Redefining the Gap 4, First Geopolitical Theories

Note: This is a selection from Redefining the Gap, part of tdaxp‘s SummerBlog ’06


Political Geography (geographie politique) was defined in 1751 (Kristof 1985:1178), but it’s modern study was invented by Friedrich Ratzel in his description of political geography (politische Geographie) in 1897 in terms of space and position (Kiss 1942:634). Rudolf Kjellen invented the term “geopolitics” (Agnew 1995:1; Tuathail 1994:259) shortly thereafter. Kjellen was primarily interested in how geography effects the power relations of states (Osterud 1998:191) – specifically, their land and people (Tunander 2005:548).

Alfred Mahan took a nautical view of geographical power. Essentially dividing the world in a global ocean and the lands it connects, he strongly pushed an ocean-centered view of history (Shulman 1998:407). He argued for a technologically and economically adaptive view of geopolitics (Israel 1978:371; Russell 1956:227) to account for a dynamic world. Mahan’s theories became extremely influential and were publicly praised by President Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Cabot Lodge, and others (Karsten 1971:589; LaFeber 1962:674).

The “1904” line defines Mackinder’s “Pivot” (Parker 1998:104)

Mackinder reversed Mahan’s view, focusing on lands and in particular one land: the “pivot of history” (Dodds and Sidaway 2004). This area, comprising east-central Europe, central Asia, and Russia, was thought to have a potential resource and population base to dominate the world. The pivot was surrounded like an onion by an inner crescent of the warm-water Eurasian coast and the outer crescent of the rest of the world. A geopolitical model that was contemporary to world politics when it was original presented more than a century ago (Venier 2004:330), key elements of Mackinder’s philosophy were policy throughout much of the world into the 1970s (Mayell 2004:372). Even today, “Eurasianists” inspired by Mackinder are a powerful force inside Russia (G. Smith 1999:483), despite being officially discouraged under Communism (Guins 1964:342).

Spykman’s “Rimland” in dashed lines (Parker 1998:125)

Spykman synthesized the views of Mahan and Mackinder. The focus was now on the “Rimland,” a renamed version of Mackinder’s “marginal crescent” (Fisher 1971:205). The Rimland hypothesis argued that a natural hegemon would form from the Rimland states (Britain, India, China, etc.). Thus, Spykman’s arguments implied that America had more in common with these states than her hemispheric neighbors to the South (Fox 1948:72). Spkyman’s theories carried an influential following well into the 1980s (Cohen 1991:552), if not beyond.

Redefining the Gap, a tdaxp series:
Redefining the Gap 1. Prologue
Redefining the Gap 2. Summary
Redefining the Gap 3. Introduction to Geopolitics
Redefining the Gap 4. First Geopolitical Theories
Redefining the Gap 5. The North and the South
Redefining the Gap 6. Critical Geopolitics
Redefining the Gap 7. The Pentagon’s New Map
Redefining the Gap 8. The Research Design
Redefining the Gap 9. Methods and Operationalizations
Redefining the Gap 10. Limitations and Conclusion
Redefining the Gap 11. Results
Redefining the Gap 12. Bibliography
Redefining the Gap 13. Appendix: Computer Code
Redefining the Gap 14. Appendix: National Codes