system is indeed a form of anarchy, that does not demand a realist response to foreign policy. People can choose to otherwise. So constructivists might argue that the end of the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union was at least in part a decision by Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev to change his thinking. He attempted then to ratchet down tensions with the U.S. and to liberalize Soviet society. The fact that the Soviet Union promptly disintegrated does not change that.


Realism, liberalism, and constructivism may be the three most prominent theories of international relations, but they are by no means the only ones or the most important. Feminist scholars look at international relations through the prism of gender relations, noting that for much of human history, women have been relegated to a sideline role in politics and government. This is not wise: More than half the people in the world are women.

Nonetheless, males have dominated both the study and practice of international relations, but feminist scholars note that women’s roles as wives, mothers, and workers have made all of that possible. Also, a female perspective on foreign policy might be different. Feminist theory sometimes argues that having more women in positions of power could change things, as women may be more likely to believe peace through international cooperation is possible.

Feminist international relations theory has variants, of course. Liberal feminism wants to ensure that women have the same opportunities in society as do men, so that means liberal in the broader sense of general support for democratic capitalism. Critical feminism, on the other hand, sees capitalism as the source of women’s oppression, and seeks to create new structures for society. Cultural or essentialist feminism stresses the differences in how women view and think about the world. It argues that women’s approach to the world would be more likely to bring peace and avoid conflict.

As usual, there is probably some kernel of truth in all of these ideas, and places where we could find cases that contradict these notions. Clearly, for example, women tend to be less involved in violent crime, and women in some parts of the world are being sold into slavery and prostitution, where their lives are primarily controlled by men. On the other hand, it was a female politician, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who marshaled her country’s military to go to war with Argentina and reclaim the Falkland Islands in 1982. However, while history is full of valiant female warriors and influential leaders – from the Trung sisters and Trieu Thi Trinh of Vietnam, to Joan of Arc, and Queen Elizabeth I – they are much less common than are men famous for their conquering exploits. Moreover, the women warriors, generally, are famous for having defended their homelands as opposed to conquering somebody else’s. While some men have felt threatened by the rise of feminism in the last 60 years, it is an opportunity to look at the world in a slightly different way, perhaps shedding some light on why things happen the way they do.


Neo-Marxists look at international relations through the perspective of our old friend Karl Marx. Remember that Marx saw the world in terms of its productive relations, so that how we organize production determines social and political relations as well. The neo-Marxist theory applies this to international relations, and tends to argue that capitalism drives states to compete and attempt to dominate each other.

For example, under the variant known as Marxism-Leninism, named after the Russian revolutionary leader, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (1870–924), world relations are defined by the desire for industrial nations to develop both sources of raw materials and markets for finished products (what Lenin called the core and the periphery). Lenin was writing at a time when most of Africa had been carved into colonies by the European powers, and the British Empire still stretched from Africa to India to Hong Kong, so there was some evidence for what he was saying. The collapse of the Soviet empire and China’s turning away from purely Marxist economics has taken some of the steam out of the Marxian railroad of history, and we may not agree with Marx and Lenin’s suggestion that a socialist dictatorship is a necessary step on the road to nirvana. However, it could be wrong to reject their analysis altogether. Economic problems and conflicts do continue to inform international relations, and states to continue to try to acquire raw materials as well as markets for finished goods. China, for example, is investing heavily in Africa to lock up supplies of minerals for its growing manufacturing sector. The Chinese are not always the best employers. To the extent that they mistreat African workers, the states where this happens will face the competing demands of a big country that is paying them much money for resources, and the needs of its citizens who work for the Chinese.

Neo-Marxists might point to this an example of where liberal commercialism is just the capitalist class protecting its own. China is nominally still a communist state, but its economic system is much more a sort of state-sponsored capitalism. Capitalism, Neo-Marxists argue, in its relentless quest for rising profits, leads to the degradation and impoverishment of workers. The realist explanation of U.S. policy about Central America is that the U.S. propped up right-wing dictatorships there because they opposed communism. The other explanation was that U.S. commercial interests, such as the United Fruit Company, pushed to maintain their stranglehold on the banana industry. This helped lead, for example, to a CIA-sponsored coup in Guatemala 1954. The company had convinced the U.S. government that the democratically elected Guatemalan president was pro-Soviet. What is known for sure is that he was promising to redistribute land to Guatemalan peasants, which would have threatened the company’s monopoly on the banana trade.

In the view of neo-Marxist analysis, the Cold war was about the threat to U.S. business interests. The same would be true for the first and second Gulf Wars, with the U.S. fighting Iraq in part to preserve access to Middle Eastern oil. The United States intervened when Iraq invaded Kuwait much more quickly than it intervened in the former Yugoslavia, when Serbs were killing Bosnian Moslems in much higher numbers than Iraqis were killing Kuwaitis. Neo-Marxism also is a realist in its orientation, since it presumes that conflict and potential between states is the reality of international affairs. However, in their eyes, that conflict is driven by the conflict between business interests and workers.

International Institutions

Even as the Cold War dragged on, the nations of the world created international forums for attempting to address disputes between nations. World War I, the war to end all wars, as it was known at the time, prompted the victors to create an international body known as the League of Nations. At its peak, it included 58 nations, and created several forums for addressing political and economic issues. It lasted from 1920 to 1942, and suffered immediately from the failure of the United States to join. The U.S. became somewhat isolationist following World War I, the end of which created only an uneven peace and seemed to foster as many problems as it solved.

Nonetheless, the league represented the high point of interwar idealism, built on a belief that nations could talk instead of shoot, and that diplomacy would solve more problems than would bombs. Despite its best intentions, it was mostly powerless, and the member nations failed to act when Italy invaded Italy unprovoked in 1935. The league effectively collapsed with the start of World War II.

Following the end of the war, however, the nations gathered to try it again, creating the United Nations in 1947. The U.N., headquartered in New York City, declared its support in its charter for a broad range of human rights, and attempted to provide a multilateral forum for talking things out. Although every member nation gets one vote, a certain number of decisions must be funneled through the 15-member Security Council, which consists of five permanent members, including the United States, France, China, the Russia Federation (formerly the Soviet Union), and the United Kingdom. The other ten members are elected by the General Assembly to two-year terms, with each region of the globe represented on the council.

The five permanent members each have veto power, and can block action by the council. Also, since the members are often taking what can only be described as a realist perspective on their approach to foreign policy, Russia may seek to block concerted action in war-torn Syria, where it has interests, just as the U.S. will block U.N. resolutions to condemn Israel’s handling of the Palestinian question. Which is, in case you have missed it, whether there will ever be a fully sovereign Palestinian state. The Security Council’s permanent membership is overwhelmingly white and western. One suggestion has been to add Brazil, India, Germany and Japan (sometimes called the G-4) as permanent members, plus perhaps one African and one Arab state. The existing permanent members have not exactly jumped on that bandwagon, as doing so would reduce their power on the council. The U.S. supports adding Japan and perhaps India; the Chinese oppose adding Japan. Great Britain and France have supported adding the entire G-4.

The U.N., through its member nations and its various branches, has had some success. Member nations have contributed combat troops for peacekeeping missions, which attempt to separate belligerent groups in one country or region to forestall all-out war. It has in fact, since its inception, negotiated 172 peace settlements that have prevented all-out war in various parts of the world. U.N.-led efforts, via the World Health Organization, to stamp out various diseases have met with some success, a few nations will object to efforts to end deadly diseases such as smallpox. U.N. cultural efforts have probably also helped preserve important historical sites all over the world, and have at least underscored the importance of preserving some of our shared past. So while the U.N. has not managed to end the war, it has not been an abject failure.

One of the essential documents that came from the United Nations is called the Declaration of Human Rights (  Based on the United States Bill of Rights, this declaration declares what rights humans have throughout the world no matter what nation they are a citizen of.

The U.N. includes the International Court of Justice, which has been used to settle disputes between nations. It has 15 justices elected from the U.N. General Assembly, and while the Security Council can enforce its decisions, council members may also veto that action. Consequently, the court has acted with mixed success. In 1984, for example, the court ruled that U.S. efforts in Nicaragua, in fact, violated international law; the U.S. ignored the decision. In other instances, the court has been able to help solve border disputes between nations. Special courts also have been established by the U.N. to try war criminals from conflicts in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.

Other international organizations have had some impact globally, particularly in economic areas. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have attempted to spur economic developments and end poverty, with decidedly mixed results. Critics abound on both the left and the right. Conservative critics say they waste too much money; liberal and left critics say it merely helps cement the economic dominance of the western world. Sometimes they fund projects that make sense, such as wastewater treatment projects around the world, while at other times, they support efforts, like digging a canal to flood a seasonal river in Africa to produce fish in the desert, manage only to produce the most expensive fish in the world. Similarly, the World Trade Organization (WTO), which is a forum for resolving trade disputes and for encouraging open trade, is neither all good nor all bad.

Not every intergovernmental organization (IGO) is global in scope. The world is peppered with regional organizations, ranging from the European Union (EU) to the African Union.

The EU is particularly noteworthy. It grew out of the end of World War II, beginning with a customs union to ease trade between Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. From there it grew into trade agreements over coal and steel, to the European Common Market, and finally to the EU in 1993. It now has 27 member states in a political and economic union. While not quite the United States of Europe, it does have an elected parliament with the ability to make some common law for the entire group, and a common currency, the euro. Travel and trade over national borders are considerably eased, and crossing from one EU state to another is now little more complicated than crossing from one U.S. state to another.

No other intergovernmental organization is quite that extensive. For example, ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Countries, has ten member states and focuses on promoting economic development and shared expertise and resources. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is a relic of the Cold War. Initially created to help forestall Soviet aggression in Europe, it remains a mutual defense pact between the U.S., Canada and much of Europe. An attack on one member is regarded as an attack on all, so that the U.S. response to 9.11 was in fact at NATO response.

To the extent that international institutions work at all, it is because nations adhere to what the institutions say. While a hard-line realist perspective would encourage ignoring the U.N. or the WTO, a liberal perspective would suggest that nations go along if only because it is in their interest for others to do the same. A nation cannot very well expect another nation to observe the rule of law if it does not do so itself. International law, therefore, works because of reciprocity—each state expects the others to behave the same way, so it adheres to the law to encourage others to do the same.

The United Nations

The United Nations (UN), headquartered in New York City in 1949, is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace. The UN was founded in 1945 after World War II to replace the League of Nations, to stop wars between countries, and to provide a platform for dialogue. It contains multiple subsidiary organizations to carry out its missions.

Replacing the League of Nations

The League of Nations failed to prevent World War II (1939–1945). Because of the widespread recognition that humankind could not afford a third world war, the United Nations was established to replace the flawed League of Nations in 1945. The League of Nations formally dissolved itself on April 18, 1946, and transferred its mission to the United Nations: to maintain international peace and promote cooperation in solving international economic, social, and humanitarian problems.

Creation of the United Nations

The earliest concrete plan for a new world organization was begun under the aegis of the U.S. State Department in 1939. Franklin D. Roosevelt first coined the term ‘United Nations’ as a term to describe the Allied countries. The term was first officially used on January 1, 1942, when 26 governments signed the Atlantic Charter, pledging to continue the war effort.

On April 25, 1945, the UN Conference on International Organization began in San Francisco, attended by 50 governments and several non-governmental organizations involved in drafting the United Nations Charter. The UN officially came into existence on October 24, 1945, upon ratification of the Charter by the five then-permanent members of the Security Council – France, the Republic of China, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States – and by a majority of the other 46 signatories. The first meetings of the General Assembly, with 51 nations represented, and the Security Council, took place in London in January 1946. Since then, the UN’s aims and activities have expanded to make it the archetypal international body in the early 21st century.

UN Peacekeeping

The United Nations Peacekeeping began in 1948. Its first mission was in the Middle East to observe and maintain the ceasefire during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Since then, United Nations peacekeepers have taken part in a total of 63 missions around the globe, 17 of which continue today. The peacekeeping force as a whole received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1988.

Though the term “peacekeeping” is not found in the United Nations Charter, the authorization is generally considered to lie in (or between) Chapter 6 and Chapter 7. Chapter 6 describes the Security Council’s power to investigate and mediate disputes, while Chapter 7 discusses the power to authorize economic, diplomatic, and military sanctions, as well as the use of military force, to resolve disputes. The founders of the UN envisioned that the organization would act to prevent conflicts between nations and make future wars impossible; however, the outbreak of the Cold War made peacekeeping agreements extremely difficult due to the division of the world into hostile camps. Following the end of the Cold War, there were renewed calls for the UN to become the agency for achieving world peace, and the agency’s peacekeeping dramatically increased, authorizing more missions between 1991 and 1994 than in the previous 45 years combined.

During the Cold War

Throughout the Cold War, the tensions on the UN Security Council made it challenging to implement peacekeeping measures in countries and regions seen to relate to the spread or containment of leftist and revolutionary movements. While some conflicts were separate enough from the Cold War to achieve consensus support for peacekeeping missions, most were too deeply enmeshed in the global struggle.

Though the UN’s primary mandate was peacekeeping, the division between the US and USSR often paralyzed the organization, generally allowing it to intervene only in conflicts distant from the Cold War. In 1956, the first UN peacekeeping force was established to end the Suez Crisis; however, the UN was unable to intervene against the USSR’s simultaneous invasion of Hungary following that country’s revolution. In 1960, the UN deployed United Nations Operation in the Congo (UNOC), the most significant military force of its early decades, to bring order to the breakaway State of Katanga, restoring it to the control of the Democratic Republic of the Congo by 1964.

The UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP), begun in 1964, attempted to end the conflict between the ethnic Greeks and Turks on the island and prevent wider conflict between NATO members Turkey and Greece. A second observer force, UNIPOM, was also dispatched, in 1965 to the areas of the India-Pakistan border that were not being monitored by the earlier mission, UNMOGIP, after a ceasefire in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965. Neither of these disputes was seen to have Cold War or ideological implications.

There was one exception to the rule. In the Mission of the Representative of the Secretary-General in the Dominican Republic (DOMREP), 1965–1966, the UN authorized an observer mission in a country where ideological factions were facing off. However, the mission was only initiated after the US intervened unilaterally in a civil war between leftist and conservative factions. The US had consolidated its hold and invited a force of the Organization of American States (dominated by US troops) to keep the peace. The mission was approved mainly because the Americans presented it as fait accompli and because the UN mission was not a full peacekeeping force. It included only two observers at any time and left the peacekeeping to another international organization. It was the first time the UN operated in this manner with a regional bloc.

The UN also assisted with two decolonization programs during the Cold War. In 1960, the UN sent ONUC to help facilitate the decolonization of the Congo from Belgian control. It stayed on until 1964 to help maintain stability and prevent the breakup of the country during the Congo Crisis. In West New Guinea from 1962 to 1963, UNSF maintained law and order while the territory was transferred from Dutch colonial control to Indonesia.

After the Cold War

With the decline of the Soviet Union and the advent of perestroika, the Soviet Union drastically decreased its military and economic support for several “proxy” civil wars around the globe. It also withdrew its support from satellite states and one UN peacekeeping mission, UNGOMAP, was designed to oversee the Pakistan–Afghanistan border and the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan as the USSR began to refocus domestically. In 1991, the USSR dissolved into 15 independent states. Conflicts broke out in two former Soviet Republics, the Georgian–Abkhazian conflict in Georgia and civil war in Tajikistan, which were eventually policed by UN peacekeeping forces, UNOMIG, and UNMOT respectively.

With the end of the Cold War, several nations called for the UN to become an organization of world peace and do more to encourage the end to conflicts around the globe. The end of political gridlock in the Security Council helped the number of peacekeeping missions increased substantially. In a new spirit of cooperation, the Security Council established more substantial and more complex UN peacekeeping missions. Furthermore, peacekeeping came to involve more and more non-military elements that ensured the proper operation of civic functions, such as elections. The UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations was created in 1992 to support the increased demand for such missions. Several missions were designed to end civil wars in which competing sides had been sponsored by Cold War players.

The end of the Cold War in the early 1990s changed the foreign policy equation radically. Gone, or at least significantly reduced, was the nuclear standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union. It has been replaced by a somewhat multipolar world, in which the United States is the dominant military power, but finds itself among competing for power centers in Europe, China, India, and Russia, with radical change occurring in the Middle East and North Africa, potential conflicts with Iran, and the threat of global terrorism a reality since the tragedies of 9–11.

So while this is a world still defined by anarchy, it is not a world that appears to sit on the edge of some version of World War III. The issues that define foreign policy may have more to do with resource allocation and environmental protection than with negotiating a nuclear standoff. So the end of the Cold War coincided with and perhaps accelerated the rise of other organizations who are now players in the field of international relations. While some of these institutions grew out of the end of World War II, their role in the world perhaps been magnified since the 1990s.

Globalization and the Political Landscape

The question of modern world politics exists in the context of globalization: politically, economically, and culturally. In response to the acceleration of interdependence on a worldwide scale, both between human societies and between humankind and the environment, several entities designed to facilitate cooperation among world nations have been created. This “global governance” may also be used to name the process of designating laws, rules, or regulations intended for a global scale.

Global governance is not a world government, and even less democratic globalization. Global governance would not be necessary; was there a world government. The definition is flexible enough to apply whether the subject in general (e.g., global security and order) or specific (e.g., the World Health Organization’s Code on the Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes). Therefore, global governance is thought to be an international process of consensus-forming, which generates guidelines and agreements that affect national governments and international corporations or supranational.

The idea of global governance began to take shape early in the twentieth century. International relations became a high priority as the world rebounded from two world wars. The question of the day was, “Can the world survive World War III?” To address this question, the United Nations was formed shortly after World War II.

Issues of war are not the only things addressed within a global governance context. Other objectives which are addressed by global cooperative organizations are economics (World Bank, International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organization), environmental management (United Nations Environmental Program, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), and science and technological advances (World Trade Organization, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).

Some organizations are opposed to global governance because they perceive it as an excuse for world leaders to spread capitalism despite the cost to human rights. They believe that international agreements and global financial institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organization, undermine local decision-making. Corporations that use these institutions to support their own corporate and financial interests can exercise privileges that individuals and small businesses cannot, including the ability to move freely across borders, extract natural resources, and take advantage of human resources (such as low wages and child labor).

In light of the economic gap between rich and emerging countries, anti-globalists claim that free trade without measures to protect the environment and the health and wellbeing of workers will merely increase the power of industrialized nations and cause the decline of many developing nations. Specifically, corporations are accused of seeking to maximize profit at the expense of work safety conditions and standards, labor hiring and compensation standards, environmental conservation principles, and the integrity of national legislative authority, independence, and sovereignty.

Right or wrong, globalization is a fact of life. For example, consider the creation of the “global” scale. It is common now to think about problems having “global” significance and to look for policies to be implemented at a “global” level to solve them. However, the global scale did not exist until the age of European exploration, beginning in the late 1400s. Rapid advances communication, transportation, technology, health, and science, all uniquely human creations, have led people to increasingly see the world as an abstract sphere that can be fought over and divided up. The COVID-19 pandemic is an excellent example of globalization and how the world had to address a common “enemy.”

4.4 Challenges to Nation-States

In the world in which we live, the globe is divided up into sovereign nations. Remember that a sovereign state is one in which the state in the form of the government is the highest earthly power – there is no place to appeal a decision of the state except the state itself. So a sovereign state has defined borders that are respected by its neighbors, and control over its territory. In this part of the discussion, when we use the term “the state,” we mean a sovereign nation, not a political subdivision such as a U.S. or Mexican state. States in federal systems such as the U.S. and Mexico are formally referred to as sovereign states, but they are still ultimately dominated by national governments.

Moreover, this is where the challenges of international relations begin. In much of our discussion of politics, it is presumed that the state holds power and uses it as the people who control the state see fit. The power may be divided into different branches and levels of government, or not divided; through mechanisms such as elections, different people may assume power and state policies may change as a result of those elections. This presumption of a kind of state and a kind of allocation of power casts the study and practice of politics in a particular light. There is a way to resolve disputes; ultimately, somebody has the power to say yes or no and, absent violent revolution; everybody has to go along. However, in a world of genuinely sovereign states, which recognize no higher authority than themselves, the system is best described as anarchy.

A sovereign state is said to be the ultimate authority within its boundaries, borders that are respected by its neighbors. The government is legitimate in the eyes of the citizens, who generally obey the law. The United States is a sovereign nation; so are France and Indonesia. Most of the 195 recognized nations on earth are, in fact, sovereign nations.

Somalia, on the east coast of Africa, is not quite. The nation is currently divided into three parts. First is the former legitimate government of Somalia, which controls very little of the country, mostly in the south, and is beset by various warlords and religious factions. In the middle is a functioning state calling itself Puntland, which does not seek independence from Somalia but, at this point, might as well be. In the north is a state calling itself Somaliland, which is mainly functioning as a sovereign nation although few other countries currently recognize it as such.

This world of sovereign states came together in a treaty called the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. That treaty ended the 30 Years War, literally a three-decade-long conflict between Catholic and Protestant rulers and their subjects that tore apart what is now Germany and caused widespread suffering across Europe. Throughout history, people have found creative and largely pointless reasons for killing each other. However, the upshot of the treaty was that states had a right to order their affairs, in this case, the most northern, Protestant principalities of Germany and what was then called the Holy Roman Empire. The treaty, in effect, created the notion of sovereignty as an acknowledged fact of international law and diplomacy, and the Europeans exported the idea from there to the rest of the world.

European colonialism, as when the European nation-states carved up Africa at the end of the 1800s, forced sovereignty onto sometimes disparate groups of people that had previously been more or less sovereign nations in their parts of the continent. Only two African states – Liberia, which had been carved out earlier in the century by freed American slaves, and Ethiopia, which had been successfully fending off invaders for a thousand years—survived the onslaught. Although Africa had long been home to several substantial kingdoms and empires, the Europeans by the late 1800s had taken a technological leap forward that allowed them to conquer the continent in a few decades. The redrawing of the African map lumped together with groups of people who had previously been part of different states, creating political challenges when the Europeans were forced out after World War II.

A world comprising sovereign states means that there is no overarching world power that can tell them what to do. Why not, then, a world government to sort everything out? First, most if not all the sovereign states would have to agree, and both political leaders and ordinary citizens tend to dislike having someone else tell them what to do. The farther away from that someone is, the less they like it. Visions of black helicopters and invading U.N. troops were the stuff of many Americans’ paranoid nightmares in the 1970s and 1980s, despite the lack of any reality to this fear. Even if such a government could be established, the variety and diversity of the world would make it very difficult to rule, even in a highly democratic state. A world government would have to keep control and settle local and regional disputes, becoming, in the process, as despotic as the states it replaces, if not more so.

So, what we are left with are a lot of sovereign states, and a world system that is based on that single fact. Moreover, as there is no referee or overarching power, one state can erase another, as when Prussia and Russia effectively erased Poland, once the most significant state in Europe, from the map in 1795. The Poles, and their language, culture, and traditions remained, but the Polish state did not reappear until 1918. This does not mean that a state can act without consequence. When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, states from around the world united in the effort to drive the Iraqis out and re-establish Kuwaiti sovereignty. Later in the same decade, Europeans and Americans joined to end ethnic cleansing in what was then Yugoslavia. So no state operates in a vacuum.

What remained of Poland after its 18th-century partition, and what most defines a place such as Somalia today, is a nation. In the precise terminology of international relations, a state has defined borders, but a nation has a cultural, linguistic, or ethnic similarity among a group of people. A nation is a sense of community among a group of people; that group of people may want to control themselves politically and become a nation as well. So, for example, the Kurds, of whom around 30 million live in the Middle East, are a nation but not a state. They are divided chiefly between Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran, comprising the largest single ethnic group in the world without its state. Kurdish separatists have fought for independence in Turkey, and all but carved out a sovereign state in the north of Iraq. However, at the moment, the Kurds remain a nation, and not quite a state.

Sometimes, we speak of a nation-state, an entity that combines elements of both these things. The United States, perhaps alone among the states of the world, is a nation based on ideology rather than an ethnicity. Still, the U.S. is sometimes given to nationalism, a sense of how to act and think, a sense of right and wrong, and a sense of separateness from others that includes a sentimental attachment to one’s homeland. Americans are not unique in this regard, but do tend to exhibit it more than others. This is sometimes called American exceptionalism, or the belief that the United States is unlike other states and in fact, has a unique destiny in the world. All states are unique in their ways. Whether the U.S. has a unique role to play is for you to decide.

Sometimes the system is dominated by a hegemon—a single state that is powerful enough to exert some influence on world politics. Hegemony means leadership or dominance of one person or state over others. In the case of international relations, Great Britain exercised a degree of global hegemony in the 1800s; the United States has exercised a similar role in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. However, a hegemon is not all-powerful, and the price of maintaining hegemony can be very high. Consequently, states are either striving for hegemony, or a balance of power, so that no hegemon arises. The anarchic system is world politics is, in fact, anti-hegemonic, as it resists attempts by anyone power to take over the whole world.

States interact through diplomacy, international law, and war. The Prussian military strategist Carl von Clausewitz (1780–1831) referred to war as “War is merely the continuation of policy by other means.” Clausewitz was not completely a warmonger, so his famous quote probably should not be taken to mean that he thought it was OK to go on the warpath. However, in contemporary international politics, war can be seen as the failure of policy, given the extraordinarily high cost of modern warfare.

To that end, states often prefer to find other ways to solve disputes. For that reason, states pay some attention to international law, which seeks to constrain the behavior of states. International law exists through treaties and agreements negotiated by states, and through rule-making mechanisms in multinational agencies and groups. They also attempt, through diplomacy, to try to convince other states to make choices that will be beneficial to the state, the region, or the world. Diplomacy works when both sides are rational, in the sense that they each have some understanding of their self-interest.

Israel and Palestine

The story of the Israel and Palestine conflict goes back thousands of years and is rooted in religious and cultural differences. However, today’s modern conflict is more than just about religion; it is about water, natural resources, land use, infrastructure, and Israeli settlements. Many would argue that Israel began following World War II, when the United Nations partitioned Palestine into Israeli and Palestinian states. Others, especially Jews, believe the story goes back further to early biblical times. They claim that god thousands of years ago gave them the land.

There is a growing debate around the world about needs to be done to end the conflict between the people of Israel and Palestine. There are three options: 1) create a “two-state solution” where the Israeli people keep most of Israel, but give the Palestinians the West Bank and possibly Gaza Strip, 2) integrate Palestinians into Israel and legal citizens which would make them the majority within Israel, 3) keep a segregation between Israelis and Palestinians as it currently exists and be considered an apartheid by the global community.

Collective Military Force

A collective military force is what arises when countries decide that it is in their best interest to pool their militaries in order to achieve a common goal. The use of collective military force in the global environment involves two primary concepts: collective security and collective defense. These concepts are similar but not identical.

Collective Security

Collective security can be understood as a security arrangement, regional or global, in which each state in the system accepts that the security of one is the concern of all, and agrees to join in a collective response to threats to, and breaches of, the peace. Collective security is more ambitious than collective defense in that it seeks to encompass the totality of states within a region or indeed globally, and to address a wide range of possible threats.

Collective security is achieved by setting up an international cooperative organization, under the auspices of international law. This gives rise to a form of international collective governance, albeit limited in scope and effectiveness. The collective security organization then becomes an arena for diplomacy.

The UN and Collective Security

The UN is often provided as the primary example of collective security. By employing a system of collective security, the UN hopes to dissuade any member state from acting in a manner likely to threaten peace, thereby avoiding any conflict.

Collective Defense

Collective defense is an arrangement, usually formalized by a treaty and an organization, among participant states that commit support in defense of a member state if it is attacked by another state outside the organization.

NATO and Collective Defense

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is the best known collective defense organization. Its now-famous Article V calls on (but does not fully commit) member states to assist another member under attack. This article was invoked after the September 11 attacks on the United States, after which other NATO members assisted in the US War on Terror in Afghanistan. As a global military and economic superpower, the US has taken charge of leading many of NATO’s initiatives and interventions.

Benefits and Drawbacks to Collective Defense

Collective defense entails benefits as well as risks. On the one hand, by combining and pooling resources, it can reduce any single state’s cost of providing adequately for its security. Smaller members of NATO, for example, have leeway to invest a more significant proportion of their budget on non-military priorities, such as education or health, since they can count on other members to come to their defense, if needed.

On the other hand, collective defense also involves risky commitments. Member states can become embroiled in costly wars in which neither the direct victim nor the aggressor benefit. In the First World War, countries in the collective defense arrangement known as the Triple Entente (France, Britain, Russia) were pulled into war quickly when Russia started full mobilization against Austria-Hungary, whose ally Germany subsequently declared war on Russia.

Modern Influences on the Political Landscape

It has been argued that the fall of communism and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 caused the most substantial geopolitical upheaval since World War II, dramatically changing the political map and the world balance of power. The disbanding of Cold War alliances led to the creation of 15 independent states including, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine. In the past twenty-five years, these sweeping geopolitical changes resulted in a dramatic shift from military power to economic power. For example, Russia lost significant economic power after the fall of the Soviet Union. However, oil is an abundant natural resource in Russian, and as the price of oil increases, the Russian economy has begun to rebound. This rebound has provided vast amounts of money to rebuild their infrastructure, military, and economy and has thus dramatically improved their influence in the world.

As Russia’s economy has grown, so has the desire to reunite many former USSR states under Russian rule. In 2014, during civil unrest in Ukraine, Russia moved troops into the Crimean Peninsula, telling the world community that it was to protect the nation’s cultural and economic interests in the region. Considering the conflict from a spatial perspective makes it easier to understand why this region is so important to Russia.

Located on the Northern Coast of the Black Sea, Crimea was a Russian territory until 1954 when it was given to Ukraine by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in an attempt to distribute natural resources more equitably in the USSR equally. When the Soviet Union broke up more than thirty years later, Crimea became part of the newly- independent Ukraine rather than Russia. In 2014, it was reported that nearly 60 percent of the population on the Crimean Peninsula still spoke Russian and considered themselves to be ethnic Russians.

Language and culture are only part of the story. Consider this:

  • The Crimean Peninsula has been home to Russia’s the Black Sea naval fleet since the 18th century.
  • The small waterway between Crimea and the Russian mainland is the only access to the Azov Sea, the western heart of Russia’s oil and natural gas distribution to Europe.

Additionally, Russia’s annexation of Crimea has thrown a spotlight on other disputed regions whose unresolved status could be a spark for conflict in the region (Region 4.4). Transnistria is a slim sliver of Moldova that split away from the country as the Soviet Union collapsed and has effectively been a Russian and Ukrainian speaking enclave ever since.

Transnistria residents aspire to join Russia. The Moldovan government has already warned Russia not to attempt a Crimean-style. Other hot spots include Abkhazia, which broke away from Georgia in 1993. South Ossetia has been the subject of an unresolved conflict with Georgia since 1992 and provided Russia justification for a short war with Georgia in 2008. Ethnic Armenians have controlled Nagorno-Karabakh since 1994, despite being claimed by Azerbaijan, and the presence of Russia’s 102nd Military Base in Armenia prompts speculation that Russia could again intervene there. Ethnicity trumps nationality in these areas, and the legacy of mixed communities hitherto part of the Russian Imperial and Soviet empires is coming back to haunt international relations.

Another modern influence on the political landscape comes from the rise in democratic governments. In a democracy, most governments draw up functional regions called electoral districts (or voting districts) to determine who may vote for whom, which a specific government office represents areas and which laws govern the actions of which regions. The smallest American electoral region is the precinct, which, at least in urban areas, is roughly “your neighborhood,” usually consisting of a few city blocks. Citizens may vote only in the precinct assigned to their home address, and this precinct is typically part of multiple, larger, nested electoral districts, like wards, townships, counties, congressional districts, and states. Most of the time, electoral districts have roughly the same number of people in each equivalent district. So for example, in 2011, each of California’s 80 State Assembly Districts had between 461,000 and 470,000 people. Each district has almost the same population as its neighbor. Efforts are made to keep all such districts similarly sized, so when a district loses or gains population, the boundaries must be redrawn to ensure even representation and avoid over, or underrepresentation called malapportionment.

Every ten years, after the decennial U.S. Census is completed, the U.S. Constitution requires electoral districts must be redrawn following the census results. This process, known as political redistricting, involves a great deal of geographic strategizing, and the outcome of this process fundamentally shapes American politics. In most U.S. states, the state legislature controls the redistricting process, and this fact opens the process to unfair political practices. The reason why the political redistricting process is so essential is that elections are heavily influenced by how the boundaries of electoral districts are drawn. Political groups that control the placement of boundaries are far more likely to control who gets elected, which laws get passed, and how tax money is collected and spent.

Each redistricting cycle, politicians in many locations, are accused of purposefully constructing political district boundaries to favor one group (Democrats, Latinos, labor unions, gun advocates, e.g.) over another. The construction of unfair districts is called gerrymandering. The odd term, “Gerrymander,” comes from a newspaper story that characterized the unfair redistricting map of South Essex County in Massachusetts in 1812. The map of the redrawn districts strongly favored Massachusetts’ governor at the time, Elbridge Gerry. The shape of one district was so distorted that reporters suggested it looked like a salamander, thus providing the two words that became the halves of the term used today to describe the process of creating unfair political districts.

There are several different strategies that politicians use to gerrymander districts. Where there is little cooperation between political parties (or other interest groups), politicians may pursue strategies that aggressively seek to limit the political influence of opposition groups.

If the opposition (or ethnic minority) party is small enough, then the controlling group may draw lines through the minority areas, minimizing the opposition’s ability to influence the outcome of elections in as many regions as possible. This process, called cracking, has commonly been used to divide inner-city ethnic minority groups into multiple districts, each dominated numerically by whites. If the opposition grows too numerous to split, then group controlling the redistricting process may draw district lines so that the opposition is dominant in a few districts, or even a single district to minimize the power of the opposition in the overall system. That strategy is called packing. Even a statistical minority can control power by carefully packing the majority group into cleverly drawn district boundaries.

There are dozens of other techniques by which one group can control the political power of others through manipulating election boundaries. However, it is likely that the most common unfairly drawn electoral district is the so-called sweetheart gerrymander drawn up cooperatively by incumbents from opposing political parties in order to help maintain the status quo. This involves drawing up safe districts, which favor one party over the other, ensuring maintenance of the status quo and nearly guaranteeing uncompetitive general elections – the primary elections may still be competitive. The most controversial type of districts are those based on race, and whether minority groups benefit or are harmed by minority-majority districts.

Due to the perceived negative issues associated with gerrymandering and its effect on competitive elections and democratic accountability, numerous countries have enacted reforms making the practice either more difficult or less effective. Countries such as the U.K., Australia, Canada, and most of those in Europe have transferred responsibility for defining constituency boundaries to neutral or cross-party bodies.

Under these systems, an independent, and presumably objective, commission is created specifically for redistricting, rather than having the legislature do it. This is the system used in the United Kingdom, where the independent boundary commissions determine the boundaries for constituencies in the House of Commons and the devolved legislatures, subject to ratification by the body in question (almost always granted without debate). A similar situation exists in Australia, where the independent Australian Electoral Commission and its state-based counterparts determine electoral boundaries for federal, state, and local jurisdictions.

To help ensure neutrality, members of a redistricting agency may be appointed from relatively apolitical sources such as retired judges or longstanding members of the civil service, possibly with requirements for adequate representation among competing political parties. Additionally, members of the board can be denied access to information that might aid in gerrymandering, such as the demographic makeup or voting patterns of the population.