Geopolitics starts with geography
Geography determines the destiny of individual human beings and countries. To be born as an Inuk in Canada or as a farmer’s son in Italy makes quite a difference. Individuals can escape geography - countries and states cannot.
It comes as no surprise that the early human-built high cultures are to be found around the Mediterranean Sea, the “Broader Middle East,” northern Latin America, India and China.
Geography determines living conditions through location on the globe, topography, climate, the size of a country and that of its neighbors, access to the sea and conditions for agriculture as well as the possession of strategic raw materials.
Evaluation of the geography is the starting point for geopolitics. What does geopolitics mean? There are two definitions:
“Geopolitics is the state’s power to control space or territory and shape the foreign policy of individual states and international relations”
“Geopolitics analyzes politics, history and social science with reference to geography”
The term geopolitics was coined by a Swedish political geographer, Rudolf Kjellén, at the end of the 19th Century. Kjellén was inspired by the German geographer Friedrich Ratzel, who published his book ”Politische Geographie”(Political Geography)in 1897.The term was popularized in English by US diplomat Robert Strausz-Hupé, a faculty member of the University of Pennsylvania.
The fact that geopolitics is a fairly new experience should not lead to the misperception that geopolitics has accompanied states and countries from the very beginning of our history. The assessment and reassessment of the driving factors led in combination with vital interests to a geo-strategy to achieve aims and objectives – for example colonization, migration, early globalization, the quest for access to the oceans – especially to warm waters, the desire to secure the opposite coast, to expand and strengthen the inner line, the politics of “balance of power,” the concept of “soft” and “hard” power and to secure lines of transportation and communications.
Nowadays, no industrialized country that on the one hand depends upon the import of strategic raw materials “just in time” at affordable prices and on the other hand on the worldwide export of its high-end products can turn a blind eye to the consequences of the findings of geopolitics.
There is one problem prevalent in numerous countries : The politicians in charge are weak in their mid- and long-term strategic thinking. They are too occupied with day-to-day business and preparing for the next elections. They lose time instead of tackling growing problems – such as energy supply and environmental issues – issues that will hit the next generations.
Geostrategy derived from geopolitics and vital national interests needs a “vision” or a “grand design” for the next decades to come. Closely related is the question of the selection of partners, friends and allies with overlapping interests to achieve common goals. Over time, the own history and the own culture – including religion - have become decisive factors, too.
Politicians in charge and their advisors must enhance their awareness of the fundamental challenges ahead of us. They have no time to lose.
Babak Khalatbari, a young German academic, did research on geopolitics. It is not a topic of great public interest, but it is very important to think about the consequences of our geography, history and culture to pave the way to a safer and better world.