New Orleans: A Geopolitical Prize
September 4, 2005 9:02 PM   Subscribe

New Orleans: A Geopolitical Prize A very enlightening article for anyone needing a little refresher in geography. New Orleans is not optional for the United States' commercial infrastructure. The United States historically has depended on the Mississippi and its tributaries for transport. Barges navigate the river. Ships go on the ocean. The barges must offload to the ships and vice versa. There must be a facility to empower this exchange... Without this port, the river can't be used. Protecting that port has been, from the time of the Louisiana Purchase, a fundamental national security issue for the United States.
posted by well_balanced (17 comments total)
I was thinking about this today. To adapt the famous Voltaire quote:

Had New Orleans not existed, it would have been necessary to invent it.
posted by Miko at 9:04 PM on September 4, 2005

Excellent link.
posted by goalyeehah at 9:24 PM on September 4, 2005

Really good. Thanks for this. Also, rather scary. I wonder if the US economy is heading for a depression because of this.
posted by teece at 9:37 PM on September 4, 2005

It is interesting how important New Orleans remains even a century past the supposed heyday of the river economy. Much of the economic value is indeed in the pipelines that converge there. Still, the city as an economic asset isn't gone, even if much of the housing and other facilities are destroyed -- the river still comes there, and ports and pipelines can be rebuilt. Some of what comes through will be rerouted and that will be interesting down the road, because some of that traffic won't come back afterward.

Really, we've been protecting that asset to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars -- not from the Soviets or the Mexicans, but from the river itself, which has long threatened to seize the Atchafalaya exit. That's almost more interesting, and more pertinent to the present situation.

Putting these two thoughts together, if this disaster means upgrading regional port facilities elsewhere on the Gulf Coast or sending a little more traffic up the St. Lawrence to Chicago, will that mean that New Orleans is incrementally less important to rebuild, and keeping the Mississippi running past it a little less necessary?
posted by dhartung at 9:40 PM on September 4, 2005

upgrading regional port facilities elsewhere on the Gulf Coast

You don't think hurricanes strike elsewhere on the Gulf Coast, or what? Have you watched the news for the past year? Can you say "Biloxi-Gulfport?" Or "Pensacola?" Mobile gets hurricanes too. And none of these locales has as prime a location.

Speaking of Mobile, did you ever hear of the Tennessee-Tombigbee waterway? It's considered by many aficionados of cost-benefit analysis to be one of the biggest federal pork projects/boondoggles of all time. It was an attempt to set up another major waterway, a sort-of new Mississippi River. It's not used very much.

New Orleans, as a port, is virtually irreplaceable.
posted by raysmj at 10:19 PM on September 4, 2005

Nice articles for the all morons suggesting New Orrleans not be rebuilt or wondering why it was built below sea level.
posted by monkeyman at 10:32 PM on September 4, 2005

Perhaps New Orleans, as an industrial facility, is irreplaceable, but what about as a city? People will work there, but will it become the same city it once was, or will it become second to Baton Rouge, just as Galveston became second to Houston after a hurricane a hundred years ago?

In a refugee center here in Fort Worth, many (perhaps most) of those who are asked say they plan on staying right here. Perhaps this is a great Cajun diaspora and New Orleans will be no more.
posted by Doohickie at 11:29 PM on September 4, 2005

In the future, we'll all be more Cajun. I don't think many of those people are going back. Even when bussed back there forcably.
posted by Balisong at 11:37 PM on September 4, 2005

New Orleans will be rebuilt, but without any concession for it's former poor, nor it's future poor.

New Orleans will be reduced to a Port, a Tourist Trap, and a bunch of subdivisions of cajun-themed McMansions. With gigantic, untenable, problem-worsening, big-ass fuck-off levees.

That's it. That's all that will be left.
posted by blasdelf at 1:20 AM on September 5, 2005

Please do some research. The new orleans port doesn't really do all that much business. In fact as you can see they are not even in the top 10 ports in the us.

Although i would agree that all of the black gold going through the area is gonna be nasty for the economy.
posted by sourbrew at 6:02 AM on September 5, 2005

sourbrew: What was that about? I'm thinking the list you see there hinges on some definition of "seaport" (NoLa gets a great deal of barge traffic, which might not fall under that) or the list ranks public ports only.

Meanwhile, Cajun country is west of New Orleans. Sheesh.
posted by raysmj at 7:49 AM on September 5, 2005

sourbrew, I took you up on that. According to Wikipedia, The Port of South Louisiana, of which the New Orleans port is a part, "is the largest volume shipping port in the United States and fifth largest in the world." (Also see the New Orleans entry). (Note that this info is also in the post's article)

According to this random blogger (seems reasonable--found with google), if the New Orleans port is inoperable, so is the Port of Louisiana.

Money is not the only measure of significance. The article linked in the post actually points out that the agricultural products shipped from New Orleans are of low value per weight: that's actually one of the things that make the river system of transport so important. The U.S. is able to profit on cheap agricultural products precisely because it can transport them at very low costs. There isn't a good alternative because land transport will quickly eat away at the narrow profit margins. Also, if the New Orleans port is the main importer for a particular commodity (like coffee), then that commodity will likely be affected whether or not the raw monetary transaction looks large in comparison with other ports.

The closures are already being felt internationally.
posted by carmen at 8:03 AM on September 5, 2005

Stratfor rocks... buy a suscription if you can afford it. If nothing else, sign up for their free weekly newsletters. I think they rank #1 as the company I'd most love to work for with my poli sci degree.

I've been reading them since '99 when their services were free. They had the most honest assessments of the Kosovo campaign and argued that, in reality, NATO failed and caved into Milosovik's demands at the end of the bombing.
posted by trinarian at 11:48 AM on September 5, 2005

If anyone knows of a good resource I'd be interested in a more thorough analysis of how shipping will be affected in the near and long term. The author cleary shows that what has happend is bad for shipping but I'd like to get a better handle on just how bad.

For example, what realistic projections can be made about the this year's harvests coming from the midwest? The Hindu Business Line link up there states New Orleans is the entry point for imports of steel, rubber, precious metals and coffee and the gateway for as much as 70 per cent of the grain exported from the US.
posted by well_balanced at 5:01 PM on September 5, 2005

New Orleans, as a port, is virtually irreplaceable.

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings.

Seriously, ray, get a grip. It's a romantic notion but hardly realistic.

All I was talking about was that in the near term the destruction means the traffic must go elsewhere. Seriously -- the harvest can't be delayed until January. Exactly where will depend on what it is and where it needs to be, of course. Once the shippers figure out that they don't require New Orleans, though, it's going to be more problematic once the port is rebuilt. For many, New Orleans will continue to offer geographical advantages, but it will have lost business that simply depended on inertia to remain there.

How many ships "round the Horn" anymore? I've heard of someplace called Panama.
posted by dhartung at 10:33 PM on September 5, 2005

New Orleans is the quickest and handiest route for Mississippi River shipping, but the system is connected by canal between the Illinois River and Lake Michigan. This canal has a bit of icky history, but will probably be used a lot more in the short term. I'm not sure what Chicago's ability to handle a lot more shipping quickly is, but I can tell you that we used to see many more ships on the Great Lakes than we do these days... the system can undoubtedly handle more (how many more, who knows).

A possibly off-the-wall possibility is shipping north to Minneapolis, or as far north as is navigable, and offloading for shuttle between river and Duluth! Duluth used to handle tons of ships, but now handles a lot less... there's probably more idled shipping facilities in that city than anywhere else.

Note: I'm no expert, just speaking as a lifetime Michigan resident whose grandfather often travelled the shipping lanes.
posted by Pufferish at 7:26 AM on September 6, 2005

Pufferish: Didn't you ever hear of the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald?
posted by Doohickie at 8:34 PM on September 6, 2005

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