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91FIIA Working PaperApril 2016Sören ScholvinGEOPOLITICSAN OVERVIEW OF CONCEPTS AND EMPIRICALEXAMPLES FROM INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

Sören ScholvinResearch fellowInstitute of Economic and Cultural Geography, University of HanoverAssociated researcherGerman Institute of Global and Area StudiesThe Finnish Institute of International AffairsKruunuvuorenkatu 4FI-00160 Helsinkitel. 358 9 432 7000fax. 358 9 432 7799www.fiia.fiISBN: 978-951-769-484-1ISSN: 2242-0444Language editing: Lynn NikkanenThe Finnish Institute of International Affairs is an independent researchinstitute that produces high-level research to support politicaldecision-making and public debate both nationally and internationally.All manuscripts are reviewed by at least two other experts in the fieldto ensure the high quality of the publications. In addition, publicationsundergo professional language checking and editing. The responsibilityfor the views expressed ultimately rests with the authors.

TABLE OF CONTENTSSUMMARY 4INTRODUCTION 5GEOPOLITICS IN THE PAST 8China’s string of pearls 10South Africa’s quiet diplomacy vis-à-vis Zimbabwe 12GEOPOLITICS IN THE PRESENT 16Iran’s strategy of asymmetric maritime warfare 18The poor integration of Colombia and South America 20THREE PILLARS OF GEOPOLITICS 243

SUMMARYGeopolitical research is frequently portrayed as a dead end. To some scholars it appearsthat in the 21st century geography is largely scenery, all but irrelevant to the mostimportant issues of grand strategy.This working paper aims to revitalise geopolitics, reflecting both on the critique ofthe subject and the strengths that have characterised it for more than a century. It isargued that geographical conditions constitute a set of opportunities and constraints, astructure that is independent of agency. General patterns and long-term processes canbe aptly explained by this structure but geopolitics is not a theory of state behaviour orforeign policy.Understanding specific phenomena that occur in international relations thereforerequires taking into consideration non-geographical factors. Such a combination ofgeographical and non-geographical factors provides sound explanations, as severalexamples demonstrate: China’s projection of power into the Indian Ocean, South Africa’sapproach to the political crisis in Zimbabwe in 2008, Iran’s maritime strategy and thepoor integration of Colombia and South America.Given that geopolitics is about analysing international relations (or politics) for itsgeographical content, all those committed to geopolitics should concentrate on the threeguiding 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 influencethe observed outcome?4

INTRODUCTION1Nicholas Spykman once wrote that ‘ministers come and go, even dictators die, butmountain ranges stand unperturbed’.2 Due to their persistence, Spykman regardedgeographical conditions – the physical reality that states face – as being decisive forinternational relations. This type of geopolitical thinking has been strongly criticised,more recently by constructivists such as John Agnew, Simon Dalby and Gearóid ÓTuathail,3 and for decades by realists. In an article recently published in the journalOrbis, Christopher Fettweis argues that geopolitics suffers from major descriptive,prescriptive and predictive deficiencies. According to Fettweis, geopolitics is thereforeunable to produce meaningful scholarly work.4 It has become obsolete, as he claims in anarticle published earlier in Comparative Strategy.5Yet there are several scholars who adhere to geopolitical explanations in their researchon international relations. Michael Klare, for example, focuses on the demand, supplyand spatial characteristics of resources in order to explain conflicts amongst states.6Robert Kaplan argues that we must study ‘the outside environment faced by everystate 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 ofpearls’ – that is, a line of commercial and military facilities constructed by the Chinesealong the shores of the Indian Ocean – cuts through sea lines of communication in the1This 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 2015.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 andPolitical Outcomes’ in Comparative Strategy, vol. 35, no. 6.2Nicholas J. Spykman, America’s Strategy in World Politics: The United States and the Balance of Power(New York: Harcourt, 1942), p. 41.3The 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. 190–204; Gearóid Ó Tuathail and Simon Dalby, ‘Rethinking Geopolitics: Towards aCritical Geopolitics’, in Rethinking Geopolitics, ed. Gearóid Ó Tuathail and Simon Dalby (London: Routledge,1998), pp. 1–15.4Christopher J. Fettweis, ‘On Heartlands and Chessboards: Classical Geopolitics, Then and Now’, Orbis,vol. 59, no. 2 (2015), pp. 233–48.5Christopher J. Fettweis, ‘Revisiting Mackinder and Angell: The Obsolescence of Great Power Geopolitics’,Comparative Strategy, vol. 22, no. 2, pp. 109–22.6Michael 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).7Robert D. Kaplan, The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us about Coming Conflicts and the BattleAgainst Fate (New York: Random House, 2012), p. 60.5

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 determiningexactly how the chessboard affects the game has proven elusive’.9 It is confusing whyFettweis – and many others along with him – concludes that we should stop thinkingabout how geographical conditions influence international relations. Even if one thinksthat the findings of geopolitics have been dissatisfying so far, the apparent importance ofgeographical conditions – which those who criticise geopolitics from a realist perspectiveacknowledge – should encourage us to refine geopolitical thinking.In contrast to other publications in defence of geopolitics, this working paper doesnot investigate whether the conclusions drawn by scholars such as Halford Mackinderand Nicholas Spykman were (and still are) accurate.10 Instead, this paper shows thatgeopolitical thinking has much to contribute to our understanding of internationalrelations insofar as it allows us to focus on crucial factors that are neglected by otherapproaches: naturally given and man-made material structures in the geographicalspace. It also demonstrates that those who criticise geopolitics misunderstand inparticular the classical branch in numerous ways. Nonetheless, critics such as Fettweisdo hint at some actual shortcomings of geopolitical thinking. This paper thereforeadvances a refined version of geopolitics, based on classical and contemporarygeopolitics. The three pillars of the version of geopolitics proposed here are:11 Geographical conditions must not be seen as an irreversible fate. They constitute aset of opportunities and constraints, meaning a structure independent of agency. General patterns and long-term processes can be aptly explained by geographicalconditions, but understanding specific phenomena that occur in internationalrelations requires taking into consideration intervening non-geographical factors. It is helpful to trace processes and to reveal causal mechanisms, concentrating onthe role of geography therein, so as to show that geographical conditions matterand in what way.In order to demonstrate that new insights can be gained from the revitalised versionof geopolitics developed in this paper, empirical examples from international relationsare given. The purpose of the respective sections in this working paper is to show thatgeographical conditions are highly relevant for some major phenomena in present-dayinternational relations. As just noted, such explanations would remain incomplete ifthey neglected intervening non-geographical factors. Hence, by shedding light on theinterplay between geographical and non-geographical factors, the examples given here8An 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. 1–26.9Fettweis, ‘On Heartlands and Chessboards’, p. 248.10 A good example of this line of reasoning is Colin S. Gray, ‘In Defence of the Heartland: Sir Halford Mackinderand His Critics a Hundred Years on’, Comparative Strategy, vol. 23, no. 1 (2004), pp. 1–23.11Sören 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 ouranalyses of international relations, while recognising that geopolitics remains a valid anduseful discipline.This working paper consists of three sections. First, an overview of the classicalfundaments of geopolitics is provided, and leading and misleading tracks are delineated.The second section deals with present-day geopolitics and how it advances the classicalapproach. The third section focuses on whence the three pillars of geopolitics listedabove are derived, and discusses the prospects for future geopolitical research.7

GEOPOLITICS IN THE PASTGeopolitical reasoning dates back to ancient Greece. Aristotle derived the respectivepolitical systems of the Greek city states and their neighbouring empires and tribes fromclimatic conditions. Similar ideas were prominent in France during the Renaissance.Immanuel Kant also linked presumed characteristics of peoples to climatic factors. Inmodern social science this line of thinking received a boost when geopolitics becamethe predominant approach in research on international relations. German geographerFriedrich Ratzel conceptualised states as growing organisms.12 In an attempt to applyscientific laws from biology to international relations, he argued that states derived theirnational power – their capacity to survive in the international arena – from the land theycontrolled. Ratzel’s Swedish colleague, Rudolf Kjellén, coined the term geopolitics.13He 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 advancedgeopolitics as a popular science aimed at revising the Treaty of Versailles. Karl Haushoferargued that the German Reich, Italy and Japan did not possess sufficiently large nationalterritories and would be unable to survive if they did not expand.14 Haushofer andother German geographers sought to actively shape politics according to what theyregarded as the geographically given needs of the German Reich.15 They also advancedpartisan models of geopolitical regionalisation, suggesting that the German Reichpossessed a natural sphere of influence that covered Africa and Europe. Germany wasto be the industrial core of this sphere. Africa and the European periphery should play asubordinate role as providers of raw materials.16 Adhering to the Darwinist fundamentslaid down by Ratzel and Kjellén, Haushofer and his colleagues believed that weak statespursued 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 riseand fall of states not only depended on the living space they controlled, but also on their12Friedrich Ratzel, Politische Geographie (München: Oldenbourg, 1897).13Rudolf 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. 1–14.15Karl Haushofer, ‘Grundlagen, Wesen und Ziele der Geopolitik’, in Bausteine zur Geopolitik, ed. Karl Haushoferet al. (Berlin: Vowinckel, 1928), pp. 29–48.16 Erich Obst, ‘Ostbewegung und afrikanische Kolonisation als Teilaufgaben einer abendländischenGroßraumpolitik’, Zeitschrift für Erdkunde, vol. 9, no. 9 (1941), pp. 265–78.17Karl Haushofer, Japan baut sein Reich (Berlin: Zeitgeschichte-Verlag, 1941); Otto Maul, Die VereinigtenStaaten 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 Geopolitikdescribed were supposedly based on pan-ideas.19American and British scholars conversely explained the long-term courses ofinternational relations in terms of geographical conditions, usually without referringto Social Darwinist thoughts and without adapting their academic findings to politicalgoals. Fettweis correctly points out that early Anglo-American geopolitics also had aclimate-racist branch: Ellsworth Huntington, for example, argued that peoples fromtemperate zones were superior to others because of climatic factors that presumablyformed their character.20 Thoughts on the impact of physio-geographical conditions onthe character of