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Military geography

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Title: Military geography  
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Military geography

A landing in Egypt.

Military geography is a sub-field of geography that is used by, not only the military, but also academics and politicians to understand the geopolitical sphere through the military lens. Following the Second World War, Military Geography has become the “application of geographic tools, information, and techniques to solve military problems in peacetime or war.” To accomplish these ends, military geographers must consider diverse geographical topics from geopolitics to the physical locations’ influences on military operations and from the cultural to the economic impacts of a military presence. Military Geography is the most thought-of tool for geopolitical control imposed upon territory.

Without the framework that the military geographer provides, a commander’s decision-making process is cluttered with multiple inputs from environmental analysts, cultural analysts, and many others. Without the military geographer to put all of the components together, a unit might know of the terrain, but not the drainage system below the surface. In that scenario, the unit would be at a disadvantage if the enemy uses the drainage system to ambush the unit. The complexities of the battlefield are multiplied in cases of urban warfare.

Baron De Jomini[1]


  • Urbanistics 1
  • Base construction and closings 2
  • Types of terrain 3
    • Desert warfare 3.1
    • Jungle and forest warfare 3.2
    • Winter warfare 3.3
    • Mountain warfare 3.4
    • Mud 3.5
  • Ocean fronts (harbors, beaches and sea cliffs) 4
    • Pirates 4.1
    • Harbors 4.2
    • Beaches 4.3
    • Sea cliffs 4.4
  • Resources; future flashpoints 5
  • Decline in popularity and evolution of critical military geography 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • Sources 9
  • Bibliography 10


Due to the highly complex problems that urban development have given the military geographer, a term has been coined by Russian Colonel N.S. Olesik that can be applied to any military’s geography unit responsible for analyzing the urban environment: “military geo-urbanistics.” Fighting in the open country is much simpler; all that there is to deal with is the terrain, weather, and the enemy. However, urban combat involves much more than the weather, enemy, and terrain. The terrain is even more complex within urban areas, filled with many structures and transformations of the land by the inhabitants. Also, within urban areas the geographer must work with or work around the people. No matter the situation, there are always people that will cooperate. Likewise there are always those that will oppose, and there are also those that are caught between the two factions.

The difficulties for any military conducting operations within urban areas begin with the man-made structures that are what make an area urban. The different buildings themselves bring forth their own difficulties; obviously, this is due to the different types of structures that make up an urban area. The most dangerous aspect of urban warfare for U.S. troops, are the roadside bomb, has become a deadly reality because of the narrow streets that convoys must use to get from one point to another within the confines of urban areas. Ambushes are more likely to be set up in or around heavily populated areas rather than the larger “industrial” locales that urban areas are set up around. In today’s wars this is common practice for guerrilla warriors often due to a western nation's unwillingness to bomb a neighborhood or hospital. In an urban area, especially cities, the dominance of air power is limited by the buildings’ ability to restrict visibility from the air and because of the possible collateral damage.

During an urban operation it is almost impossible for there not to be any collateral damage; the people are just too close to the action. Also, with the theater of urban combat, there are some people that will oppose the invading force, and sometimes that opposition will be armed opposition. The armed opposition, of course, makes it very difficult to identify enemy combatants from civilians. This is the case in the ongoing Iraq war. In many cases occupying troops fight residents of the cities they are occupying. Insurgents often conceal themselves in the rest of the population and may employ vehicle bombs and suicide bombing.

Base construction and closings

The United States Department of Defense maintains a larger number of domestic and foreign military bases than all other countries combined. Closing redundant military bases in the United States often has a negative economic impact on local communities. Analysts at the Pentagon respond to budget limitations by identifying installations that have become obsolete for various reasons. Sometimes the needs for the location are no longer prevalent in defense strategies or the installation’s facilities have fallen into disrepair. That is the case with the smaller Reserve and National Guard facilities that dot every state. The personnel on the committees responsible for determining closures also observe the economic impact that their decisions will have on the communities surrounding the installations. If 40,000 people are employed because of the installation, either directly or indirectly, it is more likely that that facility will remain open, but only if there is nowhere for the 40,000 people that would lose their jobs. Those people could end up on welfare, thus becoming just as much of a draw on revenue as they were as employees.

Outside of the United States, some countries are strongly vying for inclusion in strategic treaties such as NATO. These countries, many of which are in Eastern Europe, want to join NATO for the mutual advantages of defense and the possibility for foreign bases to be constructed on their soil. These bases, if they were to be built, would bring fiscal resources that those nations would not get without the bases. Sometimes foreign bases are viewed as a good thing. In other regions, a strong political stance may be taken against the construction of foreign military bases, often for sovereignty issues.

Types of terrain

The following categories are different generic forms of combat that are the most prevalent in today’s ongoing wars and are also anticipated to be the fields of battle in future conflicts. Each category has a unique climate that provides combatants with different obstacles. It is no longer as simple as “the high ground controls the low ground.”

Desert warfare

An arid climate poses unique challenges. In many desert areas across the globe, sand is a main concern. The sand can hamper an army’s attempts to remain hydrated because it can sap the moisture from skin. The sand is also notorious for jamming machinery including the firing mechanisms for most firearms.

Terrain is usually fairly flat, though in some regions there are vast, rolling sand dunes. The desert environment can also contain mountains; as in Afghanistan and in certain areas around Israel. Due to the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, the U.S. military has redesigned the uniforms for the different branches of service. All of the uniforms have a digital camouflage pattern that is very effective in the desert environment, and the boots have been changed from the standard polished black boots to light brown colored suede leather boots. These boots are cooler under the intense heat of the desert sun.

Jungle and forest warfare

The conditions of these regions are basically the opposite of those found in desert regions. There are thousands of flora and fauna, and there is always moisture present which presents its own difficulties. The moisture speeds up the rotting processes as well as causing wounds to become infected much easier because of all of the bacteria that live in the water. With proper filtration systems an army should have no problem keeping hydrated.

The densely packed trees and underbrush provide concealment from the air as well as from the ground. Ambushes can be easily conducted in this environment just like they can in an urban environment. The jungle can also contain mountains, but these mountains are organized differently from those that exist in the desert. The jungle mountains have far more plant life, and are usually much more difficult to ascend. Helicopters have been proven as a very useful means of transportation through, actually over, jungle and forested areas; Vietnam was, of course, the testing ground for this. Tanks and other vehicles have a hard time maneuvering through and around the densely packed trees, and most military aircraft fly too fast to accurately observe the ground through the trees.

Winter warfare

This type of warfare is not based on a geographical design, but is based on the drastic differences in this particular climate. During war it is much harder to remain warm than it is to remain cool. Even Forested areas can, and many do, experience winter weather conditions. For this specific type of combat there are soldiers that are specifically trained to fight under the conditions individual to the winter season. It takes a special skill to fight in the deep snow and extreme cold. These conditions call for a drastically thicker and thus warmer uniform, and the weapons even need to be refitted with the proper devices to ensure that they will operate in the cold.

Mountain warfare

two mountains are alike, and so the training for this form of combat is almost the same. The warriors that participate in this form of warfare are special. These men do everything that all the other soldiers do, but they do it with less oxygen in their lungs. Fighting up a mountain can be very treacherous. There can be avalanches, rockslides, cliffs, and ambushes from higher up the slopes, and there are almost guaranteed to be caves somewhere in the mountain, such as the case in Afghanistan.


Mud is a universal menace to all armies. While it does not hamper the use of air power, it does slow, and sometimes stops, ground movements all together. The most common season for mud across the globe is spring. Following the thawing of winter’s snow and the addition of the rains that the season brings, the ground becomes very soft and almost any military vehicle would get bogged down if not properly equipped. The mud is not always dependent on the spring. Rather, in some parts of the world, they are determined by the monsoons.

Ocean fronts (harbors, beaches and sea cliffs)


Even today, there is still a problem of piracy on the world’s oceans. One of the most commonly thought of areas for this criminal activity is off the coast of Somalia. There has always been the constant threat of small and fast attack craft coming out to greet a vessel as it passes through the waters between Africa and the Middle East. Another region that piracy occurs, and it can be of a much larger scale, is in and around the Indonesian islands and off the coasts of the Asian mainland. Here the pirates have been able to capture much larger prizes, and they pose a much larger threat to the security of economic interests of many countries. Pirates operate from bases that are concealed, but they must be on the waterfront in a country that is either ignorant of their activity, or worse, are paid to overlook it.

To deal with the pirates, if an American vessel is attacked, the U.S. Navy has multiple assets to deal with the situation. If the pirates know an attack is imminent, it may be more logical to bomb their base with aircraft from one of the carriers. However, more often than not, the U.S. Navy would opt for secrecy and send in a smaller force, such as the U.S. Navy SEALS, to eliminate the threat.


In the concerns of a seaport, especially if it is a goal to either capture or defend it, there are more difficulties than in defending a city that is in land. With a harbor there is also the threat from the sea in addition to the land and the air. A harbor is always a key objective for an army to capture when an invasion is commenced. The sooner the harbor can be captured, the sooner it can be used to bring in massive amounts of reinforcements and material. The trouble is to capture the harbor before the enemy can sabotage it by blocking the entrance with wreckage or by deploying mines throughout the harbor. Defending the harbor is a treacherous task because odds are that the enemy can observe your position from both the air and the sea. The harbor is on the periphery of the defense network of many nations, and even more so if the navy is either deployed or nonexistent. The best ways to defend the harbor are to have military airfields in close vicinity, to have naval units based in the harbor on a permanent basis, and to be ready to make the harbor unusable by the enemy if they should overcome your defenses.


A wild Pepe on the loose. BE CAREFUL

Sea cliffs

The same rules apply to this category as to the preceding one with the exception of the mines. Here there is almost no need for anti-vehicle mines, and so, the defenses could be planned without much concern for an armored attack.

Resources; future flashpoints

The Middle East is, of course, the most obvious place that comes to mind when we think of valuable resources that major nations may compete over when supplies begin to fall around the world. The first Gulf War was an example of the United States’ willingness to go to war to protect its access to the rich oilfields of the Persian Gulf. The strong military presence there influenced some leaders to aid the United States with cheap oil, but over time those forces began to be viewed as a threat to the Muslim world. The attacks of September 11, 2001, have brought new hostilities to the region with the invasions of both Afghanistan and Iraq. Other hotspots around the globe centering on oil are the areas around Venezuela, the Caspian Sea region, and possibly the offshore oil deposits around Vietnam and China. In today’s age, especially for people living in developed countries, it is hard to believe that there are other resources that can potentially cause a war.

The most precious and most needed resource of all is water, and in some parts of the world, that is a very expensive resource to obtain. The most obvious areas that conflict may arise over disputes for water supplies would be in the desert, but at the moment oil is the most valuable liquid in the Middle East. However, oil will not always be there, and if those people are going to survive, they must have water. Several times, countries that are upriver have threatened to build dams across the rivers in order to cut off the country down river, starving that particular country of its water supply. This has been the case with both the Nile and the River Jordan, and the results in both cases have been the same: the countries that are down river have threatened retaliation if such an event should occur. As our global warming trend continues, our weather patterns will continue to shift, and that means that some places will fall into a severe drought. These people may become desperate when they do not have the resources to obtain water if such a disaster should occur.

Water is not the only resource on this planet that is found to be a necessity. The forests are as well. These densely wooded regions of the world are constantly shrinking, and as the oil runs out, people will need to keep warm in the winter. Odds are that they will return to using wood as a primary fuel source for keeping warm. As the forests shrink, neighboring countries will turn on each other for this resource in order to appease their populations. The forests of Latin America and the Pacific Islands are the key hotspots for this resource; this is in part due to the already tense situations in and around those regions because of growing tensions over global oil supplies.

In 2002’s Die Another Day, the term "conflict diamonds" is at the heart of the film’s plot. In the film, the diamonds are the currency that is used to fund illegal weapons deals, and are used to fund the construction of the Icarus space weapon. The portrayal of the use of the diamonds that come out of Africa holds true in many cases. The term “conflict diamonds” is applied to those diamonds that are not sold through an internationally recognized company. They are “conflict diamonds” because warlords in Africa fight for these diamonds in order to sell them to acquire larger wealth and new weapons for continued fighting. The same is true for the gold fields in southern Africa. There are many warlords that would love to have control of the vast wealth of the mines in order to further fund their lucrative endeavors.

Decline in popularity and evolution of critical military geography

Due to the subfield of military geography's perceived connection to traditional or classical geography without academic credentials in the field who touch on military strategy or tactics, there are presently few practicing military geographers or students of military geography in academia. Similarly, there have been few major texts on military geography published specifically for a civilian academic audience since the early 2000s. More recently, in a 2014 article published in the journal Critical Military Studies, the authors Rech et al. suggest a revival of the field in line with critical geography and critical geopolitics.[2] One earlier example of this school of thought has been Woodward's 2004 text Military Geographies. However, given the postmodern bias of critical geographical studies as well as critical geography academics' tendency to proudly claim for themselves a politically radical or anti-authoritarian slant in their research, this form of a revival of military geography seems unlikely to provide sound recommendations for or detailed analyses of major geopolitical events. This shift in focus would also make military geography less likely to fruitfully inform governmental policy or military strategy, as well as potentially limit the ability of academics to provide their expertise to members of the general public interested in studying or reading about the geographic aspects of military strategy.

See also


  1. ^ p.215, Jomini
  2. ^


  • Baron De Jomini, Antoine Henri, The Art of War, Plain Label Books, (from original French) 1862 translation ISBN 1-60303-255-X [4]


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  • The United States Air War College [5]
  • Powerpoint of Flashpoints [6]
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