February 11, 2014

Sailer: The Borders of Empire

The notch is La Brèche de Roland, a 9,199 foot pass in the Pyrenees
From my new column in Taki's Magazine:
I was wondering why Russia chose to hold its Winter Olympics in the Black Sea beach resort of Sochi, which is almost as far south as you can get in that notoriously northern land. 
And that got me thinking about borders in general. African governments are always complaining that they inherited unnaturally straight national boundaries from colonial administrators who didn’t take into account the complicated ethnic realities on the ground. But does anybody know the ideal way to draw borders to maximize peace and prosperity? 
It turns out that the locations for the Winter Olympics offer some insights into this long-standing question.

Read the whole thing there.

I've always been a topography nerd, but I'm becoming even more of one as Americans become more oblivious to the influence that the shape of the land has had upon them. The Founding Fathers, especially Washington who was a surveyor and real estate developer, were obsessed with geography.
   

44 comments:

Anonymous said...

The current top dogs in Russia don’t expect to be as warmly welcomed by the NATO countries as their 1990s predecessors have been. So they’re building their own four-season ocean and mountain resort.

The single most expensive project in the Russia's Olympic preparations was reportedly a railroad which had to cut through the mountains. I guess this was done so that the new oligarchs could arrive to their pads in their own rail cars, the 1890s tycoon style. An alternative explanation is that the area is being developed not for oligarchs but for Russian middle class and perhaps, eventually, foreign tourists.

Anonymous said...

it is indeed correct that Sochi is Asia

Anonymous said...



http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Heartbreaking_Work_of_Staggering_Genius

George Wyatt said...

Oceans make good borders. Pretty obvious, but the evidence in detail is strong. Really high mountain ranges are almost as good. For example, India and China share a rather long border with plenty of disputed territories. That's a standard formula for war. Fortunately, the Himalayas are rather tall.

Anthony said...

There's a classic example of a country deciding that occupying the other side of the mountains made sense, especially as the people on both sides of he ridge were ethnically the same - the Sudetenland affair.

Anonymous said...

skolf

ski golf

Auntie Analogue said...


Borders? We don' need no....

Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg: "[A]Nipmuck Indian word meaning 'You fish on your side, I fish on my side and nobody fishes in the middle.'"

Have fun with that one: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/11/20/national/20lake.html?_r=0

Vid snip here://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ucCUp-rx6Yc

2Degrees said...

Russia has always had a difficult relationship with its southern frontier. The steppes were continually subject to raids from the south and establishing a viable southern frontier has been a long-standing problem. Buying back seized Russians was a huge burden on the treasury and the motto of the early Romanov dynasty was voyevats’ yug or ‘fight to the south’. Peter the Great’s decision instead to open a Window on the West represents a
massive change of direction.

However, what brought the Russians into the Caucasus was not
the desire to establish a frontier, but to the help their coreligionists on the far side of the mountains, who were gradually being exterminated by their Moslem neighbours. Catherine the Great started the process in 1783 when she made a Georgian princedom a protectorate and established Russian battalions in its capital. The strength of the bond is evidenced by the fact that Prince Bagration, a Georgian, was one of the Russian commanders at Borodino (where he was killed). Then George XII, a Georgian Prince, died and handed over his lands to the Russians as Russian territory in his will. In 1816, Yermolov, the Russian commander, told the czar he would have the job done in 2 years. It took forty and inspired much of Russia’s best literature. The Russians greatest difficulty was identifying men with the authority to act as representatives of the local population. Yermolov called Chechnia the nest of all brigands and punitive expeditions never had any long-term effect. Eventually Yermolov adopted the tactic of driving unpacified populations into inhospitable terrain until they laid down their arms. He then built a network of strong-points. The most important of these strong-points was Grozny itself.

So, as far as I understand it, the Russians did not acquire
the Caucasus as a barrier, but in order to link their territories in Russia proper with their new lands in Georgia. Many of Catherine’s “eagles” though getting involved in the region was madness.

Dave Pinsen said...

Baku, 500 miles southeast of Sochi, is going to host the European Games, and it already hosted the Eurovision Song Contest in 2012.

dearieme said...

The oldest border in Western Europe is the Scottish-English one, which isn't marked by a mighty mountain range.

Winston Groom 2+2=5 said...

"African governments are always complaining that they inherited unnaturally straight national boundaries from colonial administrators who didn’t take into account the complicated ethnic realities on the ground."

But diversity makes us strong! We should celebrate diversity!

If diversity is so damn good for Europe and America, how can it be bad for Africa?

Art Deco said...

Nearly all African states would be multi-ethnic no matter how you draw the borders. What problems you've had potentially ameliorable by repartition concern excess amalgamation (the Congo), incompatible assemblages (Uganda), bisections of ethnic territory (Somalia and the Ogaden), or all three (Nigeria).

If I am not mistaken, Africa's political leadership has been quite resistant to opening up any can of worms, so there have been very few irridentist claims since 1960.

Another oddity has been that a selection of African populations grew attached to those colonial borders. The former British Cameroons and the former British Somaliland would be examples.

Anonymous said...

I always thought that the Grand Canyon would have made a great natural boundary with Mexico. Basically, if we had let Mexico keep the area between the Colorado River and the Rio Grande (with a stretch of the Rockies in the far south of Colorado forming the northern end of the border, along with the Grand Canyon), it would have been easier to defend against illegal immigrants. The only non-natural border with Mexico would have been the stretch in California. Of course, that would have resulted in a smaller US. But maybe we could have made up for it by taking all of Canada west of the Rockies (contiguous with much of the current border of BC and Alberta).

Anonymous said...

Steve, I still don't understand your insistence of Georgia as a ruthless belligerent against poor old Russia, a country that just wanted to keep the peace in 2008. It was a war of expansion for both sides, and for both a chance to appear stronger by hurting the other by taking lost territories. Why do you think the Russians were out on a campaign drive to put a Russian passport in the hands of every Ossete? Their expansion tactic, brilliant in retrospect, was to provoke Georgia into firing the first shots and immediately send massive forces against them to bully them into submission.

Repeat after me: in a war between two former Soviet Republics, there are no good guys.

Anonymous said...

O/T:

Autism Rights Activist Urges Students to Recognize ‘Neurodiversity’


Ari Ne’eman, president and founder of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, which seeks to empower people with autism, spoke about the importance of celebrating the neurological diversity of people with disabilities Tuesday at the Biotechnology building.

During the lecture, Ne’eman — who is diagnosed with autism and a member of the United States National Council on Disability — focused on promoting “neurodiversity,” a movement to shift the public perception away from viewing disabilities as weaknesses.

“We don’t view autism as a disease to be cured and we don’t think we need fixing,” Ne’eman said. “We do feel comfortable with the word disability because we understand what it means.”

Full story here:
http://cornellsun.com/blog/2014/02/12/autism-rights-activist-urges-students-to-recognize-neurodiversity/

Anonymous said...

Canada Scraps Millionaire Visa scheme:

http://www.scmp.com/news/world/article/1426368/canada-scraps-millionaire-visa-scheme-dumps-46000-chinese-applications

BurplesonAFB said...

I mean, you could say India's coastline connects to the North Atlantic through the Indian Ocean, past Madagascar, round the Cape of Good Hope, past St Helena and into the North Atlantic...

While we're just saying things and all...

Z said...

Back in college I was forced to read a book titled Changes in the Land. I hated it until I got into it. The topography of New England was a big part of what defined the natives, the settlers and their eventual conflict.

Mount Shasta Inquirer said...

Google has very begrudgingly recognized the results of the Bosnian civil war. There is a light ditted line that you can barely see on the map version, and the name of the autonomous area is not mentioned on the map. https://maps.google.com/maps?q=Sarajevo,+map&ie=UTF-8&hq=&hnear=0x4758cbb1ed719bd1:0x562ecda6de87b33e,Sarajevo,+Bosnia+and+Herzegovina&gl=us&ei=I7H7UpKMDsXZrAHozIHIBA&ved=0CCcQ8gEwAA

pat said...

Yes it's true it gets 3.6 degrees colder at 1,000 feet. This means more to me than most people because the floor under my feet as I write this comment is exactly 1,000 feet above sea level. The roof over my head is about 1,009 ft.

But when I drive down to the Bay it usually gets colder not warmer because of Bay Fog. That effect is seasonal of course.

The Global Warmists who like to panic, predicted about that much warming after a hundred more years of our sinful ways. Most Warmists today are more circumspect about their predictions, so their best thinkers now expects it to warm up to the temperature of about half way down my hill.

When I was more interested in these matters I calculated how far south I would have to drive to experience the horrors of an over warm year 2100. It was about San Jose as I remember. Certainly no climatologist would ever dare to suggest that the world could get as warm as where you live in LA - who could believe such an apocalypse?

Or to put it another way, to stay at the same annual temperature as I now experience in Oakland I would need to relocate as far north as Mill Valley (not so bad)or maybe Ukiah (a grim prospect indeed). But I would have a century to drive there, so I think I would make it.

It has always amazed me that the Global Warming people could manage to stampede the public over the prospect of warmer winters. The Climate Skeptics on the other hand always point to the earlier Time Magazine predictions of Global Freezing as a refutation. Not me.

A real return of the ice would probably destroy civilization as we know it. Chicago for example would have a hard time with 'business as usual' under a two mile high ice sheet.

There are some problems with Milankovich theory but that theory and the fossil record are orders of magnitude more solid than the theories that forecast warming. The ice will return and that conclusion is not just that a plurality of climatologists - it is unanimous. Exactly when is a little controversial. But there can be no substantial doubt - the ice is coming back. In fact plenty of people this morning in Georgia are sure it's coming right now.

The tremendous imbalance between the dangers of cold versus heat makes one wonder why Global Warming ever got a toe hold on the public imagination. I don't want to wax conspiratorial here, but it does seem fishy. A lot of money has changed hands over Global Warming. Careers have bloomed. Every climatologist's income have risen. Everything is up - except global temperature.

The public has heard that temperatures haven't risen for the last 15 years. They are not generally aware yet that all of the climate models used by the IPCC have been wrong in their estimates of TCR (Transient Climate Response) for the last 35 years.

So be of good cheer. Sochi is not likely to get too warm to continue as a spot for winter sports. Cooler weather ahead for all of us.

Albertosaurus

pat said...

Off Topic

In the recent kerfuffle over the Obamacare website, the President volunteered the observation - "I don't code".

Why not?

Charlemagne couldn't read. Standards have risen, haven't they?

Albertosaurus

Anonymous said...

My Russian office mate's opinion is that Sochi was chosen as an excuse to dump money into the region to counter the Saudis.

Anonymous said...

http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/nyc-crime/yeshiva-student-busted-anti-semitic-graffiti-probe-article-1.1605554

Hate-trick

Dan said...

Watersheds are as good as any place.

The real question is how can one profit from either peace or war at a border.

Anonymous said...

http://www.democracynow.org/2014/2/12/us_plunges_in_global_press_freedom

Press freedom? It's contingent on what is being covered.

When it comes to criticism of Jewish power, Iran is freer than the US. Ask Helen Thomas and Rick Sanchez.

On issues of race, China has more press freedom than the US.


Anonymous said...

http://washingtonexaminer.com/why-indoor-shopping-malls-have-lost-their-cachet/article/2543836

Indoor malls relied on outdoor mauls.

CanSpeccy said...

You say:

"A more amusing possible reason why Vladimir Putin and his pals are lavishing a purported $50 billion on subtropical Sochi..."

The $50-billion-dollar cost estimate seems to be a Western media lie, refuted by, among others, Vladimir Putin, who says the actual cost is around $7.5 billion, of which one-third is from the state for ice rinks, ski jumps and stadia, etc., and two-thirds is from the private sector for the construction of 40,000 hotel rooms (or $125,000 per room, which seems reasonable).

Since no one in the Western media that I know of offers the slightest evidence in support of the $50-billion price tag, it seems likely that it is a crude propaganda lie.

CanSpeccy said...

An alternative explanation is that the area is being developed not for oligarchs but for Russian middle class and perhaps, eventually, foreign tourists.

That's what Putin has stated. Specifically, he would like to see some of the three million Russians who currently vacation each year in Turkey spend their money at home in the Black Sea region. (See the link I provided above for the source.)

Seems reasonable. But strangely, Western commentators just make up theories without reference to what the Russians have to say about their own affairs.

It's as though, since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the West and the East have swapped ideologies and economic prospects. The West is now the world of endless bullshit and a declining economy, the East is a world of hard-headed realism, economic growth, and freedom, even, or relative freedom anyway from full spectrum lying propaganda.

Gene Berman said...

Auntie SAnalogue:

I heard it somewhat differently:
"You fish on your side, I'll fish on my side, and we can both fish in the middle."

In may places, the middle of the stream denotes a boundary--a property line, township or county line, often a state line. By agreement berween certain U.S. states separated by rivers, those licensed to fish by either state may fish anywhere in the river excluding fan the opposite shore (unless also licensed by tthe other state).

That (preceding) is the situation obtaining to the Delaware River, separating, for most of its length, the states of PA and NJ.

But the separation between NJ and DE is dramatically different (for reasons of which I'm unaware).

At the northern state line of Delaware, the border crosses the river entirely; from that point southward, the entire river is in the state of DE, its eatern boundary being the "high water mark" on the New Jersey side of the river.

I've never fished down there (though it's only about 15 miles south of me), so I don't know just how the fishing laws are enforced there. When driving across the Delaware Memorial Bridge, the sign "Welcome to Delaware" does seem to be placed on the NJ side and coming before crossing any water.

jody said...

didn't they pick sochi because they wanted to develop the area?

RAZ said...

"In many places, the middle of the stream denotes a boundary--a property line, township or county line, often a state line"

Generally, true. But remember hearing that for some reason it didn't work that way between two states (think NH and VT) which affected which state had hydroelectric rights to the river separating them.

Anonymous said...

Then there is what may be the world's most peculiar political & geographical entity ... Gagauzia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gagauzia

Peter the Shark said...

Where else in Russia could they have held the winter games? Sochi is beautiful, has spectacular scenery, and, as we have seen, certainly has enough snow in the nearby mountains (much like Vancouver, or Turin, or Sarajevo. None of these cities has particularly cold weather, the outdoor events were held in the nearby mountains). Sochi is also a reasonable travel distance from Western Europe and easily reached from places like Dubai, making it a natural tourist destination for wealthy skiiers. European Russia is just too flat, the Urals are actually too cold, generally not high enough, the cities out there are dreary, the scenery is monotonous and it is a long way from anywhere else to the Urals. Kamchatka is spectacular, but has very little infrastructure and is far too far away from most of the civilized world to bother developing. How is Sochi not a blindingly obvious choice?

Dave Pinsen said...

Historically, the Canadians have been tough for the US to defeat.

Anonymous said...

"Press freedom? It's contingent on what is being covered.

When it comes to criticism of Jewish power, Iran is freer than the US. Ask Helen Thomas and Rick Sanchez.

On issues of race, China has more press freedom than the US."


North Koreans are more free to be proud of being Koreans than Brits are of being Brits. North Korea's state is very nationalistic. Most humans want to be proud of who they are, but not everyone is allowed this to the same extent.

peterike said...

Chicago for example would have a hard time with 'business as usual' under a two mile high ice sheet.

Nah, it's Chicago. Someone will figure out how to grift it.

Anonymous said...

"Fortunately, some hill tribes, most famously the Swiss, have managed to work out a modus vivendi with their neighbors in which they stop raiding the lowlanders and the lowlanders stop invading them."

Is there an indigenous creature named 'Swiss'? Isn't Switzerland made up of Germans, Italians, and French?

So, maybe it's made up of un-hill people who later moved uphill than vice versa.

Anonymous said...

"[I]f we had let Mexico keep the area between the Colorado River and the Rio Grande , it would have been easier to defend against illegal immigrants.... Of course, that would have resulted in a smaller US."

Hey, it's nice to have that snow-free rail connection to California through the Gadsden Purchase.

Anonymous said...

Repeat after me: in a war between two former Soviet Republics, there are no good guys.

Correction, in a war between two Christian nations, there are no bad guys.

Mr. Anon said...

"Anonymous said...

Is there an indigenous creature named 'Swiss'? Isn't Switzerland made up of Germans."

In answer to your questions: Yes and No, respectively. The german-speaking Swiss (or rather Swiss-German speaking Swiss - they speak a dialect which is largely unintelligible to most Germans) call themselves "Schweizer" (or Schwyzer in their own lingo), i.e. Swiss. And they do not consider themselves to be Germans.

Mr. Anon said...

That's a shame about the 2022 Olympics in Poland. Zakopane is a nice little dorf - it would be a shame if got all Davosed up for the games. More generally, it would be a shame if the international jet-set came to realize that Poland is a pretty nice country. It would be too bad if it were to fill up with SWPL dipsticks and hipster-doucebag expats the way that Czecho did.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the Rhine, Bismarck felt that the Vosges Mountains to the east of the river was a far more defensible border. Which is why Germany kept Alsace-Lorraine as part of the terms if France's defeat in the war if 1870.

Anonymous said...

Something else which merits discussion is that mountain peoples often pay little attention to international boundaries determined and enforced by bureaucrats in the big city many miles away. Alpine peoples probably have more in common with each other than with their respective co-nationals in Paris, Vienna or Rome, and I would find it hard to imagine them taking up arms against each other if somehow a tri-partite war were to flare up between France, Austria and Italy.

Mountain folk are mountain folk first and foremost. They may or may not indulge in national identities that are defined by and largely the preoccupation of flatlanders far away.

rob said...

Mountain folk are mountain folk first and foremost. They may or may not indulge in national identities that are defined by and largely the preoccupation of flatlanders far away.

Indeed, that sort of thing can get on nerves. The Spanish and French want a border between Spain and France. The Basques wanna be free. Madrid all like 'basque bomb terror.' And France like "que?" but never free.

Yeah. And it's only 8:15.