By Parag Khanna
Maps shape how we see the world.
But most of the maps hanging on our walls are dangerously incomplete because they emphasize political borders rather than functional connections.
The world has less than 500,000 kilometers of borders.
By comparison, it has 64 million km of highways, 4 million km of railways, 2 million km of pipelines and more than 1 million km of Internet cables all part of a rapidly expanding global infrastructural Matrix.
As such, in the 21st century, we need maps that show connections over divisions, for these reveal not only how we cooperate across borders, but also the valuable corridors of energy, trade and data that we compete over.
Here are 5 of the most important maps for the future. The next president would be wise to study them carefully.
These maps are part of a set designed exclusively for the publication of Parag Khanna's new book, "Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization."
Here is the map Donald Trump doesn’t seem to understand. No matter what walls he may seek to expand along the Mexican border, the truth is that both the Mexican and American populations along the border have risen by 20 percent in the past decade.
Why? Because business is booming between Mexico’s fast-growing market and American businesses. That’s not all. Even though the XL pipeline failed, there are already dozens of freight rails, pipelines, electricity grids and trade corridors that unite the US, Canada, and Mexico, which has just welcomed huge American investment to modernize its oil industry. American car companies are thriving in Mexican factories, but this is actually creating American jobs producing high quality auto parts.
Now fast forward and think about droughts caused by climate change wiping out much of America’s breadbasket region. It turns out that Canada will be the world’s largest food producer as temperatures rise and its permafrost thaws, meaning it will become America’s principal source of both food and freshwater through the massive hydrocanals featured in this map. Americans should embrace the emergence of a genuine North American Union.
Globalization has catapulted China to superpower status. It is now the top trade partner for twice as many countries (124) as America (56). While many strategists focus on China’s mostly regional military manoeuvres, the supply chain complementarities it has built worldwide are the true source of its leverage.
China may have only one aircraft carrier, but it operates by far the world’s largest merchant navy of more than one thousand tankers and shipping vessels that ply these global trade routes. Even as China’s imports slow, it continues to be the fastest growing global investor, boosting its ownership of factories and ports, banks and telecoms along these same axes, so don’t bet on its influence diminishing just because its growth has decelerated.
What this map also reveals is that even as the US pursues a TPP trade agreement with many Asian countries other than China, it may yet benefit China, which will use its strong linkages into these economies to create joint ventures that more easily access the US market without forcing its own companies to reform the way TPP requires.
Does it really make sense for America to be organized as 50 states anymore? Countries from China to Italy to France and Great Britain are all reorganizing themselves around viable urban centers, metropolitan regions centered on large and productive cities. America needs to do the same.
This map shows how the US is actually made up of about seven distinct economic regions, each with anchor cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago or New York. Rather than rich states, paying taxes to Washington which then gives meager handouts to poor states, America’s economic system and even politics could be rearranged to reflect this reality of megaurban corridors and their dependent regions. At the same time, America’s strength comes from connecting efficiently across this vast scale, hence the need for highspeed rail networks crisscrossing the continent to form a much more dynamic United City States of America.
The Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank (AIIB) was not just a big geopolitical story of 2015, but it will be in 2020 and 2025 as well. More than 60 countries have signed on to China’s plan to build “iron Silk Roads” from Shanghai to Lisbon. President Obama badly misplayed the Bank’s launch, choosing to oppose it.
But in the decade ahead, these mega-projects that extend Chinese influence from Russia to Turkey will continue. This map shows many of the potential oil and pipelines, railways, electricity grids, water canals and other infrastructures emerging from Korea to Iran, bringing to life how even though China has more neighbours than any country in the world, and has serious tensions with many of them, its long-term strategy is to pave across them to access their resources and markets rather than invade them.
This is the kind of grand strategy America will find very difficult to contain especially since all of the countries involved actually want these projects to continue. Indeed, Europeans are among the biggest beneficiaries due to their large engineering companies winning big contracts.
As European trade with China nearly equals that with the US, connectivity across Eurasia is starting to compete with culture across the Atlantic. Students are taught that Europe and Asia are two continents, but 21st century infrastructure is making it one efficiently connected landmass.
The Middle East continues to crumble, and the next American administration may inherit an even wider swatch of crises. Jordan, Lebanon and even Saudi Arabia could fail through a combination of ISIS attacks and the oil price collapse.
Exactly a century after the Sykes-Picot agreement that created the Mideast’s artificial borders, the region needs a whole new map, one focused on connectivity rather than division. Indeed, almost all the 400 million people of the Arab world live in cities, thus the Arab map should be much more one of connected oases than divided tribes.
This map shows the many current, half-built and potential pipelines, water canals and electricity grids that can correct Arab societies’ vast mismatches between those that are waterrich and waterpoor, energyrich and energypoor. Instead of letting the Arab Spring become a Thirty Years War, now is the time to get Europeans and China, Iranians and Turks, and even Israel involved in building the infrastructures Arab societies need to create jobs, diversify their economies, stabilize the region and contribute to trade and energy security worldwide.