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A Long, Painful Transitional Period Towards New Maps and Countries

A Long, Painful Transitional Period Towards New Maps and Countries

Monday, 16 May, 2022 - 11:45

During a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee a few days ago, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said that “China is working hard to effectively put themselves into a position in which their military is capable of taking Taiwan over our intervention” and that pressure on the island will remain “acute” between now and 2030.


Regardless of this prediction’s accuracy, we are currently seeing the war Russia is waging on Ukraine, which only few of us had expected, unfold. This war, the second in just seven years, came with geographical implications for the east of the country and the island of Crimea. No one knows the final shape that Ukraine’s map will take once the artillery and missiles fall silent.


Another vicious war has been ongoing since 2020 in Ethiopia, and it came with the shocking images of death, hunger, devastation, displacement, drought and desertification that have become familiar in the Horn of Africa. Today, it is said, with plenty of justified skepticism and few concrete guarantees, that the “Humanitarian Truce” announced by Addis Ababa on March 25 will end the conflict. However, the nature of the war, that is, the fact that it is being fought between the country’s central authority and the Tigray region, suggests that the truce could open the door to major changes to the map. Something of the sort cannot be ruled out in Somalia either, Ethiopia’s neighbor with a long history of civil division and strife.


The situation we see in many Arab countries today tells us a lot about maps, and that these countries may not reach the light at the end of their dark tunnels, if they ever do, until their maps are altered.


Syria, Yemen and Libya, which saw popular revolutions being crushed as civil wars and foreign interventions devastated their towns and cities, are examples of this. However, Lebanon and Iraq, where external interference is extremely robust and internal cohesion is extremely brittle, offer two other glaring examples. The calls for federalism, decentralization and other similar frameworks sufficiently demonstrate the insufficiency of the frameworks currently in place.


One could say that we are undergoing a long, painful transitional phase toward new maps. This transition has a particular name; these countries are converted into “arenas”, in which an infinite number of domestic and foreign forces fight among themselves simultaneously. For example, one commentator recently noted that while Israel was also bombing Quneitra in southern Syria, Turkey was bombing Ain al-Arab in northern Syria, and Iran was bombing Erbil in northern Iraq. This is what the stages of this anxious transition look like, and this is the rhythm life takes in its “arenas.”


In fact, reviewing countries’ maps often follows major wars and how those wars engineer a new world: After the First World War, as we well know, empires collapsed, and their vast territories were divided into nascent states. After the Second World War, independent states emerged in the place of colonies. After the Cold War, the Soviet Union and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia collapsed and disintegrated. Czechoslovakia became the Czech Republic and Slovakia once again. Germany, on the other hand, saw its pre-World War II unity restored.


However, the Cold War ending had other implications for our region and those like it that are particularly palpable today. Countries that had been unable to consolidate domestic legitimacy through any other means than exploiting the Cold War’s dynamics and polarization either fell or staggered, and it was not surprising that the term “failed states,” which has been applied across all continents, was coined during this period.


However, for weak states ravaged by a blend of despotism, poverty, and civil strife, this challenge was made even more difficult by the fact that globalization weakened these political bodies and their functions further. The nation-state, which had prevailed around the globe between the mid-1940s and the mid-1980s, is thus no longer the “natural” building block of a political-economic system. As for modernization and the ideas about development that sprung from it (including socialist development), the state is no longer necessarily their locomotive or tool.


The globalization of wealth creation came with neither the globalization of wealth redistribution nor political globalization in the form of global governance. Today, this outcome is most clearly and unambiguously manifested in the weakness of the United Nations, its organizations and agencies.


Moreover, while Cold War conflicts were resolved through conflicting local forces working under the supervision, direct or circuitous, of the two “great powers” who would delegate the task to the United Nations, during the 1990s, the Security Council authorized no less than 40 peacekeeping missions around the globe.


Added to all of this, and as we await the crystallization of the post-Ukrainian war world, are the ramifications of the United States’ laxity in meeting its global responsibilities and the exacerbation of its isolationist tendencies as it walks away from every battle that is not part of the “fight against terror.” Given the way in which we have seen this battle being waged, it will, in all likelihood, exacerbate the rifts and deficiencies of many countries and societies, as well as raise the human costs of curbing this symptom whose causes are overlooked by those fighting it.


In any case, even if we put the millions who have migrated or been displaced aside, we see growing numbers of those who still reside in their countries asking themselves: What will be the name of the country we could find ourselves in tomorrow?


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