Geopolitics is the study of how the projection of power (ideological, cultural, economic, or military) is effected and affected by the geographic and political landscape in which it operates. Despite the real world relevance of geopolitics, a common understanding of what classical geopolitics is and how it works still lies beyond the reach of both researchers and practitioners.
In Classical Geopolitics , Phil Kelly attempts to build a common theoretical model, incorporating a host of variables that reflect the complexity of the modern geopolitical stage. He then analyzes thirteen pivotal but widely differing historical events stretching from the Peloponnesian War to World War II, from the fall of the British and Soviet empires to the contemporary diplomacy of South America. Through this analysis, Kelly tests the efficacy of his model as a comprehensive geopolitical analytical tool that can be used across a broad spectrum of geopolitical contexts and events.
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About the Author
Phil Kelly is the Roe R. Cross Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Emporia State University.
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A New Analytical Model
By Phil Kelly
STANFORD UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 2016 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
All rights reserved.
Several motivations prompt the writing of this book about formulating a geopolitics model. First, it is felt by the author that a strong potential for contribution exists in geopolitics as an international-relations practice and theory, despite its occasional capture by various factions intent on attaching to it their own ideological designs that have at times tarnished its reputation. The concept does not deserve a tarnished reputation, and correcting this image is desired so that geopolitics may be seen in a positive way as a separate and legitimate international-relations model.
Second and related to the first, the term "geopolitics" itself has not been well defined, or not defined at all, in common as well as in scholars' usage. The true nature of the model should not be equated with the often pejorative expressions of Darwinian "science," fascism, power politics, hegemonic domination, economic instability, or some of its other negative depictions. Rather, the best and most accurate description of "geopolitics" should be based upon its geographic heritage, that being, states' and regions' unique spatial positions and locations as impacting upon their foreign relations. Geopolitics must be kept objective and neutral to any ideology or partisan viewpoint, being instead a reliable tool for states persons and academics in their attempts to design some order to the usual complexity of foreign affairs. As long as the term suffers from the abuse of distorted images, its contribution can never be utilized fully.
Possibly, part of this fault of lacking clear definition may stem from the often, but erroneous, connection made between the model of geopolitics and the model of realism. Many students of international affairs commonly place geopolitics as a theory within realism, but to this author, this is not a correct placement. Realism tends to focus upon power as a protector of nations in an anarchic or lawless world. The problem of containing chaos and violence induced from radical threats may be resolved within a stable balance of power configuration and within a consensus for moderation among the larger countries. None of these traits can be affixed to geopolitics.
Geopolitics rests upon the relative spatial positions of countries, regions, and resources as these may affect their foreign policies and actions. Such terms as states' and regions' locations, topography, distance, shape, and size will accompany these geographic features. And within these spatial structures, we may see certain patterns as depicted in shatterbelts, buffers, heartlands, sea power and land power, and checkerboards, among the numerous concepts-theories attached to the study of geopolitics. None of these features append to realism, nor do realistic theories enter the geopolitical model. The two descriptions inherently differ. Power defines realism; spatial position defines geopolitics.
Mackubin Thomas Owens offers a good example of the confusing of realism with geopolitics by his attempt to fuse the two. He visualizes geopolitics as studying the relevance of geography to power, the "spatial aspects of power politics." But this leans toward a realist consideration, again, the intended focus upon power tied to security. Yet he neglects further development of this realist perspective, instead spending the rest of his article on classical geopolitical descriptions — pivotal binaries of position (core and periphery, sea and land power), the organic state and geostrategic theses, pan-regions, shatterbelts, and so forth. These latter topics are positional in space and not closely connected to power. The two models, indeed, can be utilized jointly as will be shown ahead, but the point here rests on the need to recognize two distinct approaches, the realist and the geopolitical, and not to confuse by melding them together.
In sum, in realism one should see the connection between power and geography, where countries' natural resources, placement, and size may sum to power and thus to national protection. But alternatively, geopolitics holds less interest in power and in security and more in the impact of nations' spatial positions and resources upon their international actions and policies.
Two further examples of these differences might help clarify. Both of these models, realism and geopolitics, describe balancing patterns among countries, although such equilibrium configurations differ according to the descriptions above. For realism, balance of power formations are measured in symmetries or asymmetries of strength — a power balance or imbalance among nations and alliances that might augment or deplete their protection and influence. The patterns within such configurations will show, for example, the number of "poles" or states and the competitiveness among these members, where the more rigid alliances may portend toward international conflict. A preference among contemporary realist scholars seems to favor as more peaceful a flexible multipolar structure over the present unipolar configuration led by the United States as global hegemon.
In contrast, balance patterns in geopolitics are visualized according to their regional or continental placements, such as a checkerboard configuration of allies being separated by opponents in leapfrog locations, these having little direct connection to power. This author has written about these geopolitical structures in the ancient Greece Peloponnesian war and in contemporary South American diplomacy, and they will be included as examples below in Chapter 6. There, the intention has been to reveal the arrangements of states that might be affecting regional events and policies and again, not with the intention of showing their relative strengths but instead, their relative locations.
Geopolitical balances might even come in "falling-dominoes" or contagion patterns among a set of neighboring countries, one sort of action, riots or democracy, for instance, flowing across national frontiers. The configuration of encircling balances located at the east and west extremes of the Eurasian continent, with the United States as the offshore balancer at either margin, likewise, could be labeled as realism when power is emphasized, or geopolitics when position is considered. Nothing is askew when such models might overlap, for that happens. But the overlapping must be understood as per distinct definitional preferences. Again, it should be emphasized: geopolitics must be removed from realism and seen as a unique model itself.
A good number of references toward geopolitics go without any attempt at definition. Wall Street commentators commonly attribute erratic fluctuations in stock prices to global "geopolitical disruptions" but without further distinction. Certain academic sources sometimes use the geopolitical label to depict Great Power international relations in general. Two examples of books, among many that contain geopolitics in their titles, are Richard Falk (2004), The Declining World Order: American's Imperial Geopolitics (Routledge), and Charles Kupchan (2002), The End of the American Era: US Foreign Policy and the Geopolitics of the Twenty-First Century (Knopf), in which both authors opposed the neoconservative policies of the George W. Bush administration and agreed that such policies could spell a decline in US global influence. Both included geopolitics within their book's title, although neither pronounced a definition nor included any reference to the term in their concluding indexes. A more recent example would be Harvey Starr's (2013) On Geopolitics (Paradigm), it also lacking any definition of the term. Thus, one is left to guess in these texts the specific meaning of "geopolitics," although their labels of geopolitics apparently were rather positive ones, perhaps translating the term simply to relations among the contemporary Great Powers. Nonetheless, if true, their approaches on geopolitics differ substantially from the spatial designs of this book or of its traditional origins, those latter descriptions as described in the pages that follow, again, where the essential geographic and positional dimensions of the concept will be emphasized.
Another instance of an author neglecting to define, or even to give further mention of, the term "geopolitics," yet placing it within his title, is Robert Art's "Geopolitics Updated: The Strategy of Selective Engagement." The article contains at least three references to basic traditional geopolitical themes, without labeling them as such: (1) his "forward-defense strategy" that favors US alliances with NATO, Japan-Korea, and the oil-rich Persian Gulf states, all reflective of Nicholas Spykman's rimland-base priorities; (2) favorable Eurasian and rimland pivotal balances as vital US interests, again suggested both by Halford Mackinder and Spykman; and (3) "selective engagement" itself that resides within the domain of Spykman but with a different label and in the recent literature as offshore balancing. This neglect of definition should be corrected by an agreed-upon standard description that will stem the term's misuse.
A popular expression such as geopolitics, left without clear definition, confuses the meaning and application of the term, and it encourages a negative slant because of that confusion. This said, it seems evident that a clear definition of geopolitics can be devised and then applied effectively and consistently. That will be part of the mission of this text, and a complete definition will be offered below as it was listed in the Preface.
Third, the author is convinced that a systematic model of classical geopolitics can be constructed that will improve the utility of geopolitics. This will make it less susceptible to capture and abuse by ideologically bent factions and less associated to a dilution of identify by an incorrect merger into the power-politics image of realism.
For inclusion into this model, a deep but scattered foundation of concepts and theories already exists in a wide assortment of treatises and historical practices. To enhance this inheritance, this author has gathered and refined many of these variables for this book, added a description of the relevant geopolitical assumptions that underlay these theories, given contemporary and historical examples of applications enlisting the utility of the model's parts, and thus made the overall contributions of classical geopolitics broader, clearer, and more usable. What should still be needed currently is to expand upon and refine the extant areas of traditional geopolitics and to tie the essential elements into a solider framework that will fit a consistent definition. Accordingly, the motivation here — to first define a clear classical definition, then to collect and clarify the several dimensions of geopolitics (specifically, assumptions and concepts-theories), and finally to make the model more focused and tied together as a discipline so that logical applications to international events may be attempted. This academic mission will absorb the attention in the pages ahead.
In addition, a desire is present for bringing some clarification to the important functions of theories and of models in general, including but still moving beyond the domain of geopolitics, as the two labels, theories and models, have been made to be confusing and we have laid upon them too much expectation. Theories are none other than simple statements of predictability, and nothing else. As such, they offer us rather loose and not always predictable roadmaps for description and explanation, although of course, we are condemned to follow them, nonetheless. If "A" happens, there exists some probability that "B" will also happen as a result of "A." How much "probability" we might need must be left open as not readily possible to calculate with a minute precision. And likewise, one must note the difficulty of applying relevant theory to particular situations as being prone to error and as being a factor the student should take care in following the later reasoning of this treatise. Apply we must, with as much precision as will be possible.
As will be described in Chapter Two, theories are not models, and we need to note this important distinction. Whereas theories are simple sentences, models resemble more extensive gathering places or theoretical containers for all the assumptions, concepts, and theories that will fit the definition of whichever approach finds one's interest, including geopolitics. Once gathered, certain relevant parts of the model can be applied, but with care, to appropriate policies and actions for a deeper foreign-affairs understanding and prescription. Models are the passive containers; theories form the interpretive parts within those containers. More on these variations ahead in Chapter Two.
The geopolitical model of this book's description lacks a dynamic quality; it possesses no moving parts, no connecting areas and lines, no inputs, outputs, and feedback loops. It instead provides a typology or a container for gathering theories that fit the traditional geopolitical definition. Differing from models, theories offer a valuable explanatory medium for describing and analyzing the shifting policies and actions within global and regional environments. Theories do not change; instead, the environments and policies themselves change. As will be shown in later chapters, theories are timeless, enabling us to reach back into history or to stay in the contemporary, but they will still offer us interpretive tools of understanding. Geopolitics can counter critics' allegations of being "outdated" and "timeless" because its generalizations indeed are timeless and thus aptly qualify for flexibility and adaptability in facing a changing world.
Finally, and on a more personal bent, this author desires leaving some sort of legacy to others in the international-theory field for the rewards that his study of geopolitics has given him. If at all possible, he wants to contribute some part toward raising the clarification, legitimacy, and utility of the geopolitical model. This has been a long-time ambition, extending back to 1976 with a first article about spatial distance affecting the United Nations voting on intervention issues by the Latin American members. This study utilized a statistical regression procedure, an early attempt to substantiate certain theories quantitatively that he has tried to enlist further whenever appropriate. In 1985, the author published another article in a London journal on the geopolitical writings of General Carlos de Meira Mattos of Brazil, the leading scholar of geopolitics in South America at the time. There followed also an article dealing with refining the concept of shatterbelts, a further venture into statistically testing theories under the geopolitical label, on this occasion with a cluster- analysis routine.
Most of the subsequent research on geopolitics has come from the inspiration of South America, and that focus has culminated in books coedited and separately authored about South American geopolitics in 1988 and 1997, and in a number of articles and chapters, all about analyzing theories and starting the journey toward constructing a more complete geopolitical model. South America has proven to be a fertile ground for the study of geopolitics, both in its unique topography, in its strategic isolation, and in its own scholars' and practitioners' interest and their application of classical geopolitical traditions to their republics' foreign affairs. Too, the author has appreciated the support and inspiration given him by its numerous authors, in particular that of General Meira Mattos of Brazil and of Bernardo Quagliotti de Bellis of Uruguay.
Of late and in part resembling an outline of this book, the author has had published a chapter in a political-geography text and two articles that show attempts at refining and describing shortened versions of thoughts about the geopolitical model. As an exercise in application, he enlisted with some ease and success certain theories (shatterbelts, distance, checkerboards, encirclement topography, contagion, sea power vs. land power) toward comparing the ancient Greek Peloponnesian war with the contemporary diplomacy of South America. The present book is to further that effort toward assembling all of these parts of prior study and to take them forward to as many steps beyond as one might be able to do.
Excerpted from Classical Geopolitics by Phil Kelly. Copyright © 2016 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Excerpted by permission of STANFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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Table of Contents
1 Introduction 1
2 Model and Theory 18
3 Several Geopolitical Approaches of the Recent Past 45
4 Classical Geopolitical Assumptions 70
5 Classical Geopolitical Theories 83
6 Applications of the Model 136
7 Setting the Course for a Rejuvenated Geopolitics 166
Appendix: Classical Geopolitical Concepts/Theories 173