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2012/3 (No 146-147)

  • Pages : 336
  • ISBN : 9782707174512
  • DOI : 10.3917/her.146.0090
  • Publisher : La Découverte

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Maps arouse intense interest today thanks to the new possibilities offered by geolocation technologies and geomatics (data-driven automated cartography). These make it possible to map phenomena with surprising speed. Data journalism, a journalistic method that relies on these new technologies, is transforming what once evolved at the much slower pace of academic research into one single piece of cartographic information that can be quickly drawn up. The articles published in Le Monde about French doctors charging fees above insurance reimbursement levels are examples of data journalism: “Using a computer program, we gathered all consultation fees and used a site designed to be searched by doctors as a gigantic database.” [2]  Le Monde, April 10, 2012.[2] The article includes a detailed map showing the distribution in Paris of the gap between the fees of Parisian doctors and the amount covered by the national health insurance system.


The possibilities offered by geographical positioning systems (GPS) and geographic information systems (GIS) combined with new information and communication technologies, also known as NICT (such as Twitter and Facebook) are creating fresh perspectives for cartography. International networks of crisis mappers have been forming over the last few years. When violence broke out in Kenya after the elections in January 2008, Patrick Meier—born and raised in Africa and seeking to prevent another genocide like the one in Rwanda—created Crisis Mapping at Ushahidi, a cartographic system for tracking threats and violence. The principle of crisis mapping is to enable real-time cartographic visualizations by bringing together at a single point called an information hub all messages with geolocation sent by people wishing to share information.


For the last few years, humanitarian organizations have also been using cartography and geographic information systems (GIS). With geomatics, they can pinpoint places where action is needed more accurately and more rapidly and take more efficient action.


Universities also see the benefits of these technologies. Patrick Meier (Crisis Mapping at Ushahidi) co-directed the program at Harvard on crisis and early warning mapping. [3]  http://hhi.harvard.edu/programs-and-research/crisi...[3] A project currently underway on disaster aid was commissioned by the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). It is funded by the United Nations Foundation/Vodafone Foundation Technology Partnership. [4]  <http://www.un.org/wcm/content/site/chronicle/lang...[4]


The speed of information mapping makes it possible to intervene in disaster areas much sooner. For instance, this system was used to locate people who were trapped after the earthquake in Haiti. It is in this light that Ushahidi’s involvement with information systems and large-scale policies (UN, Vodafone) has the most meaning. The link between mapping and effective action, particularly in cases of environmental crises, gives reason to make optimal use of mapping technologies. However, in the case of political crises and violence, this link is more complicated since contradictory actions must be weighed. Stopping the spread of a disease is one thing while stopping armed fighters is another. The cartography of geopolitical crisis is a distinct field of inquiry.

“Citizens, Draw Your Maps!”?


The time when people were jailed for owning maps and city maps were falsified in order to hamper potential insurgents seems distant, although some countries such as Russia still have control over maps. [5]  “There are as many maps in Russia today as in other...[5] Whereas in the past map ownership was a critical feature of political power, today citizens share this power, and associations consider access to cartographic data as a key component of democracy. Since democracy is a system for coordinating struggles for power peacefully, such access is implicitly associated with peace. In this light, new technologies are weapons for those who chose non-violence and believe they can thwart force by communicating about the geography of armed conflicts.


The OpenStreetMap project is a good example:


It was created in 2004 in England by Steve Coast, a student unable to freely use data from the Ordnance Survey. Coast decided to create his own map of England using GPS devices with the help of his friends. Today, with 620,000 contributors, OpenStreetMap has become an international project with millions of GPS points being fed into maps and hundreds of related projects that utilize these data.

The network is composed of OpenStreetMap communities, which will create base maps used for preparing populations for future problems or for acting in emergency situations such as natural disasters, conflicts, or technological disasters like Japan experienced. The OpenStreetMap community is thus creating a collection of maps that didn’t exist previously (like in Haiti) and updating them, whether they already existed or we created them ourselves. We saw this in Japan where maps were updated to show roadways or bridges that were destroyed. Contributors to OpenStreetMap reconstituted these maps remotely using aerial or satellite images. Lastly, we assist with “development” issues by helping countries acquire the technologies to map their territories. We do much more than just help with humanitarian issues; we support populations, helping them to appropriate digital tools and develop their countries. [6]  Gaël Musquet. 2012. “Cartographie et action humanitaire.”...[6]


Ushahidi’s founder also says he aims to make maps a weapon for pacifists. Activists say they have “Facebook to organize the movement, Twitter for organizing themselves, and YouTube for informing the world.” They see themselves as a segment of the population with an opportunity to have a voice. The image of democracy is changing; from the image of the nation to the image of a shared planet (people want to have a voice). “Our goal is to create a platform that all people and organizations can use to design their own ways of collecting and visualizing information.” It is an “open-source application that others can download, operate, and use to raise peoples’ awareness about crises in their regions. Organizations can also use the tool for the purposes of internal controls.” [7]  <http://blog.ushahidi.com/index.php/about/>[7]


This database organizes information by the date the firsthand account was uploaded, the type of source, the way the information (visual) was collected, and the way it was sourced (Twitter, article, etc.). What looks very precise is not in reality because viewers are not entirely sure of what needs to be added together to produce the total (for instance, should the columns of eye-witness accounts and the Twitter columns be added together or are they complementary?).


Moreover, when viewers click links to reports, they are redirected to external sites about which no commentary is provided.


Of course, citizen maps cannot be used to design plans for on-site action in conflict areas, although they can be used for legal purposes as such as bolstering requests for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to intervene. In fact, maps on Amnesty International’s (AI) site are called interactive evidence. The concern about legal precision is expressed in the commentary on the boundaries of territorial waters. Might these features help legal experts to assess grounds for court action or should interactive evidence be used to prosecute criminals once the crisis is over? The text accompanying the map explains that Amnesty International has:


[. . .] called on the International Criminal Court (ICC) multiple times to investigate the situation in Syria . . . The conclusions of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry published Wednesday, February 22 reiterate the findings of Amnesty International that widespread and systematic attacks on civilians constitute crimes against humanity and that other blatant human rights violations have been committed.

Map 1 (Photo) - Type of Map the Ushahidi Website Publishes about Victims and Refugees in Syria
Map 2 (Photo) - Viewers Can Zoom in to View Events in Specific Neighborhoods
Map 3 (Photo) - . . . and Specific Streets
Map 4 (Photo) - . . . When Viewers Click the Number, Reports Appear Along with Information about the Type of Account and Whether or Not It Has Been “Verified”

Referring this matter to the ICC is complicated since Syria has not ratified the ICC statute. Theoretically, the Court only has jurisdiction in member countries. However, the Security Council or any member State may ask the Prosecutor to investigate situations where crimes against humanity may have been committed and request that the ICC open an investigation. Maps like the ones by AI may help legal experts to weigh the likelihood of winning a case concerning crimes against humanity. Another of its goals is to give more weight to international public opinion. Their interactive maps of opinion can “show leaders that people all over the world are standing with the Syrian people.” This information may be brought before a court, yet it does little to improve our understanding of the geopolitics of a conflict or the geographic logic underpinning events.


The Ushahidi maps could serve the same purpose, although it is unclear how a court might treat anonymous reports. Apparently, the site captures all that happens with a large mesh sieve:


14,887 murders documented in Syria . . . You can submit reports anonymously or supply personal information. You can also submit reports by e-mail or by adding the hashtag #basharcrimes to tweets (be sure to include the location or the geolocation of the report when submitting by e-mail or Twitter).


These maps have no authors, which hinders their efficiency in cases of geopolitical crises. Many have argued that reliability is one problem of crowd sourcing. [8]  Here, by crowd sourcing, I mean “outsourcing distributed...[8] The reliability of a source is proportionate to the significance of the issue to the one submitting the information. Someone who sends a Tweet to say they are trapped under debris and needs help is a reliable source, but in conflicts where traps are parts of strategies, it is uncertain whether sources, deriving from a critical mass of anonymous individuals, offer reliable views of the situation. The problem of the efficiency of maps deriving from what some call “citizen science” thus raises the question as to the purpose of the maps and, in the case of conflict, of their place in a wide range of strategies.

Democratization Produces More Rivalries and More Geopolitics


The fact that citizens are learning to think critically about space and territories does not mean the number of rivalries will decrease. In fact, the opposite is true. In dictatorships, power is held by force and opinion cannot be a weapon. In contemporary geopolitical conflicts, crisis mapping, just like pictures and anonymous videos, is a means of communication in order to mobilize public opinion. It also encourages governments to take public opinion in their countries into account. This is nothing new. However, with mobile telephones, public opinion poses a greater problem to authoritarian regimes. At the same time, as opinion grows more diversified, the opinions of citizens of democratic Western countries are no longer the only ones that matter. Information channels are increasing, the Arabic channel Al-Jazeera being a leading example, and these compete with Western media. Citizens interested in the struggles for influence between States and the major political “families” (“West,” “Arab world,” “Muslim countries,” “Europe,” “emerging countries”) are becoming more numerous and have divergent opinions. Convincing them of legitimacy is a key stake. This makes it even more difficult to analyze the purpose of contradictory information—maps included—purveyed by the media and on the web. For instance, studying the beginning of the Syrian crisis reveals the extent to which, in today’s context of increasingly diverse information sources and recipients of information, the handling of uncertainty has become a much greater problem for journalists than in the past.


Sources reported on the torture of children in Deraa, which some say was the non-premeditated event that sparked the inferno of March 2011. “The site Syrian Stories handles video documents selected from a database of hundreds of videos collected and posted by the activist group Net Telecomix.” [9]  <http://syrianstories.org>[9] Its interactive timeline makes it possible to target videos by the date they were recorded:


March 6, 2011. After graffiting [sic] the walls of a school with slogans from the Arab revolution, fifteen boys aged ten to fifteen were arrested by local police led by General Atef Najeeb [sic]. They were interrogated, tortured, and returned to their parents. Many Syrians are outraged.


In Le Point, March 6 became March 13, and parents were reported to have been looking for their children for a month:


After school on March 13 in Deraa, a dozen or so children aged 9 to 15 were reenacting scenes from Tahrir Square in Cairo they’d seen on Al-Jazeera. They wrote “Down with Bashar al-Assad” on the walls of their school before going around town smiling and chanting “Horya! Horya!” (Freedom! Freedom!). After forty years of uninterrupted rule by Hafez al-Assad and then his son Bashar, Syrians were not accustomed to this type of display. The 16 children vanished. After a month of searching, the parents begged Atif Najib, the head of security services in Deraa and Bashar al-Assad’s cousin, to release their children to which he is reported to have replied: “On the condition that you bring me their mothers and sisters so we can have fun with them.” This reply outraged inhabitants of Hauran. [10]  Arefi Armin. 2011. “Les enfants rebelles de Deraa.”...[10]


The report on cf2r.org [11]  <http://www.cf2r.org/fr/rapports-de-recherche/syrie-une-libanisation-fabriquee.php>....[11] does not date the events and only reports the reaction of the population:


The uprisings that marked the beginning of the series of Syrian revolts occurred on March 15, 2011 in the border city of Deraa . . . The uprisings were sparked primarily by torture of children in Deraa. The first protest was held outside a mosque in the city center. Children made signs criticizing the regime and demanding the departure of the governor. . . Soon after, they were arrested and tortured (fingernails ripped out, etc.). Three of them were killed. When their parents came demanding their release, the governor told them: “Just go make more kids. If you can’t do it yourself, bring us your wives and we’ll do it for you.” Publically humiliated, the parents turned to tribal chiefs who organized protests outside the governor’s office. Things quickly got out of hand. The governor of Deraa was eventually dismissed by Bashar al-Assad, who received the victims’ families.


Therefore, uncertainty exists, which historians may clear up one day, regarding the number of children, the reason for the signs, the date the signs were filmed (the video was used as evidence), the reason why they were filmed, the content of the signs that justified the arrests (video does not show all the events, but merely the signs in Arabic), and who issued the arrest warrants (the governor? with whose consent?). Uncertainty also exists concerning how long the children were incarcerated, what parents were told, what group the parents belonged to, and what group decided to take action. Lastly, uncertainty exists concerning the fate of the children: how many died under torture?


A geopolitical analysis would attempt to clarify the geopolitical context of Deraa and other places of fighting in order to identify potential alliances between rival factions and ways to end the crisis.


Some say that NGOs are actors in what has been called the “battle of the maps.” This expression alludes to an ideological battle where maps play the same role as images. Public opinion is the weapon in this battle, and this weapon has spread throughout the world to varying degrees in tandem with means of communication. For instance, the role of the Satellite Sentinel Project is to be a whistleblower. This project uses satellite images and field reports to detect, dispel, and document threats in Sudan. It was launched by celebrities—such as George Clooney—and brings together many partners with significant financial resources, including some researchers at Harvard. [12]  <http://satsentinel.org/our-story/partner-organiza...[12] For example, on April 23, the analysis by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative was posted, which was based on Digital Globe satellite imagery. According to the analysis, the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) increased the number of fighter planes it had within range of the South Sudanese border. The Sentinel Satellite Project produced “proof” of air raids near a strategic bridge in the state of Unity in South Sudan. This proof was in the form of extremely clear satellite images that showed the number of planes and helicopters, as well as the damages from bombings. [13]  Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP). 2012. “Escalation:...[13] In other words, information that would have once been reserved for military officials was put online by academic researchers working with big-name celebrities to show the world the capacity of non-government actors to observe and discuss events, to have a voice in political forums, and to influence people with power on the ground. [14]  “We are the anti-genocide paparazzi. The idea is just...[14]

“Strategies, Geographies, Ideologies” and Geographic Information Systems: Geopolitical Cartography and Geomatics


The first subheading of the journal Hérodote was: “Strategies. Geographies. Ideologies.” In his book La Géographie, ça sert, d’abord, à faire la guerre, Yves Lacoste pointed out why this heading offended so many geographers:


It is sacrilegious because this plural form implies there is not one single geography, that of researchers, but rather multiple representations of the world: that of professors, the media, officers, etc.! It’s even more sacrilegious to view geography not in light of science and its criteria, but in light of strategies and ideologies!

(Lacoste, 1982, IV)

Advances in geomatics raise questions about new interactions between the geography of researchers, of cartographers (increasingly technical), of the media, and of political or military actors.


Combining cartography with geopolitical thinking highlights the conflicting interests at the root of conflicts. Its goal is to identify strategies that may result in violence. Even when the factor that sparks the crisis is unforeseen—an accident, police misconduct, or ecological disaster—conflicts do not become more violent by chance and crises do not unfold haphazardly. Organization is required to start an open conflict and sustain it. Geopolitics studies political intent and the strategies implemented in a territory to achieve specific objectives.


On one hand, foreseeing a geopolitical conflict requires upstream work to ascertain if a region or a State is prone to a geopolitical crisis. On the other, it requires downstream work once the open conflict is underway to identify its geopolitical features and directions it might take. This requires analyzing what stakes the conflict represents to the rivaling factions.


Geomatics, which enables rapid updates of data plugged into spreadsheets as well as of some crowd sourcing maps (Gaza by OpenStreetMap, for example [15]  In Gaza, the association has given “people GPS devices...[15]), must be able to be used upstream in order to have access to up-to-date maps (especially in rapidly changing urban areas, thoroughfares, or areas impacted by climate-related issues). Today, geolocation applications exist on cameras and tablet devices, which enable mapping and collecting geolocation data as one moves about on the ground.


Despite its uncertainties, crowd sourcing maps can be a valuable tool for understanding rapidly evolving situations. Once the map is drawn up, it is necessary to pinpoint phenomena, to identify how they converged at a given time in a given space, and then to integrate them into views of the situation. A difference exists between cartography that becomes more detailed as one zooms in and geographic thinking, which aims to identify different phenomena and to account for the way in which they come together.


Geography is a type of knowledge and a way of thinking used to understand the complexities of terrestrial space at various levels of spatial analysis and the interactions between the local, national, and global levels. It takes into account precise cartographic configurations and the overlap of multiple spatial units of various scales: geologic data, climate phenomena or ecological units, locations of populations, economic and social structures, borders of nation-states and other historic legacies (namely religious or linguistic). The elements needed for observing and accounting for the evolution of conflicts are not all visible to the naked eye: some relate to intellectual constructs, the concentration of a given population, location of attacks over a given timeframe, symbolic places, the geography of land prizes, influence of gangs, and historical boundaries, which overlap with topographic or urban realities. Simply seeing topography and buildings or the distribution of mass graves is not enough to understand what is happening.

Mapping Actors’ Strategies


The purpose of the systematized multi-scalar geopolitical analysis is to identify political intent and strategies for reaching objectives, which Yves Lacoste refers to as the diatope (1979, published in 1980).


A diatope is a schematic construction that overlays, in cavalier perspective, different analysis frameworks according to orders of magnitude. It represents a combination of observations possible at various levels of analysis in order to better understand a situation or to improve action. The schema aims to improve understanding of causal relationships between these different levels depending on what one wants to elucidate or what one wants to illustrate. The construction of a diatope is based on an issue that the researcher thinks is decisive, such as the balance of power.


The diatope above, prepared in June 2012 for a master’s thesis, depicts the strategy of people smuggling migrants from the Sahara to Europe and the strategy of States at the time of the “boat people crisis” in the Canary Islands, which led to the implementation of the first maritime patrols by the European agency Frontex (operation HERA: between 2006 and 2008, the number of pateras arriving in the Canary Islands declined by 71%). [16]  Balance de la lucha contra la inmigración ilegal 2008,...[16]


The map of a large space (small scale) shows the shift of points of departure for the Canary Islands in Mauritania. These have shifted in spite of the fact that doing so means covering more distance. Nouadhibou is the “final destination point for those migrants not wanting to make a huge loop across the Sahara and then through Morocco to board a vessel for the Canary Islands.”


The second map shows that Nouadhibou is located near the border with the Western Sahara and the Sahrawi Wall. This wall is a difficult and dangerous obstacle because it is surrounded by mine fields. Mines have been a problem in this region for decades and were already in use under Spanish rule. During the war between the Moroccan army and the Polisario Front, the Front’s troops planted mines haphazardly around the territories into which they withdrew. For this reason, even its representatives lack accurate maps showing the location of mines. During the construction of the Sahrawi Wall, the Moroccan government reinforced it by planting mines around it. [17]  Recall, for example, the deadly accident that occurred...[17]

Diatope 1 - Nouadhibou as a Strategic Point on the Migration Route of West Africa
© Alexander Barkhudaryants - Revue Hérodote N° 146

Lastly, the third map showing a small space (large scale) reveals two things: firstly, the “new Mauritanian national highway that facilitates access to the city from Nouakchott” and secondly, the fact that:

. . . the Cap Blanc Peninsula represents a decisive advantage for smugglers due to its geography since the mandate of Frontex stops at the borders of Mauritania. The smugglers’ tactic is simple yet very efficient. Empty vessels leave from the Mauritanian side of the peninsula, go around it, and come to the Sahrawi side where the isthmus of the peninsula is the narrowest (about 2 km). Since these vessels are empty, they risk nothing from being intercepted. The clandestine migrants are led by the smugglers on foot across the isthmus while the empty boats travel around the peninsula. Then, the migrants board the boats on the western side of the peninsula in the unregulated Sahrawi territorial waters where Frontex is not legally authorized to patrol. This is how the pateras depart for the Canary Islands without danger of being intercepted. [18]  Alexander Barkhudaryants. 2012. “Le recours de l’Espagne...[18]

Additionally, based on the boundaries of the Frontex patrol area, it is possible to identify several interception tactics the Spanish government implements via the European agency, which are within the scope of the general rules of maritime law and the bilateral agreements. When interception occurs on the grounds that the vessel is not flying a national flag (the flag places the vessel under the sovereignty of that nation) and within the boundaries of the contiguous area (first level of the diatope: within 24 nautical miles from the Mauritanian, Senegalese, or Cap-Vert coasts), action at sea can only be taken with the approval of the coastal State given that it has sovereignty in the contiguous area over immigration according to the Montego Bay Agreement. Therefore, such a vessel and its passengers can be automatically sent back to one of the States mentioned above. If interception occurs outside the contiguous area, the vessel is accompanied back to the nation represented by the flag of the intercepting vessel, in this case Spain. However, the outline on the map of the Frontex patrol area off the Senegalese coast shows that Frontex vessels also patrol a portion of its search and rescue area. This suggests that Senegal has allowed, through a discrete bilateral agreement, the area of European patrol to be extended. Outlining this area on a map thus improves understanding of the actors involved: governments, Polisario Front, smugglers, migrants, fishermen, etc. The fishing areas poor coastal States have conceded to European ship owners also need to be identified because foreign exploitation of these resources could impoverish local fishermen and increase the number of people who decide to emigrate for economic reasons.

From “Local to Global”: A Complicated Muddle of Contradictory Realities


The diatope illustrates a mode of reasoning that Yves Lacoste developed over 30 years ago and serves as the foundation of the approach taught at the French Institute for Geopolitics.


In order to help citizens in the places where they live to gain awareness of the fundamental causes of the conflicts they experience firsthand, it is first necessary to analyze, in concrete and precise terms, conflicts as they manifest on the local level, in workplaces and everyday life, given that ecological conditions are often aggravating factors. Then, it is possible to demonstrate precisely how local conflicts, which may seem entirely isolated, stem from a “regional” situation comprising larger spatial units also characterized by conflicts, which need to be accounted for in more abstract and more general terms. This makes it possible to go from a national analysis to an international one . . . In some places, conflicts can suddenly take a tragic or at least more dramatic and violent turn . . . It is important to be able to assess the overall situation of the country.

(Lacoste 1982, 176)

This type of representation should serve as a base map of the phenomena crisis mapping depicts. In order to visualize the evolution of the balance of power between actors, as well as the involvement of new actors acting in or on behalf of territories, it is necessary to contextualize events such as sudden migration flows, consequences of the conflict between the Polisario Front and Morocco on migration routes, or the influence of AQIM in the Sahara. Crisis mapping does not take actors’ intents into account. However, in a geopolitical rivalry, they are the ones who contain or aggravate the conflict in order to achieve a political outcome, power, influence, freedom, or recognition. This undermines the democratic postulate of crisis mapping, since it does not provide reasoned information about the different parties to a conflict.


Numerous studies about governance issues in times of crisis and the different crisis types exist since these topics have become so critical to decision makers. International relations experts study models of past crises; sociologists examine individual, group, and collective behaviors in post-disaster areas (the Disaster Research Center in the United States is, some claim, the largest research center in the world devoted to these topics); and psychologists and social psychologists study how a limited number of individuals and small groups play a central role in the way crises unfold. The administration and management sciences also have their own way of analyzing the impact of disasters. As for geographers, they focus primarily on environmental crises and this underscores the extent to which all the other specialists disconnect crises from their geographic configurations. Geography seems confined to the physical dimension of crises. This is why the globalization of crises can easily become theoretical. In the United States, for example, researchers have studied the impact of an attack on critical infrastructures in California. [19]  “Model-based Risk Analysis, User Guide.” <https://www.chds.us/coursefiles/cip/software/manuals/MBRA%20Users%20Guide_v2.1.pdf>...[19] These infrastructures are mapped as a system of interconnected territories with the physical location of the servers. Then, the management team for “Critical Infrastructure Protection” converts the concepts into equations, algorithms, software, and, ultimately, into public policies. In such a highly technical or technocratic system, the most sophisticated geographic information systems (GIS) are then combined with an advanced computing system in order to determine where resources will be deployed, as well as policies for protecting various sectors.


Therefore, on one hand, so-called “citizen” sources are insufficiently integrated into geographic reasoning, which causes them to lose a significant portion of their democratic potential. On the other hand, GIS-based mathematical modeling can pave the way to technocratic governance. However, cartography with databases that feed into a base map and takes geographic reasoning into account is certainly needed to foresee the political accelerations that telecommunication networks foster. One single expert is less and less able to analyze these phenomena because the spaces in which events spark geopolitical “fallout” are massive (impact of the revolt in Libya on sub-Saharan Africa; some even said the events in Tunisia inspired Chinese dissidents). What is absent, or mostly absent, from the writings of Yves Lacoste in the 1970s and 1980s is the contemporary impact of public opinion and the speed at which, in contexts of democracy or democratic aspirations, government officials, NGO leaders, and industrial groups must make decisions that will be judged by citizens with much higher capabilities than citizens of the 1970s in terms of intellectual training and networks of influence.


Therefore, the way information is put together is critical, not only for understanding what is occurring or forming opinions, but also for communicating about decisions that have been taken. Public opinion plays a larger role in modern political crises, and people often demand an immediate solution to the problem (especially if there are victims, the number of which is today immediately highlighted on a “citizen” map), whether that solution is sustainable or not. Influenced by sensational images and a growing quantity of information, contemporary opinions are apt to change quickly. Sudden waves of fervor can strike, and this makes it even more difficult to rationalize decisions. It is therefore important to create crisis scenarios to guide actions instead of letting them be dictated by media and emotional reactions.


The cartography of geopolitical reasoning thus differs from crisis mapping. It emphasizes the competing interests at the root of conflicts in order to identify the combination of internal and external factors that shape them. Certainly, it is necessary to improve the method for combining geopolitical cartography (which requires analyses of an academic nature) and the cartography of events unfolding in times of open crisis. Doing so would result in a geopolitical crisis cartography that integrates these events and their evolutions by using geomatic techniques. However, it is equally as important not to abuse the power of mapping technology and to base the demand for democracy on citizens’ capacity to follow, thanks to maps, geographic reasoning and to understand the stakes of those vying for power. This is what will “help citizens in the places where they live to gain awareness of the fundamental causes of the conflicts they experience firsthand” (Lacoste 1982, 176).


  • Lacoste, Yves. 1980. Unité et diversité du tiers monde. Paris: Maspero.
  • Lacoste, Yves. (1982) 2012. La géographie, ça sert, d’abord, à faire la guerre. Paris: Maspero. New Expanded Edition, Paris: La Découverte. Citations refer to Maspero edition.
  • Nieto-Gomez, Rodrigo. 2009. “La Homeland Security des États-Unis et ses répercussions géopolitiques sur la construction de la ‘Sécurité du territoire national’ au Mexique.” Doctoral thesis, French Institute of Geopolitics (Paris-VIII).


[1] Professor and director at the French Institute of Geopolitics.

[2] Le Monde, April 10, 2012.

[3] http://hhi.harvard.edu/programs-and-research/crisis-mapping-and-early-warning

[4] <http://www.un.org/wcm/content/site/chronicle/lang/fr/home/archive/issues2011/7billionpeople1unitednations/improvingunresponsestohumanitariancrises>.

[5] “There are as many maps in Russia today as in other countries, yet the most precise maps and the ones that are now freely available online were made during the Soviet era . . . Russia has its own Google Map (Yandex Carta), which is much more precise and efficient than Google. In addition, this map recognizes South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent States. The recovery of vector data (mainly MapInfo), which are held by local governments, occurs haphazardly and requires a certain persistence. Local governments are very hesitant about distributing their databases. Mistrust of foreigners persists in the name of ‘State secrecy’: there is always a so-called ‘secret’ installation somewhere in the vicinity. Updating data is another problem. Statistics offices are decentralized in Russia and essentially free to release whatever information they choose to. As a result, many inaccuracies exist, such as nonexistent roads, etc. However, the development of Yandex (Russian internet giant with a mapping system) and the recent entry into operation of the GLONASS system (Russian GPS) are gradually changing this situation.” Interview with Kevin Limonier, doctoral student at the French Institute for Geopolitics, specialist of Russia.

[6] Gaël Musquet. 2012. “Cartographie et action humanitaire.” Round table on May 30, 2012, led by Olivier Bernard, pediatrician and president of Médecins du Monde.

[7] <http://blog.ushahidi.com/index.php/about/>

[8] Here, by crowd sourcing, I mean “outsourcing distributed across a broad scale” in order to obtain more data at geographic scales that would otherwise be inaccessible to limited numbers of researchers or ones lacking in ubiquity (according to the terms of the Wikipedia entry).

[9] <http://syrianstories.org>

[10] Arefi Armin. 2011. “Les enfants rebelles de Deraa.” Le Point, May 19. http://www.lepoint.fr. Accessed July 2012.

[11] <http://www.cf2r.org/fr/rapports-de-recherche/syrie-une-libanisation-fabriquee.php>. Cf2r is an independent research group led by an officer (Éric Dénécé) and includes researchers, scholars, and PhD candidates from academic circles. The composition of the board is not available online.

[12] <http://satsentinel.org/our-story/partner-organizations#harvard>

[13] Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP). 2012. “Escalation: Evidence of SAF and SPLA Combat Operations.” April 23, no. 28. <http://satsentinel.org> (accessed July 2012).

[14] “We are the anti-genocide paparazzi. The idea is just to keep the pressure on. Spotlighting things can’t stop them, but it can make them harder to occur.” <http://satsentinel.org/our-story/george-clooney>.

[15] In Gaza, the association has given “people GPS devices to help them find the simple things they need: roads, paths, highways with the highest speed limits, locations of NGOs, dispensaries, mosques, food stores, etc. Here, we are taking concrete action in response to a territorial problem. Populations lack access to cartographic data and NGOs on the ground also need such data . . . We know the exact date and time data about a road, for instance, was input by a contributor who supplies various information: speed limit of the road, its name in Arabic, whether or not it is a one-way road, what its surface is, and how broad it is, etc. Viewers can click on the user and find out what he/she did beforehand. If it turns out that data is false and was simply copied from other maps, it is deleted.”

[16] Balance de la lucha contra la inmigración ilegal 2008, statistics from the Spanish Ministry of the Interior.

[17] Recall, for example, the deadly accident that occurred during the Paris-Dakar rally in 1996 when Laurent Guéguen’s car hit a mine after going just 400m off course.

[18] Alexander Barkhudaryants. 2012. “Le recours de l’Espagne aux opérations de l’agence Frontex,” Unpublished master’s thesis, June, fieldwork in Warsaw with the agency.

[19] “Model-based Risk Analysis, User Guide.” <https://www.chds.us/coursefiles/cip/software/manuals/MBRA%20Users%20Guide_v2.1.pdf> (accessed July 2012).



Today, maps spark intense interest thanks to the new possibilities offered by geolocation techniques and geomatics, which enable mapping phenomena with surprising speed. In geopolitical crises, geomatic cartography is the weapon of those who chose non-violence and believe they can thwart force by communicating about the geography of armed conflicts. The issue of the efficiency of maps deriving from what has been called “citizen science” raises the question of the role of maps and, in cases of conflict, their place in the strategies of opposing parties. Geopolitical maps of varying scales should serve as the basis for locating fast-evolving phenomena. Using them alongside geographic information systems can improve understanding of the balance of power in territories. The contributions of geomatics and geographic reasoning need to be combined more extensively in establishing the field of geopolitical crisis cartography. It is also important not to overestimate the capability of mapping technologies.


  1. “Citizens, Draw Your Maps!”?
  2. Democratization Produces More Rivalries and More Geopolitics
  3. “Strategies, Geographies, Ideologies” and Geographic Information Systems: Geopolitical Cartography and Geomatics
  4. Mapping Actors’ Strategies
  5. From “Local to Global”: A Complicated Muddle of Contradictory Realities

Translated from the French by JPD Systems

To cite this article

Barbara Loyer, “ Les crises géopolitiques et leur cartographie ”, Hérodote 3/2012 (n° 146-147) , p. 90-107
URL : www.cairn.info/revue-herodote-2012-3-page-90.htm.
DOI : 10.3917/her.146.0090.

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