Sunday, September 23, 2012

the new world is still mostly the old world

while i love interactive graphics (especially love interactive graphics that involve maps) and i'm a big fan of frank jacobs' "strange maps" blog, i find a lot of these to be really improbable.

mali (#1) could split into two (and already effectively is), but the future of azawad looks pretty dim to me, especially since the people who declared its existence have mostly fled to surrounding refugee camps and the islamists who chased them out don't seem capable of running a country.

belgium (#2) and the congo (D.R.C./former zaire) (#3) are both countries that have been predicted to fracture for quite some time. nevertheless, it hasn't actually happened. i guess either/both breakup is a possibility, but why now? i would also add syria (#5) to that list of possible but not likely breakups from the NYT infographic. not that a breakup of syria has been long discussed. but rather that i don't see an independent alawite state carved out of syria as being very likely.

likewise, an independent kurdistan (#7) has been predicted forever. the only thing new now is the power of iraqi kurdistan within the weakened central iraq state and the chaos in syria. but the syrian kurds don't seem to be taking advantage of the rebellion there and the same strong interest against a real kurdish state among the governments in the region that has kept the kurds stateless for so long. so once again, i don't see it happening now.

the GCC turning into some kind of gulf arab super-state (#6) also seems implausible. the KSA propping up the bahraini monarchy isn't the same as absorbing bahrain and it's gulf arab neighbors into a new arabian super-state. the same local interests that have kept those countries independent from each other for the past 80 years continue to be true today.

same with "greater azerbaijan" (#8), pashtunistan, and baluchistan (#9). these ethnic groups have existed cross border since the borders were drawn. and yet, those borders of azerbaijan (and before that the USSR), pakistan, and afghanistan have been stable, even while each of those countries have experienced all kinds of ethnic turmoil.

china gobbling up siberia (#10) seems like one of those things that map junkies talk about when they're drunk, or russian nationalists use to whip up support. i heard a similar theory in kazakhstan, where people are actually afraid that the chinese horses will march into that big empty country to their west. as if china needs another disputed territory! it has already got its hand full with taiwan, tibet, west turkestan and inner mongolia (also also arguably hong kong and macau).

the idea that the koreas might be reunited (#11) at least has the benefit of being both koreas' official policy. and yet, neither of those governments really want it to happen any time soon. the north (justifiably) believes that reunification would mean the end to their political system. the south (also justifiably) fears the enormous hit to the south korean economy that will come when its government is responsible for the care for 25 million impoverished north koreans who have little chance of being able to pull their economic weight for at least a generation. because the interest of each government is strongly against reunification in the near term, they are both going to try to kick that can down the road for as long as possible. the only serious chance of it happening is if north korea collapses on its own and forces the issue on south korea.

somalia breaking up into somaliland, puntland and whatever they want to call the remaining third (maybe just "somalia") (#4) is the only one i can get fully behind. the country has been a long-term problem for the international community. recognizing the de facto governments and demarcating their borders is a logical way to reduce the size of the chaotic problem of somalia and reducing the piracy problem. (an internationally recognized puntland, for example, would have a much greater incentive to crack down on pirates than an unrecognized government desperate for cash). the international community is very reluctant to recognize changes in borders in africa. but maybe south sudan's independence last year cracked over the door enough for them to consider recognizing what the northern somalis have effectively already done.