Real countries? Legacies of denationalization and the politics of dispossession

Authors: Michael Dwyer*, University of Colorado, Boulder
Topics: Political Geography, Economic Geography, Environment
Keywords: legacy, uplands, de-nationalization, human terrain, Laos, Cold War
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 5:00 PM / 6:40 PM
Room: Roosevelt 6, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Extended American military engagements in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and elsewhere have, in recent years, seen the emergence of national unreality as an increasingly prominent discourse: As a way to help explain failed states, increasingly the notion of complex “human terrains” has been used to question whether the objects of American intervention should properly be thought of as “real” countries at all. This paper examines this process, its legacies and its implications though the case of Laos, which was subject to practices of de-nationalization through U.S. military intervention between the early 1960s and early 1970s, and which today bears the legacies of this process on its own human and biophysical terrains. Examining U.S. Cold War strategists recasting of the Lao “upland” landscape from a barrier to anti-communist nation building, to a strategic asset in the greater “Indochina sphere”, this paper highlights the strategic use of nature, and examines contemporary cases in the greater Middle East through two “moments” that figured centrally in the earlier Lao case: landscape connectivity (the so-called infrastructure gap) and human terrain diversity. Despite key differences, the paper notes the likelihood for similar legacy effects years or decades later, with political de-nationalization today foreshadowing and enabling economic dispossession tomorrow.

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