91 FIIA Working Paper April 2016 Sören Scholvin GEOPOLITICS AN OVERVIEW OF CONCEPTS AND EMPIRICAL EXAMPLES FROM INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS Sören Scholvin Research fellow Institute of Economic and Cultural

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91 FIIA Working Paper April 2016 Sören Scholvin GEOPOLITICS AN OVERVIEW OF CONCEPTS AND EMPIRICAL EXAMPLES FROM INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS Sören Scholvin Research fellow Institute of Economic and Cultural Geography, University of Hanover Associated researcher German Institute of Global and Area Studies The Finnish Institute of International Affairs Kruunuvuorenkatu 4 FI Helsinki tel fax ISBN: ISSN: Language editing: Lynn Nikkanen The Finnish Institute of International Affairs is an independent research institute that produces high-level research to support political decision-making and public debate both nationally and internationally. All manuscripts are reviewed by at least two other experts in the field to ensure the high quality of the publications. In addition, publications undergo professional language checking and editing. The responsibility for the views expressed ultimately rests with the authors. TABLE OF CONTENTS SUMMARY 4 INTRODUCTION 5 GEOPOLITICS IN THE PAST 8 China s string of pearls 10 South Africa s quiet diplomacy vis-à-vis Zimbabwe 12 GEOPOLITICS IN THE PRESENT 16 Iran s strategy of asymmetric maritime warfare 18 The poor integration of Colombia and South America 20 THREE PILLARS OF GEOPOLITICS 24 3 SUMMARY Geopolitical research is frequently portrayed as a dead end. To some scholars it appears that in the 21st century geography is largely scenery, all but irrelevant to the most important issues of grand strategy. This working paper aims to revitalise geopolitics, reflecting both on the critique of the subject and the strengths that have characterised it for more than a century. It is argued that geographical conditions constitute a set of opportunities and constraints, a structure that is independent of agency. General patterns and long-term processes can be aptly explained by this structure but geopolitics is not a theory of state behaviour or foreign policy. Understanding specific phenomena that occur in international relations therefore requires taking into consideration non-geographical factors. Such a combination of geographical and non-geographical factors provides sound explanations, as several examples demonstrate: China s projection of power into the Indian Ocean, South Africa s approach to the political crisis in Zimbabwe in 2008, Iran s maritime strategy and the poor integration of Colombia and South America. Given that geopolitics is about analysing international relations (or politics) for its geographical content, all those committed to geopolitics should concentrate on the three guiding questions: Do geographical conditions influence the observed outcome? If yes, do geographical conditions influence the observed outcome significantly? If yes, how, meaning in combination with which other factors do geographical conditions influence the observed outcome? 4 INTRODUCTION 1 Nicholas Spykman once wrote that ministers come and go, even dictators die, but mountain ranges stand unperturbed. 2 Due to their persistence, Spykman regarded geographical conditions the physical reality that states face as being decisive for international relations. This type of geopolitical thinking has been strongly criticised, more recently by constructivists such as John Agnew, Simon Dalby and Gearóid Ó Tuathail, 3 and for decades by realists. In an article recently published in the journal Orbis, Christopher Fettweis argues that geopolitics suffers from major descriptive, prescriptive and predictive deficiencies. According to Fettweis, geopolitics is therefore unable to produce meaningful scholarly work. 4 It has become obsolete, as he claims in an article published earlier in Comparative Strategy. 5 Yet there are several scholars who adhere to geopolitical explanations in their research on international relations. Michael Klare, for example, focuses on the demand, supply and spatial characteristics of resources in order to explain conflicts amongst states. 6 Robert Kaplan argues that we must study the outside environment faced by every state when determining its own strategy. 7 Others concentrate on territorial strategies, reasoning for instance that China and India are likely to clash because the string of pearls that is, a line of commercial and military facilities constructed by the Chinese along the shores of the Indian Ocean cuts through sea lines of communication in the 1 This working paper is based on a presentation given by the author at a roundtable on Geopolitics, Geoeconomics and Foreign Policy Analysis at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, 6 October The author would like to thank the participants of the roundtable for their valuable comments. A shorter version of the working paper will be published under the title Geographical Conditions and Political Outcomes in Comparative Strategy, vol. 35, no Nicholas J. Spykman, America s Strategy in World Politics: The United States and the Balance of Power (New York: Harcourt, 1942), p The most important critiques of geopolitics by constructivists are: Gearóid Ó Tuathail and John A. Agnew, Geopolitics and Discourse: Practical Geopolitical Reasoning in American Foreign Policy, Political Geography, vol. 11, no. 2 (1992), pp ; Gearóid Ó Tuathail and Simon Dalby, Rethinking Geopolitics: Towards a Critical Geopolitics, in Rethinking Geopolitics, ed. Gearóid Ó Tuathail and Simon Dalby (London: Routledge, 1998), pp Christopher J. Fettweis, On Heartlands and Chessboards: Classical Geopolitics, Then and Now, Orbis, vol. 59, no. 2 (2015), pp Christopher J. Fettweis, Revisiting Mackinder and Angell: The Obsolescence of Great Power Geopolitics, Comparative Strategy, vol. 22, no. 2, pp Michael T. Klare, Resource Wars: The New Landscape of Global Conflict (New York: Holt, 2002); Michael T. Klare, Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America s Growing Petroleum Dependency (London: Penguin, 2004); Michael T. Klare, Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy (New York: Holt, 2009). 7 Robert D. Kaplan, The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us about Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate (New York: Random House, 2012), p Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Bengal that are vital for India. 8 In his critique of geopolitics, Fettweis suggests that everyone agrees that geography matters [ ] but determining exactly how the chessboard affects the game has proven elusive. 9 It is confusing why Fettweis and many others along with him concludes that we should stop thinking about how geographical conditions influence international relations. Even if one thinks that the findings of geopolitics have been dissatisfying so far, the apparent importance of geographical conditions which those who criticise geopolitics from a realist perspective acknowledge should encourage us to refine geopolitical thinking. In contrast to other publications in defence of geopolitics, this working paper does not investigate whether the conclusions drawn by scholars such as Halford Mackinder and Nicholas Spykman were (and still are) accurate. 10 Instead, this paper shows that geopolitical thinking has much to contribute to our understanding of international relations insofar as it allows us to focus on crucial factors that are neglected by other approaches: naturally given and man-made material structures in the geographical space. It also demonstrates that those who criticise geopolitics misunderstand in particular the classical branch in numerous ways. Nonetheless, critics such as Fettweis do hint at some actual shortcomings of geopolitical thinking. This paper therefore advances a refined version of geopolitics, based on classical and contemporary geopolitics. The three pillars of the version of geopolitics proposed here are: 11 Geographical conditions must not be seen as an irreversible fate. They constitute a set of opportunities and constraints, meaning a structure independent of agency. General patterns and long-term processes can be aptly explained by geographical conditions, but understanding specific phenomena that occur in international relations requires taking into consideration intervening non-geographical factors. It is helpful to trace processes and to reveal causal mechanisms, concentrating on the role of geography therein, so as to show that geographical conditions matter and in what way. In order to demonstrate that new insights can be gained from the revitalised version of geopolitics developed in this paper, empirical examples from international relations are given. The purpose of the respective sections in this working paper is to show that geographical conditions are highly relevant for some major phenomena in present-day international relations. As just noted, such explanations would remain incomplete if they neglected intervening non-geographical factors. Hence, by shedding light on the interplay between geographical and non-geographical factors, the examples given here 8 An example of this line of thinking is: David Scott, The Great Power Great Game between India and China: The Logic of Geography, Geopolitics, vol. 13, no. 1 (2008), pp Fettweis, On Heartlands and Chessboards, p A good example of this line of reasoning is Colin S. Gray, In Defence of the Heartland: Sir Halford Mackinder and His Critics a Hundred Years on, Comparative Strategy, vol. 23, no. 1 (2004), pp Sören Scholvin, The Geopolitics of Regional Power: Geography, Economics and Politics in Southern Africa (Farnham: Ashgate, 2014). 6 illustrate that we can learn a lot from incorporating geographical conditions into our analyses of international relations, while recognising that geopolitics remains a valid and useful discipline. This working paper consists of three sections. First, an overview of the classical fundaments of geopolitics is provided, and leading and misleading tracks are delineated. The second section deals with present-day geopolitics and how it advances the classical approach. The third section focuses on whence the three pillars of geopolitics listed above are derived, and discusses the prospects for future geopolitical research. 7 GEOPOLITICS IN THE PAST Geopolitical reasoning dates back to ancient Greece. Aristotle derived the respective political systems of the Greek city states and their neighbouring empires and tribes from climatic conditions. Similar ideas were prominent in France during the Renaissance. Immanuel Kant also linked presumed characteristics of peoples to climatic factors. In modern social science this line of thinking received a boost when geopolitics became the predominant approach in research on international relations. German geographer Friedrich Ratzel conceptualised states as growing organisms. 12 In an attempt to apply scientific laws from biology to international relations, he argued that states derived their national power their capacity to survive in the international arena from the land they controlled. Ratzel s Swedish colleague, Rudolf Kjellén, coined the term geopolitics. 13 He defined it as the science of states as life forms, based on demographic, economic, political, social and geographical factors. In the inter-war period, Austrian and German disciples of Ratzel and Kjellén advanced geopolitics as a popular science aimed at revising the Treaty of Versailles. Karl Haushofer argued that the German Reich, Italy and Japan did not possess sufficiently large national territories and would be unable to survive if they did not expand. 14 Haushofer and other German geographers sought to actively shape politics according to what they regarded as the geographically given needs of the German Reich. 15 They also advanced partisan models of geopolitical regionalisation, suggesting that the German Reich possessed a natural sphere of influence that covered Africa and Europe. Germany was to be the industrial core of this sphere. Africa and the European periphery should play a subordinate role as providers of raw materials. 16 Adhering to the Darwinist fundaments laid down by Ratzel and Kjellén, Haushofer and his colleagues believed that weak states pursued defensive strategies and strong states growing life forms that they were naturally expanded. 17 What is more, the German school of Geopolitics was ethnodeterminist and incorporated ideologies as a causal factor. Haushofer argued that the rise and fall of states not only depended on the living space they controlled, but also on their 12 Friedrich Ratzel, Politische Geographie (München: Oldenbourg, 1897). 13 Rudolf Kjellén, Staten som livsform (Stockholm: Geber, 1916). 14 Karl Haushofer, Atemweite, Lebensraum und Gleichberechtigung auf Erden, Zeitschrift für Geopolitik, vol. 11, no. 1 (1934), pp Karl Haushofer, Grundlagen, Wesen und Ziele der Geopolitik, in Bausteine zur Geopolitik, ed. Karl Haushofer et al. (Berlin: Vowinckel, 1928), pp Erich Obst, Ostbewegung und afrikanische Kolonisation als Teilaufgaben einer abendländischen Großraumpolitik, Zeitschrift für Erdkunde, vol. 9, no. 9 (1941), pp Karl Haushofer, Japan baut sein Reich (Berlin: Zeitgeschichte-Verlag, 1941); Otto Maul, Die Vereinigten Staaten von Amerika als Großreich: Länderkunde und Geopolitik (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1940). 8 urge to live. 18 The pan-regions that he and other authors of the Zeitschrift für Geopolitik described were supposedly based on pan-ideas. 19 American and British scholars conversely explained the long-term courses of international relations in terms of geographical conditions, usually without referring to Social Darwinist thoughts and without adapting their academic findings to political goals. Fettweis correctly points out that early Anglo-American geopolitics also had a climate-racist branch: Ellsworth Huntington, for example, argued that peoples from temperate zones were superior to others because of climatic factors that presumably formed their character. 20 Thoughts on the impact of physio-geographical conditions on the character of peoples were somewhat latent in Anglo-American classical geopolitics. Yet they never dominated the discipline. It was not climate and intellectual capacities but, rather, the effects of locational, geomorphological and topographical conditions for national expansion and national power that were regarded as being essential. Alfred Mahan, the first director of the US Naval War College, pointed out that the failure of France to outcompete Britain in terms of naval power resulted from the fact that France s coast is not conducive to building harbours. France, being located on the European continent, also had to invest in its army and navy, while the British could concentrate on naval power. Moreover, the French naval forces were divided into two arenas: the Atlantic coast and the English Channel, on the one side, and the Mediterranean Sea, on the other. The Royal Navy, conversely, could concentrate its power on a single theatre of operation Karl Haushofer, Geopolitik des Pazifischen Ozeans: Studien über die Wechselbeziehungen zwischen Geographie und Geschichte (Heidelberg: Vonwinckel, 1924). 19 Friedrich Paulig, Monroe-Doktrin, Panamerika und Völkerbund, Zeitschrift für Geopolitik, vol. 7, no. 1 (1930), pp ; Frank H. Schmolck, Der Panamerikanismus von Amerika aus, Zeitschrift für Geopolitik, vol. 14, no. 5 (1937), pp Concerning German geopolitics it is noteworthy that its proponents, in particular Haushofer, were not grey eminences behind National Socialism. This is best demonstrated by Haushofer s conviction of the merits of an alliance with the Soviet Union and the complete failure of the so-called Working Group on Geopolitics to influence foreign policy and public opinion in Germany in the 1930s (Hans-Adolf Jacobsen, Kampf um Lebensraum : Zur Rolle des Geopolitikers Karl Haushofer im Dritten Reich, German Studies Review, vol. 4, no. 1 (1981), pp ). 20 Ellsworth Huntington, Civilization and Climate (New Haven: Archon, 1915). 21 Alfred T. Mahan, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, (London: Low, 1890). Ellen Semple who went to Leipzig in the late 19th century to attend Ratzel s university lectures advanced similar ideas, arguing that the coastal geomorphology of the northern Atlantic Ocean, meaning that ocean s numerous inlets and small islands, was favourable to seafaring. Physio-geographical conditions thus helped her to explain the expansion of European powers. Semple also reasoned on the impact of environmental conditions on the human mind (American History and its Geographic Conditions (Boston: Mifflin, 1903)), as did her Scottish colleague James Fairgrieve (Geography and World Power (London: University of London Press, 1917)). Semple s famous phrase man is a product of the earth s surface duly summarises a problematic geodeterminism (Influences of Geographic Environment: On the Basis of Ratzel s System of Anthropo-Geography (New York: Holt, 1911), p. 1). 9 China s string of pearls In 2010 China became the world s major energy consumer. In particular, its oil imports have continued to increase at an impressive rate. Given that roughly 50 per cent of the oil that China imports comes from the Persian Gulf region, the People s Republic has an evident interest in secure maritime transport through the Indian Ocean. Increasing imports of raw materials from Africa (in particular coal, metals and oil) reinforce this interest. China has to react to threats such as piracy off the Horn of Africa. India s naval build-up and the presence of the US navy at chokepoints in Southeast Asia, where China can be cut off from the Indian Ocean, arguably also require a reaction from the Chinese. China s projection of power into the Indian Ocean is, however, extremely difficult and this brings us back to Mahan. First of all, the main theatre of operation for the Chinese navy is the Pacific Ocean, with its numerous territorial disputes close to the littoral state of the People s Republic. China s capacities for the Indian Ocean are hence limited. Moreover, China does not possess a coastline of its own on that ocean. The aforementioned chokepoints in Southeast Asia can easily be used to cut off Chinese ships from supplies. In order to be able to operate in the Indian Ocean, the Chinese have thus begun to build and upgrade ports in friendly countries, ranging from Cambodia to Myanmar to Pakistan. The most famous harbours of the so-called string of pearls are Gwadar (Pakistan) and Kyaukpyu (Myanmar), which are to be linked to China by land corridors, including pipelines. The envisaged pipelines are strategically important because they would significantly reduce transport time from the Middle Eastern oil suppliers to the People s Republic. They would, of course, also enable China to circumvent the Southeast Asian chokepoints. In the case of Gwadar, potential obstructions by the Indian navy would be reduced to a minimum. Whereas geographical conditions facilitate our understanding of why China has been building the string of pearls, they do not tell us what its precise effects are. India and think tanks from the United States in particular warn against China s power projection into the Indian Ocean. Kaplan attributes the string of pearls directly to China s quest for secure access to resources. 1 Referring to Mackinder s heartland theory, Kaplan also argues that the People s Republic possesses highly favourable geographical conditions to raise it to the status of a world power. 2 However, the geographical advantages that Kaplan refers to do not necessarily mean that China s rise will be competitive (or even war-prone). The ports that are being built or rehabilitated by the Chinese along the Indian Ocean could serve as economic growth poles, with Chinese companies investing in free-trade zones at these ports, co-operating with local companies and incorporating them into global commodity chains Gwadar, for example, is already a free-trade zone today. Moreover, caution is needed because the string of pearls is not a security paradigm developed by the Chinese. It was coi
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