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Geopolitics: A Guide to

the Issues
Bert Chapman
INDIGO Meeting
Indiana University
May 20, 2011

What is geopolitics?
Study of the relationships between
demography, economics,
environment, geography, and politics
and how they influence countries
foreign and national security policies.

Geopolitical Schools of
thought:
Classical Geopolitics: Methodologically
traditionalist interpretation of the roles
played by geography, natural resources, and
transportation in formulating and
implementing national and international
political, economic, diplomatic, and military
strategies.

Geopolitical Schools of
Thought
Critical geopolitics: Leftist political and
methodological approach heavily influenced
by deconstructionist and postmodern
political theories. Seeks to expose what it
claims are deterministic, exceptionalist,
geographic, ideological, and other flaws it
claims exist in traditional politics.

Modern History of
Geopolitics and Key
Founders
Geopolitics first used by Swedish
political scientist Rudolf Kjellén
(1864-1922) in 1899 article in
Swedish journal Ymer.

Kjellén Contributions
• Influenced by German idealist philosophy, social
Darwinism, and prevailing imperialist views
• Believed nation-states were more important than
individuals
• Asserted states should be studied as
geographical organisms or spatial phenomena
with particular emphasis on a state’s location to
other states in its territorial form or size.
• Believed states possessing the greatest power
resources would win wars
• Supported many German WWI objectives and
believed the U.S. and Russia were the only two
countries capable of becoming world powers.

Alfred Thayer Mahan (18401914(
• Professor at U.S. Naval War College whose work
continues influencing the U.S. and other navies.
• Seminal work is The Influence of Sea Power
Upon History, 1660-1783 (1890)
• This work asserted naval and merchant marine
assets were the key reasons England, France,
Holland, and Spain won wars enabling them to
seize overseas colonies, eliminate enemy
access to these colonies, and exploit their
natural resources.

Mahan-Influence of
Seapower
• Its publication came at a time of European and
Japanese expansion in Africa and Asia. They soon
would be joined by the U.S.
• Influenced pro-expansionist Americans such as
Secretary of State John Hay; Senator Henry Cabot
Lodge; and Theodore Roosevelt.
• Mahan advocated a larger navy to patrol and
defend the Gulf and Caribbean coasts; believed
there would be a Central American canal; and
favored establishing an eastern Pacific naval
perimeter to keep Japan and any other country
from getting within 3,000 miles of San Francisco.

Friedrich Ratzel (1844-1904)
• German regarded as founder of modern human and political
geography
• Political Geography (1897) credited with establishing the
foundations of geopolitics and saw him introduce lebensraum
to German political rhetoric.
• Believed state space increases with territorial growth; that
states grow by absorbing other smaller units; and that
frontiers are peripheral state organs reflecting a states
strength and growth and aren’t permanent.
• The Sea as the Source of the Greatness of a People (1900)
stressed German commitment to Weltpolitik and maritime
expansion .
• Ratzel was also interested in the importance of environmental
influences such as climate, resources, terrain, and vegetation.

Halford Mackinder (18611947)
• Preeminent British promoter of geopolitics
• Stressed the strategic importance of the
British Isles physical location and natural
resources endowment.
• “The Geographical Pivot of History” (1904)
published by the Royal Geographical
Society’s Geographical Journal stressed his
concern that one power or alliance of powers
could gain control of Eurasia and use that
region’s resources for global domination.

Mackinder
• Believed Russia’s geographic position made it
possible for it to expand its power and saw China
and Japan as future challengers to Russia.
• Democratic Ideals and Reality (1919) contended
power was becoming more centralized in all large
states and that populations would be susceptible
to government manipulation.
• Supported the League of Nations and established
the concept of the heartland including all of
Eastern Europe saying that Germany and Russia
would seek to control this region contending:

Mackinder
• Who rules East Europe commands the
Heartland
• Who Rules the Heartland Commands
the World Island
• Who Rules the World Island commands
the world.
• This work had limited immediate
impact in the U.S. and UK, but stronger
impact in Germany.

Sergei Gorshkov (19101988)
• Admiral and commander-in-chief of the
Soviet Navy (1956-1985)
• Transformed the Soviet navy from a coastal
force to a blue water maritime power with
aircraft carriers and submarines capable of
challenging U.S. naval supremacy globally.
• Wrote books such as Red Star Rising at Sea
(1974); Seapower of the State (1983); and
articles in the journal Military Thought

Golbery do Couto e Silva (19111987)
• Brazilian military figure involved with that country’s Superior
War College.
• In works such as Brazilian Geopolitics (1981), advocated
exclusive Brazilian leadership in South America.
• Favored an anti-Communist partnership with the U.S. to protect
South Atlantic maritime waters from a Soviet attack between
the Atlantic Narrows and West African bulge.
• Distrusted adjacent Spanish-speaking countries such as
Argentina, Colombia, and Peru whom he believed wanted to
encircle Brazil.
• Advocating expanding internal Brazilian frontiers by developing
the Amazon and Brazil’s northeastern and southern regions.
• Incorporated Mackinder and Mahan into his writings.

Selected Countries & Geopolitical
Interests/Practices
• Australia: Maintaining close security
ties with the U.S., concerned with
access to Persian Gulf; desires
unfettered access to Antarctica; has
growing trade relationships with
China and other East Asian countries;
concerned with political and security
developments in Indonesian
archipelago; has intervened militarily
in Iraq, Afghanistan, East Timor,

Canada
• Cooperates with U.S. to prevent ballistic missile
attacks against North America; has military
forces in Afghanistan; seeks to protect national
sovereignty in Arctic region though it hasn’t put
significant military forces in that region until the
current Stephen Harper Conservative
Government; concerned with how climate change
may affect Arctic populations and how this may
increase international shipping traffic and natural
resources competition (oil and natural gas) with
nations such as Russia, the U.S. et. al.

China
• Seeks to reclaim Taiwan; increasing the size of
its conventional and nuclear military forces;
seeks to provide maritime security for its
growing demand for natural resources from as
far away as Latin America and Africa;
interested in South China Sea natural
resources and has disputes with countries
such as Japan; has close ties with Pakistan
and may compete with India for Indian Ocean
control; seeks to challenge U.S. Western
Pacific naval preeminence.

India
• Developing military capability to enable it to expand
beyond the South Asian subcontinent; its population
is expected to surpass China’s around 2025; has
nuclear weapons and a nuclear agreement with the
U.S. giving it access to nuclear fuel and technology;
has challenging relationship with Pakistan including
their dispute over Kashmir; hydropolitics challenges
with neighboring countries over the Ganges and Indus
rivers; will increase security cooperation with the U.S.
to hedge against China; may adopt an Indian Ocean
Monroe Doctrine to ensure no power(s) can restrict its
access to the Indian Ocean or natural resources

United States
• Remains world’s preeminent military power
though facing acute financial challenges such as
$14 trillion national debt; concerned with
maintaining freedom of the seas; working
collaboratively with other nations but taking
preemptive military action if needed; concerned
with Chinese challenges in the Western Pacific,
Indian Ocean, Africa etc.; competition for natural
resources and reducing dependency on foreign
imports; Islamist terrorism (Afghanistan, Iraq);
Iran’s and North Korea’s nuclear weapons
aspirations.

Geography of U.S. Combatant
Military Commands
• Northern Command (NORTHCOM)-Covers N. America &
Arctic
• Southern Command (SOUTHCOM)-Covers Central & S.
America
• Africa Command (AFRICOM)-Covers Africa-established 2007
• Central Command(CENTCOM)-Covers Mideast from Egypt
to Kazakhstan)
• European Command (EUCOM)-Covers Europe, Turkey, & all
of Russia)
• Pacific Command (PACOM)-Covers India, China, SE Asia,
Oceania, & most of the Pacific Ocean

Current and Emerging Geopolitical
“Hot Spots”
• Afghanistan/Pakistan
• Arctic Natural Resources esp. oil/natural gas-Russia flag
planting North Pole 2007-Denmark expects to claim North Pole
seabed by 2014
• China in Africa
• China’s “String of Pearls Basing Strategy” and Future Military
Objectives-Has support facilities in Bangladesh, Myanmar,
Pakistan-participates in antipiracy efforts in Indian Ocean
• Climate Change
• Cyberwarfare
• Energy Policy and Competition (e.g. European dependence on
Russia for oil and natural gas-Dec. 2005 Russia cuts off natural
gas supplies to Ukraine-affects EU)

Geopolitical Hot Spots




Failed States e.g. Somalia
Global Immigration/Migration incl. U.S./Mexico border
Global Pandemics
Iran-nuclear weapons program
Islamic Integration in Europe (Current population
estimated 15-18 million; estimated to reach 10% of
Europe’s population by 2020)
• Israel/Palestine
• Latin American Geopolitics (Drug wars; Iran’s desire to
use Hezbollah; Hugo Chavez, Charcas Triangle-resource
rich region involving surrounding countries Argentina,
Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay)

Geopolitical Hot Spots



Maritime Piracy
Mexican Drug Wars and Central American Gangs
Nigeria’s Delta Region
Russian Foreign Policy toward “Near Abroad”
Countries (e.g.) 2008 war with Georgia
• South China Sea/Strait of Malacca
• Sovereign Debt e.g. Greece, Ireland, Portugal,
potentially U.S i.e high borrowing from China et.
al.
• Terrorism, Turkey, Yemen & Bab el Mandeb Strait

Information Resources
• Militaries; especially war colleges and
research centers
• Foreign ministries; finance departments;
energy, environmental, natural resources
departments
• Congressional and parliamentary committees
• International government organizations and
non-government organizations
• Scholarly books, journals,
dissertations/theses blogs, Facebook, twitter

Conclusions
• Understanding geography is critical for
understanding and analyzing domestic and
international economic, environmental, diplomatic,
political, and security developments.
• We need to be able to read and understand
political, geographic, topographic, and other kinds
of maps.
• Need to understand the critical importance of
strategic chokepoints such as Panama Canal, Strait
of Hormuz, Suez Canal, Strait of Malacca, Bab el
Mandeb Strait to national and international
economies and security.

Conclusions
• Recognize how geography has always affected and will
always affect international economic, political, and security
relationships.
• Recognize how international political power always has been
and always will be characterized by conflict, including
military conflict, and access to resources and economic
markets.
• Geopolitics is the ultimate interdisciplinary subject with
unlimited research possibilities
• Importance of U.S. restoring fiscal solvency so it can
successfully defend its global economic and strategic
interests through military strength and prudent collaboration
with allied nations.

Yemen and Strait of Bab-el
Mandeb

Spratly Islands

Strait of Malacca

China’s Disputed Territories

China Import Transit
Routes/Chokepoints

China Maritime Activity
• China is increasing its naval spending
and maritime security activities and
is increasingly interested in
developing its power projection
capabilities to cover the two Pacific
Island chains as the map in the next
slide demonstrates.

China’s 1st & 2nd Island Chains
Maritime Perimeter