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GEOPOLITICS. International relations from a geographical perspective. Geopolitics. Q. What is geography good for? A. Defense and conquest. This, at least, is the oldest and most common answer to the question!

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International relations from a geographical perspective

  • 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.)
uses of geographical info
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
consider these questions
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 North America?
  • Q. What do these questions have in common?
  • A. They are questions that lend themselves to geography-as-statecraft
consider these questions1
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
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
  • 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
the power of the state resides in state authorities
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 the injuries of one another, and thereby to secure that by their own industriousness and the fruits of the Earth they may nourish themselves and live contentedly. This is to confer all their power and strength upon one Man or upon one Assembly of men that may reduce all their wills to one will: which is to say they must appoint one man, or 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 he or she 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)
  • 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)

Can you spot any potential problems here?

Hint: discontinuities in formal culture regions often cause political problems

  • 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

Lesotho and The Gambia

  • 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)


Virtual exclave of Armenia & virtual enclave in Azerbaijan

azerbaijan armenia
Azerbaijan & Armenia
  • These two small countries remain hostile although there has been a 10 year ceasefire
  • Azerbaijan has a Turkic Muslim population
  • Armenia has an ethnically Armenian (Indo-European) Christian population
  • Nagorno-Karabagh region of Azerbaijan is an enclave, populated by Armenians
  • Currently this area is held by Armenia and may become an exclave of Armenia
  • The problems began when Stalin included Nagorno-Karabagh in
  • Turkey is imposing an economic blockade on Armenia to try to force it to give up N-K
  • Why is Turkey sympathetic to Azerbaijan?
enclave exclave trouble
Enclave + Exclave = Trouble
  • Two small countries in the Caucasus
  • Hostile, although there has been a 10 year ceasefire
  • Azerbaijan has a Turkic Muslim population
  • Armenia has an ethnically Armenian (Indo-European) Christian population
  • Nagorno-Karabagh region of Azerbaijan is an enclave, populated by Armenians
    • Currently this area is held by Armenia and may become an exclave of Armenia
    • The problems began under Stalin when Nagorno-Karabagh was included in the Baku Province (essentially Azerbaijan)
  • Turkey is imposing an economic blockade on Armenia to try to force it to give up N-K
  • Why is Turkey sympathetic to Azerbaijan?
supranational political organizations
Supranational political organizations
  • organizations of states based on any form of economic or military cooperation, or on political coordination
  • some are the vestiges of collapsed empires (Ottoman, Soviet Union, etc.)
  • all imply some compromise of sovereignty, except possibly for the U.S., which is able to "participate" while setting the agenda






the insider outsider view
The insider-outsider view
  • Once geographers begin to look at international relations they obtain a world view that is at odds with the views of mainstream America
  • Mainstream: We are good people doing good things for the world and/or minding our own business so whoever opposes us or criticizes the U.S. must be misinformed, stupid, or evil.
  • Geographers now work to promote understanding of the complex historical, economic, cultural and political issues behind global conflicts


This segment only shown in class

why don t they like us
Why don’t they like us?
  • US Power
  • US Influence
  • Different values
  • Personal experience
  • History
  • Pollution
  • Unilateralism
us power
US Power
  • The U.S. is the richest, most powerful country in the world
  • hence when people are unhappy they point the finger at us first
  • this is particularly easy when the U.S. backs an oppressive government
  • this is also easy when someone is personally affected by conditions outside of their control, like stepping on a landmine left by U.S. forces or losing a factory job because of U.S. trade policies
us influence
US Influence
  • The U.S. has influenced politics in other countries in ways that are disruptive of local values and traditional ways of life
  • Not everyone wants to live the American dream
  • Should we expect them to?
personal experience
Personal experience
  • US is perceived to be the strongest force backing economic globalization, free markets, and the shift from subsistence to market economies
    • People often lose their homes and their security when forced to leave the land, move to the city, and become part of a cash economy
    • Once people give up their traditions and their security, there is no guarantee they will find a steady job or be able to sell what they produce
    • The U.S. actively promotes trade and development policies that result in suffering
    • For example, maquiladora factories in Mexico have been accused of serious mistreatment of workers and pollution of adjacent communities
  • The U.S. is the only country in the world that has used nuclear weapons to kill people; the US has used weapons of mass destruction on civilian populations
    • Hiroshima & Nagasaki, 1945, 100,000 fatalities
  • Other casualties since WWII
    • 400,000 children died in Iraq as a result of the Gulf War (UN estimate)
    • about 3,767 civilians in Afghanistan (769 more than the final Sept. 11 body count, and proportionately much higher)
    • Millions of civilians have been 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
  • 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
us unilateralism
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.
  • For our purposes, "geopolitics" simply refers to political geography at the large scale: nations and international relations.
  • Geopolitics has evolved from a branch of knowledge supporting conquest and empire building to a broader (and less ethnocentric) set of concerns.
  • 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
  • Nations and states are different things, and often coexist uneasily; nations without states fight for statehood and we refer to such movements as "nationalism."
  • Political tension is predictable around an enclave or exclave, particularly if the population in this enclave or exclave is culturally similar to the majority in an adjacent state.
  • Exposure to geopolitical ideas can lead one to question the taken-for-granted ideas about one's own country, and recognize the validity of both insider and outsider perspectives.