GEOG 128
Geography of International Affairs

Messiness, Structure and Peace

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The pursuit of peace is often represented as the goal of geopolitical agents. States consistently represent their actions, even when they take the form of war, as attempts to create peace. But…peace can be defined in different ways and the form of definition is related to the identification of actors and structures. The idea of negative peace, or the absence of violence, can lead to a focus upon states as the only meaningful geopolitical actors (Galtung, 1964). States can agree to end wars, or a strong and victorious state can impose a peace on weaker states. Negotiations between states lead to treaties that impose conditions and behaviors that result in a lack of war, or a condition we call ‘peace.’ However, the lack of overt violence does not necessarily mean a just and sustainable political situation; meaning that we should be aware of the false dichotomy between peace and war (Kirsch and Flint, 2011a). Indeed, a negative peace often requires the construction of spaces and places in which either the power relations that led to war are continued, or new ones are put in place. Negative peace is then another form of geopolitics, the intersection of power and geography. (Flint, 2012, p. 267-268)

In some sense, this paragraph in Flint may summarize many of the key lessons we have gone over this semester. We started our semester watching the film by Basil Davidson, The Scramble for Africa: The Magnificent African Cake. This film discussed the history of the carving up of the continent of Africa by the colonial powers (of Europe). If we bring this process (of the carving up of Africa) into conversation with the quote above, we can see how Africa’s carving can be seen as the creation of a “negative peace” (absence of violence) by Europe. But, as Flint highlights, “the lack of overt violence does not necessarily mean a just and sustainable political situation.” Indeed, the suppression of native African communities by colonial powers, and the eventual uprisings and push for independence in states throughout Africa exemplify how “negative peace often requires the construction of spaces and places in which either the power relations that led to war are continued, or new ones are put in place. Negative peace is then another form of geopolitics, the intersection of power and geography.” (Flint, 2012, p. 268)

One thing that is important to remember as we bring this course and semester to a close is that contemporary geopolitics is built upon a history of power relations between states and other relevant geopolitical actors. To ignore, forget, or dismiss the crucial importance of these historical legacies to current geopolitical code and strategy for each country is foolhardy. We may simply want a peaceful world, but moving towards a positive peace (“a process: a means to resolve conflicts peacefully and transform institutions and behaviors to promote justice and well-being” Flint, 2012, p. 169) takes engaging in a complex understanding of global geopolitics. Hopefully, this course has given you some tools to navigate some of this complexity.

On page 269, Flint explains, “we are all geopoliticians; we participate on a daily basis. We recreate our own national and state structures by acts of reading a ‘national’ newspaper that is organized to talk about ‘them’ in the international section as opposed to ‘us’ in the politics, sports, and weather sections (Billig, 1995).”

We are all geopoliticians. You are all geopoliticians.

You took this course for a variety of reasons. For some, it satisfied a major, minor, or general education requirement. On top of this requirement, you may (or may not) be interested in trying to understand global politics more clearly—either because you have a keen interest in international affairs, or because you recognize that you have a gap in knowledge and understanding and you decided that you wanted to do something about that. For others, there may have been very little interest in global geopolitics and international affairs, but you were attracted to the course because it was an online course and so fit into your schedule (though you may not have realized the amount work an online course really is!).

Whatever your reason, I repeat Flint’s assertion: We (you) are all geopoliticians.

And, as geopoliticians, we all play some part in the making, reinforcing, challenging, resisting, and remaking of global geopolitical beliefs, behaviors, processes and outcomes. In this last chapter, it’s important to highlight that while geopolitical theory and frameworks can attempt to explain, understand, and simplify very complex social, political, cultural, and economic interactions at multiple scales, the on-the-ground realities, embedded identity politics, and socio-cultural and economic integration between the local and the global are messy, uneven, and complex.

Thank you for taking the course. I hope you will find that you involuntarily bring knowledge, skills, and abilities sharpened through this course into your daily life and analysis of contemporary geopolitics.