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Why States Break Down: 3 Guidelines

August 25, 1992|Robin Wright

The Times panel of political geographers offered several rules of thumb about what physical features help determine whether a state will work or fail. Among them: * Long, thin states are problematic.

"Elongated states run infrastructure risks that more compact states do not have," explained H.J. de Blij of Georgetown University's Foreign Service Institute. Over long distances, highways, air links, social service facilities and other basic needs are costlier and less efficient. Remoteness also spawns alienation.

Example: Italy may split between the industrialized north and the rural and poorer south.

"In northern Italy there's a strong anti-Rome movement. People aren't anti-Italian, but they don't want to subsidize a massive bureaucracy, throwing money away on the south," said Julian Minghi, U.S. representative to the International Geographical Union's Commission on the World Political Map. "They want a separate economy and cultural identity in the north."

* Topography can spell trouble.

If ethnic, social or economic disparities correlate with stark differences in a country's topography, it can exacerbate pressure for border changes.

Example: Peru is seen as a candidate for partition dividing the interior mountains--home to poorer Indians and mestizos--and the comparatively affluent, European-dominated coast.

* Large states tend to have large problems.

"On the one hand, large states have a variety of resources and a lot of people to recruit for the army," Minghi said. "But at the same time, they have a tremendous area to defend and to integrate politically."

Examples: India, Russia, Kazakhstan, Sudan, Zaire, China, Brazil and Canada.

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