Research Paper on Geopolitics in International Relations

7 pages
1880 words
Boston College
Type of paper: 
Research paper
This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

Geopolitics refers to the study of how human and physical geography affect international politics and international relations (Waltz, 2010). It involves the use of foreign policy to analyze and predict the political behavior of countries based on geographical variables. The geographical variables include climate, natural resources, populations, economics, and topography. Geopolitics main focus is the influence of geographical aspects such as territorial waters and land on political power. It also analyses the history and social science relating geography and politics.

Geography has had a major effect on political power since the ancient times. Arguments on the effects of topography, access to the sea and arable land to politics can be traced back to the ancient Greeks. The concept of geopolitics was introduced to the world by a Swedish professor Rudolf Kjellen who was the first person to use the word geopolitics and he described it as the theory of state as a geographic organism or as a phenomenon in space (Waltz, 2010). Geopolitics was widely used in Europe between the two world wars but its use after the Second World War declined due to its association with the German aggression during the war.

A Brief History of Geopolitics in the US

Geopolitics in the United States originates from Alfred Thayer Mahan (1840-1914) who associated a nations strength with its ability to control the sea with commercial use of the sea during peace and ability to defend the sea during the war (Jones, 2015). According to Jones, Mahan proposed six conditions that a country must fulfill to have control of the sea. First, the county has to have a strategic geographic position. The country had to have control of advantageous positions such as coaling stations and canals. Secondly, the country had to have serviceable coastlines and adequate natural resources. Then, the country had to be able to control a large sea territory. It also required a large population capable of defending its sovereignty. Mahan also suggested that the country should be able to exploit the sea for commercial purposes and that the government should have enough influence to dominate the sea.

In 1904, Sir Halford Mackinder published The Geographic Pivot of History in England, according to Waltz (2010). He predicted the 20th century as an era of land power and introduced The Heartland Theory which opposed Mahans sea power theory. The Heartland Theory divided the Earth into the main island consisting of Eurasia and African and peripheral islands such as the Americans and Australia which were much smaller (Waltz, 2010). Mackinder suggested that a country could exist in the main island without a need for a strong sea power. He clarified that industrial centers in the country should be located in different areas and far inland to avoid attacks by navies from peripheral islands.

Two security advisors to the United States government, Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski, became key geo-politicians after the Cold War. Kissinger (1994) writes, in Diplomacy, that the United States must maintain a global balance of power against countries with long traditions of expansionism such as Russia. He predicted Germany as the next threat to Russia. This prediction is correct because at the moment Germany has become so strong that the European Union and its institutions cannot strike a balance between Germany and its partners in the EU. According to Kissinger, the United States in an island of the large landmass of Eurasia. The Eurasia has a larger population and greater resources than the US and if it is controlled by a single country it will be a threat to US domination both economically and militarily.

In 1997, Zbignew Brzezinski wrote The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives. The book is a formulation of a comprehensive and integrated geopolitical strategy for Eurasia. Brzezinski (1997) explains the US triumph in the Cold War as the first time a non-European nation has had control over Europe. He acknowledges that Europe and Asia are politically and economically powerful and urges the US to influence Europe such that a stable continental equilibrium is created with the US as the political arbiter. The US is urged to maintain its control over Europe.

Analysis of Geopolitics

This paper analyses geopolitics in the United States In international relations, there are three levels of analysis: individual level, state level and international level (Waltz, 2001). The main focus is how the United States utilizes geopolitics to exert its influence all over the world.

Individual Level Analysis of Geopolitics

Conflict and wars are results of decisions made by a political leaders. Human behavior plays a vital part of the culture of a nation. The behavior of a leader can dictate a direction a country is taking, its allies and even its enemies. The locus of vital causes of conflicts and war is the human behavior. According to Waltz (2001), wars result from selfishness, aggressive impulses and stupidity of political leaders of a country. This also applies to geopolitical decisions. Decisions to capture strategic locations, build artificial islands in international waters (the case of Chinese Islands on the South China Sea), and to construct military bases in other countries is made by political leaders. Thus, understanding nature of leaders is important in comprehending why certain decisions are made by a country. As the human nature is static, the anarchic nature of international politics demands very strong leaders (Waltz, 2011). Leaders are supposed to be able to make decisions that affect the whole world. Thus, leaders must be selfless and well-informed. The interests of individuals who have access to these leaders may also affect the geopolitical actions of a country.

The culture of a nation affects the human nature of the leader. A nations norm dictates what is expected from a leader. A leader who thinks he is conceived as weak may engage in war to increase his popularity. This is common, especially in the United States. After September 11 attacks in the US, the Bush administration was perceived as weak and incapable of fighting against terror. Bush responded by launching an invasion Iraq and Afghanistan as a fight against terror. The war was of geopolitical significance as the US army was able to capture a land with oil resources. The US also established a presence in the Middle East for strategic purposes. In a country where aggression is a favorable trait, leaders usually engage in acts of aggression to appease their subjects (Jones, 2015). Russias invasion of Georgia and its annexation of Crimea were uncalled for. As national leaders do not want to seem weak, use of instruments of power to improve a nation's geopolitical power no matter how uncalled for it is, will always happen.

State Level Analysis of Geopolitics

Domestic nature of a country can determine the geopolitical actions of a country. Domestic countries are less likely to be aggressive when compared to authoritarian regimes. Countries with a history of expansionism tend to be on the offensive with the aim of greater geopolitical power. Russia which has had a history of expansionism annexed Crimea from Ukraine to increase its land territory and increase its strategic importance on the Black Sea (Waltz, 2010). The economic model of nations determines how they deal with their geopolitical interests. Socialist countries tend to be less aggressive. One of the socialism pioneers, Lenin, argued that war was rooted in the desire of capitalist countries to open up new markets for their industrial goods (Jones, 2015). Capitalist countries tend to be offensive in geopolitics as they seek raw materials for their industries, new markets and petroleum and uranium as sources of power.

According to the realism theory, nations exist in a world system which is anarchic. Each nations aim is to survive. A nation uses its state power to survive by defending itself from foreign invasion. A nation achieves its state power economically, militarily or even diplomatically. While most realists believe that the best way for a nation to guarantee survival is by reducing conflicts with other countries, others argue that the best way for a nation to survive is by maximizing its power with respect to other countries (Waltz, 2001). A country may maximize it geopolitical power by invading or exerting control in countries that are strategically located or have vast amounts of natural resources. By doing this, their state power increases militarily or economically.

International Level Analysis of Geopolitics

The international level of analysis analyzes the actions of a state at a system level. It focuses on how states react to actions of other states. In a realists view, the world system is anarchic and threats of violence are always present. The state implements policies that ensure it maintains control of its fate and will be able to confront violence if its existence is threatened (Jones, 2015). Nations cannot rely on other nations as allegiances quickly shift. A country can utilize geopolitics to ensure that it develops economic and military might that may enable it to defend its territory from invasion.

According to Wattz (2010), in a world political system, a bipolar system is better than an unipolar or multipolar system. In a bipolar system, there are only two superpowers. These nations strive to keep each other in check and each country puts extra effort to maintain its domestic situation under control lest it gets overtaken by the other superpower (Jones, 2015). The bipolar world creates as the superpowers keep checks and balances on each other. This is not possible in a unipolar or multipolar system. Challenges from non-state actors such as terrorists and multinational corporations cannot be dealt with properly in a multipolar system.

In todays world, the major difference between nations is not ideological or economic but rather cultural. A group of nations or civilizations is playing a major role in international diplomacy. This case of the conflict between Arab countries in the Middle East and Qatar is a good example. In this conflict, nations like Saudi Arabia are principal actors but they appear in the conflict as a bloc. The stronger countries exert their influence on the intergovernmental organizations to serve their own geopolitical interests. The use of the United Nations to serve the interests of the United States has also been common. In 2011, NATO was used by France and the United States to serve their interests by the invasion of Libya. The US has been using NATO to place nuclear missiles in NATO countries near Russia

In geopolitics, intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and multinational corporations have a very small influence. However, if this influence is utilized well it can influence a geopolitical play by a country. Multinational corporations can influence nations to go to war if they think the main market or source of raw materials is threatened. The oil blockade of 1970's had a key effect on the change of the US foreign policy with the Middle East (Waltz, 2010). International rules have been used to curb geopolitical expansion. However, the powerful countries totally disregard these rules. China rejected the ruling of the International Court of Arbitration when it went against them in the case of the South China territory. Pressure from international media may affect the foreign policy of a country. Media shapes the opinions of the opinion of the people and this has the immediate effect on a state's foreign policy. Countries have engaged in a war due to pressure from the media.


Geopolitics is affected by the personal nature of a countrys political leaders. An aggressive leader...

Have the same topic and dont`t know what to write?
We can write a custom paper on any topic you need.

Request Removal

If you are the original author of this essay and no longer wish to have it published on the website, please click below to request its removal: