Tag Archives: International Relations

Energy security

I-Hsien Porter

Our dependence on energy is increasingly fragile. In the US, oil companies are drilling deeper and taking more risks in response to the demand for cheap oil. In April, a Transocean/BP oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded and sank, resulting in a massive oil spill. Regardless of how the situation has been managed, it was the demand for oil that meant that the oil rig, with all its associated risks, was there in the first place. Energy supplied by fossil fuel is becoming more risky to obtain.

Meanwhile, on the Isle of Eigg, off the west coast of Scotland, residents have been urged to use household appliances less as a lack of rain has reduced the amount of electricity generated through hydro-power schemes. Energy supplies are becoming more difficult to sustain.

In Belarus recently, piped gas supplies from Russia were reduced in response to a disagreement over payment for gas and the use of transit pipelines. Energy security is therefore not just a case of the geographical distribution of supply and demand, but is also dependant on complex social processes and international relations.

Michael Bradshaw deals with these themes in an article in Geography Compass, published in 2009. Bradshaw illustrates the multidimensional nature of energy security. For example, climate change policy is driving a reduction in reliance on carbon-based fossil fuels. At the same time, China and India’s rapidly developing economies are increasing their demand for energy, reshaping the challenges of energy security as they add their voices to the debate.

Geographers are well placed to understand the interface of the physical and political drivers of changing energy supply and demand. A key challenge remains in translating this into an understanding of energy security and the policies needed to sustain affordable and sufficient energy supplies.

Bradshaw, M. J. (2009) “The Geopolitics of Global Energy Security.” Geography Compass 3 (5): 1920-1937

US Oil Spill coverage (BBC News, 30th June)

No rain puts Eigg on toast watch (BBC News, 29th June)

Russia ‘to restart’ full gas supplies after Belarus row (BBC News, 24th June)

The Gap in British Defence Geography

British Defence Deployments (2010)

By Benjamin Sacks

The definition of relative power in international relations has always been a contentious issue. The term “superpower”, in particular, is far overused by Western media and governments. Generally speaking, at present the United States is the sole superpower, and the United Kingdom, the French Republic, the Russian Federation, and the People’s Republic of China are “Great Powers”, with significant international influence in defence, socio-economic, and cultural spheres. From an initial glance, topographical geography certainly does not favour Britain; the British Isles comprise a negligible four percent of the world’s total landmass. In political terms, nonetheless, British influence is still vital for international security. It is a point often ignored by British politicians and practitioners.

Travis Sharp, a research associate with the Centre for a New American Security, recently argued that Britain remained the United States’ most important strategic partner, adding that, “The UK also must recognize the influence it wields as an international regulator”. Her Majesty’s Armed Forces maintain significant foreign interests, with large operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Sierra Leone, and military bases in Kenya, Belize, Brunei, Canada, Cyprus, Germany, Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands, and the British West Indies. Geographically then, HM Forces are globally distributed.

The geopolitical relationship between British overseas deployments and Parliamentary policy is, at best, strained. At worst, the relationship is nearly non-existent. Contemporary, strategic international knowledge has often been a weak point among British politicians. The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, signalled last week that, “The world has changed and if we do not change with it Britain’s role is set to decline with all that means for our influence in world affairs.” Acknowledging the need for a new, energized understanding of British foreign policy, Mr Hague added that, “We will deliver a distinctive British Foreign policy that extends our global reach and influence.” Hopefully that will be more than an empty promise.

The disconnect between geopolitical affairs and government reaction is by no means a new issue. In a 2003 Transactions of the British Institute of Geographers article, Felix Driver (Royal Holloway, University of London) attacked Western governments’ apparent ignorance of global strategic knowledge. In invading Iraq, Mr Driver argued,London and Washington  had entirely forgotten the importance of geographical and cultural information in the conduct of foreign policy and the execution of defence operations.

For further information regarding great power alliances, refer to Sonali Singh and Christopher R. Way, “The Correlates of Nuclear Proliferation: A Quantitative Test,” The Journal of Conflict Resolution 48 no. 6 (Dec., 2004): pp. 859—885.

Travis Sharp, “An International Regulator: A US View on Future UK Defence Plans,” Royal United Services Institute, http://www.rusi.org/analysis/commentary/ref:C4BD7D5F88D18A/, accessed 30 June 2010.

“Overseas Deployments,” The British Army, http://www.army.mod.uk/operations-deployments/overseas-deployments/default.aspx, accessed 30 June 2010.

William Hague, “Britain’s Foreign Policy in a Networked World,” The Foreign & Commonwealth Office, 1 July 2010,  http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/news/latest-news/?view=Speech&id=22462590, accessed 4 July 2010.

Felix Driver, “Editorial: the Geopolitics of Knowledge and Ignorance,” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 28 no. 2 (Jun., 2004): 131—132.

Popular geopolitics and film

By Matthew Rech

With the recent success of Kathryn Bigalow’s The Hurt Locker at this year’s BAFTAs, we are reminded of the enduring popularity of dramatised accounts of war. Awarded with no less than six BAFTAs, The Hurt Locker accounts for the “long and painful endgame in Iraq” (Bradshaw), with a specific focus on the hearts and minds of US combatants. All told, as Bradshaw continues, The Hurt Locker, with unpretentious clarity and freshness, provides an alternative account of the ‘war on terror’.

Pausing to consider the relevance of war films in western culture, and particularly accounts such as The Hurt Locker, necessarily prompts us to consider also their political salience. Writing in Geography Compass, Klaus Dodds provides a good overview of work in critical geopolitics, international relations and security studies that posit film as component in framing the structures of global politics.

Focusing on one of Dodds’ key arguments for a more progressive study of film in geopolitics  (that of prioritising genre and sub-genre as complicit in the construction of identity politics), we find a way of contextualising films like The Hurt Locker more productively.

For example, as Dodds suggests, genre matters because it “permit[s] the audience to potentially anticipate character development…[and]…also to…anticipate and predict the denouncement of specific films” (480). So, whilst The Hurt Locker might be considered subversive in terms of plot, focus and dominance over it’s larger grossing contemporaries, siting this film correctly in the economic, cultural and ‘emotional landscapes’ of film (see Maltby in Dodds) might enable us to more readily interpret it’s significance in the framing of real-world geopolitical narratives.

Read Peter Bradshaw’s review of The Hurt Locker at Guardian online

Read Dodds, K (2008) ‘Have you seen any good films lately?’ Geopolitics, International Relations and Film. Geography Compass. 2. 2, 476-94

For a critical review of this year’s Oscar nominated films, see John Pilger’s analysis at the New Statesman