Author in review: Tim Marshall

One of the authors that has made himself noticed in the field of international politics is Tim Marshall. Journalist by trade, with a long career that includes a presence during the conflict in the former Yugoslavia and later in the Kosovo crisis, Marshall’s track makes him a quintessential front line journalist. However, it would be safe to assume that as such, his first commitment is not with International Relations as a scientific subject. That being the case, why read Tim Marshall?

Perhaps the most well known work by the author is Prisoners of Geography. With an evocative title, this book was motivated by the author’s experience in the Balkans, where he found that local militias understood the importance of topography for their strategy. That may not seem as obvious in a hyper connected world, and where roads seem to lead everywhere, but geography is an essential part of human thought since its early days. In this work, the author highlights how much natural barriers, or their absence, or the very characteristics of the land influence international politics, imposing conditions on the conception and materialization of internal politics.

The most illustrative example is perhaps the case of Russia. From geography rises the expansionist necessity of the imperial era, or the creation of buffer zones, meaning, to utilize space as an extensive barrier, as the russian heartland does not have natural barriers that may stop invaders. This reality is corroborated by the number of incorsions which took place on russian soil, which makes facts join forces with theory. Not being restricted to geographic issues, the author also mentions the crisis that’s currently unfolding in the country, which is striding towards becoming one of the oldest populations in the world, and whose demographic structure will only worsen the situation in the coming decades, which once more places strategic constraints on the near and long term. Other important regions that the author discusses and are definitely worth consulting are China, the Middle East, India and Pakistan, among others, some of which seem more important than ever, at present.

Prisoners of Geography is a thought exercise in the Structure-Agent debate, and more. It helps us understand the world we live in and why do things happen the way they do. To that end, it draws on the author’s experience in the field, but also numberless reliable sources, from where the book bases its arguments – a sort of complementary reading -, something which will no doubt please those who like to go deeper and contextualize, as well as consolidating the work and adding value to a reader from the social sciences, thus constituting a work for consultation and reference.

Without going too much off topic, “Worth Dying For – The Power & Politics Of Flags” is a title that speaks for itself. With nationalism again on the rise in international topics, the issue of flags and what they represent becomes all the more important. There are symbolic, historic, identitarian and political mobilization issues that motivate the choice of flags, such as the pan-arab tricolor of Egypt, Syria and Yemen, or the presence of an AK-47 in the Mozambican flag. This should be an excellent complement to the first title, by superimposing political geography to knowledge of the surface topography.

These are two suggestions which we find to be relevant for the present times and the scientific field of IR, especially for their explanatory value and the way they grant us a perspective of how mechanisms that inevitably influence the international agenda work.

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