Tag Archives: cold war

The Geographical Imagination and Britain’s Entanglements ‘East of Suez’

280px-SuezCanal-EO

The Suez Canal continues to loom large in the consciousness of British foreign policymakers. (c) 2015 Wikimedia Commons.

By Benjamin Sacks, Princeton University

The phrase ‘East of Suez’ looms large in our geographical imagination. Long after the end of formal empire and even the Cold War, it embodies a particularly Orientalist conception of exotic peoples, vibrant Kiplingesque colours and untapped wild landscapes. Why does this term still conjure such emotional responses, and why is it back in the news?

In the midst of this month’s unsettling developments, from terrorists attacks in France, Mali, Egypt, and elsewhere, to the constant media frenzy surrounding the US presidential campaign, Britain quietly moved back ‘East of Suez’. On 1 November Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa ceremonially began the (re)construction of HMS Juffair (first erected in 1935) in Mina Salman Port, Britain’s first permanent military base east of the Suez Crisis since 1971. The new base will provide logistical, materiel, and offensive support for Royal Navy operations in the Middle East and South Asia. Rather more surreptitiously, Britain has also heavily invested in expanding Oman’s Duqm port, 120 kilometres (75 miles) southwest of Masirah Island, to accept Royal Navy vessels (including the forthcoming Queen Elizabeth class of aircraft carriers). In both cases the war against ISIS, Yemeni militants, and bolstering defence, trade, and communications links have been cited as reasons for expansion.

In step with the British Empire’s dissolution, the Aden crisis, financial problems, and unstable domestic developments, in 1968 Harold Wilson decided to close all formal military bases east of Egypt’s Suez Canal, thereby reducing military costs and refocus Britain’s diminished post-War resources on NATO, Europe, and the North Atlantic theatre. While many commentators praised Wilson’s decision as opening a new, postcolonial chapter in Britain’s foreign policy, others believed that the move was a dangerous, short-sighted mistake. The 1982 Falklands War and 1991 and 2003 Iraq wars galvanised both supporters and opponents of the ‘East of Suez’ policy. As The Economist argued however, ‘In reality, Britain never left the Gulf’. Even after 1971 Britain maintained significant military and geopolitical influence in Oman, the Gulf States (Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Qatar), Malaysia, and Brunei, as well as at Diego Garcia in the British Indian Ocean Territory and at Hong Kong (until 1997). Arguably, it enjoyed greater success through so-called ‘soft-power’, maintaining strong economic and broadcasting relationships with Arabian and South Asian states.

Why does ‘East of Suez’ remain such an emotionally-charged phrase for contemporary audiences? A quick survey of British newspapers evidences how Labour, Conservative, and independent journalists all use the term to evoke particular political sentiments. The Independent used it to highlight anger from human rights campaigners. The BBC, while noting criticism of UK-Bahraini ties, also discussed the latter state’s longstanding relationship with Britain. The Telegraph simply described ‘East of Suez’ as a ‘welcome renewal of friendships in the Gulf’.

Irrespective of where one’s political beliefs lie on the spectrum, geography and geographical writing have played central roles in embedding ‘East of Suez’ in our collective conscious. The Royal Geographical Society’s extensive archives reveal how this phrase was used to promote particular imaginations and responses throughout the late nineteenth and twentieth century. Early, Orientalist-charged uses of ‘East of Suez’ underscored geography as an imperial discipline. Between the 1880s and the First World War, Suez expanded from the Canal and Peninsula, to a symbolic geostrategic marker, and finally to a border between ‘known’ and ‘unknown’, ‘us’ and ‘them’.

In an 1886 memorial, ‘East of Suez’ meant exactly that. The largely undocumented Sinai desert east of the Suez Canal. This reference nonetheless is important, for it provides us with evidence as to how the RGS conceived of the Suez Canal in the 1870s-1890s: as a geographical place. This narrow notion soon changed, however. In the Georgian period Ernest Young, a Belle Epoque travel writer on Siam (Thailand) and Finland, deliberately (and vaguely) described the geography in-between Europe and Russia and Southeast Asia as ‘Somewhere East of Suez’, conveying a romantic notion of uncharted mountains and pirate-laden waters. As the RGS reviewer laconically noted, Young’s Orientalist perspective was undoubtedly a function of his day job as a schoolmaster. The following year Rachael Humphreys, an early female FRGS, published Travels East of Suez, reiterating the term’s intensely imperial meanings. This time, ‘East of Suez’ referred not the Near East nor Fertile Crescent, but to the Indian Subcontinent. This broadness suggests the pre-First World War use of ‘East of Suez’ to describe a generalised, homogenous Asian ‘Other’, exoticising the grand adventure of Britain’s colonial exploits beyond the Canal. Belle Epoque literature, from Rudyard Kipling’s Kim (1900-1901) to near-endless accounts of British explorers, undoubtedly influenced Humphreys’ selection of her title.

By the 1930s ‘East of Suez’ was firmly entrenched as the Empire’s dividing line between Europe and an occasionally mysterious Asia. In 1936 Kenneth Mason recalled the moment aviation came to India: ‘I look back with mixed feelings to twenty-five years ago, when in December 1910 the first plane seen east of Suez arrived at Allahabad and began what were optimistically called “joy-flights”‘ (5). Here ‘East of Suez’ enjoyed a physicality, the sense that it served as an actual obstacle for the advancement of British civilisation, a feat that must be traversed each time the Empire sought to impose a European convention onto the Orient.

The War changed all that. ‘East of Suez’, even to the RGS, became a byword for Britain’s need for oil. G M Lees’ 1940 article, for instance, defined ‘East of Suez’ as Arabia, and Arabia as a potential oil source for the British war effort.

By 1968, when the newly-published monograph Great Britain in the Indian Ocean 1810-1850 was reviewed in The Geographical Journal, the consequences of Britain’s Asian ‘adventure’ were very much on reviewer Antony Preston’s mind. ‘As Great Britain’s “East of Suez” commitments are under such heavy fire’, he wrote, ‘one may well wonder how we came to be saddled with so many treaty obligations and colonial responsibilities’. ‘East of Suez’ had ceased to be a term of imperial excitement. Instead, it succinctly described the weight of imperial fatigue, eating away at a post-War Britain eager to tighten its finances and responsibilities.

In the wake of the 1982 Falklands War and the RGS’s now-famed 1983 discussion of the islands’ environmental and political geography, such political geographers as John House (Oxford) used ‘East of Suez’ as a term to describe the expansion and limitation of Soviet naval operations in relation to British and American counterparts. ‘East of Suez’ no longer carried a clear imperial meaning; instead political geographers identified it as a fault line between Capitalism and Communism. Bizarrely, House declared that the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean ‘would be of little significance in the global nuclear balance’ (13), thereby forgetting two millennia of history. In the twenty-first century, ‘East of Suez’ conveys two distinct, but intertwined meanings: the return of formal British military bases to the Indian Ocean (see Blake 2009), and the expansion of British soft power in South and Southeast Asia.

References

books_icon (1886) Geographical Notes, Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society and Monthly Record of Geography8(5): 328-38.

books_icon C R M (1914) Review, From Russia to Siam, by Ernest YoungThe Geographical Journal 44(6): 586-87.

books_icon (1916) Review, Travels East of Suez, by Rachael HumphreysThe Geographical Journal 47(2): 138.

books_icon Mason K (1936) The Himalaya as a Barrier to Modern CommunicationsThe Geographical Journal 87(1): 1-13.

books_icon Lees G M (1940) The Search for OilThe Geographical Journal  95(1): 1-16.

books_icon Preston A (1968) Review, Great Britain in the Indian Ocean 1810-1850, by G S GrahamThe Geographical Journal 134(1): 134.

books_icon House J (1984) War, Peace and Conflict Resolution: Towards an Indian Ocean ModelTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers 9(1): 3-21.

books_icon Blake R (2009) Airfield Closures and Air Defence Reorientation in Britain during the Cold War and its Immediate AftermathArea 41(3): 285-99.

60-world2 Lindsay I (2014) HM Ambassador’s speech to the Bahrain Business Forum, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, 10 December.

60-world2 (2015) British Secretary of State for Defence visits OmanBritish Embassy Muscat, 1 October.

60-world2 ONA (2015) British Secretary of State for Defence hails Sultanate’s efforts in solving regional crisisMuscat Daily, 1 October.

60-world2 (2014) We’re back: A new naval base in Bahrain is an echo of the pastThe Economist 13 December.

60-world2 Merrill J (2015) Royal Navy base construction begins in Bahrain as Britain seeks a return to ‘East of Suez’The Independent, 1 November.

60-world2 Gardner F (2015) UK builds first permanent Middle East base for 40 yearsBBC News, 1 November.

60-world2 More C (2015) A welcome renewal of friendships in the GulfThe Telegraph, 1 November.

Crowd-Sourced Maps: A Way Forward?

by Benjamin Sacks, Princeton University

OpenStreetMap is catalysing an open-sourced mapping revolution.

OpenStreetMap is catalysing an open-sourced mapping revolution.

In the mobile Internet age, nearly every individual has the capacity to create. Despite the rapid transformation of cartography from analogue to digital, elite to everyman, maps remain biased, nuanced, meaning-laden documents, much as J B Harley and David Woodward first argued in their respective late twentieth century scholarship. Joe Gerlach (University of Oxford) has sought to both connect existing studies of maps with open-sourced cartography, as well as investigate digital, crowd-sourced mapping on its own terms and merits. In ‘Editing worlds: participatory mapping and a minor geopolitics’ (Transactions April 2015) he examined what OpenStreetMap means for cartography as a geopolitical tool in international affairs.

According to Gerlach, the Cold War dominated twentieth century geopolitical cartography; he recalled Gearóid Ó’Tuathail’s weaved narrative imagining ‘Halford Mackinder and Henry Kissinger acting out manifold “belligerent dramas” over the spectre of a world map’ (273). This intimate association with realpolitik and its manifestations (war, trauma, Mutually Assured Destruction, colonisation, proxy conflict) might have provided geopolitics with a measure of ‘institutional rigour’ (borrowing from Edoardo Boria) but at the expense of cartography’s legitimacy. Grassroots, open source mapping moves to restore cartography’s geopolitical credentials by distancing itself from the Cold War’s more onerous legacies. Gerlach suggested that a ‘minor’ revolution in cartography is underway. Not minor in size or scale, but rather in its sociological and literary sense: ‘an examination of the non-representational aspects of this representational practice as a way of spotlighting the often unspoken, anticipatory politics of mapping’ (274). Or, in other words, the culture(s) and movement(s) of open-source, grassroots mapping.

This is a brave new world, at least from a scholarly standpoint. What does cartographic inclusiveness mean? How does mass-participatory, often non-moderated cartography influence geopolitics at the local, regional, or international levels? By its very nature, such mapping is ‘uncertain and experimental’, outside the bounds of traditional scholarly or political cartographic analysis. At its core, the maps are moved, influenced, and popularised by the crowd; subject to its rational and irrational drifts, pulls, and tendencies.

Programmes like OpenStreetMap seek to free the user from restrictions imposed by such official, controlled maps as Ordnance Survey and United States Geological Survey charts. In so doing, users become active authors in cartography and, by extension, the multi-dimensional geographical landscape. In Peru, for instance, a digitally-aware audience has effectively and efficiently subverted the military’s de facto monopoly on maps, identifying, creating, manipulating, and distributing their own cartographies via OpenStreetMap. Through social gatherings, group GPS expeditions, and checking each others’ work, contributors established themselves – however deliberately or accidentally – as a national cartographic force, competition to the military’s own carefully controlled maps.

Of greatest importance is the sheer excitement open source mapping brings to cartography. Like Wikipedia of the 2000s, OpenStreetMap is still in its childhood, subject to referee issues, inaccuracies, and end-user problems. Regardless, by providing free-to-use, easily manipulated cartographic tools to the public on desktop and mobile devices, geographic knowledge can reach an audience few twentieth century geographers – and especially those of a Cold War persuasion – could have foreseen.

books_iconBoria E (2008) Geopolitical maps: a sketch history of a neglected trend in cartography Geopolitics 13 278-308.

books_iconGerlach, J. (2015), Editing worlds: participatory mapping and a minor geopolitics. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers,                         40: 273–286. doi: 10.1111/tran.12075

books_iconÓ’Tuathail G, Dalby S and Routledge P eds (2006) The geopolitics reader 2nd edn Routledge, London 237-54.

A British Arctic Policy for the Twenty-first Century

by Benjamin Sacks

HMS Alert's 1875-76 expedition to the Arctic. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

HMS Alert’s 1875-76 expedition to the Arctic. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Britain retains significant interests in the Arctic Ocean, according to a recently published commentary in The Geographical Journal. To the general reader, this point may be somewhat surprising: physical geography aside, the United Kingdom’s more famous interests in the South Atlantic and Antarctica tend to make headlines. The Cold War, in particular, popularised the Arctic environment as the preserve of Russia, the United States, and Scandinavia. In 2007 and 2010 the House of Lords formally discussed Britain’s supposed lack of a coherent and tangible Arctic policy, proposing that the House of Commons, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and the National Oceanographic Centre formulate at least a mission statement outlining British objectives in the region. Britain’s intimate relationship with Canada, and increasingly with Norway, have also been cited as key motivators to both expanding Arctic goals and defining the terms of Arctic activity. Various Parliamentary committees have discussed the possibility of establishing a powerful Arctic scientific research body similar in scope and size to the British Antarctic Survey.

The Arctic has long drawn British explorers, entrepreneurs, strategists, and naval planners. The British Empire brought Canada’s vast Arctic territories into the public imagination, and the Second World War catalysed a strong bilateral British-Norwegian relationship which continues to the present. In the twenty-first century, this exploration- and defence-based relationships have been complemented with an increasing range of corporate and public interests, from environmental activism and scientific inquiry to petroleum and rare earth minerals exploration.

Yet as of present, the British government has yet to publish or promote a formal Arctic policy. Duncan Depledge (Royal Holloway) suggests that this is because London remains concerned ‘about over-committing itself where the UK’s interests are often peripheral in relation to wider global concerns’ (p. 370). But as Depledge contends, Britain’s economic and strategic interests require a strong Arctic presence.

From a defence point-of-view, Britain both retains and will need to increase its Arctic interests. In a 2012 white paper authored for the United Royal Services Institute, Depledge and Klaus Dodds recalled their first-hand experiences observing a series of joint operations between Britain and Norway. Referring to it as the ‘forgotten partnership’, the authors stress Norway’s strong reliance and confidence in its North Sea neighbour to ensure the North Atlantic’s protection in the event of conflict. Physical geography also plays an important role: extreme weather training remains as important as ever for British forces.

Scientific and corporate interests are no less important. Beyond never-ending Parliamentary quibbling over white paper naming and policy terminology (pp. 370-72), London has repeatedly claimed that it wishes to become a leader in environmental protection and rehabilitation. World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace, and BBC Earth awareness programmes have accomplished significant strides in raising public awareness for ‘saving’ the Arctic from excessive human development. Ultimately, Depledge stresses the need for clarifying British Arctic policies across defence, scientific, environmental, and corporate spheres, as well as recognising Britain’s position as a non-Arctic state. Britain will need to work with Scandinavia, Russia, Canada, and the United States to seek common ground while respecting national interests.

books_icon

Duncan Depledge 2013 What’s in a name? A UK Arctic policy framework for 2013, The Geographical Journal 179.4: 369-72.

books_icon Duncan Depledge and Klaus Dodds 2012 Testing the Northern Flank: The UK, Norway and Exercise Cold ResponseThe RUSI Journal 157.4: 72-78.

Global Airwaves Part I

Bush House, London. Longtime home of the BBC World Service. © 2012 Wikimedia Commons.

Benjamin Sacks

This year the BBC World Service, the oldest and largest international broadcaster in the world, celebrates its eightieth birthday. Founded in 1932 as the Empire Service, it has become a vital fixture in global news and information, available on FM, mediumwave, shortwave, longwave, satellite, and the internet. In many respects, the World Service has shaped Britain’s international persona and culture. Like the rest of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), its editorial independence has  repeatedly drawn the ire of British politicians and diplomats as well as the respect of millions of peoples, many of whom were (or remain) unable to obtain impartial news from their local services. In its storied history, both the World Service and the BBC have developed into explorative spaces for geographers, scholars, and activists. The Royal Geographical Society actively documented the roles the BBC played in geographic exploration and education.

In one of the earliest BBC/RGS collaborations, the nascent broadcaster permitted portions of explorer and aviator George Binney’s commentary on Roald Amundsen’s 1925 Arctic flight to be reprinted with analysis in The Geographical Journal. The collaboration resulted in Amundsen’s feat being broadcasted across Europe and to be simultaneously disseminated by the RGS to the British imperial scholarly community. The 1925 work catalysed a series of intersections between RGS-IBG and BBC projects, reports, and activities throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. In a 1955 discussion of geographical and social descriptions of domestic landscapes, A E Smailes resourced Michael Robbins’s BBC home service talks concerning the ‘anatomy of the countryside ‘(p. 100).

The BBC also filled an important role for the geographer of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s: often, it was the only relatively reliable means of communicating with explorers traversing Earth’s extremes. In 1955, Commander C J W Simpson, DSC, of the Royal Navy, recounted in detail to the RGS, HM The Queen, and The Duke of Edinburgh his 1952-1954 expedition to the northern fringes of Danish-controlled Greenland. He led some thirty scientists and specialists on a major venture involving the RGS, the Royal Society, the RAF, Royal Navy, and Army, and the Scott Polar Research Institute (p. 276). The group traversed across the vast island, from Germania Land and Britannia Sø on the eastern coast to Thule near Canada (pp. 277-79). In a harrowing 1953-1954 Arctic winter, the BBC broadcast special messages each month; a collection of well-wishes from family, friends, and admirers of the British expeditionary effort (pp. 285-86). In 1958, designated the International Geophysical Year, the RGS described the role of the BBC in transmitting national and international solar weather warnings and praised UK engineers and scientists (p. 28). The BBC’s political and scientific roles were further explored in a 1966 article recounting the experiences of Charles Swithinbank, of the Scott Polar Research Institute, who spent a year living and working with Soviet specialists at Antarctic stations (p. 469). The men, despondent for news and culture from home, listened for updates from both the BBC World Service and Radio Moscow shortwave services in a rare moment of Cold War friendship.

 ‘Amundsen’s Polar Flight‘, The Geographical Journal 66.1 (Jul., 1925): 48-53.

 A E Smailes, ‘Some Reflections on the Geographical Description and Analysis of Townscapes‘, Transactions and Papers (Institute of British Geographers) 21 (1955): 99-115.

 C J W Simpson, ‘The British North Greenland Expedition‘, The Geographical Journal 121.3 (Sep., 1955): 274-89.

 D C Martin, ‘The International Geophysical Year‘, The Geographical Journal 124.1 (Mar., 1958): 18-29.

 Charles Swithinbank, ‘A Year with the Russians in Antarctica‘, The Geographical Journal 132.4 (Dec., 1966): 463-74. Also see Dudley Stamp and Vivian Fuch’s discussion here.

Approaches to Russia’s North Pole Ambitions

The Soviet Nuclear Icebreaker 'Arktika' was the first surface vessel to reach the North Pole (1977). © Wikimedia Commons.

Benjamin Sacks

The open sea may be international waters under maritime law, but large swaths of the world’s oceans fall under the influence of major powers. The United States and Japan dominate Pacific affairs, thanks to their control over various island groups and the importance they attach to the Pacific economy. Similar situations exist for the United Kingdom in the South Atlantic and France in the western Indian Ocean. Several states contest the strategically important South China Sea. The Arctic Ocean has long been Russia’s backyard, home to historically prominent naval and merchant shipping lanes, vital fishing grounds, and home to some of its surviving indigenous peoples.

In 2007, however, Russia’s influence in the Arctic became a controversial issue when two submarines, Mir-1 and Mir-2 planted a Russian flag on the seabed below the North Pole. The Guardian reported that Moscow’s act ‘prompted ridicule and skepticism among other contenders…with Canada comparing it to a 15th century land grab’. The flag-planting was largely ceremonial, but it did indicate Russia’s ambitions to tap into the region’s vast suspected oil and rare earth minerals reserves.

Fortunately, Arctic tensions between local states have not escalated since the 2007 episode. But Russia’s behavior did pique the interests of a number of think-tanks and policy institutes, both intrigued and concerned about what Russian actions could mean for the future of international maritime law, as well as US-Russian and European-Russian relations. In ‘Polar Partners or Poles Apart?’, Leonhardt A S van Efferink (Royal Holloway, University of London) discussed the position of two important American institutes: the Brookings Institution and the Heritage Foundation. The article, published in the March 2012 issue of The Geographical Journal, compared the two institutes’ visions. While not choosing one side or the other, van Efferink suggested that the divergent futures could lead to either an ‘inclusionary’ or ‘exclusionary’ region (7).

The Brookings Institution, he argued, sought to remove the Cold War ethos from the Arctic control issue. While acknowledging the US Geological Survey’s 2008 estimate that the Arctic held roughly thirteen per cent of the planet’s undiscovered oil and thirty per cent of undiscovered natural gas (tremendously high figures, if true), the report stressed that collaboration, neutrality, and mutual good faith should be paramount for all parties involved (5-6).

The Heritage Foundation’s standpoint follows a so-called ‘neo-Realist’ perspective, unsurprising given its conservative roots. Their report holds that the United States should take action in the Arctic to limit Russia’s growing influence in the region and quell any designs for Russian Arctic oil production (7-8). Whichever course the Arctic issue eventually follows, it will be vital to international interests, not just the Arctic’s neighbours, that it be dealt with in a cautious, responsible, and ultimately beneficial manner.


Tom Parfitt, ‘Russia Plants Flag on North Pole Seabed‘, The Guardian, 2 August 2007.

Leonhardt A S van Efferink, ‘Commentary: Polar Partners or Poles Apart? On the Discourses of Two US Think Tanks on Russia’s Presences in the “High North“, The Geographical Journal 178.1 (Mar., 2012): 3-8.

Locating ‘The Everywhere War’

US and French special forces train in Djibouti. (c) 2011 Wikimedia Commons.

Benjamin Sacks

The tenth anniversary of the 11 September attacks provides an opportunity to reflect on how the geopolitical landscape has changed since the fateful events that sparked an American-led ‘War on Terror’. Some flash-points of this conflict are easily identifiable in the on-going Afghan and Iraq wars. However, like the Cold War, the War on Terror is much more nuanced than media outlets might suggest. On their own, reports concerning clandestine detentions, intelligence operations, communications monitoring or assets-freezing may seem isolated from one another, lost in a maze of daily stories, gossip and local events. But such operations are so-called ‘peacock marks’ – distinguishing marks of a truly global terrorism- and counterterrorism conflict geography where national borders matter less than cultural differences, and local laws take a backseat to transnational alliances. The War on Terror has not fundamentally redrawn the standard world map, but it has certainly added a new and complex layer.

Derek Gregory, in the September 2011 issue of The Geographical Journal, explores this geography’s characteristics and growth. At first, Gregory highlights the War on Terror geography within the domestic sphere, playing off Tom Engelhardt’s 2010 assertion that Washington is ‘a war capital, that the United States is a war state’. Turning his attention to the international sphere, Gregory highlights a list – incomplete, he admits – of nations and cities physically and culturally disparate from each other: Iran, Somalia, Chechnya, the Philippines, Casablanca, London, Moscow and Mumbai. All have become conflict zones in the War on Terror. Where are the borders in this geographical space? What are the localised effects? Gregory seeks to identify these points through defined shadowlands, ‘Spaces that enter European and American imaginaries in phantasmatic [sic] form, barely known but vividly imagined’. Further, he argues, these spaces are present at the very edges of traditional geographical logic (pp. 238—40).

Gregory, Derek, ‘The Everywhere War’, The Geographical Journal 177.3 (September, 2011): 238—50.

Further Reading:

Bono, Giovanna, ed., The Impact of 9/11 on European Foreign and Security Policy (Brussels: Brussels University Press for the Institute for European Studies, 2008).

Engelhardt, Tom, The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars became Obama’s (New York: Haymarket Books, 2010).

Gardner, Hall, American Global Strategy and the “War on Terrorism” (Aldershot, Great Britain: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2005).

You expect me to talk? No Mr Bond I expect you to buy

SIS (MI6) Headquarters, London

By Alexander Leo Phillips

We were reminded today about the grim realities of life in the global intelligence community, with the discovery of a thus far unidentified body in a London flat.  Such stories have become increasingly  common place since the end of the Cold War, as many governments have opened up (relativity speaking) and comment more regularly upon matters of state intelligence.  So much so in fact, its now often forgotten that the British Government only recently publicly acknowledged the very existence of SIS. Now they even have an official website.

Before this time the complexities of international espionage were a mystery to the general public.  All we had to go on were the entertainment industries best attempts to turn this unknown world into an exciting (and often slightly camp)  two hours of fast cars, women and guns.  In such a world James Bond was never puzzled by the ill defined notion of the Britain he was fighting for, nor was he ever concerned by his carbon footprint.  As a result, many could be said to hold an overly romanticised image of this world; as something they can buy into for its ‘promises’ of thrills, excitement  and sex.

Stijn Reijnders has explored the increasing profitable world of James Bond tourism in Area’s September 2010 issue.  In it he details the journeys of 007 “pilgrims” as they visit various locations from Bond films across London and the wider world.  From a simple door way to SIS headquarters itself, these pilgrims relive their favourite Bond moments; wishing, if only for an instant, to be part of that world.  However, it seems unlikely to me that these same fans would find as much joy reflecting upon locations like Piccadilly’s Itsu sushi restaurant.

Reijnders, S. 2010. ‘On the trail of 007: media pilgrimages into the world of James Bond’, Area, 42 (3). pp. 369 – 377.