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What Is Geopolitics
Geopolitics is "a term adopted by geographers to describe an area of geographic enquiry that considers space to be important in understanding the constitution of international relations", (Dictionary of Human Geography, second edition). This term has been adapted to explain the relative importance of countries within the global geopolitical order by utilising three complementary frameworks; the power approach; the ideological approach and the political economy approach. The power approach looks at the relationships between nations by examining their ability to influence or change the behavior of others. Since the middle of the twentieth century this method has witnessed a dramatic shift of emphasis. The bipolarity of the 1940's and 1950's, with the USA and USSR superpowers dominating, was replaced by the loose polarity of the 1960's and the development of newer and stronger industrial nations and finally into the growth of the multipolarity stage now being experienced with the emergence of Western Europe, Japan and China as significant economic powers. In this case the geopolitical equilibrium has been preserved by a hierarchy of powerful states developing at the expense of smaller and weaker nations. The ideological approach is used as a basis upon which the state can justify territorial actions, domestically and globally. In the case of the USA it expanded its frontiers by "going on a mission to civilise the wilderness", hence gaining the territory that increased its geopolitical significance. The USSR also used ideological reasoning to vindicate military intervention whenever socialism was threatened from a source within its own boundaries. It is this ideological approach that lead SB Cohen, in his book "Geography And Politics In A Divided World", to formulate his hypothesis on shatterbelt regions, an extension of the work done by Fairgrieve on his "crush zones". Here Cohen describes a shatterbelt as "a large, strategically located region that is occupied by a number of conflicting states and is caught between the conflicting interests of adjoining Great Powers". This region therefore includes south-east Asia and the Middle East which, because of oil, means their political and economic fate is of vital concern to other emerging powers. However, within these regions there is a clash of culture, history, environment and politics that makes the area very unstable and hence provides the emerging powers with the ideological basis to justify territorial action. The final approach, the political economy approach, assumes that geopolitics cannot be understood without fully considering the global economy and who gets what, where and how. Wallerstein considered the links between processes of capital accumulation, resource competition and foreign policy, a study which thrust the USA into the leading role and downgraded the USSR since it had far more limited economic capabilities. However, this approach relegates the importance of politics and cultural processes at a state level when, in fact, they have a very influential role in determining international relations. Probably the founder of geopolitics was Halford Mackinder, who, in 1904, wrote an essay entitled "The Geographical pivot of History", that incorporated all three geopolitical approaches, at a time when varios groupings of imperalist powers were emerging. In his essay he dealt with the fact that the age of overseas expansion was over and that the world was becoming a closed political system where a political activity in one place produced a response in another, "every explosion of social forces, instead of being dissipated in a surrounding circuit of unknown space and barbaric chaos, will be sharply re-echoed from the far side of the globe, and weak elements in the political and economic organism of the world will be shattered in consequence". The fundamental key to his essay however, was the continual struggle, throughout European history, to achieve and prevent control of an area known as the "heartland". Mackinder's heartland theory was simply that the potential for world domination lay in a land based, rather than maritime based, powers. He saw that the majority of the worlds population was concentrated in Eurasia and Africa and argued that whoever could control this area would be able to dominate the world. Mackinder also saw that the key to this supremacy lay in an area called the "heartland", since dominance of this guaranteed self-sufficency, through an abundance of resources, provided the occupier with natural defences to attack, namely the sea, and was an important strategic position since it had a lot of boundaries ideal for launching an invasion. This heartland area is the region occupied by what was once Russia.The Natural Seats Of Power Taken from "The Geographical Pivot of History" - Mackinder (the "pivot area" is another name for the "heartland") Around the heartland area was an inner-crescent of marginal states and an outer-crescent of oceanic powers, namely Britain, the USA and Japan. The threat identified by Mackinder and his heartland theory forced him to come to two strategic conclusions; (1) Whoever controlled the heartland should be prevented from expanding into the marginal states because this would provide the basis for world domination. (2) In the event of such a threat becoming reality an alliance of overseas powers should support armies in bridgeheads such as France, Italy, Egypt, India and Korea. The danger recognised by Mackinder almost came to fruition with the outbreak of the second World War. Here Haushofer expanded Mackinder's work and coined the term "lebensraum" (living-space) to legitimise German expansion into Eastern Europe, since Germany had not got enough space for its population. Hitler also adopted this idea as justification for wanting to dominate the heartland area, although his real motive was that he wanted his German culture to be the ruling race, and realising this was not going to happen through gradual economic change saw violence as the only other alternative. The importance of geopolitics is not just in a historical context, the war in Yugoslavia could be argued to be geopolitically motivated, although there are a number of other factors involved. There are several other potential political flash-points emerging in Europe including the Basque region, sandwiched between France and Spain, who are pushing to become their own nation-state and the French and German speakers in Belgium who have never really got along and could use this difference as ideological justification for territorial action. In short, geopolitics is a relatively recent term that was developed by Halford Mackinder and used as a conceptual framework to highlight the importance of the heartland region. The significance of this term and its related ideas has been dramatically illustrated by events during the second World War and the saga now developing around Europe. If lessons have been learnt then maybe the atrocities committed by Hitler, an infamous geopolitician, won't be seen again. Bibliography Cohen, SB - Geography and Politics in a Divided World - 1964 Short, JR - Introduction to Political Geography - 1982 Weigert, HW & others - Principles of Political Geography - 1957 Mackinder, HJ - Geographical Pivot of History - Geographical Journal, 1904, pp 421-442 Innis, HA & Broek, JOM - Geography and Nationalism - Geographical Review, 1945, pp 301-311.
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