AskDefine | Define geopolitics

Dictionary Definition

geopolitics n : the study of the effects of economic geography on the powers of the state

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. The study of the effects of geography (especially economic geography) on international politics.


Extensive Definition

Geopolitics is the study that analyzes geography, history and social science with reference to spatial politics and patterns at various scales (ranging from the level of the state to international). It examines the political, economic (see geoeconomics) and strategic significance of geography, where geography is defined in terms of the location, size, function, and relationships of places and resources.
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 Pennsylvania.

Halford Mackinder

The doctrine of Geopolitics gained attention largely through the work of Sir Halford Mackinder in England and his formulation of the Heartland Theory in 1904. The doctrine 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, comprising Eurasia and Africa; and the Periphery, including the Americas, the British Isles, 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 Ukraine, Western Russia, and Mitteleuropa. The Heartland contained the grain reserves of Ukraine, 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 Germany and later Russia each made territorial strides toward the Heartland.
Mackinder's geopolitical theory has been criticised 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.

Other theories

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 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.
Anton Zischka published Afrika, Europas Gemeinschaftsaufgabe Nr. 1 (Africa, Complement of Europe) in 1952, where he proposed a kind of North–South Empire, from Stockholm to Johannesburg.
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. Traditionally, it strictly applies to geography's effect on politics.


Institutions on geopolitics

An increasing number of (inter)national institutions exist that work on (aspects of) Geopolitics:
  • International Centre for Geopolitical Studies (I.C.G.S.) located in Geneva (Switzerland):
Founded in June 2001, I.C.G.S. has the objective of reinforcing international stability and security through the promotion of a better understanding of the causes of conflicts and tensions. As such, I.C.G.S. engages in analysis and studies of world geopolitical issues in order to facilitate a more complex reading of the evolutions taking place in contemporary international relations. It organises a successful annual Summer University Course Geopolitical Analysis of International Relations (two weeks in July each year).
  • Institut Français de Géopolitique (I.F.G.) located in Paris (France):
Created in 1989 out of the journal 'Hérodote. Revue de Géographie et de Géopolitique', the I.F.G. is embedded within the University Paris VIII. It offers a Diplôme de Géopolitique (DEA).
  • Instytut Geopolityki (Institute of Geopolitics) located in Czestochowa (Poland)

See also



  • Global communication without universal civilization
  • 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
  • The Geopolitics Reader
  • 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 1.
  • Criekemans, David, Geopolitiek, 'geografisch geweten' van de buitenlandse politiek?, Garant, Antwerpen/Apeldoorn, 2007. ISBN 90-441-1969-9.
geopolitics in Asturian: Xeopolítica
geopolitics in Breton: Douarbolitikerezh
geopolitics in Bulgarian: Геополитика
geopolitics in Catalan: Geopolítica
geopolitics in Danish: Geopolitik
geopolitics in German: Geopolitik
geopolitics in Estonian: Geopoliitika
geopolitics in Modern Greek (1453-): Γεωπολιτική
geopolitics in Spanish: Geopolítica
geopolitics in Esperanto: Geopolitiko
geopolitics in Persian: ژئوپلیتیک
geopolitics in French: Géopolitique
geopolitics in Hindi: भूराजनीति
geopolitics in Croatian: Geopolitika
geopolitics in Italian: Geopolitica
geopolitics in Hebrew: גאופוליטיקה
geopolitics in Georgian: გეოპოლიტიკა
geopolitics in Latin: Geographia politica
geopolitics in Lithuanian: Geopolitika
geopolitics in Malay (macrolanguage): Geopolitik
geopolitics in Dutch: Geopolitiek
geopolitics in Japanese: 地政学
geopolitics in Norwegian: Geopolitikk
geopolitics in Piemontese: Geopolìtica
geopolitics in Polish: Geopolityka
geopolitics in Portuguese: Geopolítica
geopolitics in Romanian: Geopolitică
geopolitics in Russian: Геополитика
geopolitics in Slovak: Geopolitika
geopolitics in Serbian: Геополитика
geopolitics in Serbo-Croatian: Geopolitika
geopolitics in Swedish: Geopolitik
geopolitics in Turkish: Jeopolitik coğrafya
geopolitics in Ukrainian: Геополітика
geopolitics in Urdu: جیو پالیٹکس
geopolitics in Chinese: 地缘政治学
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