Critical Geopolitics

Concisely defined, critical geopolitics seeks to reveal the hidden politics of geopolitical knowledge. It is to a certain extent socialist or Marxist (or leftist) in its outlook and is against describing geopolitics as based on the world political map. Instead its backers are attempting to describe it as a discourse, as a culturally and politically varied (but leftist) way of describing, representing and writing about geography and international politics. In other words it is a leftist way of geopolitical thinking about politics itself.

There are several ’methods of study’. They provide a conceptual framework that basically wants to express that geopolitics is a contested political activity. In their words classical geopolitics could be described as ’conservative’. This is of course false, as there is no common conservative ideology.

Thomas Lundén – How Not to Write About Geopolitics

A good example of modern disinformation on geopolitics in Sweden is the book mentioned above, written by Professor Lundén of Stockholm University, Makten over marken – en politisk geografi (The Power Over the Ground – A Political Geography). As mentioned above the author devoted two pages to geopolitics. He equalled geopolitics with German Geopolitik and totally disregarded the development of geopolitical writing and research from the 1970s. A short section on Italian and Balkan problems (15 lines) is the only and questionable treatment of geopolitics after 1945.

The final paragraph in the book described geopolitics ”in its more peaceful form” as some kind of transnational planning. Geopolitics could be digging a canal in Western Europe, a railway tunnel between two states or the (now defunct) Comecon’s (the Soviet answer to EU) building of gas pipelines. Of course projects of the type Lundén mentions could play a geopolitical role. But the professor dislikes Prussia. Transnational planning type geopolitics does not, according to him, ”have the undertone of ’Blut und Boden’ – blood and soil – in the line of territorial expansion of Prussia and its perverted successor, Nazi Germany (translation by the author of this review from Swedish). Der Herr Professor seems to be living in the 1930s.

No doubt the book by Lundén, Makten over marken, does not meet the requirements for use at Swedish or other universities.

Kristian Stokke – Geopolitics from the Left

Basically a leftist tract a book on political geography by Norwegian Kristian Stokke (Politisk geografi, Oslo: Tano Aschehoug, 1999) in spite of its onesidedness is much more informative than Lundén’s book.
Stokke is including a discussion of both critical geopolitics and the geopolitical thinking based on the wave theory of Kondratieff.

The division in spatial, radical and critical political geography seems reasonable but the space devoted to marxist ideas seems out of place after 1991.

Thoughtfully Stokke is including at least two of the four most important geopolitical books published in the United States since the 1980s. Interestingly these four books were not published by geographers. Besides Huntington and Fukuyama, treated by Stokke, two other books belong here (see below).

Although Stokke devoted a chapter in the book to Rudolf Kjellén he fails to see the international importance of Kjellén’s books and that Kjellén was the founding father of geopolitics.

Importantly also some geopolitical cartographical material has been included in the book. With its faults, Stokke’s work is of a much higher quality than Lundén’s book and although it is ideologically too leftist it deserves some praise. If these two books is a trend, geopolitics is not in good hands at Scandinavian academies. But then geopolitics was never a science for the universities.

The Future of Geopolitics

It is interesting to note that the four most important geopolitical books since the 1980s have not been published by political geographers. Instead the authors are historians and political scientists. Three of them has had connections to American administrations.

Zbigniew Brzezinski was President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser. In The Grand Chessboard – American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives (New York: Basic Books, 1997) the global strategy of the United States is investigated and what the country should do to maintain its exceptional position in the 21st century. Of the four Kennedy, Fukuyama, and Huntington, Brzezinski is the most geopolitical of them:

”The exercise of American global primacy must be sensitive to the fact that political geography remains a critical consideration in international affairs.” (p. 37).

In 1988 Yale University Professor Paul Kennedy published his widely debated The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (1988). 7) In this book he claimed that based on a study of earlier great powers, the United States had reached its eclipse. This was of course not correct. America went on to defeat the Soviet Union in the Cold War that ended in 1991. Since then the American military and economy has come to outgrow all other nations. Around 15 years later Kennedy indicated, to say it mildly, that he had been
wrong in 1988 8):

”The larger lesson…is that in military terms there is only one player in the field that counts…Nothing has ever existed like this disparity of power, nothing.” 9)

But the United States has also acted to strengthen its economy:

”cutting costs, making companies leaner and meaner, investing in newer technologies, promoting a communications revolution, trimming government deficits…” 10)

It is notable that both Brzezinski and Kennedy are not mentioned in Stokkes book.

After reading the two new Scandinavian political geography books one rather might conclude that the important writing in the field of geopolitics has passed from political geographers to historians and experts in international relations. And having rested in the shadow of international relations geopolitics once more has emerged as an important factor in global political analysis.

There is one exception from the rule of the leading geopoliticians. The British political geographer Geoffrey Parker has written two excellent overviews on geopolitics. Both are absent in Stokke’s bibliography. 11)


1. Phillip Kelly is Chair of the Division of Social Sciences and Professor of Political Science of Emporia State University in Emporia, Kansas, USA.

2. Phillip Kelly, Checkerboards & Shatterbelts – The Geopolitics of South America, Austin: University of Texas Press 1997, p.4.

3. Ibid. P.5.

4. Ibid.

5. Thomas Lundén, Makten over marken – En politisk geografi, Lund: Studentlitteratur, 1997.

6. Afro-Asian Geopolitics, International Seminar funded by the University Grants Commission (in association with the Society for the Study of Geopolitics, University of Chandigarh, India), 4th to the 11th of April, 1990, pp. 44-45.

7. Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000, New York: Random House, 1988.

8. Paul Kennedy, ”The Eagle Has Landed”, Financial Times, London, February 1, 2002.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid.

11. Geoffrey Parker, Western Geopolitical Thought in the Twentieth Century, London: Croom Helm, 1985, and Geopolitics: Past, Present and Future, London: Pinter, 1998.

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