Why geography matters to diplomacy

Vladimir Putin is predictable. Western leaders and diplomats caught on the hop by Russia’s recent military activity should take a closer look at a world map, journalist and author Tim Marshall told a DPAAL meeting at the Canada House.

“Geography matters and Putin has played a blinder,” said Marshall, giving a whistlestop tour of the world’s flashpoints, from Europe to the Middle East and Asia, covered in his latest book, Prisoners of Geography.

Marshall explained the geopolitical reasons behind why Russia annexed Crimea when it felt its access to warm seas could be under threat with Ukraine’s West-facing policy.

Putin’s timing for military strikes in Syria, he said, was linked to Russian fears that Damascus could be cut off from the Russian airfield in Latakia and its naval base in Tartus.

Geography also helps diplomats to understand why Tibet is vital for China’s water supply and why it is building its naval capabilities to secure access to the open sea.

“It’s deterministic,” admitted Marshall, “but geography shapes how a country behaves and it’s an overlooked factor in current affairs.”

Prisoners of Geography – Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need To Know About Global Politics, Tim Marshall, Elliott & Thompson, RRP £16.99