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GEOPOLITICS. International relations from a geographical perspective. State. a state is an independent country (though the term indicates a part of a country in common speech) an independent country is afforded sovereignty by international laws, agreements, and precedents

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International relations from a geographical perspective

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  • a state is an independent country (though the term indicates a part of a country in common speech)

  • an independent country is afforded sovereignty by international laws, agreements, and precedents

  • internationally recognized boundaries

  • states supply public goods (like roads and education), regulate economic relations, seek legitimacy in the eyes of citizens and others, and direct relations with other states

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The power of the state resides in state authorities

  • "L'état, c'est moi!" (I am the State!)

    • Louis XIV

  • There is only one way to construct such a Common Power as may be able to defend people from the invasion of foreigners and interpersonal conflict—one way to ensure that industriousness and resources are sufficient for a contented life. That is to confer all their power and strength upon one Man or Assembly of men that reduces many wills to one will; people must appoint one man or an Assembly of men to bear their Person. Every one must then acknowledge himself to be the source of the acts of the chosen leader who acts in support of the common peace and safety, and everyone must submit his or her will to the will of the leader and his or her judgment to the judgment of the leader.

    • Thomas Hobbes Leviathan 1651 (paraphrase by P. Adams)

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  • a nation is a group of people with a claim to a shared past, common culture, and collective destiny

    • some nations are virtually coextensive with states, forming nation-states (e.g. Japan, Sweden, Mongolia)

    • some nations are struggling for autonomy/sovereignty and may lie entirely within a state (Quebec's situation in Canada) or across state borders (Kurdistan's situation in Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Syria region)

  • Nationalism

    • the passionate defense of national interests, either in a nation-state framework (where it is also called patriotism) or outside of such framework (where it is called by various names such as treason and terrorism, and usually suppressed violently)

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  • a "hole" in a political territory created by a sovereign or semi-sovereign entity (like a state, tribal homeland, or Indian reservation) or by a fragment of a foreign country (like the U.S. enclave at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba)

  • a district, province, region, town, etc. in a state that aligns itself politically with a foreign state, usually an adjacent one

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Lesotho and The Gambia

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  • a bit of a state that is separated from the rest of the state, such as Alaska (a U.S. exclave) and Kaliningrad (a Russian exclave bordering Lithuania and Poland on the Baltic Sea)

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Exclave of Russia

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Can you spot any potential problems here?

Hint: discontinuities in formal culture regions often cause political problems

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Enclave + Exclave = Trouble

  • Two small countries in the Caucasus

  • Mutually hostile despite 10 year ceasefire

  • Armenia has an ethnically Armenian (Indo-European) Christian population

  • Azerbaijan has a Turkic Muslim population

    • Nagorno-Karabagh region of Azerbaijan is an enclave, populated by Armenians

    • Currently held by Armenian military

  • Turkey is imposing an economic blockade on Armenia to try to force it to give up N-K

  • A bit of history:

    • 1915-1923 Turkey committed genocide in Armenia—killed 1.5 million Armenians, tried to conquer Armenian territory

    • Turkey denies any wrongdoing

    • Problems between Armenia & Azerbaijan began under Stalin when Nagorno-Karabagh was included in the Baku Province (which essentially had the borders of Azerbaijan)

  • What general perspective can explain each country’s position?

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Multi-state & multiethnic political entity

Created & sustained by force


Roman Empire

Holy Roman Empire

Thirty Years War was a religious war in Europe

Both ended with the Peace of Westphalia (1648)

Westphalian system: state is the highest entity (not religious affiliation); applied to Europe after this point, and to world in 1960s, ’70s and ‘80s

Ottoman Empire

Outside Westphalian system until after WWI

British Empire

Colonized areas outside Europe then granted independence to most of these between late 1700s and mid 20th c.


European & American dominance of poor countries

Military & political control

Economic exploitation

Hegemonic Domain

Cultural and economic dominance without overt use of force

Current US-dominated world system

Cold-war marked US rise to position of global power

Supranational Organizations and International Alliances





What’s bigger than a state?

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Supranational political organizations

  • Organizations of states based on any form of cooperation or coordination

    • some are the vestiges of collapsed empires (CIS)

    • Some are primarily military (NATO)

    • Some are primarily economic (OPEC)

    • Some are technological (European Space Agency)

  • All imply some compromise of sovereignty, except possibly for the U.S., which is able to “participate” without giving up sovereignty

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Regional Organizations Worldwide

Source: Wikipedia

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Supranational Entities in Eurasia

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Terms to enhance discussion of geopolitical discourses

  • Geopolitical codes

    • Particular constructions of “us” and “them”

      • E.g. Evil Empire, hyperpower, failed state, a people in exile, God’s chosen people, members of a protectorate, etc.

    • Particular constructions of space, place, and time

      • E.g. manifest destiny, mission civilisatrice, “a land without people for a people without land,” the march of progress, lebensraum, etc.

  • Narrative appeals

    • The moral of a geopolitical tale

    • Tragic, comic, romantic or ironic in nature

      • E.g. “once again we’ve been ripped off” (tragic), “once again we’ve been obligated to save the world” (romantic), “once again our ties to [insert state name] have benefited us,” etc.

      • All such appeals are constructions rather than facts

  • Omissions

    • Very little can be said in a news article

    • What facts or conditions were left out of the story and how might they have interfered with the geopolitical codes and narrative appeals in the story?

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The driving question

  • Q. What is geography good for?

  • A. Defense and conquest.

    • This, at least, is the oldest and most common answer to the question!

    • geography was important to the Roman Empire, the Chinese Dynasties, the British Empire, & the expanding U.S. (19th c.)

  • “Realist” approach to foreign policy

    • based on assumption that world is governed by force rather than cooperation

    • Appropriate foreign policies either subdue other countries or contain them

    • Alternative, “Kantian” approach is based on assumption that power politics do not provide lasting solutions and states must cooperate

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Uses of geographical info.

  • settlement (planting colonists and resisting "the natives")

  • contesting claims of other potential colonizers

  • waging war (against "natives" and other colonizers)

  • justifying the struggle for regional or global domination

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H. Mackinder’s "heartland" theory (1904)

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cold war “containment”

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Consider these questions:

  • What is the capital of Tanzania?

  • What is the major export of Sri Lanka?

  • On what battlefield did the British win control of Canada?

  • Q. What do these questions have in common?

  • A. They are questions that lend themselves to geography-as-statecraft

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    Consider these questions:

    • Which of the following is produced by asking questions like these?

      • understanding of foreign places

      • understanding of foreign people and cultures

      • understanding of how historical changes affect people

      • understanding of globalization

      • none of the above

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    • Geographers still find employment working for various branches of the military

    • However, now many are struggling to redefine geopolitics through specializations such as:

      • critical geopolitics

      • political ecology

      • cultural ecology

      • conflict and peace studies

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    Why don’t “they” like us?

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    Why don’t they like us?

    • US Power

    • US Influence

    • Different values

    • Personal experiences

    • History

    • Pollution

    • Unilateralism

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    US Power

    • The U.S. is the richest, most powerful country in the world

    • when people are unhappy they point the finger at us first

    • this is particularly easy when:

      • The U.S. backs oppressive governments

      • Someone steps on a landmine left by U.S. forces or is accidentally killed by Americans

      • Someone loses a factory job because of U.S. trade policies

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    US Influence

    • Not everyone wants to live the American dream

    • The U.S. influences life in other countries in ways that are disruptive of local values and traditional ways of life

    • Should we expect people to appreciate their losses as well as their gains?

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    • The U.S. is the only country in the world that has used nuclear weapons to kill people

      • Hiroshima & Nagasaki, 1945, 100,000 fatalities

      • The US has used weapons of mass destruction on civilian populations

    • Other casualties since WWII

      • 400,000 children died in Iraq as a result of the first Gulf War (UN estimate)

      • about 3,767 civilians in Afghanistan (769 more than the final Sept. 11 body count, and proportionately a much higher segment of the population)

      • Millions of civilians killed or deprived of their rights in developing countries with US knowledge and consent

        • 1,000,000 died in a brutal war in Angola in which we supported Jonas Savimbi

        • 200,000 civilians were killed in East Timor (Indonesia) after Ford & Kissinger gave Suharto the OK

        • Tens of thousands of civilians killed in Guatemalan civil war, most by the US-backed Rios Montt government

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    • The U.S. has supported various dictatorial regimes in other countries since WWII (collectively responsible for suppressing political dissent, killing millions of civilians, and running corrupt regimes)

      • "Baby Doc" Duvalier

      • Marcos

      • Somoza

      • Pinochet

      • Suharto

      • Hussein

      • Musharaf

    • US continued to maintain friendly relations with Argentina during its "dirty war" although the Argentine government was using torture and "disappearances" to suppress political dissent

    • Abu Graib abuses

    • Unfortunately there is plenty of evidence to string together a solid anti-American case if one is so inclined!

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    US Unilateralism

    • The U.S. (Republican Congress and Bush administration) currently opposes virtually all global agreements and treaties:

      • treaty on small arms trade (UN estimates there have been about 4,000,000 small arms casualties since 1990) [allies: Latin American and African countries] [domestic pressure from NRA, $10 billion arms export industry]

      • Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women [domestic pressure Population Research Institute (pro-life)] [debate blocked by Sen. Jesse Helms] [already ratified by 168 countries]

      • Kyoto protocol on global warming [70 countries have ratified, including all EU countries] [domestic pressure from Competitive Enterprise Institute and other pro-business lobbies]

      • Anti-ballistic missile treaty

      • UN Convention on the Rights of the Child [allies: the Vatican, Iran, Iraq, other Islamic countries] [domestic pressure Sen. Jesse Helms, Christian Coalition, Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, the John Birch Society, and others]

      • Treaty to ban landmines

      • Rome Treaty creating International Criminal Court US finally gave in but displayed strong discomfort, then worked behind the scenes to win exemptions country by country

      • U.S. policy of a "preemptive strike" (the privilege to prevent a country from attacking by attacking it first) is clearly not meant as a policy for any other country to follow; it is a special right reserved only for the U.S.

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    • Pollution

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    • Nations and states are different things, and often coexist uneasily

    • Political tension is common around an enclave or exclave, particularly if the population is culturally similar to the majority in a neighboring state

    • Geopolitics is the study of power relations between states for nationalistic (patriotic) or scholarly purposes (the latter being critical of the former)

    • Geopolitics now involves the effort to understand diverse elements of other cultures as these shape and interact with political elements at the nation and state level

    • Transnational political entities are growing in number and importance

    • The reasons “they” don’t like us are varied and complex, not simply a matter of “them” being evil!

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