Geopolitics in contemporary Europe. Analysis of incipient territorial dispute

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2011
19 Pages, Grade: 1.0
Ron Böhler (Author)


Contemporary Europe faces new emerging territorial challenges, which are not located
inside Europe but in its geographical periphery and beyond. Various territorial conflicts,
in particular those between successor states of the former Soviet Union (SU) or former
Yugoslavia, were present throughout the 1990s and sometimes even resolved only
recently, such as the border dispute between Slovenia and Croatia in summer 2010
(Cain and Waterfield 2010). Nevertheless, these are not the only territorial conflicts
affecting the European security structure. This essays tries to outline incipient
geopolitical conflicts in and beyond contemporary Europe, which might change its
security perceptions, strategies and aspirations permanently.
Territory is an important security issue encased in geostrategic politics in
Europe as well as in world affairs and has been broadly examined and assessed by
scholars (cf. Tunander et al. 1997; Cohen 2003). In modern geopolitical analyses the
emphasis is not `classical understanding of spatial borders and territory of a nation-
state, but more about transcending these borders' (Jakonen and Korvela 2009, p. 724).
The driving force of this school of thought is to understand why and how states in world
politics aim to secure territory beyond their own borders. This recent development
matters to Europe as much as it does to the US, Russia and other nations in international
relations. And by far, this is an issue related to individual, regional and collective
security identity. The attention of this essay is thus focused on two territorial challenges
beyond European borders with direct effect upon its security. The first one deals with
the Arctic Zone and the geopolitical disputes between its
neighbouring states. The
second one concerns the deepening securitization
of outer space and its impact on the
European sphere.

The above-mentioned territories, which are neither owned nor occupied by any
nation-state, set a new scope of duties to European internal and external security
dimensions. The argument developed here is that such territories cause disputes up to
military tensions between actors who aspire after these regions, whatever kind of
interest they may have. Throughout the first section, the concept and meaning of
territory and geopolitics in a globalized world and the European(ised) Union will be
expounded and related to issues of security policies. This essay suggests a larger
interpretation and application of territory in horizontal and vertical spheres. In short:
the text raises the claim to put contemporary geopolitical challenges emerging beyond
national sovereignty, which can be subsumed under the term vague territory, into the
context of European security perceptions. Subsequently, these developments will be
analysed and discussed in depth.
European integration made territorial conflicts within the Union more and more
unlikely. As borders within the EU fade, the old dilemma of a Westphalian order
slightly disappears. Suddenly, European security, in particular of EU member states,
does not end at nation-state borders, which have to be asserted and even defended
against outside threats. The EU border constitutes a space of safety for most of Europe´s
nations and their territory. Contiguity warded off the danger of collision.
Securitization here is not referred to as the framing of political processes or incidents as being security-
related issues through speech acts, as is prominently argued by proponents of the Copenhagen School
(Buzan et al. 1998). Instead, the term is tantamount with the intensified utilisation of military concepts
or means with the objective of enforcement and securing of other political interests.

But in the same way that security became borderless, threats and dangers to security are
not restricted to a certain territory.
The perception near the end of the Cold War in 1990 might have been that
economic integration and soft power politics would replace bipolar conflicts of
geopolitical representation between the US and the Soviet Union (Jakonen and Korvela
2009, p. 717). In simple terms: Geo-economics, that is regionally-bounded economic
integration as seen in the European Union or within the new regionalism wave (Ethier
1998) of Mercosur, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), etc., was
expected to supersede geopolitical attempts. And there was evidence to suggest that the
world would come toward international convergence rather than divergence. By now,
this illusion seems to crumble and the worldwide competition for influence and strategic
power is still uncontested (Kagan 2008).
With this in mind, geopolitics adds important aspects to modern international
relations theories and security studies. Following Cohen, geopolitics is hereinafter
defined as `the analysis of the interaction between, on the one hand, geographical
settings and perspectives and, on the other, political processes' (2003, p. 12). The
variety of geopolitical approaches range from imperialist strands of the late 19
early 20
century, Cold War as well as new world order geopolitics, and finally policy-
based and critical interpretations, such as environmental geostrategies (Ó Tuathail
1998, p. 1-14). The political theory of geopolitics can be traced back to the work of Sir
Halford Mackinder and his imperialist approach of a Eurasian heartland (1904). On the
other hand, Mackinder pointed out that geopolitics must have a `geographical causation
in universal history' (1904, p. 422). New territorial conflicts, such as the race to the
North Pole as well as to the Moon, are likely to absorb historical tensions between

actors, in that case particularly between the US and Russia. The EU is hence one actor
among many others involved in such territorial tensions.
: T
In March 2010, the new issue of the Armed Forces Journal (published by Gannett
Company) was headlined `Cold War' and featured with ostentation an American
icebreaker on the way to the polar circle. Apart from this double entendre of a conflict
between the US and today´s Russia in one of the coldest regions on earth, the teaser
illustrated the rising importance of the Arctic Zone to all adjacent states. The US,
Russia, Norway, Canada and Denmark (Greenland), the so-called `polar states'
(Winkelmann 2007, p. 2), are the parties participating in the race to the Arctic that could
peak anytime soon. In this region, various policy interests of those various actors clash
at various borders. A clear definition of the Arctic can hardly satisfy geopolitical
requirements (cf. Keskitalo 2004, pp. 25-52). Geographically, the Arctic Zone is often
understood as a monocentric region and commonly described as the `circumpolar north'
(ibid., p. 34). This approach conceptualizes the North Pole as the corresponding centre.
For the purpose of this essay, a cartographic classification is anyhow not useful. The
geopolitical structuring of actors around the Arctic region is considered to be more
important and can be make along both a political and a legal dimension. The Arctic
Council ­ an intergovernmental advisory committee including all `polar states' together
with Iceland, Sweden and Finland ­ covers the former. The latter dimension is to the
greatest extent regulated under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea
(UNCLOS), which concedes a 200-mile exclusive
Iceland, who is the sixth country to adjoin the Arctic region, is given the status of a subarctic state.

economic zone off the coast to all signatories
(1982, Art. 55). The ratification of
UNCLOS can thus be seen as the very beginning of a new Arctic geopolitical agenda,
because without it the neighbouring states would not share any frontiers nowadays. Was
it a blessing or a curse? Indeed, UNCLOS `has put the Arctic back on the political map'
(Strandsbjerg 2010, p. 8), which might have been fateful from the perspective of the
region and its indigenous population in the first place, but it also allows for a regular
and reasonable demarcation of the territories beyond appropriative solo efforts.
The EU, however, does not have a direct coastline with the Arctic (Greenland
does not belong to the EU) and both European neighbouring states to the Arctic,
Norway and Iceland, are only affiliated to the EU through their membership in the
European Economic Area (EEA) (Neumann and Rudloff 2010, p. 7). In any case, the
EU more and more formulates its strategic interests in the region and is about to expand
its geopolitical aspirations towards the North Pole. The European Commission´s
communication on the EU and the Arctic Zone states:
`In view of the role of climate change as a "threats multiplier", the Commission
and the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy have
pointed out that environmental changes are altering the geo-strategic dynamics of
the Arctic with potential consequences for international stability and European
security interests calling for the development of an EU Arctic policy' (Commission
of the European Communities 2008, p. 2).
For a long time, the international community ignored the Arctic region `due to
its remoteness and lack of significance' (Hitchins and Liander 1991, p. 297). Today, the
Arctic is closer and considered to be far more important than ever before. Europe
For a geostrategic cartography of all neighbouring states, their exclusive economic zones (EEZ) and
pending claims, please see
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Geopolitics in contemporary Europe. Analysis of incipient territorial dispute
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Ron Böhler (Author), 2011, Geopolitics in contemporary Europe. Analysis of incipient territorial dispute, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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