Introduction and definitions

During the end of the 1990s geopolitics seems to have returned to Scandinavia in the form of a few political geography books. German Geopolitik during the 1930s and 1940s contributed to the demise of geopolitics for decades. But there were for a long time an Anglo-Saxon alternative to German Geopolitik. The leading theoretician was Sir Halford Mackinder, a British geographer and politician, who published his first leading article on geopolitics in 1904.

The German geographer Friedrich Ratzel in his book Politische Geographie (1897) developed a number of concepts of space, that interested both the founder of geopolitics, Swedish Professor Rudolf Kjellén, and Sir Halford Mackinder. The latter’s central term was heartland, more or less Russia (or later the Soviet Union), although the more exact area of the heartland was in Siberia. Russia (and later the Soviet Union) was a land power that threatened British sea power. Mackinder introduced factors such as communications, populations and industrialization. The American Admiral Alfred T. Mahan was a geopolitician before the term was introduced in 1899 by Kjellén. Mahan’s thesis was broadly that the seapower could maintain control through a number of naval bases around the Eurasian heartland.

For more on geopolitical theory and doctrine before and after the Second World War see see The Future of Geopolitics below.

This author claims that in reality Mackinder’s geopolitical theories during the post-Second World War had a decisive influence on world politics. The Soviet Union threatened a Western maritime alliance around the United States, NATO being the military arm of that alliance. It used containment to stop the landpower Soviet Union from controlling Eurasian and African (the World Island) rimlands. Moscow had replaced Berlin as the main threat to the sea alliance. The basic struggle in global politics is landpower against seapower. This contradiction will continue to play a major role in world politics also in the 21st century.

Definitions of geopolitics abound. One that takes into account the political side of the term is Professor Phillip Kelly 1): geopolitics is the impact of geographic factors on a country’s foreign policy. Several South American geopolitical experts have presented their own definitions. 2)

A variation of the Kelly definition could be:

”Geopolitics is the impact on foreign security politics of certain geographic features, the more important being locations among countries, distances between areas, and terrain, climate, and resources within states.” 4)

A definition that well describes the South American view or ”feeling” for
geopolitics is that of Argentinian Jorge Alencio 4)

”Geopolitics is the science that studies the influence of geographic factors in the life and
evolution of states, with an objective of extracting conclusions of a political character…”

Alencio continued to describe how geopolitics can be useful for statesmen in the conduct of domestic and foreign policy. Armed forces can draw conclusions concerning national defense.

The outstanding promoter of South American geopolitics, Professor Bernardo Quagliotti de Bellis, has underlined the importance of nationwide development in South America and the regional economic cooperation. This certainly a basic rule also in other parts of the world.

The great lack of understanding, as a contrast to South America, in present Swedish political geography of geopolitics is demonstrated in a book by a Stockholm professor 5). He does not attempt to define geopolitics. The author of that book totally igonered Anglo-Saxon geopolitics and in a two page (out of more than 170 pages) treatment of geopolitics equals it with German Geopolitik. This is a totally outdated view ignoring the vast literature by geopoliticians published since the 1970s.

Rudolf Kjellén – The Founding Father

In the Swedish book mentioned above Rudolf Kjellén, the creator of the term geopolitics (geopolitik in Swedish) is accused of ”bombastic style” and presenting his material ”without basis in source research” (p. 153).

One can contrast the view of the author on Kjellén with that of Indian Professor M.M. Puri, a leading modern geopolitician:

”…in the body of the work by the distinguished political scientist from Sweden, Professor Rudolf Kjellén, one finds inspiration and stimulus to sustain an approach that may return more satisfying answers in comprehending Afro-Asian reality – political, social, economic – … than the other approaches…That his ideas were plagiarised, perverted and distorted….is no fault of his.

I wish to acknowledge here the intellectual debt…[owed] to the thought of this great Swedish political scientist…who imparted to the discipline of political science a substance, meaning and dimension, in the closing years of the 20th century, which was far ahead of his time.

The state and substance of political science in the Anglo-Saxon world, the world that really mattered so to say, in the 19th century and even till about the beginning of the Second World War, was, in fact, nothing more than history or philosophy or economy or law – anything but what constitute political science today. And here was this protagonist and professor of the subject who talked about political processes being based on and affected by the resource inventory, and the level of resource utilisation; he suggested, and maintained, that the evolution and orientation of policy and political processes ought to bear a close and ongoing relationship with the material environment which they seek to modify. Clearly, this is precisely what the present condition of the Third World particularly demands and is in need of; even the other parts of our world can scarcely afford to overlook or disregard this.” 6)

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: