Geopolitics

… a core concept in Global Context and Atlas105

Concept description

Writing in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Daniel Deudney (2013, reference below) defines geopolitics as analysis of the geographic influences on power relationships in international relations.

Deudney writes:

“The word geopolitics was originally coined by the Swedish political scientist Rudolf Kjellén about the turn of the 20th century, and its use spread throughout Europe in the period between World Wars I and II (1918–39) and came into worldwide use during the latter. In contemporary discourse, geopolitics has been widely employed as a loose synonym for international politics.

“Arguments about the political effects of geography – particularly climate, topography, arable land, and access to the sea – have appeared in Western political thought since at least the ancient Greek era and were prominent in the writings of philosophers as diverse as Aristotle (384–322 bc) and Montesquieu (1689–1745). The best-known body of geopolitical writings is the extensive literature of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, much of which focused on the impact on world politics of the new technologies of the Industrial Revolution. Alfred Thayer Mahan, Halford Mackinder, John Seeley, Karl Haushofer, Friedrich Ratzel, H.G. Wells, Nicholas Spykman, Homer Lea, Frederick Teggart, Frederick Jackson Turner, James Burnham, E.H. Carr, Paul Vidal de la Blache, and others applied materialist approaches to contemporary problems. These and other writers tended to mix analysis with policy advocacy, and some exhibited many of the most pernicious racial and class prejudices of the era.

“Geopoliticians sought to understand how the new industrial capabilities of transportation, communication, and destruction – most notably railroads, steamships, airplanes, telegraphy, and explosives – interacting with the largest-scale geographic features of the Earth would shape the character, number, and location of viable security units in the emerging global international system. Most believed that the new era of world politics would be characterized by the closure of the frontier, territorial units of increased size, and intense interstate competition; most also thought that a great upheaval was imminent, that the balance-of-power system that helped to maintain order in Europe during most of the 19th century was obsolete, that the British Empire (the superpower of the 19th century) was ill-suited to the new material environment and would probably be dismembered, and that the United States and Russia were the two states best situated in size and location to survive in the new era. Geopoliticians vigorously disagreed, however, about the character, number, and location of the entities that would prove most viable. …

“The popularity of geopolitical theory declined after World War II, both because of its association with Nazi German and imperial Japanese aggression and because the emergence of nuclear explosives and ballistic missiles reduced the significance of geographical factors in the global strategic balance of power. However, geopolitics continued to influence international politics, serving as the basis for the United States’ Cold War strategy of containment, which was developed by George Kennan as a geopolitical strategy to limit the expansion of the Soviet Union. Political geographers also began to expand geopolitics to include economic as well as military factors.”

 The Dartmouth Library writes:

“The return of geopolitics was more prominent outside departments of geography and took a clear conservative hue. US foreign policy officials and the intellectuals who sought to influence it, recycled and updated many of the ideas of imperial geopolitics from the 1970s onwards (see Clash of Civilizations; Pax Americana). Among geographers, there were two main responses. On the one hand, some argued for a restored geopolitics stripped of its imperial trappings and more attentive to the changing relations between geopolitical and geoeconomic relations in an era of globalization. In particular, this line of research recognized non-state political actors, including social movements and terrorist networks, and new issues such as global environmental change and the global media. A related but distinct response was the formation of critical geopolitics, which drew more on post-structuralist concepts of discourse and representation to interrogate the texts (e.g. speeches, newsreel, policy documents) of politicians and state-centred foreign policy. There are also a number of other strands in current geopolitics. Jennifer Hyndman outlined a ‘feminist geopolitics’, informed by feminist geographical ideas and focused beyond the scale of the state to consider the politics of social justice, harm, sexual violence, and the public/private divide (see fear). ‘Popular geopolitics’ examines how political geographical ideas circulate through film, television, cartoons, and magazines. ‘Anti-geopolitics’ describes the challenges to state-centred geopolitics from within civil society, including dissidents, social movements, and allied forms of resistance. Its aim is to oppose the idea that the interests of the state and its political allies are the same as the interests of communities. Gerry Kearns uses the term ‘progressive geopolitics’ to refer to the ideas and practices in opposition to conservative geopolitics. It has more faith in international law and cosmopolitan ideals as ways of regulating the relations between states and people so as to avoid conflict.”

Atlas topic, subject, and course

The Study of Global Affairs and International Relations (core topic) in Global Context and Atlas105.

Sources

Daniel H. Deudney (2013), Geopolitics, Encyclopaedia Britannica, at https://www.britannica.com/topic/geopolitics, accessed 10 March 2019.

Dartmouth Library, A short definition for geopolitics, at https://researchguides.dartmouth.edu/human_geography/geopolitics,  accessed 10 March 2019.

Page created by: Ian Clark and Bryan Roh, last modified 10 March 2019.

Image: Maudlin Economics, North European Plain, https://www.mauldineconomics.com/editorial/4-political-maps-of-europe-that-explain-its-geopolitics#, accessed 10 March 2019.