Geopolitics in its simplest form is essentially the adding of a spatial element to global politics; categorizing the world based on subjective “ideas” of who lives in a place, and what events are occurring in that place. At the advent of the term “geopolitics” a number of academics were applying almost human or animal like characteristics to nations. Political scientist, Rudolf Kjellen argued that the physical geography of a state reflected how powerful it could become. Friedrich Ratzel, compared the evolution of states to the biological evolution of animals; he contended that states were essentially “living organisms”, fighting for their survival. This early academic study of geopolitics, according to Painter and Jeffrey, was heavily influenced by the situation in Europe at the time. It appears to me, that geopolitics is almost always temporally influenced, since the political situation around the world is constantly changing.
One interesting geopolitical scholar pointed out in the reading, was Halford Mackinder, a early 20th century British professor. Mackinder did research on global threats to the British Empire, and he came to the conclusion that the Siberian Heartland and Eastern Europe were a so called “pivot area”, outside the control of the British Empire, and predicting it to be a danger to the crown. This amazing prediction would come to fruition with the rise of the Soviet Union, by the middle of the 20th Century. It was the Soviet Union and the United States who became global super powers, while the United Kingdom would be left on their heels. Another geopolitical thinker, Karl Haushofer would give the Nazi Party ammunition to expand in World War II. Lastly, Isaiah Bowman’s geopolitcal thinking would lead to the U.S. expanding its diplomacy into Lesser Developed Countries, and fostering economic ties outside of colonialism. All these geographers are good examples of how geopolitics is temporal, and can have major impacts on the way society views the world.
Today, geopolitics is grouped into three categories; formal geopolitics, practical geopolitics and popular geopolitics. Formal geopolitics is essentially what Kjellen and Ratzel advocated, and is today referred to as neoclassical geopolitics. Practical geopolitics is practiced by politicians to influence the direction of their state. When for instance a politician says that “Russia and China” are the biggest threats to America, he or she is creating an image in the populaces mind that these places are not to be trusted. In some ways, practical geopolitics is meant to create a mental map in a citizens head, that helps to relay a political message from the politician. Lastly, popular geopolitics is when geopolitical thought is inserted into popular culture used by a general audience. An example I thought of with popular geopolitics, would be the movie Rocky IV. In the movie, Rocky goes to the Soviet Union and fights a Russian Boxer, the film is filled with the use of flags and nationalistic symbols. Ultimately the movie ends with the Russian populace becoming fans of Rocky and by implication the United States. Popular geopolitics is probably the type of geopolitics your average citizen is exposed to most on a daily basis.
I very briefly want to touch on anti-geopolitics, or the idea of influences outside of the state and the political elite influencing geopolitics. From what I understand, this form of geopolitical thought simply tries to look outside the mainstream, and develop a discursive view of a subject. The book brings up that while the state was viewing Iraq as a target during the 2003 invasion, some alternative voices looked at the affects of the war on Iraqis and hence changed the common perception of Iraq from “target” to “place”. By emphasizing humanity rather than the state, I think anti-geopolitics provides a perspective that is often overlooked during times of conflict.