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date: 20 February 2018

Classical Geopolitics Revisited

Summary and Keywords

Classical geopolitics is fundamentally concerned with the role that location and resources play in the exercise of political power over territory. The term "geopolitics" was first coined in the late 1890s by the Swedish writer Rudolf Kjellén to signify an interest in the intersection between politics and geography. For Kjellén, geopolitics was “the science which conceives of the state as a geographical organism or as a phenomenon in space.” Subsequently, it has been assumed to signal a rather hard-nosed or realist approach to international politics, which posits certain law-like statements about the importance of the “facts” of physical geography, such as the distribution of landmass, the extent of the oceans, and the importance of particular strategically located regions, in determining patterns of global political power. A series of core ideas and principles inform the body of work of the earliest classical geopolitical proponents. First, the earliest writers were committed nationalists and imperialists. Second, the intellectual influence of social Darwinism was widespread and was important in shaping understandings about the state and the nature of the global political arena. Third, the global map for these authors was fundamentally divided between the imperial great powers and the colonized world, now referred to as the Global South. Finally, these authors were convinced that they were offering a “god's eye view” of the world to fellow citizens and policy makers, uncorrupted by ideology or prejudice.

Keywords: classical geopolitics, geography, international politics, Rudolf Kjellén, political power, territory


Classical geopolitics, put simply, is fundamentally concerned with the role that inter alia location and resources play in the exercise of political power over territory. Geography is held to be a durable and influential template for international politics. The intention of this chapter is straightforward; it will describe and explain these two terms “classical” and “geopolitics,” and in the process outline why this body of literature still prevails, while also examining how and with what consequences contemporary geopolitical writing has challenged the intellectual underpinnings of the classical geopolitical corpus. As the discussion develops, some of the intellectual history associated with geopolitics will be outlined, not least because this subfield of political geography has attracted, at various times and places, opprobrium and outright rejection. In 1927, Carl Sauer condemned geopolitics for being the “wayward child of the geographic family” (cited in Hartshorne 1950:95), and in the early 1950s, the American geographer Richard Hartshorne warned fellow scholars that the subject was an intellectual poison and, as such, was not a suitable subject matter for considered academic reflection (Hartshorne 1950; 1954; and see also Hepple 1986).

In the United States, at least, a generation of post-1945 geographers largely shunned the term and the intellectual terrain it occupied at a moment when American foreign policy seemed fixated on the role of location, place, and resources (Hepple 1986). One only has to consider, as the American political geographer Saul Cohen did, the Cold War geopolitical interests of the United States with regard to the oil resources of the Middle East and/or the apparent spread of Soviet-backed communism in Africa, Central America, and South East Asia (Cohen 1973). Cohen was clear that “political geographers have a responsibility to contribute to their national foreign policy grounds, rather than avoid the field of international relations” (1983:286). This commitment to inform the existing practices of statecraft has been a controversial one and certainly has been challenged by other scholars working in the field of critical geopolitics.

After several decades of abandonment, at least in parts of the Anglophone world, a new generation of scholars has embraced geopolitics and has retheorized the term in order to explore more explicitly the relationship between space, power, and knowledge. This, as a number of authors demonstrate, has entailed a range of intellectual maneuvers, including the transformation of the subject matter, whereby the geographical assumptions implicit in approaches to international politics are thoroughly scrutinized (for example Ó Tuathail 1996). It has also meant confronting a subject matter utterly implicated in the business of national security, violence, and war (Gregory 2004; Mendieta 2007). In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a new body of literature entitled “critical geopolitics” offered a radical departure from more established strands of geopolitical thought (Dalby 1991; Ó Tuathail and Agnew 1992; Dodds and Sidaway 1994). Although classical geopolitics retains devotees, most professional political geographers in the English-speaking world and beyond are more likely to be engaged with critical geopolitics (broadly conceived) rather than classical geopolitics per se.

The essay is organized into a series of interconnected sections, initially contemplating the genesis of classical geopolitics in the midst of fin-de-siècle Europe. The focus will be on the intellectual infrastructure of this subfield, including the organic metaphor of the state, the “closed space” world and its widespread appeal around the world. Thereafter, the development of a more critical geopolitics (both early and contemporary manifestations) is sketched out with emphasis given to a range of different approaches to the subject matter. While this chapter does not offer a formal conclusion, it does consider, on the one hand, the continuation of interest in classical geopolitics and, on the other hand, the ongoing engagement with a more critical form of geopolitics.

The Genesis of Classical Geopolitics

Coined in the late 1890s, by the Swedish writer Rudolf Kjellén, geopolitics is a portmanteau term which signifies an interest in the intersection between politics and geography. For Kjellén, geopolitics was “the science which conceives of the state as a geographical organism or as a phenomenon in space” (cited in Parker 1985:55). Subsequently, it has been assumed to signal a rather hard-nosed or, as International Relations (IR) colleagues would recognize, realist approach to global politics. Emphasis, since its inception, has been given to the role of territory and resources in shaping the condition of states and the global political order. This approach to international politics posits certain law-like statements about the importance of the “facts” of physical geography, such as the distribution of landmass, the extent of the oceans, and the importance of particular strategically located regions, in determining patterns of global political power. Reacting to what Kjellén and others thought was an overly legalistic approach to their subject matter, geopolitics signaled an apparently novel approach to unremarked-upon geographical dimensions of states (Heffernan 1998).

Although the term geopolitics was first used at the start of the twentieth century, it would be clearly wrong to assume that no one prior to that point of time had considered the subject matter in hand. As John Agnew has contended (2003:93–102), the period between the 1870s and 1940s was filled with concern over the supposedly “natural character” of states in the midst of interimperial rivalry and a world that was being transformed by transport and communications revolutions, including the invention of the railway, the wireless, and the aeroplane. In the late nineteenth century, there was plenty of evidence that a raft of European governments were concerned with the changing geographies of the late nineteenth-century global order. After 1885, there was a great deal of public speculation in Britain about the state of the British Empire and the mounting threat posed by other imperial states such as Germany, Italy, and Japan. New discourses concerning “relative efficiency” and “manpower” were manifestations of a late Victorian anxiety concerning the capacity of the British people to endure an increasingly competitive and interconnected world.

Academic geographers were active in promoting the study of the discipline at university level and considering its links to public education and imperial citizenship (Ryan 1997; Driver 2001). Popular culture was suffused with so-called “invasion novels,” which posited imaginary incursions into the British Isles by hostile continental European powers (Richards 1997). Within this culture of national/imperial anxiety, classical geopolitics was as much an example of academic colonization as an object of intellectual curiosity. Moreover, its longer-term consolidation within the university system and then military academies around Europe was largely due to its subject matter and a series of macro-conditions that ensured apparent relevance. These included changing economic and trading conditions within the world-economy, which led to concerns that the highly interconnected nature of this economic system (a “closed world”) also encouraged geopolitical vulnerabilities. As imperial states such as Britain and France searched for new territories and resources, including Antarctica, so it was contended that the new (twentieth) century was likely to be characterized by enhanced imperial competition and possible conflict. By 1914, this proved to be the case as Europe and later the United States became involved in World War I.

The post-1919 era saw a further consolidation of geopolitical research across Europe, Japan and other regions, including the Americas. This coincided with further colonial expansion by European and Japanese governments in Africa and the Middle East, and East Asia respectively. While the relationship between classical geopolitics and colonialism was far from straightforward, the former's contention that states had certain “biological needs” was important not only in helping to naturalize colonial expansion in places such as Abyssinia, but also in generating a view of the world in which the colonized were deemed inferior. Classical geopolitical writings, as with all analyses of international politics, were rooted in geographical assumptions about the state, international (“natural”) boundaries, national culture, and the world itself (Agnew 2003; Gregory 2004). Well-known British geographers such as Halford Mackinder (see below) were not alone in seeing the British Empire as an essential element in the long-term survival of national power.

Notwithstanding differences between some of the earliest classical geopolitical proponents, it is possible to identify a series of core ideas and principles that informed this body of work. First, the earliest writers were committed nationalists and imperialists. Although Kjellén was Norwegian and thus a citizen of a country that had recently been occupied by Sweden, he was a nationalist politician who believed in enhancing Norway's standing in the world. Likewise, later British and German writers were straightforward in their determination to inform their respective country's national and imperial interests. Second, the intellectual influence of social Darwinism was widespread (see below) and this was important in shaping understandings about the state and the nature of the global political arena. For this generation of writers, it was completely unremarkable to speak of states as “organisms” that had “biological needs.” Thirdly, the global map for these authors was fundamentally divided between the imperial great powers and the colonized world, which we would now refer to as the Global South. While European states had “biological needs” for space and resources, the colonized world was simply a stage for projection of power. An assumed racial/geographical hierarchy exists throughout much of the early twentieth-century classical geopolitical writing. Some states and “races” were considered to be more important and noteworthy than others. Finally, these authors were convinced that they were offering a “god's eye view” of the world to fellow citizens and policy makers, uncorrupted by ideology or prejudice (see Ó Tuathail 1996). Geopolitics promised a way of looking at the world that would, according to its proponents, uncover the enduring geographical realities of world politics.

As part of our investigation into the fundamentals of classical geopolitics, attention will be given to some of these themes.

Social Darwinism and the State as Organism

Inspired by a form of social Darwinism, early classical geopolitical writers such as Friedrich Ratzel were deeply influenced by Darwinism. A professor at the University of Leipzig, he had trained initially in the natural sciences (Heffernan 2000). According to Ratzel, the neglect of space was a major lacuna in Darwinist thought, as an explicitly spatial context was essential to further appreciate that all life forms were engaged in a struggle for existence. This ceaseless competition for space and resources had important implications for the way the political world was conceived. As Michael Heffernan has noted, “a biological theory of state formation and development” was promoted with an explicit consideration of the state as a living organism (2000:45). However, as Ratzel and his intellectual forefather Kjellén recognized, the possession of territory and resources was not sufficient on its own (Holdar 1992). Territorial size did not offer a copper-plated guarantee for longer-term security. Instead, political leaders and communities would have to demonstrate a cultural, economic, and demographic capacity to push out toward existing territorial limits and beyond. In other words, states with “ambition” were more likely to use existing territory efficiently and would have the vision to pursue additional “living space” (lebensraum) in order to develop and survive. Ratzel's geopolitics was like the geographical equivalent of an exercise treadmill in which only the strongest states would be able to cope with the never-ending pressures imposed by the Darwinist global political order.

The secret of survival was to acquire that living space, and eventually a series of strong, mutually vigilant states might be able to coexist with one another. As a living organism, the state had to be protected against potential adversaries who were also hell-bent on securing additional territory and resources. As with early realist writers in the discipline of International Relations, the global order was fundamentally conceptualized as anarchic. As there were no global governance structures, states were effectively left to their own devices. Power, according to Ratzel, was fundamentally bound up with the occupation and control of territory. The endless struggle for space was, for many classical geopolitical writers, a fundamental and inalienable geopolitical law (Heffernan 2000:46).

Whatever the intellectual contradictions and shortcomings of this approach to state formation and global politics, the organic model of the state was hugely influential in shaping the subsequent development of classical geopolitics. Given the emphasis on resources, power, territory, and long-term security, most of the writers concerned were undeniably nationalistic in outlook. Within this intellectual tradition, there is little or no room for more cooperative outlooks to global politics. Securing the national state is the first and foremost activity for any political leadership and that means that a spatially expansionist mind-frame needs to prevail, notwithstanding all the attendant dangers that might follow for potential conflict and strife.

Global Politics and the “Closed Space World”

One of best-known proponents was the British geographer and sometime director of the London School of Economics and Conservative Member of Parliament, Halford Mackinder (Blouet 2005; O'Hara et al. 2005). In an extraordinary life and career stretching from the Victorian era to the early Cold War (1861–1947), Mackinder was a committed educationalist and supporter of the British Empire. In a famous 1904 lecture to the Royal Geographical Society in London, he posited the idea that there was a “geographical pivot of history,” which had shaped much of human history (Mackinder 1904). In essence, he suggested that the pivot was to be found within the Euro-Asian landmass, and that those who occupied this particular space were likely not only to control a vast area of territory and resources but also to surpass in global impact the maritime powers, including Britain and other European states. As with Ratzel, Mackinder stressed the relational importance between territory and political vitality, but he was also concerned with the spatial organization of the global order, especially as it related to British imperial interests.

For this lecture, a number of maps were used to illustrate his claims concerning the geographical pivot of history. The most notable (Figure 1) entitled “The natural seats of power” showed the world divided into a number of discrete zones, including a “pivot area” encompassing much of contemporary Russia, Iran, and the Central Asian republics. Beyond the pivot area lay the so-called Inner Crescent, encapsulating the geographical edges of the Euro-Asian landmass. Finally, the Outer Crescent covered the Americas, sub-Saharan Africa, and Oceania. Antarctica was not represented on the map and North Africa and the Arabian peninsula were labeled “desert.” For Mackinder, territories were fundamentally either continental or oceanic in nature. In some cases, as with the United States, it was possible to be partially continental and partially oceanic (Mackinder 1904:435). Classical geopolitical writers were, as Mackinder exemplified, usually eager to classify territory and establish typological hierarchies, which in the case of Mackinder put the Heartland/Pivot at the apex.

Classical Geopolitics RevisitedClick to view larger

Figure 1 The natural seats of power

Source: Adapted from Mackinder 1904

The map (alongside four others within the published paper) reminds us of the globalized nature of geopolitics. While Mackinder's intellectual and political networks in London and Oxford undeniably shaped his worldview, he was not alone in warning of global geopolitical change. As O'Hara et al. have noted,

The novelty of Mackinder's analysis rested on his ability to think in expansive, global terms about the past, the present and the future. His focus on Central Asia was far less original, however, and merely re-articulated a long standing and widely shared British concern about the possible expansion of Russian influence in the region, and the alarming implications this carried for the future of India – the jewel in the British imperial crown […] Mackinder's genius was to cut through the mass of detailed information that had amassed on Central Asia and develop a clear, geographical theory, about the region's global significance. (2005:101)

His political message was comparatively straightforward: British government ministers needed to appreciate the newfound geographical realities and acknowledge that, in what he called a post-Columbian era, Britain's international affairs were likely to be more not less predictable. The “pivot” – Central Asia – he believed was going to be key to future global developments.

In his summation of human history, he used the term “Columbian era” to signify the period between 1500 and 1900 when European imperial expansion was possible because there existed additional territorial and resource based opportunities. This era was coming to a close and, as a consequence, there were far fewer opportunities for imperial development. The danger, according to Mackinder, was that future expressions of global tension would reverberate more intensely than ever before, with attendant dangers not only for Britain but also for the wider world. As he noted, “Every explosion of social forces, instead of being dissipated in a surrounding circuit of unknown space, will be sharply re-echoed from the far side of the globe” (Mackinder 1904:421).

Mackinder's warning about the state of the world illuminates a recurring aspect of classical geopolitics, which was a fusion of futurology with the “big picture” of world politics. While futurology has gotten a bad press with regard to the complete inability of Soviet specialists to predict the destruction of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 and the dismantling of the USSR, Mackinder's claims appeared to be remarkably prescient. Within ten years of his lecture, World War I had erupted and engulfed much of Europe in a devastating conflict. The rise of the Soviet Union, following the 1917 October Revolution, also would not have surprised Mackinder, who had earlier identified the country as a global superpower because of its resource potential, railways, and remoteness (O'Hara et al. 2005). Shortly after the end of World War I, Mackinder contributed a second major geopolitical statement on post-Versailles Europe (Mackinder 1919). In Democratic Ideals and Reality, he noted the need for the international community to monitor closely the redrawing of Europe and the Middle East in the aftermath of the collapse of the German, Russian, and Ottoman empires.

For some writers, Mackinder's judgments have been taken to be highly astute and farsighted given his prediction of the rise of the Soviet Union and the subsequent Cold War struggle over the Euro-Asian landmass. However, it is also worth noting that he was perhaps less prescient when it came to considering the global role of the United States, which received scant attention in his final writings (for example, Mackinder 1943). His map on the “natural seats of power” gives little visual and or political attention to North America. Had he lived longer, it surely would have been the case that the United States would have loomed larger. If one considers where some of the major flashpoints were during the Cold War, then regions such as Eastern and Central Europe, the Middle East and Southeast Asia prefigure.

Subsequent scholars such as Saul Cohen and Colin Gray have revisited Mackinder's legacy and used his work to consider how his insights might have been further developed following his death in 1947 (Cohen 1973; Gray 1977; 2005). This was unsurprising in the sense that the geopolitics of the Cold War was underwritten by entrenched geographical assumptions about East vs. West, freedom vs. repression, and an identity politics shaped by geographies of danger (Campbell 1998). In the American context, the Soviet Union and its Eastern European allies were conceptualized as evil others hell-bent on extending the influence of communism to Western Europe and the so-called Third World. Ideas pertaining to the Heartland and boundary regions (so-called Rimlands, according to the American geographer Nicholas Spykman) had considerable intellectual purchase, especially when one considers that some of the most intense episodes of the Cold War occurred in Eastern and Central Europe, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. President Carter’s Polish-born National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, was an important contributor to the development of classical geopolitics, especially Mackinder's legacy, and his well-known book The Grand Chess Board is replete with references to “geopolitical pivots,” “geostrategic players,” and “geopolitical pluralism” (Brzezinski 1998).

More recently, others such as Joe Painter have recently credited Mackinder with anticipating “the principal division in twentieth century international relations theory between realism and idealism. Idealism acknowledges the possibility of an international order based on universal principles and the rule of law, whereas the realist view of the world is characterized by inter-state anarchy” (Painter 2008:58). Whatever his legacy, Mackinder remains an enduring presence within classical geopolitics.

Classical Geopolitics and Popular Geographies

For many geopolitical writers in the first half of the twentieth century, there was also a popular geopolitical dimension to be acknowledged. Mackinder was a committed imperial educationalist who between 1900 and 1910 was involved in writing a raft of school-level textbooks for children, as well as contributing features to newspapers such as the Glasgow Herald. Many of the earliest classical geopolitical writers were engaged in their own form of popular geopolitics. These authors were, therefore, able and willing to write for different audiences in order to ensure that their ideas on the state, resources, population, and the changing global political order were disseminated. While tracing the impact of particular ideas on policy practice is always fraught with difficulty, it is important to recognize that the work of Mackinder, Kjellén and others was digested at different levels from the university to the classroom and beyond.

This was not restricted merely to Britain, Germany, and Norway. In post-1919 Italy, for example, geographers based at the University of Trieste were active in promoting their vision for the country's citizens and used popular magazines and radio programs to articulate geographical awareness (Atkinson 2000). Italy's colonial empire in Africa featured strongly in these pronouncements and schoolchildren were taught how to identify a “Greater Italy.” The Fascist Colonial Institute was an important element in the popularization of classical geopolitics as it hosted meetings and helped to publish pamphlets and atlases for consumption by the public, including schoolchildren. In other parts of Europe, such as Portugal and Spain, classical geopolitics was also being taught in schools and promoted strongly in popular culture. A new generation of citizens were being urged to look at their maps and examine the geographical dimensions of their states. As James Sidaway noted with reference to Portugal in the 1930s, “dissemination took place in an intense series of colonial expositions and through the display of maps in public buildings, schools and universities, and thereby continually (re) informed the national ‘geographical imagination’” (2000:122).

Classical Geopolitics as “Ideological Poison”

This burgeoning interest in popular education and geographical citizenship was to earn classical geopolitics its notorious reputation. In fascist Germany, Italy and Japan, interwar geopolitical discourse (i.e. between 1919 and 1939) played a key role in raising geographical awareness about existing and indeed coveted territories and resources. German writers such as Karl Haushofer were later to attract the opprobrium of postwar geographers, especially in the United States and the Soviet Union. As a former military officer, Haushofer was Professor of Geography at the University of Munich and helped to initiate a journal of geopolitics (Zeitschrift für Geopolitik) in the 1920s. Informed by the writings of Kjellén and Ratzel, he believed that Germany's long-term survival depended on a clear-cut appreciation of the geographical realities of European and world politics. If the German state was a living organism then it would need to consider how it might acquire more living space, particularly in the east of the European continent. This was not only vital but also achievable if accommodations were made with other influential states, including Japan, Russia, Italy, and Britain. Germany, according to him, should be a “space-hopping” rather than “space-bound” state, which would then be able to realize its true geographical potential.

Combining his interests in the state as living organism with a global perspective, he contended that a series of pan-regions should be established in order to acquire global security. Within each pan-region, dominant powers such as Germany, Japan, and the United States would be able to develop their own territorial and resource portfolios. An accommodation with the Soviet Union over the Euro-Asian landmass was considered essential and Haushofer suggested that Germany could collaborate with Britain in terms of controlling Africa and the Middle East. He was also a committed advocate of a Berlin–Baghdad railway and believed that this would enable Germany to exert control over any raw materials found in the region. While the 1919 peace conference at Versailles might have formally terminated such ambitions, Haushofer was anxious to retain public interest in wider geographical questions such as the long-term imprint of the German state.

Classical geopolitics’ controversial history is unquestionably due to a form of guilt by association. Given that Haushofer was a close associate of Hitler's trusted friend Rudolph Hess, American geographers writing in the 1940s suggested that geopolitics was at best a “pseudo science;” and at worst simply a “Nazi science” (see Thermaenius 1938). One of the most important critics was the American geographer Isaiah Bowman. Described as “Roosevelt's geographer,” he was hugely important in the American geographical establishment (a former president of the American Geographical Society) and had been involved in the deliberations of the 1919 peace conference at Versailles (Smith 1984; 2003). In an article published in October 1942, Bowman concluded: “What was the position respecting geopolitics before general condemnation of Hitler and the Nazi program began? Did they foresee the evil consequences of German perversion of truth in the alleged new science of geopolitics?” (1942:646). Whatever the answer to those questions, Bowman was clear in his own mind that geopolitics was a “pseudo-science” and not worthy of serious consideration. It was a dangerous intellectual other, which had the virtue as such of helping to consolidate a “scientific” form of political geography that did not confront, for example, the manner in which geographical knowledge (and geographers themselves) contributed to the political and military endeavors of the United States throughout World War II and beyond (Barnes and Farish 2006).

Popular magazines such as Reader's Digest also warned that geopolitical scientists based at the Institute of Geopolitics in Munich were secretly calculating Hitler's foreign policies, and thus supplemented Bowman's academic critique. Frederick Sondern, writing in Reader's Digest, warned of the presence of “The Thousand Scientists behind Hitler.” He told a sensational tale involving:

The work of Major General Professor Dr Karl Haushofer and his Geopolitical Institute in Munich, with its 1,000 scientists, technicians and spies. These men are almost unknown to the public, even in the Reich. But their ideas, their charts, maps, statistics, information and plans have dictated Hitler's moves from the very beginning. (1941:45)

This alleged association between Hitler and geopolitical scheming was, however, not as straightforward as some might have suggested. But it did not prevent the Roosevelt administration from commissioning a study of German Geopolitics and its resonance with the policy-making arena of Hitler and his cabal (Atkinson and Dodds 2000:3). While Haushofer was concerned with the organic state and its spatial relationships, he was, unlike Hitler, not obsessed with the role of people (and in particular the Aryan race) in determining the course of human history and geography. Haushofer did not mirror Hitler's obsession with race and his hatred of Jewry. There was an agreement that Germany needed further territorial outlets, but Haushofer did not believe that attacking the Soviet Union in 1941 was a sensible geopolitical strategy given his view that an accommodation with that country was far more likely to secure German influence over the Euro-African pan-region (see Bassin 1987).

The damage done to the reputation to classical geopolitics was done, however. Other émigré German writers such as Hans Weigert, Andreas Dorplan, and Robert Strausz-Hupe firmly established the view in the American popular and academic imagination that geopolitics was the handmaiden of Nazism (Strausz-Hupe 1943; Weigert 1942). While it was considered to be unscientific and intellectually bogus, geopolitics was nonetheless invested with great intellectual/organizational power and Haushofer was identified as the Svengali-like figure of the German geopolitical movement. The terrain associated with geopolitics was largely abandoned in the postwar United States and Soviet Union. Very few scholars were prepared to risk being branded with a field now synonymous with Nazi excess.

A new generation of political geographers in the United States considered how the subdiscipline might embrace new methodologies and approaches associated with behavioral science, and by and large avoided the nationalistic and highly ideological agendas associated with earlier writers (Chubb 1954; Troll 1949). As Richard Hartshorne noted in 1950:

We may have produced no atom bombs in political geography, but the field is nonetheless strewn with dynamite – it is no place for sophomores to play with matches. Fortunately, we appear to have escaped the danger of repeating, in American terms, the crime of those of our colleagues in Germany who were responsible for the dangerous doctrines of geopolitics. But we will be exposed to similar dangers until the foundations of our knowledge in this field are on a much firmer basis than appears to be the case. (1950:104)

Geopolitics was, for Hartshorne, no longer a “wayward child of the geographic sciences” (to paraphrase the cultural geographer Carl Sauer). It was now simply “dangerous” and best avoided. It could, according to this summation, no longer be “disciplined.” This did not mean that political and territorial questions per se were not addressed; it merely highlighted how a new social scientific language based on modeling and testing would replace the discussions of the state as an organism (Barnes 2008).

Classical Geopolitics Redux

Reports of the death of classical geopolitics in the postwar period were, as Mark Twain might have noted, greatly exaggerated. For one thing, this apparent decline in North America was not replicated elsewhere. In Latin America, geopolitics was being readily digested in military academies and embedded in public education programs (Hepple 1992; Dodds 2000). For Latin American writers, classical geopolitics had considerable intellectual appeal. Its emphasis on the physical security of the state and the importance of territory and resources found a cultural resonance in a region beset with territorial and boundary related disputes. In Argentina, Brazil and Chile, geopolitical engagements were longstanding as French, German and Italian materials were translated into Portuguese and Spanish and then introduced into military and later civilian curricula. In the 1950s, the work of Haushofer and German Geopolitics, far from being intellectually shunned, was translated and sold to Latin American audiences.

The organic analogy was particularly popular with military officers because of the emphasis it placed on national security and territorial integrity. As Hepple (1992) noted, the 1960s and 1970s were decades dominated by military regimes throughout Latin America, and in particular the so-called Southern Cone states of Argentina, Chile and Uruguay (see also Hepple 2004). General Pinochet, the president of Chile between 1973 and 1990, was a former professor of geopolitics and author of a widely used textbook on the subject (Hewitt 2001). Disturbingly, however, the organic analogy was transformed from a concern for living space (beyond the existing boundaries of the state) to an obsession with internal security. Under the rubric of national security doctrines, geopolitics provided a way of looking at the world that was infused with anxiety about internal dangers. In Argentina, for example, military regimes in the 1970s were convinced that the state was being targeted by communists and subversives determined to undermine the Republic. Inspired by anticommunism and the tacit support of the United States, the military regimes began a “Dirty War” against those suspected of being subversives. Between 1977 and 1981, it was suspected that the military murdered up to 30,000 people, and many simply disappeared.

While citizens were being purged from the streets of Buenos Aires, schoolchildren were being taught geopolitics as part of their geographical education, which focused on the territorial integrity of the country and the need to either restore “lost” territories such as the Falklands/Malvinas or consolidate others such as the Argentine Antarctic sector (Dodds 2000). Geopolitics, in this context, provided a scientific language and a vision for the Argentine Republic that the military were quick to deploy in the defense of their activities. The national security doctrine articulated by the regimes was expansive. As David Pion-Berlin explained,

It was geographically comprehensive, reaching into the most remote corners of the nation. From the tropical provinces of Misiones, to the windswept and sparsely populated expanses of Patagonia, no part of the country was left unaffected. The armed forces established a set of security zones, sub-zones, and areas that effectively parcelled the territory into increasingly smaller units.

(Pion-Berlin 1989:7)

This process was not unique to Argentina, as the experiences of other military regimes in Chile and Uruguay would confirm in the 1970s and early 1980s. When the military regimes did finally collapse in the 1980s, it was striking that in Argentina, for instance, academic geographers such as Carlos Reboratti were damning of geopolitics and the manner in which military writers had used the socio-Darwinist preoccupation for physical security to justify the “Dirty War” (Reboratti 1983). The organic analogy of the state was indicted for sustaining a culture of extreme violence and territorial fixation, which led to the invasion of the Falklands in 1982 and a near invasion of Chile four years earlier (Dodds 2000).

While South America might provide a rich if disturbing arena for considering the enduring appeal of classical geopolitics, it is also worthwhile noting that at about this time North American engagements with this field were returning to prominence. One key personality frequently noted is the former Secretary of State and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger. While Kissinger did not resurrect an interest in the state as organism, he did use the term “geopolitics” to signify an interest in the global distribution of power and the balance of power among large states such as China, the Soviet Union, and the United States. He was the intellectual heavyweight of the Nixon administration and served at a time when the existing patterns of the Cold War appeared to be shifting. The United States was forging a new relationship with China while at the same trying to extricate itself from Vietnam. As Leslie Hepple (1986) has noted, Kissinger's use of “geopolitics” was important insofar as it signaled a return of the term to mainstream American political discourse.

While Kissinger's term was fuzzy and vague, it nonetheless serves as a reminder of why classical geopolitics prevails. Geopolitics, under his remit, proved to be a useful shorthand term for highlighting the global and regional dimensions of the Cold War. Other contemporaries such as President Carter's National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski also adopted the term geopolitics in order to articulate their proposals for projecting American power around the world. Power and its relationship to territory was a central concern and echoes well Peter Taylor’s identification of the “power-political heritage of geopolitics” (Taylor 1985). While territory was considered to be an important source of power, most of the authors considered here tended to say little about power itself. Power, by and large, is equated with resources and it is generally assumed that resources (whether human or not) add to the power of the state.

The geopolitical ruminations of statesmen stand in marked contrast to post-1945 academic political geography in the United States, which was largely preoccupied with developing spatial scientific models. Territory, power and resources were not central to this intellectual agenda as more attention was paid to location based modeling. Even political geography was condemned as a “back-water” in the late 1960s (Berry 1968). Geopolitics was not a popular subject and classical geopolitics was not taught at many university departments of geography or international relations (see Pounds 1963). The 1980s witnessed a marked change in the academic fortunes of geopolitics and this in turn led to the marginalization of classical geopolitics within many university curricula.

Critical Geopolitics

While the essay has presented a largely chronological account of the rise and demise of classical geopolitics at least in parts of the Euro-American world, we have already complicated that story by acknowledging that the decline of this intellectual field was not geographically even (for a critical Soviet reaction see Vitkovskiy 1981). Likewise, while it might be tempting to suggest a new generation of scholars has been responsible for a more critical form of geopolitical scholarship, it would be wrong to neglect the existence of other earlier writers who arguably have been hugely important in presenting alternatives to classical geopolitics. As we have seen, classical geopolitics attracted considerable numbers of “critical” readings and interpretations during World War II and in the immediate post-1945 period. But classical geopolitics also generated criticism before that period. Ó Tuathail has noted that “geopolitics throughout the twentieth century has provoked strong intellectual opposition and stimulated the production of ‘anti-geopolitical’ forms of knowledge” (1986:141).

Classical Antecedents

One of the most important writers in what we might call a “critical” geopolitical tradition was a contemporary of Halford Mackinder, the Russian-born anarchist Peter Kropotkin. While both men were deeply committed to the teaching of geography in schools and universities, their visions for the subject differed markedly (Kearns 2004). Kropotkin, having arrived in Britain during the 1870s, was, like Mackinder, intellectually inspired by social Darwinism. However, if Mackinder offered an imperial vision of the world where geographical knowledge contributed to British statecraft, Kropotkin's tour d'horizon was informed by anarchism and a very different interpretation of the limits imposed by nature on states and societies. While Mackinder was concerned with the unrelenting challenges posed by global living space, his counterpart Kropotkin was more inclined, as Gerry Kearns notes, to assert that

people claim to find in nature precisely the social forms they want to legitimate in society […] In their ideas of nature, race, environment and culture, Kropotkin and Mackinder differed greatly. “The geographical pivot” may mark the highest water of the tide of imperialism within geography. Mackinder was constructing a subject that would train imperial minds […] Kropotkin's geography was equally relevant. He wanted to counter “national self conceit.”

(Kearns 2004:342, 344)

In one of his best-known works, Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution (1902), Kropotkin explicitly challenges the social Darwinist legacy of classical geopolitics. As he asserts:

In the animal world we have seen that the vast majority of species live in societies, and that they find in association the best arms for the struggle for life: understood, of course, in its wide Darwinian sense – not as a struggle for the sheer means of existence, but as a struggle against all natural conditions unfavourable to the species. The animal species, in which individual struggle has been reduced to its narrowest limits, and the practice of mutual aid has attained the greatest development, are invariably the most numerous, the most prosperous, and the most open to further progress. The mutual protection, which is obtained in this case, the possibility of attaining old age and of accumulating experience, the higher intellectual development, and the further growth of sociable habits, secure the maintenance of the species, its extension, and its further progressive evolution. The unsociable species, on the contrary, are doomed to decay. (1902:2)

Rather than accepting Mackinder's conclusion that countries such as Britain had either to engage in further forms of imperial competition or obsess over “national fitness” and “racial character,” he concluded that geographical education should concentrate on teaching a form of cosmopolitanism, which recognized that global complexities were not relegated as a mere “inconvenience” to the great powers.

If Kropotkin challenged the social Darwinism of one of the earliest writers on classical geopolitics, the German communist writer Karl Wittfogel offered a Marxist critique in the interwar period. In the late 1920s, Wittfogel was an active member of the German Communist Party and a member of the newly created Frankfurt Institute for Social Research (Ó Tuathail 1986:144). In a paper entitled “Geopolitics, Geographical Materialism and Marxism,” he noted that geopolitics of the German variety was fundamentally misguided in assuming that geographical factors such as soil, climate and resources determined the political sphere of human societies. Geopolitics, according to Wittfogel, was a crude “distortion” and ill-equipped to appreciate how the economic sphere and the changing needs of imperialistic-capitalism functioned in the modern world. The subject matter, as least as evidenced in the writings of Kjellén and later Haushofer, was a bourgeois social science which failed to consider its own mystifications concerning the state–society relations and capitalism. While much of Wittfogel's critique is based on his engagement with Marxism and historical materialism, he does not offer an assessment of how this bourgeois ideology and practice fitted into a wider intellectual context of lebensraum, race, and nationalism. As Ó Tuathail has concluded, “Wittfogel did not seek to break from the possibility of a geopolitics of human history but to offer a different and better form of geopolitics” (1996:149–50). Wittfogel was later to pen a series of strongly critical articles concerning Hitler and anti-Semitism and subsequently suffered at the hands of the Nazis. He managed to leave Germany in 1934.

The final brief example to be highlighted here concerns the French political geographer Yves Lacoste and his colleagues associated with the journal Herodote. For English speaking audiences, Lacoste's work gained visibility with his critique of US bombing of the Red River in North Vietnam in the early 1970s. After visiting the river delta region, he documented the environmental consequences for inhabitants and ecosystem alike as part of his evaluation of US geopolitical strategy (Lacoste 1973). His starting point was to assume that geography is not only engaged with the “writing” of the world but also acts as a form of power/knowledge. Geography, and for that matter geopolitics, were, in his words, a public form of discourse which reverberates throughout society, including in films, newspapers, and public education. This was something that was well understood by classical geopolitical writers.

Echoing later generations of critical geopolitical scholars, Lacoste also contended that geography was a form of strategic knowledge. As he opines:

Geography is first and foremost a strategic knowledge, which is closely linked to a set of political and military practices; these practices demand that extremely different, at first sight heterogeneous pieces of information should be brought together. You cannot understand the grounds for existence nor the importance of such information if you confine yourself to the validity of knowledge for knowledge's sake. These strategic practices make geography necessary, primarily for those who control the machinery of the state. Is this really science? It does not really matter; the question is not fundamental insofar as one is aware that geography, being the structuring of knowledge relating to space, is a strategic knowledge, a power. (1976:7)

Geography, and by extension classical geopolitics, were seen for what they were – a form of knowledge deeply implicated in the state's control of space and territories. Or, in the case of the United States, Lacoste contended that geographical knowledge about North Vietnam was being used to inform the deployment of military force in the form of ecocide.

In 1976, he and colleagues established the journal Herodote in order to promote an alternative form of geopolitics, which would avoid replicating earlier imperial manifestations of geographical scholarship and knowledge production. In contrast to later critical geopolitical writers, Lacoste's intervention is not only informed by different geographical/regional traditions (French as opposed to Anglo-American), but also wedded to the belief that an “objective” and “progressive” geopolitics was nonetheless still possible. In his review of French-speaking geopolitics and especially the Lacoste–Herodote enterprise, Hepple (2000) noted how this body of literature was quite different from Anglo-American critical geopolitics in terms of theoretical orientation, regional focus, and a commitment on the part of French geographers to write for popular and public audiences. This Francophone body of writing also had a rather different sense of what classical geopolitics might infer, as Lacoste has shown an interest in early twentieth-century French and German regional geography rather than Mackinder and his American contemporary Thomas Mahan.

With this brief overview, this section has provided a few vignettes concerning the manner in which classical geopolitics has been engaged with, sometimes critically. Over the decades, it has been criticized for its geographical determinism, its neglect of capitalist social relations, its realist worldview and championing of nationalistic statecraft, and finally, its intimate connections to a longer-standing relationship between geographical knowledge and strategic and military application.

Contemporary Manifestations

The 1980s witnessed a major turning point in the academic history of geopolitics. It is no exaggeration to note that an intellectual renaissance was initiated. Three strands deserve some consideration here. First, Peter Taylor’s work on world-systems theory was critical in repositioning the status of political geography and by association the field of geopolitics (Taylor 1985; and see Flint 2006). Second, the emergence of a self-avowedly critical geopolitics in the late 1980s further transformed the nature of the debate about the interrelationship between territory, power, and knowledge about the global political order (Ó Tuathail 1986; Dalby 1991). Third, recent scholarship in feminist geopolitics has stimulated new areas of research. Finally, and very briefly, mention is made of the continuing critical engagement with so-called geopolitical traditions and the different ways in which geopolitical ideas and themes have been engaged with around the world.

Peter Taylor's engagement with world-systems theory transformed the status of political geography and his 1985 textbook (now in its fifth edition and cowritten with Colin Flint, 2007) was highly influential in shaping a new generation of political geographers and their research interests. Taylor's book was one of the first to explicitly consider the power and politics in the world-economy. Unlike earlier classical geopolitical writers, his analysis is not fixated on the state and its apparent resource and territorial needs. His innovative approach involved a series of intellectual maneuvers, including the recognition that power might be exercised both structurally but also covertly. In other words, if states do possess power it is in part on the basis that they have a structural advantage within the world-economy. As the world-economy is structurally uneven, so some states and corporations have more actual and latent power than others and can use the threat of force combined with the manipulation of agenda setting within institutions such as the United Nations to exert influence on others.

Unlike Mackinder's world model, Taylor proposed a tripartite structure that divided the world into core, semiperiphery, and periphery regions. States in the core such as the United States tend to use and benefit from covert power. They also happen to be overwhelmingly economically liberal since their authority is based in part on comparative economic advantage within the global political economy. They can “afford” to be more politically liberal as well because of this economic base. Semiperipheral countries such as Argentina and Brazil tend to be more authoritarian (Taylor was initially writing in 1985) because they have to use overt state power in order to regulate the means of production within their territories. Finally, peripheral states, such as those found in sub-Saharan Africa, were economically and politically weak and often still dealt with stubbornly ingrained colonial legacies such as highly differentiated patterns of land and resource ownership. These states were essentially weak despite the frequent appearance of well-funded militaries and the widespread use of internal repression.

As Joe Painter (2008) has recognized, Taylor's discussion was a markedly different discussion of geopolitics and political geography. His emphasis on the world-economy and the importance of structural power marks a significant departure from earlier reflections on power being simply tied to resources and territory. He also recognized that the state-centric agenda of classical geopolitics was inadequate, as it was abundantly clear by the 1980s that it was impossible to neglect the importance of other international actors, including multinational corporations, international institutions such as the World Bank, and transnational social movements. While Mackinder and others noted the existence of international institutions such as the League of Nations, it was not until the emergence of the United Nations in 1945 and the growth of international law that states were being conditioned in a way that began to challenge the realist claim that the international arena was entirely anarchic.

A second body of literature challenging the legacy bequeathed by classical geopolitics is called critical geopolitics. One of the earliest papers was written by the Irish political geographer Gerard Toal/Gearóid Ó Tuathail, who considered US foreign policy in Central America during the late Cold War (Ó Tuathail 1986). Rather than attempt to map US foreign policy in a conventional sense, he investigated the practical geopolitical reasoning of the Reagan administration in order to consider how and with what consequences places such as Nicaragua were represented. In contrast to realist-inspired classical geopolitics, the intent was to consider geopolitics as both discourse and practice. As such, geopolitics could, according to critical geopolitical writers, never be considered a neutral or disinterested practice. Geopolitics, like geography itself, was concerned with “earthly” writings. It participated in a representational and visual economy, which labeled some places as “dangerous” and others as “friendly.” In his book-length statement on critical geopolitics, Ó Tuathail (1996) developed this argument further alongside colleagues such as Simon Dalby and brought together a new generation of political geographers eager to shift the intellectual agendas associated with classical geopolitics (Ó Tuathail and Dalby 1998; Flint 2006; Dodds 2007).

One important innovation in this academic field has been to identify different forms of geopolitical reasoning and practices. Geopolitics is not simply limited to the state and the practices of statecraft. A threefold typology was proposed: the theories and practices associated with academies and think tanks are called formal geopolitics; practical geopolitics demarcates the activities involving state institutions and political elites; and finally, popular geopolitics highlights the role of everyday geopolitical and cultural constructions of global politics to be found in the mass media, film, cartoons, comic books, and public monuments. If resources and location were considered to be the leitmotif of classical geopolitics, then it is discourse and representation that epitomize much of critical geopolitics. The power to represent is held to be of considerable significance because this shapes understandings of events and relationships between places – was the Russian occupation/humanitarian intervention of/in South Ossetia in August 2008 an invasion or an act of communal self-defense?

Subsequently, the literature has diversified and explored the geo-economic workings of the world-economy alongside analysis of geopolitical discourses and representations (Agnew and Corbridge 1995; Mercille 2008). More recent scholarship has considered the complex intersections between global neoliberalism, national security, and warfare (Cowen 2007; Morrissey 2009). With the onset of the so-called war on terror, political geographers have considered the exceptional legal and biopolitical geographies, including sites such as the US Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay as well as the battlefields and cityscapes of Afghanistan and Iraq (Gregory and Pred 2006; Elden 2007); while another significant strand of literature has considered the visual and affective qualities of the war on terror (Carter and McCormick 2006). The latter has done much to shift critical geopolitics from its previous preoccupation with representation and a focus on how geopolitical power operates through sites and spectacles (MacDonald 2006; Hughes 2007).

The third area of innovation in the postclassical geopolitical era is in the field of feminist political geography (Dowler and Sharp 2001; Hyndman 2004). Most classical geopolitical writers of note were men and, as such, feminist political geographers have argued that classical and, for that matter, critical geopolitics either neglect the gendered dimensions of global politics and/or remain excessively preoccupied with state institutions and expressions of nationalism. Fundamentally, this feminist body of literature challenges existing definitions of the political and calls for a deeper understanding of how social and political relations are exercised. A gendered approach to geopolitics does not privilege either the national or the global, but rather explores how these scales are implicated in all kinds of social processes and institutions, including militarization, alongside other scales including the local, the household, and the individual (Marston 2000).

While critical geopolitics has yet to adequately address this feminist agenda, it has drawn attention to the importance of considering a more embodied form of geopolitics, which is attentive to the different experiences of men, women, and children. The role of young people and children has only recently been addressed by critical geopolitics (see Horschelmann 2008). Moreover, as the war on terror has exemplified, the practical geopolitical reasoning of the Bush administration was utterly gendered. The US invasion of Afghanistan was partly justified as act of feminist liberation, while the politics of the homeland relies on a series of inclusions and exclusions that locate women and children on the home front and men as protectors/leaders (Young 2003). As other writers have noted, gender and sexuality has played a key role in normalizing while at the same time excluding those deemed unsuitable or threatening such as gays and Muslims (Puar 2006).

All three approaches continue to contribute to more critical forms of geopolitics that draw upon a more dispersed and plural view inter alia of scale, power, and territoriality. Unlike classical geopolitics, the state is not treated as the privileged actor and it no longer makes any sense to ignore the growing significance of international organizations, transnational corporations, global media, and nongovernmental organizations, on the one hand, and on the other hand to consider how the subject matter of geopolitics cannot be restricted to a state-centric view of the world. Moreover, as Joe Painter reminds us, contemporary scholarship in critical geopolitics is also animated by a very different conception of power that is less rooted in territory but is informed by a whole series of nonterritorial forms such as seduction, persuasion, and inducement. Rather than power simply being possessed, critical geopolitical scholars consider how power, space, and knowledge are implicated in a more diffused manner, which does not assume that fixed distances and the physical geographies of the earth determine connections and manifestations.

Finally, there continues to be an important and ongoing examination of the intellectual and national legacies of classical geopolitics. One of the most detailed statements about those different geopolitical traditions was published in 2000 and featured essays on South American, European, and Asian engagements with the term and ideas such as Heartland, the state as organism, and so on (Dodds and Atkinson 2000). From the perspective of the English-speaking scholarly community, we await further analyses of Middle Eastern and Chinese engagements with geopolitics alongside Africa and parts of Latin America. Geopolitics has traveled widely and as a set of ideas has been negotiated within academic, military, and popular circles around the world (Dodds 2007; Kuus 2007).

The Demise of Classical Geopolitics?

While critical geopolitics has largely overtaken classical geopolitics as the primary preoccupation of contemporary political geographers, it would be wrong to assume that classical geopolitical writings have disappeared from the intellectual horizon. For one thing, there are scholars and pundits outside the discipline of geography who remain interested in engaging with the work of Halford Mackinder in particular. Paul Kennedy, the well-known author of The Rise and Fall of Great Powers (1988), drew on Mackinder in an article published in the New York Review of Books and in a short version in the British centre-left newspaper, the Guardian (Kennedy 2004). In essence he suggested that Mackinder's interest in the strategic significance of the Heartland and the “pivot” was apt, given post 9/11 events. The United States, Russia, and China were engaged in a new “great game,” which encapsulates Central Asia and the Caspian Sea region as the three great powers seek access to energy resources and military bases in order to project military power (see also Grygiel 2007). Intriguingly, the article published in the Guardian was entitled “the pivot of history” and thus the “geographical” was dropped from Mackinder's original lecture title of 1904. Apparently unbeknown to Kennedy, scholars based in Russia and Central Asia in particular have also revised Mackinder's legacy and drawn very different conclusions. As Nick Megoran noted, “whilst all three writers [studied by Megoran] take Mackinder as offering timeless and objective geopolitical truths, the respective foreign policy positions which they arrive at reveal subjectivities embedded in both the time and space of the nation state” (2004:356). One writer suggests an anti-American alliance would be best for Uzbekistan, while another argues that Mackinder's writings help advance the case for the country to negotiate the competing foreign policies of China, Russia, and the United States.

The reference to Kennedy provides a reminder that even if professional geographers have largely abandoned classical geopolitics, it still attracts interest from others in neighboring disciplines (see also Kelly 2006) and journalists and high profile academic pundits such as Thomas Freidman, Samuel Huntington, and Thomas Barnett. One reason for this apparent divergence is that geography is still perceived by many outside the discipline to be epitomized by the study of the earth and its unchanging physical geographies. While these authors may not use the term classical geopolitics, their analyses are rooted in geographical assumptions that would not be unfamiliar to Mackinder, Spykman, and even Ratzel. Critical geopolitical writers such as Deborah Cowen, Simon Dalby, Derek Gregory, and John Morrissey have been at the forefront of interrogating the corporal and material geographies of the war on terror (Gregory and Pred 2006; Cowen 2007; Dalby 2007; 2008; Morrissey 2009).

The realist–nationalist perspectives of classical geopolitics have not, however, disappeared. Seventy years later, it is not uncommon to read similar sentiments in the pages of popular Anglophone magazines such as Time and Newsweek as journalists pen articles about the geopolitics of oil, water, transport, and strategic minerals. New concerns about “resource wars” also animate many newspaper and television stories (Klare 2008). In Eastern and Central Europe and Russia, the revival of classical geopolitics has been even more pronounced with a revival of interest in civilizational thinking and Euro-Asian geopolitical discourse (Moisio 2002; Kuus 2007). For much of the Cold War, Russian geographers were quick to dismiss geopolitics as a Nazi pseudo-science. This reticence has now gone. A new generation of post–Cold War Russian nationalists and popular writers are returning to the classical geopolitical legacy and, in the case of Russia, buoyed by a renewed sense of national purpose and resource-led wealth, reimagining the country as a Euro-Asian superpower (Ingram 2001; O'Loughlin et al. 2006).

Perhaps geographers themselves are in part to blame for this rather narrow view of geography holding sway in some intellectual and policy-orientated quarters. As the Dutch-American geographer Nicholas Spykman once noted, “Geography is the most fundamental factor in the foreign policy of states because it is the most permanent. Ministers come and go, even dictators die, but mountain ranges stand unperturbed” (1942:41). The “mountain,” like Geography itself, stands as a sign for permanence and durability in international politics. This kind of view of geography as an inert stage has proven extremely durable and difficult to shift from those who write and talk about the “immutable” geographies of world politics. Critical geopolitical scholars beg to differ and continue the urgent task of producing a different kind of geography.


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Geopolitics. At, accessed Jul. 2009. A journal specializing in the publication of academic research in the field of geopolitics. Established in 1994, it publishes four issues per year.

Global Geopolitics. At, accessed Jul. 2009. This site hosts a series of online lectures by Stanford academic Professor Martin Lewis on geopolitics. It is available to download for free.

Global Issues. At, accessed Jul. 2009. A useful website for considering varied analyses of global geopolitics, with a strong focus on trade, finance, and health alongside the arms trade and contemporary conflicts.

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Political Geography. At, accessed Jul. 2009. This is a premier English-language journal, which publishes the latest research on geopolitics and political geography. It was created in 1982 and now publishes eight issues per year.

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I would like to thank Colin Flint, Merje Kuus, and John Morrissey for their very helpful comments on earlier versions of this chapter.