Classical Geopolitics: A summary of key thinkers and theories from the claasical period of geopolitics

Classical Geopolitics

A summary of key thinkers and theories from the claasical period of geopolitics

Friedrich Ratzel

Friedrich Ratzel (1940) was a German geographer who was responsible for coining the phrase “anthrogeographical,” a term indicating the combination of the disciplines of anthropology, geography, and politics. For Ratzel (1940), nation-states had many of the key characteristics of living organisms. He introduced, according to Haggman (2008), the idea that a state had to grow, to expand, and to establish living frontiers or borders that were dynamic and subject to change.

Ratzel (1940) presented a number of key concepts that would be developed further by others in the field of geopolitics. For example, it was Ratzel who gave the earliest and most complete definition of the term raum, or room. Alternatively understood as “space,” this concept relates to Ratzel’s (1940) conceptualization of organic state theory and states as spatial organisms that require the room or space in which growth is possible. Borders become insignificant in that a developing state or one that is advancing is likely to require annexation of territories that are controlled by other less powerful states.

Cahnman (1944) suggests that Ratzel is the central figure in the development of geographical thought in the late nineteenth century. Though his early work focused on the United States, his conception of the frontier as a zone of transition and a peripheral organ rather than a rigidly defined boundary-line was applied to Europe as well.

It is the concept of life-space or lebensraum that is Ratzel’s contribution and which directly encompasses his Law of Expansion. Ratzel (1940) asserted that life is an infinite movement that is hemmed in by borders and boundaries of immovable space and, the dominant species, individuals, or groups are those which succeed in enlarging their life-space by incorporating the life-space of defeated individuals, groups, or species. Invariably, Ratzel (1940) was referring to German expansionism and Prussian superiority.

He also offered the idea of Weltmacht and the sea. This particular construct refers to the ongoing expansion of a dominant German nation-state which should take it to the sea and beyond, ultimately leading to the domination of the sea as well as the land by Germany. Only a people possessed of a great kultur would be capable of achieving this kind of reach. German naval reach as understood by Ratzel (1940) was based on the idea that sea power, unlike land power, was self-sustaining and would be paid for by trade and other economic activities.

Whereas Ratzel (1940) influenced Kjellen (1917), as well as Karl Haushofer, he was influenced greatly by Social Darwinism in addition to his time spent in the Americas. Cahnman (1944) suggests that Ratzel drew too heavily on the theories of both Malthus and Darwin to create an anthropo- and politico-geographical corpus.

Ratzel’s contributions were substantial and his work was extensive. He is credited with being one of the founding fathers of geopolitics and as such is enormously influential in shaping subsequent theory in the field. Cahnman (1944) argues that for Ratzel, the experience gained while traveling throughout America provided the initial stimulation for his scholarly work. The leading German schools of geography that emerged after Ratzel are derived from or influenced by his work. He was influential not only with regard to Kjellen, but also to Vidal de la Blanche and Semple and Sauer.

Ratzel (1940) recognized as did Darwin that there is an inevitable struggle for life that occurs even in the case of nation-states. Such a struggle requires a state to grow or to die, losing or gaining influence in direct proportion to its capacity for defeating or overcoming its rivals. This ideology would later be instrumental, said Haggman (2008), in fostering German expansionism as was evident in both World War I and World War II. It was also responsible for fostering the Germanic notion of racial superiority based on culture and military capacity for expansion. Ratzel’s influence should not be underestimated.

Frederick Jackson Turner

Turner (1932) proposed a major thesis focused on the role of the frontier in political life. Turner (1932) held that the frontier was a major influence in shaping the unique character of America and American culture. It was his contention that the experience of rugged and challenging life in the frontier regions of the country as it expanded ever westward was instrumental in fostering self-reliance and sectionalism. Sectionalism, in his view, was a direct result of the coming together of specific ethnic and other groups in a particular place, crating in essence a unique sub-section of the American polity that would come to define a place as well as a people.

Knox and Marston (2001), commenting on the relationship between frontiers and sectionalist politics, noted that frontier regions are in some instance still relatively marginalized in relation to urbanized and more densely populated regions. They agree with Turner’s (1932) thesis that a frontier region creates opportunities for the emergence of enclaves of ethnic subgroups that struggle to exercise a degree of political power and influence over the larger society. However, Turner’s (1932) most significant contribution is his understanding of the role played by the frontier in shaping national character and in forging sectional relationships and sectional conflict.

Friedrich Naumann

Naumann’s (1917) text, Muittel-Europa, proposed that within Europe there existed a central entity composed of the Germanic countries which should be joined together to create a formidable force to be called “Central Europe.” Such a force would have the political and ideological capacity to stave off any and all attacks or threats from other European countries. It would further be capable of preventing the Ottoman Empire, then one of the most powerful and aggressive forces in the world, from making further inroads into the European heartland. For Naumann (1917), the combined forces of the German volk were of such substance that they could, working in concert, achieve European hegemonic domination. Using a military organization as the basis for this new state entity, in Naumann’s (1917) view, establish a viable source of European security in a perilous age.

Commenting on Naumann’s (1917) thesis, Henry Cord Meyer (1955) suggested that the Central Europe/Mittel-Europa concept was born of Naumann’s own ethnocentrism as well as his belief in the necessity of a military center capable of defending a besieged Europe. The concept, however, is seen by Cord (1955) as flawed in that it placed too much emphasis on the role of the Central European nation-states and failed to recognize the important roles to be played by the other autonomous nation states of the region.

Rudolf Kjellen

As a student of Friedrich Ratzel, Rudolf Kjellen (1917) invariably viewed the geopolitical world through the lens of Aryan ideology and commitment to the expansion of the Germanic empire (although he himself was Swedish and much of his writing focused on the Swedish state). In one of his most significant tomes, The State as a Living Form, Kjellen (1917) articulated a number of key concepts that directly refer to German realpolitik. Some of these concepts were derived from work completed earlier by Ratzel or owe much to that earlier work. It is necessary, according to analyst Ola Tunander (2005), to recognize that Kjellen saw the nation-state as a state of both land and people; however, he also argued that as the 20th Century progressed, a number of forces would coalesce to force Europe and particularly Central Europe to create a bloc of states under the protection of a powerful Germany.

This notion was further bolstered by a number of concepts that Kjellen (1917) identified in his work. One of those concepts was the idea of Reich as a composite of Raum/Lebensraum or “living room” and “space” and the establishment of a strategic military shape that could be defended by a strong military and overseen via a centralized governmental body. The concept, said Tunander (2005), drew upon the idea of Ratzel’s own definition of Raum and was later asserted as a key justification for German expansionism under the Nazis.

The concept of Volk adopted by Kjellen (1917) was also derivative in that it referred to the racial construction of a state as revolving around a specific ethnic group and exclusive of other groups. Haushalt, or the support for Ratzel’s autarky thesis, was based on occupation and control of land. In defining Gesellschaft, Kjellen mad reference to the cultural aspects of a state and its people. In this area, he attributed far more significance to culture as an organizing factor in statehood than did his teacher, Ratzel.

Tunander (2005) suggests that for Kjellen, the idea of the nation-state was infused with nationalism. Consequently, to promote the interests of the nation-state was to promote the interests of a particular people or racial group and the culture they created. He saw geo-politics and ethno-politics as complementary activities in which the state must engage to survive and, as significantly, to prosper and expand its sphere of influence.

Kjellen (1917) also proposed the concept of Regierung. This referred to a governmental system, combining a strong, centralized bureaucracy and an equally powerful military. Together these two aspects of the state would control the behavior of the citizenry, would ensure peace and harmony within the state and would advance the interests of the state vis-à-vis it rivals. Clearly, as noted by Tunander (2005), Kjellen was calling for an extremely orthodox and authoritarian state in which all power was vested in the central government and in which internal dissent was not tolerated or allowed to disrupt order. A state organized along these lines would inherently be an autarky, but Kjellen used this term to refer less to economic policies than to political policies.

It should be noted that when Kjellen was developing his various theses regarding the most appropriate form of the nation-state and its governing mechanisms, Europe itself was in a state of uncertainty (Tunander, 2005). Consequently, he saw a strong “reich” as a necessity and he felt that it was to Germany that Europe should look for the idealized model of such a state. This particular view certainly facilitated appreciation of the importance of a European ‘heartland” that would represent the best of European culture.

It was, however, as Tunander (2005) suggests, an ultimately ethnocentric and authoritarian view of the mandate supposedly given to Germany in general and Prussia in particular (or acquired by these states through virtue and the superiority of their culture). Kjellen’s (1917) theories owe much to those of Ratzel, but take his ideas farther in their affirmation of Germanic superiority.

Halford MacKinder

Halford MacKinder, a professor of geography at Oxford University and the Director of the London School of Economics, developed a number of key elements within a comprehensive theory that was designed to explain the possibilities of the new world map that imperialism had created (Knox & Marsten, 2001). Several concepts developed by MacKinder (1904, 1919) address the so-called geographical pivot of history, the concept of a heartland, concerns regarding the key location of Russia, and the identification of three geopolitical periods of significance.

MacKinder’s (1904) political pivot of geography made a case for the relevance of geography to statecraft. MacKinder was clearly a devotee of imperialist politics, but one who recognized that geographical boundaries were subject to change or flux and that the map of the world was continually being redrawn as a consequence of imperialism (Kearns, 2004). Geography as such was a pivotal discipline because only through understanding its functions could political actors (particularly those of the great powers of Europe) understand the world in which they lived. Fettweis (2003)claims that it was MacKinder who brought the study of geography and international politics to public attention.

MacKinder’s (1919) discussion of the Eurasian heartland is one of his best known contributions to the field of geopolitics. Fettweis (2003)describes this theory as positing that the important ideal area of the world from a strategic perspective is the heartland of the Eurasian land mass. In size, the area was roughly equivalent to that occupied by the former Soviet Union. MacKinder (1919) theorized that whoever controlled the heartland controlled the world and that this heartland represented the greatest natural fortress on earth. The heartland thus becomes a key position on the battlefield of the world island and looks to be essentially an extension of military tactics to the grand strategic level. Russia played a key position in this heartland because while it was centrally located between Europe and Asia proper, it also controlled a large portion of the Eurasian land mass protected from British sea power. For MacKinder (1919), Great Britain and other Western European countries should be fearful of a German alliance with Russia or a China organized by Japan. Such beliefs reflect a deep-seated great power dislike of the idea of a dominant East.

MacKinder (1904, 1919) also proposed that the world had experienced three unique geopolitical periods. The closed heartland of Eurasia was the geographical pivot or location that was central to establishing global control. This was premised on the conviction that the age of maritime exploration which began with Columbus was drawing to a close as the nineteenth century ended. The next period of geopolitical influence would be based upon land transportation technology which would reinstate land-based power as opposed to sea power as essential to political dominance. This would lead to a resurgence of Eurasia because it was adjacent to the borders of so many important countries, was not accessible to sea power, and was strategically buttressed by an inner and outer crescent of land masses (Knox & Marsten, 2001). The third or preliminary period of geopolitical interaction was also a period in which land transportation dominated. Thus, MacKinder (1919) proposed the periods of land, sea, and land transport again as shaping geopolitical relationships while the heartland remained the key position on the global battlefield regardless of which type of transportation dominated.

MacKinder’s concepts have influenced any number of subsequent theorists, including America’s George Kennan and Nicholas Spykman (although to a lesser degree). MacKinder was also instrumental in shaping the views of Admiral Alfred Mahan who asserted that control of sea lanes would be able to prevent any Eurasian alliance from assuming world dominance (Haggman, 2008).

Alfred Thayer Mahan

Alfred Thayer Mahan was an American naval officer who emphasized the importance of sea power as a major factor in geopolitics. Mahan departed in several key ways from other theorists of his era, including Frederick Jackson Turner, on the concept of the frontier and Halford MacKinder with respect to the possible demise of sea power and its replacement by land transportation power. Mahan (2008) was convinced that beginning with the Age of Exploration, the nation-states that achieved great power status did so because they mastered sea power. He further contended that the mastery of commercial activities that elide on seaborne transportation was critical not only in times of war but also in times of peace. He felt that any country building a fleet that could destroy an enemy’s main force in a single battle would become a hegemonic force.

To a degree Mahan (2008) based his views on an analysis of the conflicts occurring from the seventeenth through the eighteenth centuries, particularly with respect to Great Britain and France. It is worth noting that Ullman (2006) claims that Mahan’s fundamental assumption regarding the importance of sea power was his belief that economic competition sat at the heart of all rivalry between nations. One should recall that when Mahan (2008) presented his ideas, there were limited methods of communicating and transporting ideas as well as goods from one part of the world to the other. Ullman (2006) argued that history has changed Mahan’s assumptions. Economic competition no longer is leading to a scramble among the great powers for access to overseas markets. The competitions which characterized such relationships even through the nineteenth century no longer prevail. Ullman (2006) maintains that technology has erased any notion of geographic borders and control of access.

Commercial expansion through trade was also essential in Mahan’s (2008) viewpoint. Unlike Turner, Mahan did not see the frontier as a fixed if slowly changing boundary that represented the farthest reaches of a country’s influence or its presence. As a naval officer, Mahan conceived of sea power as necessary not merely to military success, but as instrumental in sharing economic success. Mahan’s (2008) proposal that countries should use their resources when not at war to construct a maritime apparatus that was capable of promoting commercial activities as well as military ones was unique in the era. Believing that sea power was central rather than peripheral to the world history of the preceding two-and-a-half centuries, Mahan (2008) emphasized the highway aspect of the sea and argued that any country that was dependent on the world economy needed to be able to secure access to the world and could only do so if no enemy fleet dominated the seas (Friedman, 2005).

Mahan (2008) is viewed by Friedman (2005) as having influenced many policymakers in the American government during his lifetime. This includes Benjamin F. Tracy, who served as the Secretary of the Navy in the Harrison administration, between 1889 and 1893. Mahan’s ideas were used by Tracy to make a case for developing a very large naval fleet that was capable of undertaking both military and commercial activities on behalf of the country. The Spanish-American War, said Friedman (2005), gave credence to many of Mahan’s theories and established him as something of a pundit in terms of geopolitical policymaking.

Mahan’s influence on the development of an extensive American naval fleet is one of his major contributions, but his rejection of Turner’s thesis regarding the influence of the frontier on American character has been given less attention by critics. Where Mahan agreed with MacKinder is in the belief that heartlands do exist and that the borders of these heartlands are often quite dynamic – an idea that he shared with Ratzel. What differentiates Mahan from other thinkers is his constant emphasis on the overarching significance of sea power and sea transport which he felt were destined to remain the dominant mode of international interaction even in an era when the railroad and land transport systems were expanding at a dramatic rate.

Nicholas Spykman

Nicholas Spykman is considered to be the godfather of containment, described in this manner by, among others, George F. Kennan (1991). Spykman (1938, 1942) was a political scientist who founded the classical realist school and who also drew heavily upon geographical concepts to identify the ways in which geopolitical interactions are structured and developed. He presented several key concepts of note. Among these are his understanding of the heartland, the rimland, offshore continents, the dynamics of Eurasia, and his efforts to provide revisions to some of the concepts advanced by MacKinder who was an influence on Spykman’s work.

Spykman (1938) established the concept of the heartland as integral to any understanding of the world. He drew upon MacKinder’s theory to advance the notion that a heartland existed which could be identified although he rejected MacKinder’s belief that the heartland was amenable to unification through land transportation systems. The occupier of the heartland in his perspective had a unique and important defensive position, but the very great advantages attributed to the heartland by MacKinder are not seen as present in Spykman’s theory (Gray, 2004).

For Spykman (1938), Eurasia’s periphery and not its core are seen as the key to global power (De Blij & Muller, 2003). This periphery in Spykman’s (1938) viewpoint should be known as a rimland. Rimland states such as Japan were likely to become superpowers over time. Because rimland states had greater contact with the outside world or the countries that were not part of the heartland itself, they received more in terms of innovation than did the heartland countries (Spykman, 1938). Rimland states also possessed a wealth of natural resources and though Spykman agreed with MacKinder on this particular concept, he gave greater credence to the capacity of rimland states to capitalize on their natural advantages and resources than did MacKinder.

Spykman (1942) also took the position that the so-called offshore continents of Africa and Australia would play a far more significant role in shaping geopolitics than MacKinder believed to be possible. Africa and Australia were in Spykman’s view, places possessed of enormous wealth in the form of natural resources that were largely ignored in terms of their capacity for achieving anything resembling superpower status. However, Spykman (1942) also recognized that these offshore continents had not as yet achieved anything of significance in terms of great power politics. It was to the United States that he turned in his discussion of offshore continents as well as to Great Britain and Japan. All three of these entities were regarded by Spykman (1942) as very much capable of becoming world powers or, in the case of Great Britain, having long been a major imperialist world power.

Much of Spykman’s career was dedicated to challenging concepts that were advanced earlier by MacKinder. He felt that controlling the heartland was going to be ultimately less significant than controlling the rimland. He also believed that controlling Eurasia would allow a country or a coalition of countries to control the destinies of the world. Gray (2004) says that Spykman was prescient in that he predicted that it would be Great Britain, Russia, and the United States who would be the dominant actors with respect to the Eurasian heartland.

In addition, Spykman (1942) saw an important role for the United States in the future and forecast before World War II came to a close that Japan and Germany would lose the war, that China would emerge as a major power in Asia and that there would be ongoing conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union. He was convinced that conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union was inevitable because both countries had grandiose ambitions in the geopolitical arena. Spykman (1942) believed that it was essential for the United States to remain strong and determined in an effort to offset the likely aggression of the Soviet Union and to defend Japan against China.

Karl Haushofer

Karl Haushofer was heavily influenced not only by extensive travels in Asia but by his exposure to the work of earlier geopolitical theorists such as MacKinder, Mahan, Ratzel, and Kjellen (Weigert, 1942). Like his predecessors, he was interested in a variety of important geopolitical concepts such as frontiers, lebensraum, and autarky. Haushofer (1938) described lebensraum in much the same manner as did his predecessors, referring to the need of any developing country for expansion into new or neighboring territory. He also believed in the existence of an organic state and in the development of a geopolitik that is a political science that is capable of description and analysis.

From his perspective, lebensraum represented a new approach to colonial imperialism. Drawing upon Ratzel, Haushofer (1938) asserted that expansionary states would invariably adopt an imperialistic world view and would link colonial control of other countries or regions to the cause of empire. This dyad would be further reflected in his understanding of autarky which he saw as a form of tariff protectionism supportive of a colonial or imperialistic system. He also believed that any state would depend on adequate living space and that over time, the earth would not be able to support all of the various peoples that it contained. Consequently, autarky would increasingly come to represent a system in which a country used its economic power to protect itself from others by imposing tariffs on them.
Haushofer (1938) also contended that one of the key goals of any great world power was to acquire strategic control of certain key geographic areas. He made reference to the Suez and Panama Canals as examples of how and where such strategic control could be used by a colonial or imperial power to further their own ends. Weigert (1942) has pointed out that Haushofer was absolutely convinced that the successful country would be one that not only imposed its economic and ideological will on others, it would be the country that would become dominant in many different regions of the world and would control key shipping lanes, ports and harbors, and trade routes.

Weigert (1942) stated that Haushofer saw geopolitics as the scientific foundation of the art of political action in the struggle of state organisms for existence and for lebensraum. Controlling key strategic area of the world was a necessary step forward in his view because the world was divided into a series of panideen or pan-regions that were based upon the regional dominance acquired by a great world power. Typical examples of these regions included the British Empire and the sphere of influence garnered by the United States as a consequence of the Monroe Doctrine. Germany also held some overseas territories and it was Haushofer’s contention that it was the logical great party to assume more and more control over these regions (Weigert, 1942).

Haushofer called for the establishment of a set of frontiers that were less likely to be mutable. Though he understood Turner’s contentions regarding the nature of the frontier as a demarcation between a heartland and a rimland or periphery, he nevertheless believed that it was necessary for a world power to seek control over frontiers as part of a larger effort of ensuring the security and stability of its own heartland.

There are those who have suggested that Haushofer was somehow associated with Adolf Hitler although there is no real evidence supporting this contention or that he was instrumental in writing parts of Mein Kampf. At the same time, Weigert (1942) claims that it is all but impossible not to recognize that Haushofer’s concepts did play a role in shaping the Third Reich’s quest for lebensraum. Of course, the Third Reich was not alone in seeking expanded territorial control. Any number of other great powers have similarly attempted to acquire a dominant position in their own region of the world and to usurp the territorial prerogatives of their neighbors (Weigert, 1942).

Post-War American Containment Theory

George Kennan (1991) is credited with having articulated the American geopolitical strategy of containment as a response to the post-World War II activities of the Soviet Union and as a major initiative designed to prevent Soviet influence from taking root in the developing world and among the nonaligned nations. Kennan (1991) argued that containment was not meant to inhibit the Soviet Union’s capacity for growth and development, but rather to prevent that country from imposing its own particular ideology on its neighbors or on other countries seeking developmental assistance.

Kennan (1991), working with President Harry Truman, felt that the Soviets could be contained in part by providing economic and other types of assistance to developing countries and by preventing the Soviet Union from gaining too much influence over regional or global affairs. Deibel and Gaddis (1986) believe that Kennan’s “X” article conveyed the belief that Soviet policies were unlikely to reflect a love of peace and stability and that containment therefore was designed to confront the Soviets with unalterable counter-force at every point where they showed signs of encroaching on the interests of a peaceful and stable world.

Another geopolitical actor who supported containment was Paul Nitze, one of the authors of U.S. National Security Document 68 which laid out the principles of containment. Nitze, according to Deibel and Gaddis (1986), asserted that the Soviets were trying not to achieve parity, but rather strategic prowess via the arms race and other activities. Consequently, it was Nitze’s view that it was necessary to prevent the Soviets from achieving superior nuclear weaponry even at the cost of an arms race.

Deibel and Gaddis (1986) contend that containment remained the dominant assumption in American foreign policy from the end of World War II to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Any number of senior advisers to the president of the United States, including Henry Kissinger and Zbignew Brzezinski were committed to maintaining this policy. Kissinger, as noted by Deibel and Gaddis (1986), felt that achieving détente in terms of nuclear weapons development and expansion would be an ideal result of a policy of containment. Kissinger did not feel nor did President Nixon that détente represented a departure from or an abandonment of containment’s vision of the Soviet Union. Kissinger and Brzezinski believed that the Soviets could no longer be dealt with directly through the use of American military power – either deterrent power or the actual deployment of American military forces. Deibel and Gaddis (1986) maintain that the Nixon Doctrine proposed the appointment of surrogate powers to perform the job of containment in various regions of the world such as the Shah of Iran in the Persian Gulf and China in the Far East.

Brzezinski, who worked in the administration of Jimmy Carter, called Soviet global strategy a unique organic imperialism that was derived from territorial insecurity (Deibel & Gaddis, 1986). He further called for maintenance of the three pillars of containment: a continuing U.S. diplomatic and military presence on the Eurasian continents with a NATO alliance, a strong and resurgent Europe, and an independent China.

Deibel and Gaddis (1986) suggest that the policy of containment evolved over time as the United States moved away from direct military confrontation of communist expansionism in South Korea and Vietnam to a less militaristic response that employed economic and foreign aid as a means of leading the nonaligned nations into the Western sphere of influence. At the same time, the continued willingness of the U.S. to participate in the arms race which lasted into the Reagan administration was very much a military response to the perceived Soviet threat. Containment emerges as a strategy that was designed to offset Soviet hegemonic ambitions in terms of the Eurasian heartland and countries within the periphery or the rimland. It is an excellent example of great power politics being played out in a bipolar world wherein two determined superpowers are willing to compete almost indefinitely for dominance.

Saul B. Cohen

Saul Cohen (2003) has focused his geopolitical analysis on the forces that have been unleashed by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the demise of the bipolar world. He proposes that there are a number of geostrategic regions that are of enormous significance in shaping international relations at both the regional and global levels. He sees these regions as loosely consisting of the Maritime, Heartlandic, Russian, and East Asian as well marginalized regions such as much of South America and sub-Saharan Africa. Other important geostrategic regions are found in the Eurasian heartland and in the Americas, particularly in North America. Cohen (2003) believes that these geostrategic regions are significant in that they are centers of economic activity which are networked with one another and are capable of creating a map of dynamic equilibrium.

Cohen (2003) also makes use of the related concepts of gateways and shatterbelts. As understood by Knox and Marston (2001), a shatterbelt is a region of the world wherein enormous political volatility exists and wherein conflict is endemic and dominant world powers are often seen as threatening entities which must be resisted. Cohen (2003) claims that the Middle East is an excellent example of a contemporary shatterbelt wherein tensions run high and the potential for conflict that could spread outside the region is also present.

Gateways, in comparison, are seen by Cohen (2003) as points of entry into autonomous or semi-autonomous heartlands. Eastern Europe, the Trans-Caucasus, and Central Asia are gateways that have at times also been shatterbelts. The difference between a shatterbelt and a gateway depends on the degree of internal stability that the region has achieved or which it is able to maintain in the face of internal and external ideological and economic forces.

Cohen (2003) is adamant in his contention that ideological and economic forces that were once stifled by the competition in the Cold War are now free and are becoming responsible for new conflicts in the world. It is this kind of tension that he sees as creating a world that is polarized along economic lines as well as ideological lines. Where Samuel Huntington foresaw a clash of civilizations as a consequence of the end of the Cold War (Knox & Marston 2001), Cohen (2003) suggests that globalization and the diffusion of technology will favor accommodation even within the highly volatile shatterbelts.

Cohen’s (2003) analysis identifies a new hierarchy of geopolitical units. These units range from the subnational to the geostrategic and global. By emphasizing the interaction between these units, Cohen (2003) has essentially proposed that a new world order is likely to develop as a consequence of new economic activities.


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  1. […] of the earliest theoretical disputes in classical geopolitics was the relative value of sea power vs. land power.  Alfred T. Mahan was a proponent of the […]

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