|A long-established area of geographical enquiry which considers space to be important in understanding the constitution of international relations. Its contemporary usage should not be confused with Geopolitik, however, which is a crude form of environmental determinism popularized in foreign-policy circles to legitimize state action. In the search for an explanation of the global geopolitical order, four main approaches can be singled out.
Traditional geopolitics has its roots in the early-twentieth-century works of the British geographer, Halford Mackinder who, in an age of British expansion and overseas interests, drew attention to the geostrategic advantages of land power over sea power (cf. colonialism; imperialism). For Mackinder, the pivotal position of the heartland within the Eurasian land mass meant that whoever occupied the heartland could exert a dominating influence over world politics. By interpreting European history as a record of struggle to achieve and prevent control over the heartland, Mackinder was arguing that location and the physical environment were important determinants of the global power structure. Like many other geopolitical theoreticians, Mackinder\'s conception of the geopolitical order was prescriptive and ethnocentric, and subject to rapid obsolescence, although it remains one of the most widely read and influential of geographical expositions. It was this heartland thesis, along with Ratzel\'s organic theory of the state, which was to have a formative influence on Geopolitik. The organic theory held that all components of the state \'grow\' together into one body which has a \'life\' of its own. As a German geographer, Friedrich Ratzel was clearly influenced by the specifically Hegelian concept of the state as a community based on a transcendental spiritual union in which and through which all nationals are bound spiritually into an organic \'oneness\'. The biological analogy of state with nature was taken further by Otto Maull and Rudolph Kjellen, and later used in inter-war Germany to provide spurious intellectual justifications for national paranoia, territorial claims and geopolitical objectives (see Lebensraum; nationalism). This exploitation of political geographical ideas to serve political purposes ensured that Geopolitik and geopolitics both became casualties after the Second World War, for anything that even notionally resembled the latter became politically sensitive. By the 1970s, however geopolitics was again undergoing a renaissance amongst US foreign policy analysts focusing on the Cold War. Here containment and domino theory were utilized in conjunction with Mackinder\'s heartland and Spykman\'s rim-land theory to justify the continuing necessity for western geomilitary alliances and interventions in order to prevent communism\'s spatial expansion from the (Soviet) heartland.
The power-relations perspective focuses on the hierarchical character of states within the global order by examining a polity\'s ability to influence or change the behaviour of other states in a desired direction. Drawing in particular upon the realist school of international relations, power relations between states have been conceived in terms of global geopolitical equilibrium or balance of power, by formulating post-war international relations as a model of bipolarity in the late 1940s and early 1950s, loose bipolarity in the late 1950s and 1960s, and the multipolar world of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. In the post-Cold War era, however, the geopolitical world order has moved away from one characterized in this approach by an hierarchical, integrated but flexible structure of states, linked in one way or another with the two major geopolitical power blocks of the United States and Soviet Union (Cohen, 1991), to one in which the geopolitical influence of the United States is unrivalled by any other sovereign player. It is, however, hotly debated as to whether the United States can be considered as an unquestioning political hegemon (cf. hegemony). One school of thought argues that Great Powers which over-extend themselves geopolitically, but are unable to innovate and reform at home, become victims of their own \'global overstretch\' (Kennedy, 1988) while others argue that having won the Cold War, the United States is now in an unassailable hegemonic position, providing global leadership and international stability to the new world order (see geopolitical transition; Kondratieff cycles; world-systems analysis).
The political economy approach is based on the underlying assumption that geopolitics cannot be understood fully without considering the dynamics of the global economy (cf. globalization). By interpreting the state and its external relations as the political organization of the world economy, world-systems analysis moves away from the state-centrism of realist-based accounts. Thus Wallerstein (1984) considers the links between the processes of capital accumulation, resource competition and foreign policy as part of a singular and interdependent global system in which capitalism determines the character and hierarchical configuration of states. Thus for world-systems theorists the more peripheral location of the former Soviet Union in the world economy helps us to understand why it was unable to compete effectively with the United States during the later stages of the Cold War (e.g. Taylor, 1990). By taking economic forces as, in the last instance, the basis for determining relations between states, there is a tendency to relegate the importance of political and socio-cultural processes at the state level, when both politics and cultural processes can and do play an important and independent part in determining the nature of geopolitics. Such concerns have led Agnew and Corbridge (1995) to advocate a more dynamic and nuanced approach to geopolitics, which moves away from the hypostatization of the world simply into economically differentiated core and periphery states (see core-periphery model). Their call for a new geopolitics based on a geopolitical economy perspective focuses on the importance of both economic and political processes shaping post-1945 world orders, in which neither process is simply reducible to the other and in which non-state actors (such as multinational corporations and global financial institutions) play a key role.
critical geopolitics is a school of thought which explores the meanings, forms of representation and symbolic contestation of the geopolitical world and of the discourses which underpin the production and reproduction of the meanings of geopolitical spaces. Part of the 1990s cultural turn in human geography, its practitioners provide fresh insights into how the geopolitical ideas and practices of statecraft constructs global space to reflect and legitimize particular geopolitical interests.Â (GES)
References and Suggested Reading Agnew, J. 1998: Geopolitics; revisioning world politics. London: Routledge.Â Agnew, J. and Corbridge, S. 1995: Mastering space: hegemony, territory and international political economy. London and New York: Routledge.Â Cohen, S.B. 1991: Global geopolitical change in the post-Cold War era. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 81: 551-80.Â Dalby, S. 1991: Critical geopolitics: discourse, difference and dissent. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 9: 261-83.Â Dijkink, G. 1996: National identity and geopolitical visions. Maps of pride and pain. London: Routledge.Â Kennedy, P. 1988: The rise and fall of the great powers: economic change and military conflict from 1500 to 2000. London: Unwin Hyman.Â O\'Tuathail, G. 1996: Critical geopolitics: the politics of writing global space. London: Routledge.Â O\'Tuathail, G. and Dalby, S., eds, 1998: Rethinking geopolitics. London: Routledge.Â O\'Loughlin, J. and van der Wusten, H. 1994: The political geography of international relations. London: Frances Pinter.Â Parker, G. 1988: Geopolitics, past, present, future. London: Pinter.Â Smith, G.E. 1993: Ends, geopolitics and transitions. In R.J. Johnston, ed., The challenge for geography: a changing world, changing discipline. Oxford: Blackwell, 76-99.Â Taylor, P.J. 1990: Britain and the Cold War: 1945 as a geopolitical transition. London: Frances Pinter.Â Tunander, O., Baev, P., Einagel, V., eds, 1997: Geopolitics in post-wall Europe, security, territory and identity. London: Sage.Â Wallerstein, I. 1984: The politics of the world economy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.