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Thread: Post Colonization borders: ignorantly or purposefully drawn?

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    Member Phil P's Avatar
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    Post Colonization borders: ignorantly or purposefully drawn?

    Do you think that as European colonial powers, particularly Britain, withdrew from colonized lands in the 20th century, that they purposefully designed the borders to cause strife so the injustices of the colonial reign would be overshadowed by injustices due to conflicts from the borders? Think of Kashmir, Nigeria, Iraq...

    This is something I've heard repeatedly, but I don't know whether it's plausible or not.
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    Senior Member Makers's Avatar
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    Interesting concept.. I wonder how much weight it has. I wouldn't doubt that destabilization, as a method to exploit Middle Eastern countries, has implicitly been the aim of our more recent foreign policy decisions. We're a barbaric people.
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    Minister of Love Roger Mexico's Avatar
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    Well, I don't know enough about British decisions regarding Kashmir or Nigeria to say, but in the Iraqi case certain decisions were made in the service of imperial economic policy. At the time, they controlled a swath of territory including Iran, Iraq, Jordan, and Palestine, and this was the intended route for an overland pipeline that would pump oil straight to ports in the Mediterranean, thus skipping the ocean trip around Africa to the Persian Gulf. Thus they didn't need Iraq to have any major ocean ports, and decided the risk of rebellions or whatever would be lower if the country was landlocked. (Which it effectively is--even their route to the Gulf is through the Shat-al-Arab Waterway, which is fairly shallow and only navigable by something the size of an oil tanker in the portions which are under Iranian control.) This would enhance their ability to control trade by increasing the Iraqis' dependency on other British territories for imports and other forms of cooperation.

    The future implications of this decision provided major contributions to both the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war of 1980 and the invasion of Kuwait in 1990. (Both partly attempts to seize territory that would rectify the whole landlock situation.)

    We're talking about decisions that were made in 1918, though. No one really got serious about decolonization until after World War II, so I'm not sure your theory about the motive makes sense. I'd point instead to the British empire's tendency in colonized areas to try to empower local factions who were otherwise weak and disliked by other groups, so as to render them more dependent on British patronage to remain in power. This is how clans of Sunni Arabs clustered around Baghdad ended up as the dominant political class in Iraq until 2003.

    I certainly think a history of outside empires being cavalier about local politics played a major role in making some of the world's currently more war-torn places so unstable, but I'm more inclined to suspect this was an unintended consequence rather than a specific goal.
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    Member Phil P's Avatar
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    What you said about the Middle East makes sense Roger. But with Africa, was there any foresight there? Could they have drawn them in a way that some tribal or other leader wouldn't have been pissed?
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    Minister of Love Roger Mexico's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Phil P View Post
    What you said about the Middle East makes sense Roger. But with Africa, was there any foresight there? Could they have drawn them in a way that some tribal or other leader wouldn't have been pissed?
    Well, that I don't know. I mean, I'm sure they could have drawn the borders differently, and in a way that more closely corresponded to the traditional boundaries between the territories of local ethnic groups. The French seem to have pulled that off relatively well in southeast Asia--there are now modern states clearly corresponding to major cultures like the Khmer, Lao, Thais, and so forth. Things have been relatively quiet in that part of the world since the US gave up on trying to split Vietnam into two countries.

    Part of the issue in Africa may have been that it was basically the last continent to be overrun by European empires, and they may have been a bit preoccupied with how to divvy the spoils between themselves to the point where allotting territory to the French or English or Belgians or whoever in a way that minimized disgruntlement took precedence over paying attention to the locals' definitions of which areas were a part of which countries. But like I said, I'm not really familiar enough to say.
    Quote Originally Posted by Ptah View Post
    No history, no exposition, no anecdote or argument changes the invariant: we are all human beings, and some humans are idiots.

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