Monday, March 3, 2014

Insular v. continental states, and their 'near abroads' can distinguish between insular and continental states. An insular state is the only great power on a large body of land that is surrounded on all sides by water.... The United Kingdom and Japan are obvious examples of insular states, since each occupies a large island by itself. The United States is also an insular power, because it is the only great power in the Western Hemisphere. A continental state, on the other hand, is a great power located on a large body of land that is also occupied by one or more other great powers. France, Germany, and Russia are obvious examples of continental states.
-- J. Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, p.126

Recalling (for some reason) the above -- and putting aside for the time being the point that BraziI might not agree that the U.S. is the only great power in the Western Hemisphere -- I made this comment at Crooked Timber (slightly edited here):

It’s bad luck in a way for Russia, I suppose, that it’s a continental state, so when it acts improperly/illegally/thuggishly (pick your word) in its neighborhood the repercussions are felt by many countries and to some extent across Europe. Whereas, e.g., when the U.S. went into Panama in ’89 and toppled Noriega, the repercussions were not felt as widely, partly because of the U.S.’s insular location (and Panama's location). It may not be ‘fair,’ but geography matters — not to the (moral/legal) equities but in practical terms.

ETA: Before someone mentions e.g. Japan and the '30s, I should say I probably should have given this post a narrower title: "Russia and the U.S., and their 'near abroads'."


bro said...

Good point, which leads to the question, who are the great powers in Europe? The list is dwindling.

LFC said...

Ah, that would depend on how one defines 'great power'. ;)

I remember reading somewhere once about a radio show in Britain, popular in the 50s I think, maybe called the 'brains trust' or something like that, where various regular panelists answered "deep" questions. Anyway one of them (C.E.M. Joad, iirc, but don't quote me on that) routinely began
his answers w "that depends on what you mean by X," where X was whatever the questioner had asked about.