THE REVIVAL OF CLASSICAL GEOPOLITICS

With the Russian onslaught of Ukraine geopolitics is once more important. The term geopolitics is mentioned daily in international news broadcasts. The revived interest around the world in the father of geopolitics, Swedish professor Rudolf Kjellén, is in stark contrast to how he is treated in Sweden.

Below is a few recommendations on geopolitical literature necessary to understand what is going on in eastern Ukraine, a country vital to Europe which has many times been betrayed by the West.

Recommended Geopolitical Literature

Theorizing about the relationship between geography and security is a vital effort. Modern geopolitical thinking appeared in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Geopolitics fell out of favor by the second half of the century. Today the it is undergoing a revival. The reason mainly because the recognition that global political changes in the twenty-first century occur are based on the geographical environment.

The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783. By A. T. Mahan. Little, Brown, 1890.

The world famous American Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan is a must read. Mahan’s thesis is based on the relationship between the political control of the sea and the impact of a powerful navy on a state’s foreign policy. Mahan thus attempted to predict the role that naval power would play in U.S. foreign policy. The book was lauded in the United States and Britain. Kingdom and the United and elsewhere. Mahan’s work can be credited with presenting the essential elements of sea power and demonstrating how important it is to have a navy.

Democratic Ideals and Reality: A Study in the Politics of Reconstruction. By Halford J. Mackinder. Henry Holt, 1919.
Mackinder: Geography as an Aid to Statecraft. By W. H. Parker. Oxford University Press, 1982.

Halford Mackinder was the Scottish-British founding father of modern geopolitics. In 1904, he described the core of political power (today’s Russian Federation) as the “eternal geographical pivot of history.” In his books he coined the terms “Heartland” to describe that space and “World Island” (Europe, Asia, and Africa). Mackinder view was that geography conditions political and strategic outcomes without rigidly determining them, and that geography, demography, and economic success are interrelated. The key to future peace was then the relationship between the German and Slavic peoples in Eastern Europe. “Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland; who rules the Heartland commands the World Island; who rules the World Island commands the World.”

America’s Strategy in World Politics: The United States and the Balance of Power. By Nicholas J. Spykman. Harcourt Brace, 1942.

Dutch-American Nicholas Spykman in his 1942 book represented a systematic attempt to apply geopolitics to United States politics. Global balance-of-power policy, with the United States acting as the balancer was important. This could be achieved if United States maintained a margin of superiority around the Eurasian littoral, or “rimland,” keeping the Soviet Union penned up inside. “Because of the inadequacy of the Arctic Coast as an outlet to the ocean,” he wrote, “the great heartland can find access to the sea only by routes that cross the encircling mountain barrier and border zone beyond. The only exit routes are through the Baltic and Black Seas and by the overland routes through the North German plain between the Scandinavian massif and the Carpathians

Rudolf Kjellén (Swedish citizen, 1864-1922) was the father of the term geopolitics in 1899, defining it as: the theory of the state as a geographical organism or phenomenon in space.”

Power (influence, politics) and space (territory, soil) were important.

The first geopolitician was a prolific writer and published a large number of works not only on geopolitics but in his later years on Swedish internal and foreign policy. One of his classical
geopolitical works, The Great Powers (Stormakterna), appeared in a first edition 1905 in Sweden.

This work had over 20 editions in Germany.

91 years after the term geopolitik in an article on the boundaries of Sweden in 1899 his work was for instance lauded in far off India.

In 1993, Peter Taylor wrote that the revival of geopolitics had taken shape in three ways:
“…geopolitics has become a popular term for describing global rivalries in world politics.”

“…the second form…is an academic one, a new more critical geopolitics. Critical historiographical studies of past geopolitics have been a necessary component of this ‘geographer’s geopolitics’.”
“…the third form…is associated with the neo-conservative, pro-military lobby which have added geopolitical arguments to their ‘Cold War rhetoric’. Such studies talk of ‘geopolitical imperatives’ and treat geography as ‘the permanent factor’ that all strategic thinking must revolve around.”

Saul Bernard Cohen used this definition in his 2003 book:

“Geopolitics is the analysis of the interaction between, on the one hand, geographical settings and perspectives and, on the other hand, political processes. (…) Both geographical settings and political processes are dynamic, and each influences and is influenced by the other.

Geopolitics addresses the consequences of this interaction.

David Criekemans published the first Dutch book on geopolitics since the Second World War in 2007.
Criekemans states that geopolitics is part of both political geography and international relations. Like Cohen, Criekemans focuses on the interaction (dynamics) between politics and territory.

Cohen, Saul Bernard, Geopolitics of the World System, Rowman and Littlefield, 2003.

Criekemans, David, Geopolitiek – ‘Geografisch geweten van de buitenlandse politiek, Garant, 2007.

Taylor, Peter J. Political Geography, Longman, Third Edition, 1993.

Source: Foreign Affairs journal

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