Geopolitics: The Geography of International Relations

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The Geopolitics of 2017 in 4 Maps

It should be noted that all theories in the various social sciences, including international relations, are and will remain—despite the aspirations and best efforts of Mr. Fettweis and others in the field—in a pre-Newtonian, pre-scientific, and non-formal stage.

Despite multiple productive research lines and fruitful decades of debate, rarely are minds changed or knowledge advanced. The study of international relations, like most of the other social sciences, is dominated by positivism, which by emphasizing quantification and measurement, tends toward a reductivism that ignores if it does not exclude much of value.

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After all, to paraphrase an adage attributed to Einstein, not everything that is important can be quantified, and not everything that can be quantified is important. Properly understood, however, it means a normative-strategic doctrine: geopolitics is descriptive in that it helps us understand the world as a whole, and prescriptive in that it suggests strategic courses of action. Geopolitics is very much a part of the Realist tradition.

Indeed, it can be understood as the description of the spatial aspects of power politics, as modified by technology and economics , and their strategic implications—realpolitik manifest in geographic space. Geopolitics does indeed make certain claims: there is an international pecking order, determined by who has power and who does not; power is rooted in the physical nature of the world itself; the power of the modern state has some relation to the territory that it occupies, controls, or influences; resources and strategic potential, the sources of state power, are unequally distributed worldwide; and power is ephemeral—possession is no guarantee of its permanent retention, and therefore states must take steps to ensure its retention.

Graduate School of Economics and Political Science

Pace Fettweis, technology and economics are not extraneous to geopolitical analysis. Indeed, they are integral to geopolitics.

Geopolitics The Geography of International Relations

The shift in ship propulsion from sail to coal to oil to nuclear power significantly changed the geopolitical landscape, as did the railroad and the development of air power. Some analysts suggested that nuclear weapons spelled the end of geopolitics; some make that claim now on behalf of information technology and cyberspace. However, while technological advances can alter the importance of the geographic determinants of policy and strategy, they do not negate it. The same is true of economic development; the infusion of capital may modify but not negate the importance of a particular geographic space.

Napoleon defined strategy as the art of using time and space. His focus was the operational level of war, but his definition applies as well to the level of grand strategy.

Geopolitics MA (Hons) | University of Dundee

Geopolitics provides the link between geography and strategy. Geopolitics is based on the undeniable fact that all international politics, running the gamut from peace to war, takes place in time and space, in particular geographical settings and environments. It then seeks to establish the links and causal relationships between geographical space and international political power, for the purpose of devising specific strategic prescriptions.