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Geopolitics is the study of the effects of geography (both human and physical) on international politics and international relations.[1] Geopolitics is a method of foreign policy analysis which seeks to understand, explain, and predict international political behaviour primarily in terms of geographical variables. Typical geographical variables are the physical location, size, climate, topography, demography, natural resources, and technological advances of the state being evaluated.[2] Traditionally, the term has applied primarily to the impact of geography on politics, but its usage has evolved over the past century to encompass wider connotations.

Geopolitics traditionally studies the links between political power and geographic space, and examines strategic prescriptions based on the relative importance of land power and sea power in world history. The geopolitical tradition had some consistent concerns with geopolitical correlations of power in world politics, the identification of international core areas, and the relationships between naval and terrestrial capabilities.[3] Academically, the study of geopolitics analyses geography, history, and social science with reference to spatial politics and patterns at various scales. Also, the study of geopolitics includes the study of the ensemble of relations between the interests of international political actors, interests focused to an area, space, geographical element or ways, relations which create a geopolitical system.[4] Geopolitics is multidisciplinary in scope, and includes all aspects of the social sciences—with particular emphasis on political geography, international relations, the territorial aspects of political science and international law.[5] The practice directly and indirectly impacts businesses and economies.[6]

The term "Geopolitics" was coined at the beginning of the twentieth century by Rudolf Kjellén, a Swedish political scientist, who was inspired by the German geographer Friedrich Ratzel. Ratzel published Politische Geographie (political geography) in 1897; that book was later popularized in English by the Austro-Hungarian historian Emil Reich and the American diplomat Robert Strausz-Hupé (a faculty member of the University of Pennsylvania). Although Halford Mackinder had a pioneering role in the field, he never used the term geopolitics himself.[7]

Anglo-American geopolitical doctrine

Alfred Thayer Mahan and sea power

Alfred Thayer Mahan, a frequent commentator on world naval strategic and diplomatic affairs, believed that national greatness was inextricably associated with the sea—and particularly with its commercial use in peace and its control in war. Mahan's theoretical framework came from Antoine-Henri Jomini, and emphasized that strategic locations (such as chokepoints, canals, and coaling stations), as well as quantifiable levels of fighting power in a fleet, were conducive to control over the sea. He proposed six conditions required for a nation to have sea power:

  1. Advantageous geographical position;
  2. Serviceable coastlines, abundant natural resources, and favorable climate;
  3. Extent of territory
  4. Population large enough to defend its territory;
  5. Society with an aptitude for the sea and commercial enterprise; and
  6. Government with the influence and inclination to dominate the sea.[8]

Emil Reich

The Austro-Hungarian historian Emil Reich (1854–1910) is considered to be the first having coined the acceptance in English[9] as early as 1902 and later in 1904 in his book Foundations of Modern Europe.[10]

Mackinder and the Heartland theory

Sir Halford Mackinder's Heartland Theory initially received little attention outside geography, but would later influence the foreign policies of world powers.[11] His formulation of the Heartland Theory was set out in his article entitled "The Geographical Pivot of History", published in England in 1904. Mackinder's doctrine of geopolitics involved concepts diametrically opposed to the notion of Alfred Thayer Mahan about the significance of navies (he coined the term sea power) in world conflict. He saw navy as a basis of Colombian era empire (roughly from 1492 to the nineteenth century), and predicted the twentieth century to be domain of land power. The Heartland theory hypothesized a huge empire being brought into existence in the Heartland—which wouldn't need to use coastal or transoceanic transport to remain coherent. The basic notions of Mackinder's doctrine involve considering the geography of the Earth as being divided into two sections: the World Island or Core, comprising Eurasia and Africa; and the Peripheral "islands", including the Americas, Australia, Japan, the British Isles, and Oceania. Not only was the Periphery noticeably smaller than the World Island, it necessarily required much sea transport to function at the technological level of the World Island—which contained sufficient natural resources for a developed economy.

Mackinder posited that the industrial centers of the Periphery were necessarily located in widely separated locations. The World Island could send its navy to destroy each one of them in turn, and could locate its own industries in a region further inland than the Periphery (so they would have a longer struggle reaching them, and would face a well-stocked industrial bastion). Mackinder called this region the Heartland. It essentially comprised Eastern Europe: Ukraine, Western Russia, and Mitteleuropa.[12] The Heartland contained the grain reserves of Ukraine, and many other natural resources. Mackinder's notion of geopolitics was summed up when he said:

Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland. Who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island. Who rules the World-Island commands the World.

His doctrine was influential during the World Wars and the Cold War, as Germany and later Russia each made territorial strides toward the "Heartland".

Spykman and the "Rimland"

Nicholas J. Spykman is both a follower and critic of geostrategists Alfred Mahan, and Halford Mackinder. His work is based on assumptions similar to Mackinder's, including the unity of world politics and the world sea. He extends this to include the unity of the air. Spykman adopts Mackinder's divisions of the world, renaming some:

  1. The Heartland;
  2. The Rimland (analogous to Mackinder's "inner or marginal crescent" also an intermediate region, lying between the Heartland and the marginal sea powers); and
  3. The Offshore Islands & Continents (Mackinder's "outer or insular crescent").[13]

Under Spykman's theory, a Rimland separates the Heartland from ports that are usable throughout the year (that is, not frozen up during winter). Spykman suggested this required that attempts by Heartland nations (particularly Russia) to conquer ports in the Rimland must be prevented. Spykman modified Mackinder's formula on the relationship between the Heartand and the Rimland (or the inner crescent), claiming that "Who controls the rimland rules Eurasia. Who rules Eurasia controls the destinies of the world." This theory can be traced in the origins of Containment, a U.S. policy on preventing the spread of Soviet influence after World War II (see also Truman Doctrine).

Huntington, Brzezinski and the Grand Chessboard

Since the time of Spykman, the word geopolitics has been applied to other theories—most notably Huntington's theory of a Clash of Civilizations and Braudel's Grammaire des civilisations. In a peaceable world, neither sea lanes nor surface transport are threatened, so all countries are effectively close enough to one another physically; rather, it is in the realm of international relations that differences and conflict is found, and the concept of Geopolitics has therefore migrated towards this arena—especially in its popular usage. Huntington's geopolitical model, especially the structures for North Africa and Eurasia, is largely derived from the "Intermediate Region" geopolitical model first formulated by Dimitri Kitsikis and published in 1978.[14] Following Huntington and Mackinder, Zbigniew Brzezinski, in his book The Grand Chessboard. American Primary and its Geostrategic Imperatives (1997), developed a strategy for the US to retain its global hegemony. He renamed the Eurasian Heartland a Chessboard, and defined five countries as "pivots" to control the Eurasian landmass: France, Germany, Russia, China, and India. As a National Security Advisor for various presidents, Brzezinski's ideas have influenced US foreign policy since 1977.

German geopolitics

German Geopolitik is characterized by the belief that life of States—being similar to those of human beings and animals—is shaped by scientific determinism and social Darwinism. German geopolitics develops the concept of Lebensraum (vital space) that is thought to be necessary to the development of a nation like a favorable natural environment would be for animals.

Friedrich Ratzel

Friedrich Ratzel (1844–1904), influenced by thinkers such as Darwin and zoologist Ernst Heinrich Haeckel, contributed to 'Geopolitik' by the expansion on the biological conception of geography, without a static conception of borders. Positing that states are organic and growing, with borders representing only a temporary stop in their movement, he held that the expanse of a state's borders is a reflection of the health of the nation—meaning that static countries are in decline. Ratzel published several papers, among which was the essay "Lebensraum" (1901) concerning biogeography. Ratzel created a foundation for the German variant of geopolitics, geopolitik. Influenced by the American geostrategist Alfred Thayer Mahan, Ratzel wrote of aspirations for German naval reach, agreeing that sea power was self-sustaining, as the profit from trade would pay for the merchant marine, unlike land power.

The geopolitical theory of Ratzel has been criticized as being too sweeping, and his interpretation of human history and geography being too simple and mechanistic. In his analysis of the importance of mobility, and the move from sea to rail transport, he failed to predict the revolutionary impact of air power. Critically, he also underestimated the importance of social organization in the development of power.[15]

The association of German Geopolitik with Nazism

After World War I, the thoughts of Rudolf Kjellén and Ratzel were picked up and extended by a number of German authors such as Karl Haushofer (1869–1946), Erich Obst, Hermann Lautensach and Otto Maull. In 1923, Karl Haushofer founded the Zeitschrift für Geopolitik (Journal for Geopolitics), which was later used in the propaganda of Nazi Germany. The key concepts of Haushofer's Geopolitik were Lebensraum, autarky, pan-regions, and organic borders. States have, Haushofer argued, an undeniable right to seek natural borders which would guarantee autarky.

Haushofer's influence within the Nazi Party has recently been challenged,[16] given that Haushofer failed to incorporate the Nazis' racial ideology into his work. Popular views of the role of geopolitics in the Nazi Third Reich suggest a fundamental significance on the part of the geo-politicians in the ideological orientation of the Nazi state. Bassin (1987) reveals that these popular views are in important ways misleading and incorrect. Despite the numerous similarities and affinities between the two doctrines, geopolitics was always held suspect by the National Socialist ideologists. This suspicion was understandable, for the underlying philosophical orientation of geopolitics did not comply with that of National Socialism. Geopolitics shared Ratzel's scientific materialism and determinism, and held that human society was determined by external influences—in the face of which qualities held innately by individuals or groups were of reduced or no significance. National Socialism rejected in principle both materialism and determinism and also elevated innate human qualities, in the form of a hypothesized 'racial character,' to the factor of greatest significance in the constitution of human society. These differences led after 1933 to friction and ultimately to open denunciation of geopolitics by Nazi ideologues.[17] Nevertheless, German Geopolitik was discredited by its (mis)use in Nazi expansionist policy of World War II and has never achieved standing comparable to the pre-war period.

French approach on geopolitics

French geopolitical doctrines lie broadly in opposition to German Geopolitik and reject the idea of a fixed geography. French geography is focused on the evolution of polymorphic territories being the result of mankind actions. It also relies in the consideration of long time periods through refusal of taking specific events into account. This method has been theorized by Professor Lacoste according to three principles: Representation; Diachronie; and Diatopie.

In The Spirit of the Laws, Montesquieu outlined the view that man and societies are influenced by climate. He believed that hotter climates create hot-tempered people and colder climates aloof people, whereas the mild climate of France is ideal for political systems. Considered as one of the founders of French geopolitics, Reclus, is the author of a book considered as a reference in modern geography (Nouvelle Géographie universelle). Alike Ratzel, he considers geography through a global vision. However, in complete opposition to Ratzel's vision, Reclus considers geography not to be unchanging; it is supposed to evolve commensurately to the development of human society. His marginal political views resulted in his rejection by academia.

French geographer and geopolitician Jacques Ancel is considered to be the first theorician of geopolitics in France, and gave a notable series of lectures at the Carnegie foundation and published "Géopolitique" in 1936. Like Reclus, Ancel rejects German determinist views on geopolitics (including Haushofer's doctrines).

Braudel's broad view used insights from other social sciences, employed the concept of the longue durée, and downplayed the importance of specific events. This method was inspired by the French geographer Paul Vidal de la Blache (who in turn was influenced by German thought, particularly that of Friedrich Ratzel whom he had met in Germany). Braudel's method was to analyse the interdependence between individuals and their environment.[18] Vidalian geopolitics is based on varied forms of cartography and on possibilism (founded on a societal approach of geography—i.e. on the principle of spaces polymorphic faces depending from many factors among them mankind, culture, and ideas) as opposed to determinism.

Due to the influence of German Geopolitik on French geopolitics, the latter were for a long time banished from academic works. In the mid-1970s, Yves Lacoste—a French geographer who was directly inspired by Ancel, Braudel and Vidal de la Blache—founded l'Institut Français de Géopolitique (French Institute for Geopolitics) that publishes the Hérodote revue. While rejecting the generalizations and broad abstractions employed by the German and Anglo-American traditions, the school does focus on spatial dimension on different levels of analysis. Lacoste proposed that every conflict (both local or global) can be considered from a perspective grounded in three assumptions:

  1. Representation: Each group or individuals is the product of an education. Thus, basic societal beliefs are grounded in their ethnicity.
  2. Diachronie.
  3. Diatopie: Conducting a cartographic survey through a multiscale mapping.
  4. Horogenesis: Neologism coined by geographer Michel Foucher, that describes the concept of studying the birth and death of borders

François Thual was a French expert in geopolitics, and a former official of the Ministry of Civil Defence. Thual taught geopolitics of the religions at the French War College, and has written thirty books devoted mainly to geopolitical method and its application to various parts of the world. He is particularly interested in the Orthodox, Shiite, and Buddhist religions, and in troubled regions like the Caucasus.

Aymeric Chauprade, former professor of geopolitics at the French War College, subscribes to a new French school of geopolitics which advocates above all a return to realpolitik. The thought of this new school is expressed through the French Review of Geopolitics and the International Academy of Geopolitics. The foundations of Chauprade's geopolitcal thought is the work of François Thual. Chauprade is a supporter of a Europe of nations at Europe's borders (excluding Turkey), and he advocates a policy of compromise with Russia and supports the idea of a multipolar world—including a balanced relationship between China and the U.S.

Russian geopolitics

The modern day Russian geopolitics is centered on Eurasianist tradition and is highly interlinked with politics. The trauma of the disintegration of the Soviet Union left behind various views ranging from moderate – stressing the unique position of Russia between Europe and Asia – to more extreme – arguing for Greater Russia aspirations (renaissance of Russian empire in the borders of the former Soviet Union), in line with the expansionist views of Alexandr Dugin.

Pakistan geopolitics

Pakistan is the center point of numerous regions – Central Asia, South Asia, China and West Asia (Gulf). Its geography affects many regions and is itself affected by them. Its demography is not near Indian but related to multi regions. Pakistan is based on the Indus River and this is the extreme end of South Asia. Pakistan’s identity and culture has evolved over centuries. This is a historical mixture of invasions, migrations, preaching, conversions, trade, local influences, blending with neighboring regions. Pakistan’s geographical location is unique. If its northern mountains are in proximity of Mackinder’s Heart land, its southern coastline in washing Spykman’s Rimland. It is a junction point of history and pivot of geography. (This extract is from the newly launched book, 'Geopolitik Pakistan' by Brigadier Nadir Mir, who is Pakistan's pioneering geopolitician)


The framework of Meta-geopolitics, proposed by Nayef Al-Rodhan combines traditional and new dimensions of geopolitics to offer a multidimensional view of power and power relationships.[19] In this framework, the importance of geography is superseded by the combination of hard- and soft- power tools that states can employ to preserve and obtain power. Meta-geopolitics defines seven key dimensions of state power that include social and health issues, domestic politics, economics, environment, science and human potential, military and security issues, and international diplomacy.[20] The Meta-geopolitics framework allows for the assessment of relative strengths and weaknesses as well as predictions about future trends. Furthermore, while this analytical grid is relevant for states, it also applies to private and transnational entities, which are playing an increasingly important role in contemporary geopolitics.[21]

See also

Politics portal
Geography portal



  • Spang, Christian W. (2013). Karl Haushofer und Japan. Die Rezeption seiner geopolitischen Theorien in der deutschen und japanischen Politik. Munich: Iudicium. ISBN 978-3-86205-040-6.

External links

  • International Geopolitics Reporters Association (I.G.R.A.) International association of professionals specialized in geopolitics.
  • (French) The Eyes of the World is a French geopolitical website, based on the legacy of the French geopolitcal School, focused on the analysis of the most important world news.
  • "Geopolitics of India and Greater India" (1943) by S. Srikanta Sastri
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