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Geopolitics is the art and practice of using political power over a given territory. Traditionally, the term has applied primarily to the impact of geography on politics, but its usage has evolved over the past century to encompass a wider connotation.

In academic circles, the study of Geopolitics involves the analysis of geography, history and social science with reference to spatial politics and patterns at various scales (ranging from the level of the state to international). geoeconomics)

The term was coined by Rudolf Kjellén, a Swedish political scientist, at the beginning of the 20th century. Kjellén was inspired by the German geographer Friedrich Ratzel, who published his book Politische Geographie (political geography) in 1897, popularized in English by American diplomat Robert Strausz-Hupé, a faculty member of the University of Pennsylvaniamarker. Halford Mackinder greatly pioneered the field also, though he did not coin the term of geopolitics.

Mackinder and the Heartland

The concept of Geopolitics initially gained attention through the work of Sir Halford Mackinder in England and his formulation of the Heartland Theory in 1904. Mackinder's doctrine of Geopolitics involved concepts diametrically opposed to the notion of Alfred Thayer Mahan about the significance of navies (he coined the term sea power) in world conflict. The Heartland theory hypothesized the possibility for a huge empire being brought into existence in the Heartland, which wouldn't need to use coastal or transoceanic transport to supply its military industrial complex but would instead use railways, and that this empire couldn't be defeated by all the rest of the world against it.

The basic notions of Mackinder's doctrine involve considering the geography of the Earth as being divided into two sections, the World Island or Core, comprising Eurasia and Africa; and the Periphery, including the Americas, the British Islesmarker, and Oceania. Not only was the Periphery noticeably smaller than the World Island, it necessarily required much sea transport to function at the technological level of the World Island, which contained sufficient natural resources for a developed economy. Also, the industrial centers of the Periphery were necessarily located in widely separated locations. The World Island could send its navy to destroy each one of them in turn. It could locate its own industries in a region further inland than the Periphery could,so they would have a longer struggle reaching them, and would be facing a well-stocked industrial bastion. This region Mackinder termed the Heartland. It essentially comprised Ukrainemarker, Western Russiamarker, and Mitteleuropa (a German term for Central Europe). The Heartland contained the grain reserves of Ukrainemarker, and many other natural resources. Mackinder's notion of geopolitics can be summed up in his saying "Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland. Who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island. Who rules the World-Island commands the World." His doctrine was influential during the World Wars and the Cold War, for Germanymarker and later Russiamarker each made territorial strides toward the Heartland.


Popular views of the role of geopolitics in the Nazi Third Reich suggest a fundamental significance on the part of the geopoliticians in the ideological orientation of the Nazi state. Bassin (1987) reveals that these popular views are in important ways misleading and incorrect. Despite the numerous similarities and affinities between the two doctrines, geopolitics was always held suspect by the National Socialist ideologists. This suspicion was understandable, for the underlying philosophical orientation of geopolitics ran counter to that of National Socialism. Geopolitics, deriving from the political geography of Ratzel, shared his scientific materialism and determinism. Human society was determined by external influences, in the face of which qualities held innately by individuals or groups were of reduced or no significance. National Socialism both rejected in principle materialism and determinism and also elevated innate human qualities, in the form of a hypothesized 'racial character,' to the factor of greatest significance in the constitution of human society. These differences led after 1933 to friction and ultimately to open denunciation of geopolitics by Nazi ideologists.


The geopolitical theory of Friedrich Ratzel (1844-1904) has been criticized as being too sweeping, his interpretation of human history and geography too simple and mechanistic. In his analysis of the importance of mobility, and the move from sea to rail transport, he failed to predict the revolutionary impact of air power. Critically also he underestimated the importance of social organization in the development of power. The theories of Mackinder fall into the category of geo-strategy which is no more than a single sub-component within the broader study of contemporary Geopolitics and Geopolitical change.


After World War I, Kjellen's thoughts and the term were picked up and extended by a number of scientists: in Germany by Karl Haushofer, Erich Obst, Hermann Lautensach and Otto Maull; in England, Mackinder and James Fairgrieve; in France Vidal de la Blache and Camille Vallaux. In 1923 Karl Haushofer founded the Zeitschrift für Geopolitik (Journal for Geopolitics), which developed as a propaganda organ for Nazi Germany. However, more recently Haushofer's influence within the Nazi Party has been questioned (O'Tuathail, 1996) since Haushofer failed to incorporate the Nazis' racial ideology into his work.

Post World War II

Following World War II, the study of Geopolitics and, by association Political Geography, was blackballed by most universities. It started to return from the 1980's onwards, firstly through the study of Critical Geopolitics. In 1995 Prof. Richard Schofield, currently of King's College Londonmarker, inaugurated the publication of an academic journal, initially known as Geopolitics and International Boundaries, which was initially published by Frank Cass, later to be taken over by Taylor & Francis (Routledge) under the name, Geopolitics . It is now published as a peer reviewed quarterly journal and is edited by David Newman at Ben Gurion Universitymarker in Israel, and Simon Dalby of Carleton Universitymarker in Canada.

Anton Zischka published Afrika, Europas Gemeinschaftsaufgabe Nr. 1 (Africa, Complement of Europe) in 1952, where he proposed a kind of North–South Empire, from Stockholmmarker to Johannesburgmarker.


Since then, the word geopolitics has been applied to other theories, most notably the notion of the Clash of Civilizations by Samuel Huntington. In a peaceable world, neither sea lanes nor surface transport are threatened; hence all countries are effectively close enough to one another physically. It is in the realm of the political ideas, workings, and cultures that there are differences, and the term has shifted more towards this arena, especially in its popular usage.


See also


  1. Mark Bassin, "Race Contra Space: The Conflict Between German 'Geopolitik' and National Socialism," Political Geography Quarterly 1987 6(2): 115-134,
  2. O Tuathail (2006) page 20
  3. [1]


  • O'Loughlin, John / Heske, Henning. "From 'Geopolitik' to 'Geopolitique': Converting a Discipline for War to a Discipline for Peace". In: Kliot, N. and Waterman, S. (ed.): The Political Geography of Conflict and Peace. London: Belhaven Press, 1991
  • Spang, Christian W.: “Karl Haushofer Re-examined—Geopolitics as a Factor within Japanese-German Rapprochement in the Inter-War Years?”, in: C. W. Spang, R.-H. Wippich (eds.), Japanese-German Relations, 1895–1945. War, Diplomacy and Public Opinion, London, 2006, pp. 139–157.
  • Diamond, Jared, Guns, Germs, and Steel (1997)
  • Amineh, Parvizi M. and Henk Houweling, Central Eurasia in Global Politics, (London, Leiden: Brill Academic Publishing. Introduction and Chapeter 11
  • Services Secrets et Geopolitique, Amiral (c.r.) Pierre Lacoste e Francois Thual, Lavauzelle,2000

External links

  • Theory Talks frequently publishes interviews with geopolitics scholars

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