Re-Drawing the Map

The cartographiles at ComingAnarchy have drawn my attention to a very interesting article by Ralph Peters (I understand this is a theme he returns to in his newest book). In the article Peters attempts to re-draw the map of the Middle East along what he feels are more just and, presumably, more stable lines. Here’s the Middle East as it is now:

And here’s the map as Peters would have it:

Click on either map for an enlarged version.

I won’t attempt a detailed analysis of Peters’s vision of a future Middle East. There are winners and losers. The biggest losers are the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Syria, Iran, and Turkey. Iraq, divided into the Ottoman provinces united following World War I to make up the country, essentially ceases to exist. The biggest winners are the Kurds and Baluchis and the Shi’a Arabs of Iraq, Iran, and the KSA. The Kurds receive the country they were promised by the Treaty of Sevres. And as I read the map the Shi’a Arabs are left with much of the oil and control of the Gulf. I suspect that the Jordanians, nominal winners, would just as soon have walked.

There’s certainly an enormous amount of hubris in such an exercise. I wish that Peters had paid a little more attention to the issues of resources particularly those of oil, water, and transportation. Unless I’m mistaken the new Saudi and Sunni Arab Anwar state are largely without resources.

I think there’s not a chance that such a division would be stable for much the same reasons as there’s an insurgency in Iraq: the losers have little more to lose by resisting.

Many of the questions these maps raise were brought up in the original CA post and the ensuing comments. Are ethnic or sectarian states really more peaceful? Does this map assume an unchecked hand on the part of the United States? Can you actually draw such neat, ethnically and sectarianly divided lines? Or would there be an enormous amount of upheaval?

I have questions of my own.

First, this map does little to balance the power of Iran, the regional superpower in the Gulf and would provide the Iranians with grievances. The former, IMO, was the great failing of the map drawn nearly 100 years ago. How is this map an improvement?

Second, why didn’t the empires of the early 20th century (who largely drew the Before map) draw it this way? When I raised this in the CA comments it was dismissed with a remark to the effect that the British would have done but they didn’t have a free hand.

I don’t believe that for a second. The borders of Pakistan were drawn with the specific intent of aggregating different ethnic groups together.

I think that the British, in particular, drew the map as they did assuming that they’d always be in the picture. It’s the absence of the power of empire, Ottoman and British, that’s allowed the unrest in the area to fester.

Finally, how would the people who live in the region re-draw the map? I think we’ve had some broad hints of that over the last 40 years or so and I don’t think that map would look a great deal like the one that Peters has drawn.

11 comments… add one
  • Tom Schaffner Link

    No time to study in detail, but wouldn’t an Arab Shi’a state just be a part of a “Greater Iran”? If so, that’s not something to be wished for.

  • Not all Shi’a Islam is created equal. Khomeinism, the prevailing doctrine in Iran in which clerics take an active role in government, is far from prevalent throughout the rest of Shi’a Islam. Sistani in Iraq, for example, has condemned it.

    Additionally, I suspect that Peters’s thought is that Arab ethnicity trumps sectarian affiliation.

  • Why must Iran be balanced throughout times and places? Balances of power tend to be brittle and subject to arms races.

    As I mentioned over at CA, there is a GTWC version, too.

  • Dave,

    As an adjunct, you might find some answers (or more questions) in T E Lawrence’s “Peace Map.” I wrote a short post on this a while ago.

  • That map has some serious problems. Natural geographical boundaries seem ignored, and as you point out, resources are not considered. I find it strange that the Baluchi’s and Kurds get a state, but other major ethnic groups like the Pashtuns don’t. The Arab Shia state seems particularly untenable – a resource rich State that is geographically extremely vulnerable to attack. I’m not sure what is behind “Greater Lebanon” besides making Syria landlocked.

    It’s interesting, but ultimately pretty useless.

  • I wish I had the time to draw a corresponding map of the “New Europe”. Practically every current country would have its borders redrawn/reduced to make room for Bretons, Basques, Lapps, etc. Welcome into the fold the new states of Waloonia and Flanders! Viva Corsican independence. Catalunia will be happy, but the rest of Spain may not.

    As we move on to the rest of the world, just how many countries will be see arise in Africa? Will the lines be drawn on ethnic, linguistic, or sectarian identification?

    Does Goa go back to Portugal? Pondicherry to the French?

    Will the Ainu and the Okinawans at last be free of Japanese oppression?

    Why not give every soul on earth a piece of the action? Let them form individual contracts with whomever they like to form new states that share common concepts of what they think states and their powers should be like.

    Clearly, this is the next great project for electronic democracy!

  • As you may have gathered, John, I feel exactly the same way. But you raise a vitally important point:

    Why not give every soul on earth a piece of the action? Let them form individual contracts with whomever they like to form new states that share common concepts of what they think states and their powers should be like.

    What is the unit of sovereignty? The nation-state? The ethnic group? The city? The block? The individual?

    My own preferred answer is the nation-state: it’s brought us to the modern age and I don’t see a ready alternative. But for that answer to remain viable we’ve got to hold the nation-states to higher standards and recognize that a state that doesn’t act like one isn’t a state at all.

  • The most important question is how do US policymakers respond to the “melting map”?

    This seems more like a thought-provoking exercise by Peters for mid-grade officers who read AFJ than anything else. That said, these are the people who will likely be dealing with the chaos and bloodletting of those states that don’t act like one and consequently cease to be one (Sudan, Congo, Nigeria, Yemen, Iraq (at present), Pakistan, etc).

    I am deeply concerned the US will lose tremendous influence and treasure trying to hold together these artificial states. It will certainly cost us potentially useful allies (like those in Somalia who had built a working country and will now be overrun by the Islamist militias) or needlessly aggravate relations with them (I doubt we will choose the Kurds over the Turks, but had we been honest with ourselves from the get-go in 2003 and read the writing on the wall (and the history books), perhaps we could have negotiated an independent Kurdistan with enough built-in confidence building and security measures that the Turks and Iraqi Kurds could have signed on for it).

  • Fletcher Christian Link

    Perhaps a map with all the coloured areas labelled simply “Glass Desert (Uninhabited)” would be one solution?

  • Stan Ash Link

    It is unfortunate that the map neglects history. When British India was broken up, an emminent jurist was placed in a room with a map and a blue pencil. He was told to “fairly” divide the sub-contient much along the same lines as described in the middle east map. Some 60 years later, after several bloody confrontations and much suffering, there is still much angst in the region, i.e. Kashmir, Baluchistan, etc.
    Building nations and redrawing lines is usually solved by years of war. The best example is the two-hundred or so years of warfare, that Prussia evolved into Germany.
    The best answer for the Democratic West is to find a cheap subsitute for oil and allow the interested parties to slug it out until one side gives up.

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