Introducing geopolitics 2

Philippe Le Billon
Lecture 2 – Introducing Geopolitics
What is ‘geopolitics’?
• Etymology
• Lineage and circulation
• Why does it have currency?
• How does it work?
Geo [Greek ‘ge’ = earth]
Politics [Greek ‘politikos’ = affairs of the city/state,
from ‘polis’ = city]
Lineage and circulation
• Rudolf Kjellen (1864-1922), Swedish political scientist,
often presented as having coined the term ‘geopolitics’ in
Study of the state as a ‘geographical organism’ or spatial
– Topopolitik: position of a state
– Physiopolitik: territory of a state (Raum)
– Morphopolitik: shape of a state
• First known appearance in German mathematician and
philosopher Leibniz’s Encyclopaedia (1679): relation
between universal history and human geography.
• Longer lineage of thinkers and strategists (e.g. Aristotle,
Confucius, Machiavelli)
Genealogy of German
Alexander von Humboldt
Charles Darwin
Evolution of species
=> ‘Social Darwinism’
• Environmental
Alfred Mahan
Land power/Sea power
• Evolution of organisms
Karl Ritter
‘Organic state’ (state-land-people)
Halford Mackinder
Geographical ‘Pivot of History’
Friedrich Ratzel
‘Political Geography’
‘Lebensraum’ (living space)
• End of the ‘age of
discoveries’ and imperial
• Industrialization and
Rudolph Kjellen
Karl Haushofer
German ‘Geopolitik’ under Nazi
Rudolph Hess
Senior Nazi official
Alfred Mahan (1840-1914)
• Thucydides (460-395bc): Peloponnesian War: Athens
(sea-power) vs Sparta (land-power)
• French failure to become a dominant ‘sea power’
due to geographical position dictating continental
and maritime policies (‘two-fronts’)
• Implications:
– importance of ‘securing’ the American landmass to
allow for a focus on ‘sea power’
– ‘sea power’ secures ‘national greatness’
– Extension of US’s Manifest Destiny through to the
world through naval protection of US commerce
• Mahan’s geopolitical coinage includes the ‘Middle
East’ (at the time mostly Persian Gulf – later also
renamed Arab(ian) Gulf)
Published 1890
Friedrich Ratzel (1844-1904)
Influenced by Darwin’s theory of evolution
=> states as ‘organisms’ obeying to the laws of evolution: ‘survival
of the fittest’
• Organic analogy:
– Lebensraum: ‘living space’ to thrive => states must expand or die
• Strong, united Germany extending to ‘Mitteleuropa’ to include
all German-speaking people => preserve integrity of German
culture and preclude attacks by hostile neighbors => logic of
territorial expansion but also autarky (no external dependence
on ‘unstable’ foreign markets)
• Perception of German vulnerability, yet high potential
Completed 1899
Halford Mackinder (1861-1947)
Most prominent British geographer of the early 20th century,
renown for his ‘heartland’ geopolitical argument
• John Evelyn (1620-1706) argued in 1674 that,
Whoever commands the ocean commands the trade of the world, and
Whoever commands the trade of the world commands the riches of the world, and
Whoever is master of that commands the world itself.
Mackinder saw a shift of balance of power from sea-based to landbased powers; a shift that created a ‘geographical pivot of history’
Mackinder’s paper submitted in 1902, published in 1904
St Petersburg-Vladivostok railway completed in 1903
Russian perspective: protect ‘Russian territories’ in the east from Britain, China
and Japan.
Map of the ‘natural seats of power’, Halford J. Mackinder (1904) ‘The
Geographical Pivot of History’, Geographical Journal
Haushofer’s pan-region model
Main assumptions
The idea that states compete is based on the assumptions
that states need territory and resources to exist and so
that they always try to grab more territory and resources
=> Belief that states do not always fight because their
power is balanced: no state attack another because they
are afraid of the power of that other state or its allies
=> The assumption is that ‘world politics’ is a zero-sum
struggle for territory and resources
Why does geopolitics have currency?
• Suggests a topic is important
• Deals with ‘big issues’ or relative power, threats, survival
• Purports to explain a great deal in simple terms, relates the mess of
local events to a clearer ‘big picture’
• Justify a situation by arguing it is natural
 one “only needs to look at the map”
 simplistic and biased views of ‘other’ places/people
• Brings a supposed clarity that can drive action (actionable
recommendations: military deployment, alliances, infrastructures
such as walls or ports)
• Promises to serve as a quasi oracle to predict future direction of
world affairs (not through access to ‘thoughts of the divine’ but
scientific facts) => yet often value-based rather than factual
Different forms of geopolitics
• Formal geopolitics
• Practical geopolitics
• Popular geopolitics
Formal Geopolitics
“… describes how demographic trends in the
developed world will constrain the ability of the
United States and its traditional allies to maintain
national and global security in the decades ahead. It
also explains how dramatic demographic change in
the developing world--from resurgent youth bulges in
the Islamic world to premature aging in China and
population implosion in Russia--will give rise to
serious new security threats. While some argue that
global aging is pushing the world toward greater
peace and prosperity, The Graying of the Great
Powers warns that a period of great geopolitical
danger looms just over the horizon. Neither the
triumph of multilateralism nor democratic capitalism
is assured. The demographic trends of the twentyfirst century will challenge the geopolitical
assumptions of both the left and the right.”
Practical Geopolitics
Popular Geopolitics
US movie
Next week
• Geopolitical perspectives on war and peace
=> Read Sara Koopman “Alter-geopolitics”