Famous American political geographer and theorist Nicholas J. Spykman once said; “Ministers could come and go, even dictators die, but the mountain ranges stand unperturbed”. It is an established fact that the geographical conditions, which refers to the physical territory of the state, have remained the true determinant of International Politics. For centuries, geography has played a pivotal role in determining state power and influence in international politics. For instance, ancient Rome heroically destroyed Carthage due to its immense and strategic geography. Likewise, the defeat of Great European warrior Napoleon in Russia happened due to his lack of understanding of the Russian geographical conditions.
In this respect, one of the ancient records concerning the strategic role of geography can be traced to the writings of the famous ancient Greek historian Thucydides, whose book “The History of Peloponnesian War” gives a brief account of the role of geography in winning wars. According to famous American historian and geopolitical expert Robert D. Kaplan “The outside environment faced by every state when determining its own strategy”. This was certainly the case with Napoleon’s attempt to invade Russia.
Throughout history, the physical reality of the state has always been the cornerstone of statecraft and grand strategy. Nonetheless, the fact should be kept in mind that the geographical condition of the state is an irreversible fate. Here, the term ‘irreversible fate’ is the real essence of geopolitics, which is the true face of international politics today.
The tradition of geopolitical thinking dates back to ancient Greece and it was only after the European renaissance in the late sixteenth century that brought the discourse of geopolitics to the mainstream. It was famous German geographical and geopolitician Frederick Ratzel, who conceptualized states as a growing organism in his masterpiece “The Political Geography”. According to Ratzel, states derive their actual power and project their influence at the international stage through the land they possess.
Later, it was famous Swedish geographer Rudolf Kjellén, who pioneered the concept of geopolitics by declaring it as the science of the states. For Kjellen, the domain of geopolitics encompasses economic size, demographic patterns, political setup, social structure, and geographic parameters. After the end of World War I, the discourse of geopolitics became a major content of debate and discussion among European geographers.
Subsequently, it was famous German geographer Karl Haushofer, who expanded and advanced the discourse of geopolitics at the beginning of the twentieth century by giving it a new direction. In Haushofer’s radical geographical navigation, Germany, Italy, and Japan do not possess sufficiently large territories and therefore would be unable to survive, if they did not expand. In this respect, for geographically smaller states, Karl Haushofer advocated the geopolitical regionalization to accumulate the natural sphere for their survival.
This was indeed a radical shift in the discourse of geopolitics, which is a major content of debate and discussion today. On the other hand, the fact cannot be denied that the concept of geopolitics is purely a discursive phenomenon it establishes reality through language. In this regard, the contribution of Karl Haushofer cannot be despised because his writings played a major role in the purification of ‘geopolitics’ as a discipline.
However, according to the critics, through his discursive writings, Karl Haushofer attempted to establish the “Pseudo-Western-Teutonic” form of geopolitics. Moreover, Haushofer’s idea of the pan-regions was aimed at navigating the importance of regional geopolitics at the continental level. Nonetheless, the fact cannot be denied that it was Ratzel’s famous work “The Political geography” that laid down the foundation of new geopolitical thinking and discourse in Europe.
Ratzel’s concept of political geography was similar to Herder’s construction of a nation that was also immensely influenced by the concept of climatic geography. Earlier, it was Carl Ritter, who expanded the discourse of political geography and geopolitics surrounding the concept of space and nature. Perhaps, this is why through his work, Ritter laid down much emphasis on space and nature by reasoning them as the key determinants of political geography. This same case with Ratzel and Karl Haushofer, who successfully employed the Darwinian concept of natural selection to geopolitical discourse.
Today, the complex nature of international politics requires a new radical geopolitical thinking and approach. Since the beginning of neoliberal globalization in the 1980s and the end of bipolarity, states have lost their geographical significance. In this regard, the existing complex nature of the states and international system demands the reincarnation of the lost tradition of radical geopolitics, which was inherent to the geographical thinking of Karl Haushofer.