Geopolitics. A historical review

Essay, 2016

29 Pages, Grade: A




1. A historical review of geopolitics

2. Classical geopolitics
2.1 Is there an imperialist geopolitics?
2.2 German imperialist geopolitics

3. Ideological geopolitics

4. Geopolitical doctrines

5. Geopolitics after the cold war

6. Geopolitics today and Gabon’s geopolitics


Another aspect Gabonese geopolitics



To begin with, we would like to highlight that doing research on geopolitics has brought us to go deeper into a certain literature that enabled us to understand from the very beginning what geopolitics was meant for. The literature we have used consists of two categories, books relative to the latest changes on the discipline; we mean geopolitics in the present. The other literature is concerned with books of the 1990s with some authors like Ó Tuathail, Dalby and others, books that give a historical perspective of geopolitics. Furthermore, we believe that for a discipline like geopolitics that we have never studied in our previous university studies, we did not just need to make a good assignment and that is all, but also to acquire tools that might help us to be knowledgeable in that coursework. For this reason, we needed to read books that analyze and explain what the essence of geopolitics is. Our basic thesis statement is that the geographical conditions of a country, this is to say that its endowment in natural resources can have an impact on its geopolitical orientation, which is its foreign policy. In other words, geographical conditions influence a country’s foreign policy or attitude in international affairs. This we will provide an example with Gabon, our home country.

In this perspective, Scholvin (2016) quoted Nicholas Spykman who considered geographical conditions – the physical reality that states face – as being decisive for international affairs. But, Scholvin (2014) states that this classical view of geopolitics has been strongly criticized by the scholars of critical geopolitics. He proposes three pillars of geopolitics. The first one is that geographical conditions should not be regarded as an irremediable fate. They represent an ensemble of possibilities and restraint. The second pillar is that non-geographical factors are as well responsible for particular phenomena that happen in international affairs. The third and last pillar Scholvin (2014) proposes is that it is important to hint procedures and to tell contributory mechanisms that show that geographical conditions matter and in which way.

Equally important, the term geopolitics is naturally related to geography and politics. We shall see that prior to its actual form, the term was known as political geography. Ó Tuathail et al. (1998) show that the word geopolitics has had a long and diverse history in the 20th century going beyond its original significance which was generally concerned with geography and politics – geo-politics – . They hold that providing a particular definition for the term geopolitics proves to be actually difficult. Accordingly, they argue that words like geopolitics have a tendency to change according to the transformation witnessed in historical stages and configurations of world order. Geopolitics has habitually been the study of the connection between political power and geographic space (Khan, 2008). He goes on saying that geopolitics as a discipline was widely spread and made possible thanks to the work of Halford Mackinder in England and his formulation of the Heartland Theory in 1904. For this purpose, Khan (2008) refers to the British Empire and explained how significant sea power is in world conflict.

Although politics is concerned with the application of power, geopolitics is concerned with power in connection to geography and resources (Khan, 2008). He then contends that the western world has conquered the geopolitical arena for the last three centuries and has fought many wars over resources with each other. As stated by the author, it was the supremacy of the British Empire at sea that endowed it with superpower status, its control of the seas as its concentration on naval development helped it to dominate key sea trade routes and project its power across the oceans. France, through Napoleon tried to contest British supremacy and was finally overcome at the battle of waterloo in 1815. Germany transformed the international geopolitical arena at the end of the 19th century through the development of submarines and railways, permitting her to confront the British Empire during World War I (Khan, 2008).

Chapman (2011) brings about the origins of the term geopolitics in stating that the same is considered as to be first used by Swedish political scientist Rudolf Kjellén (1864-1922) in 1899 in an article published by the Swedish geographical journal Ymer. In the article, Kjellén used the German expression Geopolitik and defined geopolitics as telling the role of geographical factors in determining national behavior. Chapman (2011) also talks about political geography as the association between physical environment and politics and has both national and global repercussions.

However, the term geopolitics refers to global, economic, environmental, diplomatic and security relationships between sovereign states, international government organizations and nongovernmental organizations (Chapman, 2011). He goes on stating that geopolitics can also be comprehended as describing geographical settings and their relationships to political power and setting out spatial entourages taking into consideration political power units such as oceans, land and maritime boundaries and natural resources. Again, he indicates that geopolitics is an interdisciplinary field that regroups diverse topics such as cartography, demography, economics, geography, international security, military policy, natural resources policy and political science. In addition, geopolitics has recovered from the skid it entered because of the ideological abuse Nazi Germany made of it.

Chapman (2011) specifies that in the early 21st century, geopolitics is separated into two camps: classical geopolitics and critical geopolitics. Classical geopolitics has to do with the traditional insistence of geopolitics as represented with scholars such as Halford Mackinder and Alfred Thayer Mahan. Classical geopolitics is most concerned with conservative aspect of national economic strategy, political and military strategies such as economic strength, the importance of freedom of the seas, the criticality of owning national military force with operative remarkable power, collaborating with allied nations to preserve national interests and preventing international groups or powers from obtaining a competitive strategic advantage that could endanger national security and prosperity, and the supremacy of sovereign states in international relations (Chapman, 2011).

Generally, critical geopolitics is concerned with the multifaceted approaches to geopolitics as developed in the 1980s and embodied in the literature of authors such as Dalby and Ó Tuathail. Therefore, the aim of critical geopolitics is to challenge traditional geopolitical interpretations. It criticizes what it perceives as a state-centric approach to international relations and rejects traditional balance of power and influence analyses of international affairs (Chapman, 2011). Moreover, its concern is about the geographical aspects of America and other western interventions in the developing world. It defies the strategies justification utilized by America and other countries from the western world to depict Russia, China and international terrorist groups like al-Qaeda as geopolitical threats (Chapman, 2011).

As far as classical geopolitics is concerned, Scholvin (2016) quotes Friedrich Ratzel – a German geographer – who holds in his book Politische Geographie, that states are growing organisms. He contended that states get their national power, which is their ability to survive in the international scene, from the land they control. In our dissertation, we shall see that it is this form of geopolitical thinking that motivated Adolf Hitler for his quest for lebensraum – the living space – and pushed him to have an imperialistic geopolitical policy that was manifested in a philosophy of expansionism and that naturally led to World War II. In this paper, we will show how Gabonese geopolitics is displayed.

Accordingly, we will discuss six (6) points in our essay: a historical review of geopolitics, classical geopolitics, ideological geopolitics, geopolitical doctrines, geopolitics after the cold war, geopolitics today and Gabon’s geopolitics. Here and now, we are going to debate on the first point of our coursework.

1. A historical review of geopolitics

As already mentioned, it was Rudolf Kjellén – a Swedish political scientist – who for the first time conceptualized the term geopolitics in 1899, which means that the term was not known as such before Kjellén coined it. As an illustration, although the practice of geopolitics throughout history had already been a patent reality, its emergence as a field of study and as an instrument governments used to shape their foreign policy actually started at the beginning of the 20th century (Chapman, 2011). He goes on to indicate that the major points of geopolitics contain that nation-states have borders, capitals, communication lines, consciousness and culture, and the conviction that a nation’s size and resources can be a vector to its power. Another belief of geopolitics that Chapman (2011) exposes is that nations are in perpetual rivalry and that big states are always seeking to extend their territory in order to reinforce their power.

During the mentioned period, America’s geopolitical theory and practice were deeply influenced by Alfred Thayer Mahan (1840-1914), who believed that nations with higher sea power – a powerful navy force, merchant marine, maritime-oriented populations, well-distributed bases and control of narrow waterways – could have supremacy in international relations by utilizing such domination to blockade and obstruct enemies (Chapman, 2011). Accordingly, geopolitics would accomplish its major practice and disagreement throughout the first decades of the 20th century, and a number of scholars participated in the achievement of the German geopolitical philosophy – Karl Haushofer (1869-1946) and Friedrich Ratzel (1844-1904) – and most importantly German geopolitical policy was influenced by the location of Germany in Europe; because Germany was located in central Europe; its historical antipathies with Russia and France, its national need for a “place in the sun”, as well as its national aspiration to dominate Europe (Chapman, 2011). Another motivation of the German geopolitical thought was its eagerness to modify World War I defeat and take a revenge on the compensations imposed by the Treaty of Versailles; the desire to acquire additional lebensraum – the living space – through a move to the east by gaining land in Eastern Europe and Russia in order to settle increasing German inhabitants (Chapman, 2011).

Chapman (2011) sustains that geopolitics would reach its most outstanding and bad association with Nazi Germany. Hitler’s regime combined its old-style features of German national and global security policymaking with its ideology of racial supremacy toward Jews and Slavic peoples, whom he portrayed as being hereditarily inferior. In that perspective, lebensraum and other facets of Nazi Germany were integrated into educational programs at all levels and into historical, political science and geographical research, as demonstrated by Haushofer’s regular interaction with Nazi officials and newspaper practices. Chapman (2011) shows that whilst geopolitics was an authentic academic field of study integrated into the American educational research, France and other powerful countries at the time, it was discredited because of its strong connotation with Nazi Germany at the end of World War II. However, the author figures out that important factors renewed attention for geopolitics. This encompasses the bipolar cold war US-Soviet rivalry regrouping a number of geographic locations. The extensive utilization of geopolitics by Henry Kissinger as an intellectual and policymaker (former US Secretary of State), and the growing need to apprehend geographical factors in international economic, political, cultural and strategic development, all this participated in the comeback of geopolitics in a scholarly analysis at the beginning of the 1980s (Chapman, 2011) .

When taking into consideration what Chapman points out, we can first see that he brings about how geopolitics began as a discipline. Without talking too much about the geopolitics of the previous centuries prior to the 20th century, he explains that it was a Swedish political scientist – Rudolf Kjellén – who first coined the term geopolitics in 1899. This means that geopolitics was not known as “geopolitics” but as political geography. Then Chapman specifies that US geopolitics thought was greatly influenced by Mahan. By quoting Mahan, he states that in the previous centuries, nations with higher sea power could have dominance in international affairs by using that supremacy to blockade and obstruct potential enemies.

As a result, the report Chapman does is actually remarkable, especially because he helps us grasp what geopolitics looks like. He sustains that the belief that Nazi Germany has to take revenge on the Treaty of Versailles, the supposed lebensraum – the living space – necessary for a growing German population, that would therefore prompt Hitler to push eastward in Europe in the conquest of new territories, the so-called superiority of the Nazis over other racial groups such as Jews and Slavic peoples, is actually what fostered Nazi Germany geopolitical ideology. Let me come back a little bit to the Treaty of Versailles. Taking revenge on the treaty did not mean for Nazi Germany that the country had to regain its frontiers prior to the treaty; the aspiration of Germany at the time was the conquest and the dominance of Europe by expanding its territory.

Another interesting point, Chapman figures out is that because geopolitics was ascribed to the damages Nazi Germany perpetrated during the war, the discipline soon lost ground because of its pejorative connotation at the end of the war. In other words, the experience of Germany caused many countries to ban geopolitics as a discipline in their educational curricula and political analysis. Nevertheless, Chapman draws our attention on the fact that another reality brought nations like the United States and Russia to reconsider geopolitics as a valuable discipline that served in the fomenting of foreign policy.

Therefore, this was made possible because by the early 1950s the world became bipolar with the cold war and its subsequent repercussions within developing countries that were driving between the two ideological blocks. This did not mean that geopolitics was actually recognized as a scholarly discipline, but only in the context of the cold war. Chapman quotes Kissinger recurrent use of the term as a scholar and a policymaker and the increasing need to understand geographical factors in international affairs are accountable to the comeback of geopolitics in the 1980s and therefore its acceptance in the academic world as we know it today. Chapman did a good job by making this brief overview of geopolitics from a historical point of view. We have just dealt with the first point of our dissertation; now allow us to drive you to the second point.

2. Classical geopolitics

This part is remarkable as it will certainly provide the essence of geopolitics. Scholvin (2016) affirms that Friedrich Ratzel and Kjellén considered geopolitics as a prevalent discipline whose aim was to revise the Treaty of Versailles. In this perspective, the author continues, Karl Haushofer contended that the German Reich, Japan and Italy did not own enough huge territorial space and would be incapable to continue to exist if they did not enlarge (Scholvin, 2016). The author argues that Ratzel, Kjellén and Haushofer as they supported the Darwinists fundaments, firmly regarded weak states as to only pursue defensive strategies and strong states as obviously extending their territory.

Ó Tuathail et al. (1998) state that geopolitics as a form of supremacy or knowledge was born in the era of imperialistic competition between the decades ranging from the 1870s to 1945 when rivalry great nations battled a number of wars, which shaped the new lines of power that were the boundaries of the political map of the world. It was an age whose main characteristic was colonial imperialism abroad and industrial advancement at home, given that it was an era of remarkable scientific accomplishment, Cultural Revolution and social disturbance. The dominant imperialist state at the time was Britain, an empire that found it difficult to adjust to the changing environments of world powers despite its increase of its international size, especially world powers in the beginning of the 20th century (Ó Tuathail et al., 1998).


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Geopolitics. A historical review
( Atlantic International University )
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Geopolitical doctrines
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Jean Cédric Obame Emane (Author), 2016, Geopolitics. A historical review, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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