Geopolitics

In the article Just War and Extraterritoriality: The popular geopolitics of the  United States’ War on  Iraq as reflected in newspapers of the Arab world, the topic of how perspective affects the perception of war being just or unjust. Falah, Flint, and Mamadouh point out that the status of the United States as hegemon allowed the States to apply extraterritorial pressure in Iraq. From the perspective of the American state, the war was just based on the hegemonic prerogative of spreading the State’s particular brand of normality. From the Iraqi perspective, the war was an unjust overreach by a foreign aggressor. This article reminded me of the chapters and articles we covered on the the topics of sovereignty and the concept of a monopoly of power held by States. The article also coveres the concept of prime modernity. Prime modernity is the idea that the current world hegemon defines what it means to be modern, and through extraterritorial pressures, be they force or persuasion, pushes this framework on to non-hegemonic states.

In Chapter 9, the somewhat rocky history of geopolitics is explored. It began as an explanation of the benefit that states received from the natural resources within their borders by Rudolf Kjellen. Next, Halford Mackinder worked to institutionalize the field of geography. Mackinder came up with what is called the heartland thesis. He postulated that the world could be divided into the heartland, the inner crescent, and the outer crescent. The heartland, also known as the pivot area, consisted of Eastern Europe and Russia. Mackinder believed that the heartland posed the greatest threat to the continuation of British preeminence. Mackinder didn’t call his work geopolitics, but it shared many aspects with Kjellen’s earlier work.

Karl Haushofer’s involvement in the field likely altered the course of its developlment. Haushofer used geopolitics to consider the threats facing Germany after World War I. Haushofer used Friedrich Ratzel’s concept of lebensraum as a justification for German expansion. A student of Haushofer, Rudolf Hess, was a deputy to Hitler, and Haushofer’s idea were incorporated into the Nazi Party. Geopolitics association with the Nazis caused a shift from normative to scientific approaches after World War II. 

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Geopolitics and stuff

From what I can gather from the chapter Geopolitics is the ordering, arrangement, and classification of the earth.  In practice this could relate to the invasion of a country or lending aid to a place in need.  I think it is interesting that the authors decided to include a short bit about considering a country an ally or an enemy.  When I think back to the olympics this past winter there is only one thing that comes to mind and that is Ice Hockey.  I am a sports buff so I know all about the miracle on ice story, so seeing the United States play against Russia for me built up a little resentment against the Russians.  Since the end of the Cold war we have never seen eye to eye and Putin is not a very pro-US kind of guy so for me the hockey game in 1980 and the one in 2014 meant so much more than a score, it was a way for one country to defeat the other in a competition that doesn’t involve killing or death.  This in my mind is Geopolitics, we arrange these ideas about a place in our heads and then in practice we can exhibit hostility or even hatred against another country.

The chapter goes on to describe critical geopolitics and the three types of geopolitics.  The first is formal which as the book describes is what we normally think of when we think of geopolitics.  Treating every individual as a member of the state or the states interest.  Practical geopolitics refers to the politician way of thinking and practical is in a sense geopolitics that is practiced.  These types of geopolitcs can be things like speeches and interviews.  The example used in the book is the 2002 G. W. Bush statement stating that Iraq, Iran, and North Korea are an “Axis of Evil”.  In doing this he grouped these places together in a more general category of terrorism.  The last type of geopolitics is the popular kind, so anything like a cartoon, media, or t.v. show.  When I think of popular geopolitics I instantly think of all the propaganda that was distributed and displayed during WWII.  I took a class is high school about WWII and we looked at cartoons that while very racist displayed popular figures like Bugs Bunny or Superman defeating the “enemy” of the state.  If a cartoon like that was displayed these days you would have a huge uproar but back then we were at war and you had to give the American people a face as to who we were fighting.  When any person looked at those comics they were engaging in anti-geopolitics since the people looking at the comic are never going to be senators or congressmen, thus they are engaging in a political action without even knowing it.

 

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Fog

I thoroughly enjoyed watching the movie Fog of War which discussed Robert Mcnamara’s role in WWII, The Cold War, and the Vietnam war! Throughout the movie, he hits 11 major points that are key to understand when in a conflict, mainly war with other countries. Lesson 1 was to empathize with your enemy. To put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, we can understand a little better of what and why they are fighting. One must understand the enemy and their purposes of fighting. In the movie, he believed they lost the Vietnamese war because Americans didn’t know why the Vietnamese were fighting so intensely, he later learned that they were fighting for independence and they would fight to the death. Lesson 2: was that rationality will not save us. He mentions the events of the Cold War and how those individuals were rational and were still close to a nuclear war. Sometimes, you have to take chances and not play it safe all the time, sometimes we need luck and to ‘dip our hands in the pool’. The third lesson was that there is something beyond ones self. Believing in god or in this case, the freedom of your country is always beyond just your self. One must understand that they are fighting for something that is bigger than them, they are fighting for soverignity and all the powers that come with it, in Vietnams case, they were fighting to be soverign and to be ruled by themselves and no other foreign country. Lessons 5 and 6, maximimize efficiency and make things proportional are somewhat similar and are directly involved with war and Japan. To get things done correctly, it must be efficient and proportional. That is why the fire bombings of Japan and the island hopping of the Japanese islands were so successful. The captains there lead efficient and appropriate attacks, whereas in Vietnam, they were not going into the area with efficient and knowledgeable plans. The next lesson is one of the most important I believe: get data. To be successful and knowledge in any field one must collect all necessary data to make informed decisions. Without the data, there is no way in understanding the enemy and the situation you may be in. Obtaining data is vital in leading a successful war campaign and/or political issue. The next lesson was to be prepared to reexamine your reasoning. McNamara states that although the US is the most powerful nation, if it’s allies do not agree with the actions then one must reconsider their reason. Your reasoning must be thorough and thought out. Revenge is an awful reason to make any hasty decisions, McNamara believes this and mentions it in his interview. In order to do good you must engage in evil is the next lesson. This lesson is one that i feel can be flopped. In wartime I believe it is true, but in time of peace I believe evil is unnecessary. In wartime, there will be casualties. In order to protect your sovereign country you must win the war and some (vietname) will go through great lengths to win and protect their homeland. Evil things have been done throughout history for the ‘good of mankind’. The last two lessons: never say never and you cannot change human nature are major beliefs held by McNamara. He believes that anything can be possible and you can never predict what will happen, same with humans. Human nature can be the most dangerous thing and weapon that faces the world today. It is human nature that can lead to wars and can also end them, a notion that McNamara tells in his interview.

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Geopolitics and Anti-Geopolitics

Geopolitics is difficult to define, as since it came into use before the 1900s, it has, as could be expected, changed and evolved its meaning substantially. In the beginning, it meant what could easily be inferred, politics pertaining to geography, specifically that of the state. Today, though, like many political geography terms, it has a new meaning, something that, while on the surface easy to understand, becomes ever more complex the more it is examined. From Rudolf Kjellen’s initial definition, it changed according to the ideas of Sir Halford Mackinder, who added the seeds of current geopolitics, a struggle for power relating to location, and then adjusted more when German scholar Karl Haushofer wrestled with the idea, applying the ideas of the state as an organism to the idea of geopolitics as a power struggle, before lastly adding in the ideas of Isaiah Bowman, that geopolitics is considered a science, based on evidence and empiricism. Current geopolitics, however, comes from being critical of these ideas, developing it into three different areas.

The first of these areas, formal geopolitics, ignores the “state as an entity” concept, and focuses on territory, particularly the protection of it from dangers, both foreign and in the homeland. Secondly is practical geopolitics, working as the “traditional” geopolitics, the one we hear from politicians and other leaders. Lastly is popular geopolitics, the area of the media, full of over exaggerations. This is also the area elaborated on by the second reading, which tells the story of the U.S. exercising its dominant power and attempting to justify the Iraq war, and how the media responded to it. In short, the media responded badly, critiquing the war on multiple fronts and using political cartoons to portray the message that, in essence, the world was against the U.S.

The last section of the chapter focuses on anti-geopolitics, which, as the name implies, tries its hardest to not be another type of geopolitics. By resisting traditional geopolitical theory and focusing on an inclusive approach to the study, anti-geopolitics becomes the ideals of those who work against the state, not toward its downfall, but rather, to attempt to bring to light the possible alternatives to whatever strategy has been settled upon. While not stories of neutrality, anti-geopolitics becomes the closest thing to a peaceful geopolitical perspective, focusing on wars and similar subject matter through the eyes of the everyday civilian. Focusing particularly on this, anti-geopolitics seeks to include not just the work of the traditional scholar in political geography, that of a white male, but of all races and genders, so that, again, wider viewpoints can be used, and a better perspective is ultimately gained.

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Geopolitics

Personally, the easiest way for me to grasp the concept of geopolitics is through the idea of foreign policies. The common saying, “what a small world!” takes precedence here. International relations exist inevitably throughout our world, and relations are often both good and bad. Because bad international relations exist, it is important to acknowledge the understanding that war is “wrong, but necessary.” In the Falah article, hegemonic and non-hegemonic powers are seen as being prone to conflicts with each other. The United States exemplifies a hegemonic power, whereas Iraq exemplifies a non-hegemonic power. This differentiation of power in the international arena is described as being coercive and integrative forms of power. Hegemonic powers have the influence to make others do what they want or to sway them to behave as preferred. This article is extremely interesting because US hegemonic military actions are presented through the viewpoints of Arab newspapers. Furthermore, the article emphasizes how political cartoons are effective tools because they challenge hegemonic powers and foreign policies, and also a large public audience sees them. Being a U.S. citizen, it is obvious to me that the U.S. ascertains itself as a global policeman who internationally enforces a subjectively defined set of ‘universal standards.’ Sovereign states that are not hegemonic do not appreciate U.S. involvement in affairs in which the U.S. is not related. This unwarranted involvement in war is unjust; therefore, the war itself is unjust. Overall, it is suggested that hegemonic countries like the U.S. gain a better understanding of the world political map instead of trying to push a defined set of universal standards on sovereign states that do not identify with these standards.

Chapter 9 introduced many theoretical concepts of geopolitics that were not introduced in the article. However, the concept of ‘popular geopolitics’ is introduced, which is exactly what is discussed in the Falah article. Popular geopolitics is simply the presentation of geopolitical ideas through popular culture in forms such as comics or cinema. ‘Critical geopolitics’ is another concept introduced in the book chapter, and this concept is geopolitics as a conversational practice where politics are spatialized internationally, and therefore power distribution is questioned. Also, exploring the history of geopolitics is fundamental to the understanding of the linkage of the natural environment/resources to political potential. The exploitation of resources in geopolitics is easily exemplified through Western Europe’s colonization of the non-hegemonic countries. As a result, imperial politics revolves around geopolitics and spatial knowledge. The history of geopolitics has caused the inevitable and ignorant worldview of ‘us and them.’ Another way to describe this worldview historically is through the terminology of the West as being the progressive Occident and the East as being the retrogressive Orient. The strong spatial and cultural separation between us (the Occident) and them (the Orient) has led to the view of the Orient as being dangerous. It is more or less a common human phenomenon to feel similarities as being comfortable, but differences as menacing.

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Why Did We Go Into Iraq Again?

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I didn’t know how interesting geopolitics was until I realized that my interest in world politics, and politics in general, is so very connected to geopolitics. I am even starting to realize how geopolitics can be applied to smaller geographies, like cities and regions. My interest in Urban Design comes chiefly from a desire to learn about how design can impact how people view, use, and define spaces and places within a city. That may, in turn, go into the identity, which may be an issue of politics and geopolitics. A group of people may claim a place and associated people to have some sort of characteristic or belief, which makes them different from the judging group.  This dynamic is similar to the ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ mentality. However, groups contesting over space, in terms of territory, is a little more rudimentary than the above idea, but one could start to see identity become a source of small-scale geopolitics.

Anyway, to get back to both the book and the article, after my experiences traveling abroad and the older I get, the more I understand how both sides to a story may have very different ideas on one thing. The US is looking to protect itself and its interests abroad versus a foe that we can’t exactly pinpoint in one place. There are places of perceived terrorist concentration, like Iraq and Afghanistan, or of measurable aggression and dislike, such as North Korea. The US may use what the book describes as practical geopolitics and popular geopolitics to invade Iraq. Practical politics meaning that those that we think are supporting terrorism or have hatred towards us are all on the same page and, therefore, must be dealt with. Popular politics on Iraq from the US point of view stems from the media portraying Middle Easterners as aggressive and anti-American.

On the other side of the fence, which I did not know until reading the article and book, and what we consider to be anti-geopolitics. In reality, the anti-geopolitics, stemming from the idea that any ideas or notions about geopolitics that are not in tune with those of the hegemonic or major idea, are actually both practical and popular geopolitics in their own right and within their own geographical context. Practical geopolitics of some Arabic new outlets may paint the relationship of that nation with the US to be good, but many popular geopolitics, namely regional political cartoons, begin to call out the US as the aggressor. The hardest part is that the US was the aggressor in this case. No one, except for the British, wanted to get entangled with us in Iraq and many people in both the UK and Middle East did not support what the US was doing. In the end, the US looks bad for it, relations with the Middle East are not in a good place, and the rest of the world sees Iraq as a victim of today’s version of imperialism left-over from Cold War-era thinking.

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Geopolitics and Anti-Geopolitics

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.

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