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Mohammed Jhilila

Mohammed Jhilila
Prof. Mohamed Dellal
International Relations
May 11th, 2009

The Background of Geopolitics: Jean Gottmann


The author in this article seeks to provide a general overview of how

geography has contributed to the emergence of geopolitics as an independent
science. For him, geostrategies, since the Greco-roman empire has existed
and evolved to get fully crystallized within and in the aftermath of World War
I. sovereignty and expansion over territories have permitted the surfacing of
geopolitics as a system of planning and taking action for many a one nation.
Misunderstood as equal to political geography, the author seeks to
differentiate between the two fields with the finality of showing the bias of
geopolitics and the respectable status quo of political geography. According
to the ideas and arguments Gottmann puts forward, geopolitics cannot be
understood but through a survey of how the political geography

Defining political geography and geopolitics:

Geopolitics for Gottman is the study of the influence of the

geographical and climatic factors on the political demarches of each nation
state. Such impacts of the surrounding environment and geography on the
govern-mentality of man have existed as far back as man ever engaged
himself in politics. Defined as such, geopolitics is different from political
geography which for him is the science studying the relationship between
political organization and their immediate environment. As an independent

Mohammed Jhilila

science, political geography in this respect can be scarcely studied without

the immediacy of geography. Geopolitics, however, is nothing but a
legitimate son of political geography. Geopolitics is considered a developed
phase of political geography that first emerged in France with the ideas of
Montesquieu and Turgot, before it got elaborated on by the German
geographer Rudolf Kjellen and the British thinker Mackinder. In the United
States, the Monroe Doctrine played similar role as that of Geseltat-politik of
Pan Germanism.
Albeit dating back to the Greco-roman empire, Gottmann starts his
reading of geopolitics from Montesquieu’s ideas fathomed in L’Esprit Des
Lois. For Gottmann, the book pioneered the debates on how geographic
circumferences shaped laws and govern-mentality. The book, states
Gottmann, indirectly and unconsciously probed the phenomenon. In it,
Montesquieu aimed at providing a historical commentary on the expansion
of Rome and its decline. Montesquieu believed that climate influenced
differently people living in dissimilar spaces.
After Montesquieu, Turgot extrapolated on the same issue but in his own
idiosyncratic viewpoints. Turgot’s finality was to systematically analyze the
interrelationship between human beings and their physical geography. For
him, physical geography stands as the profile of history. It is so because
each particular community positions herself either in terms of time or in
terms of space. Henceforth, present geography is shaped by past politics.
Advised to let go of the idea, Turgot concentrated on economic geography.
Since then, political geography never resurfaced. It was dealt with either as a
philosophy or as a practice but never as a science. The rigid sense of the
fundamental principles of political geography, for Gottmann, originated in
America and Europe. The latter believed that political geography took the
form of nationalism as people felt an urgent “need to organize themselves
within a well-defined territorial frame.”1 In America, the Monroe Doctrine
was the first indicator of political geography inclination. The focus of the
Monroe announcement went beyond the American territories to the Latin
America. The announcement issued by John Quincy Adams and James

Jean Gottmann, “The Background of Geopolitics”. Military Affairs, Vol.6, No.4. p: 200.

Mohammed Jhilila

Monroe read that no European country including Britain shall entangle

Latin America’s domestic affairs, and that the United States were ready to go
to war to protect the Western Hemisphere from the incursions of the
European powers. Since its issuance, the U.S sense of Manifest Destiny
flourished. The Monroe doctrine opened as follows:

The United States are responsible before the world for the
destinies of the continent, as the United States must
regard as an act of hostility committed against
themselves any attempt at the oppression of any
independent state of America, as also any intermeddling
in American affairs by foreign governments2

Feeling the stern European papal decree that aimed at regaining control over
Argentina, Venezuela and other Latin American countries; as well as the
growth of Pan-Germanism, the United States started modeling a political
geography oriented science. The German Prussia (pan-Germanism) was
grapevining as an ideology seeking the unification of German, Dutch and
Flemish speaking people into a united nation. The problematic this
movement generated can be summarized in two main characteristics. First,
the Germans were seeking expansion over European territories better than
overseas ones. Secondly, that their ‘natural boundaries’ influenced the
German geopolitics. It is in this period that political geography ever appeared
as an imperialistic fuelling science. During and after the nineteenth century,
it was considered as a philosophy of history. The German Prussia movement
sought to organize and liberate the Germanic Race from the Napolionean
stronghold. Flemish and Dutch were considered lects appertaining to the
German linguistic family. Pan-Germanism first appeared as an organized
movement in 1894 led by Friedrich Ludwig Jahn and Ernst Moritz under the
name of Alldutscher Verband (pan- German League.) it was based on the
Allgernmeiner Deutscher (general German League). The importance of
geography was first recognized with the appearance of territory and

J. M. Moncada, “Imperialism and the Monroe Doctrine”. Trans. Oloysius C. Gahna (New
York : Michigan University, 1911) p : 3. Boorowed from
Last retrieved on 12 May 2009.

Mohammed Jhilila

resources as crucial for the whole Europe. In 1897, the first book concerned
itself with the interdependent relationship between the state and its
territorial frame. Ratzel, for Gottmann, focused on the ideas of Raum and
Lage which mean space and location respectively. For Ratzel as the author
states, those who lack the sense of space Raum do not have tendency
towards expansionism. Later on, Ratzel published two books dealing with
the crucial role naval powers have then played in the strengthening of the
sense of statism. For Mackinder a British geographer, this sense is
incarnated within all groups of nations which, for him:

Becomes accurate and permanent when founded on a

territorial basis, the Saxons brought with them across
the narrow Seas an organization according to families,
hundreds, and tribes, dependent, that is on blood

London inhabited by Atrebates of Silchester did not surface as an important

space, but its occupation by the Trinobantes and the Catuvelauni shaped its
nucleus of a small empire. The physical space was then subdivided into
three geostrategic districts: the Iceni, the Cantii and the Belgae.
In The Position of Britain, Mackinder shows how England was living
out of Europe when the Spanish and Portuguese discoveries were winning
over more territories. After the Columbian discoveries, Britain showed up on
the globe through her navy power and her focus on the ‘Mediterranean
Ocean’. In The British Seas, Mackinder speaks about how island living
people tend to liberty more than any other ones. For him, as we can read:

But as liberty is the natural privilege of an island people,

so wealth of initiative is characteristic of a divided people.
Provinces which are insular or peninsular breed on an
obstinate provincialism unknown in the merely historical
or administrative divisions of a great plain; and this
rooted provincialism, rather than finished

Colin S. Gray, Geoffrey R. Sloan Geopolitics, geography, and strategy
rategy&printsec=frontcover&source=bl&ots. Last retrieved on 12 May, 2009.

Mohammed Jhilila

cosmopolitanism, is a source of the varied initiative

without which liberty would lose its significance4

That geography played a crucial role in the field of political geography is an

undeniable fact. But Paul Vidal de la Blanche furthered his ideas rather
differently from the German and the British geographers. De la Blanche
believed that there are ‘des conditions géographiques des faits sociaux’ for
him, the existence rigidly localized of a product of primary necessity might
engender social and political consequences.5 For de la Blanche people invent
and appropriate tools and handcraft materials according to the milieu they
live in. the differences for him lie in the position the societies believe they
have. He states:

La cause qui, d’après nous, introduit le plus de

différences entre les sociétés, est la position. Suivant
qu’une contrée est vouée à l’isolement, ou qu’elle est
ouverte, au contraire, aux courants de vie générale6

Geography in this respect no longer considered as an independent field

was implicated in politics in the rigid sense of the term when the rivalry
between Germany, France and Britain was intensified. After World War I, the
world was to be rebuilt and reconstructed while improved to achieve peaceful
neighborhood. The League on Nations was alarmed by Mackinder’s warning
that wars might resurface. His ideas about naval strength sovereignty over
territorial Waters inspired the emergence of submarines as an adequate
engine that might misbalance old powers. For him, Maritime power could
change, is changing and will continue to change the face of the world. 7 In
1925, Dr. George Kiss was the first to publish an article that hit directly to
the heart of the matter. He proclaims that politics is nothing but about
space, the shaping of space, centering and re-centering of it, branded as the
public domain.
H. J. Mackinder, Britain and The British Seas ( New York: Questia online Library, 1902) P:
Paul Vidal de la Blache, “Des conditions géographiques des faits sociaux” 1902. P : 3.
Ibid., P: 5.
Jean Gottmann, “The Background of Geopolitics”. Military Affairs, Vol.6, No.4. p: 203.

Mohammed Jhilila

Rudolf Kjellen was the first to coin the term geopolitics as indicative of
an expansion mentality towards beyond extended etatism. For Kjellen, the
state is like man, she eats grows, speaks and acts. She needs the
materialistic resources found in territory and the spiritual. Recognized as a
dangerous theorization that espoused Ratzel’s organic state theory to
dynamic state theory, the American and European considered Kjellen’s ideas
as tools of war against their interests.

J. Gottmann’s last paragraph shows a meticulous defense on political
geography and bitter criticism towards the German Geopolitik. Gottmann
seeks in the article to dismantle the canonized and biased inclinations of
such authors as Mackinder and Bowman whose ideas brought more
complexities than they undid the world political problems. However, the text
shows a biased aura as the author does not elaborate on the ideas contained
in the Monroe declaration, while he gives more examples from the German
Geopolitical School. The Monroe declaration is as imperialistic as the
German expansionistic Dynamic state theory.
While considering R. Kjellen’s ideas as pejoratively expansionistic, the
Monroe doctrine is viewed as an innocent declaration. If the value judgment
Gottman provides about Pan-Germanism (Prussia) is based on expansion,
the Monroe announcement was as expansionist as was Pan-Germanism. J.
M. Moncada, a Nicaragua former Interior minister, states that the
declaration denied Latin American countries the advancement of their
prosperity and self-governance which for him are two lawful ambitions of
man and of nation.8 Giving the example of the incursions done by Zelaya, an
American Commander in Chief, during the war against Honduras, he
delineates another view about the Monroe Doctrine. During that war Zelaya
provided Terencio Sierra with “materials of all kinds to enable him to march

J. M. Moncada, “Imperialism and the Monroe Doctrine”. Trans. Oloysius C. Gahna (New
York : Michigan University, 1911) pp :7-8 . Boorowed from
Last retrieved on 12 May 2009.

Mohammed Jhilila

against Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras.”9 The Roosevelt Administration

then sought to bring amendments to its geostrategies in what was known as
Knox notes. But even then, the U.S troops were conquering Honduras
through hundreds of military troops led by William Walker. Does the
American Monroe declaration differ from the Hitlerian and Kjellean
expansionistic theorization? Of course it is not.

Ibid., P : 7.