Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 78.djvu/173

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169
THE EVOLUTION OF NATIONS

difficult for the movement of a hostile expedition. In this last fact are found the peculiar advantages enjoyed by a country possessing coast boundaries on all sides, like Britain. Without this common, easily travelled, highway, the leading European nations of to-day could not live on their present basis. Access by land alone, along the line of, or even at the convergence of, great natural land routes, such as were so important in the early days of Dutch activity, could not meet the modern demands in the exchange of bulky raw materials for the products of mechanical energy. A list of the countries with no access from the sea is a list of the less important countries of the world, as Bolivia, Switzerland, Servia, Abyssinia, Afghanistan and Thibet. Other countries with seacoasts, but coasts of unsatisfactory character, either because of the absence of good harbors, too great ruggedness of surface, or being ice bound, suffer almost to the same degree, as Peru, and Russia both in Europe and in Asia.

The significance of access from the sea is in one way clearly demonstrated by Russia. During more than two centuries the importance of securing a coast affording ready sea communication at all seasons has been the dominating influence in Russian aggression and territorial expansion. Siberia, with its vast resources, loses most of its value to Russian national development as long as satisfactory outlets to the sea are lacking. The Russo-Japanese war may be regarded as an incident in the long-continued effort to remedy this natural defect. It is not too much to say that the failure of Russia to secure a satisfactory coast and easy access to the common highway of the world accounts for much of the slowness of Russian national evolution, a slowness ordinarily, but wrongly, attributed to the fact that the Russians are of the Slavic, rather than of some other, branch of the Caucasic race.

On the other hand, mere possession of this advantage of a sea coast, avails little unless other conditions are such that it may be used to best profit, as illustrated by the results of the failure of France to utilize, at the dawn of modern commerce, her superior access to the coasts of both Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean. The reason for this failure must be sought in the weakness of the French position in other directions. For had France enjoyed the internal security and aloofness of England, this direct access to both great commercial highways, backed as it was by the greater size and larger population of the country, the better soil and climate, the natural facilities for internal communication by navigable rivers, and the situation of France with reference to the markets of Europe, would have made France, instead of England, the master of commerce and the leader of all Europe.

The significance of position, therefore, does not cease with the inception of national development, but makes its influence manifest throughout the national existence. In advantages derived from physical posi-