Geopolitics and Empire

We employ the discipline of geopolitics to shed light on how geography, history and empire have interacted. Politics truly became global in the last hundred years or so, with the geographic closure of economic expansion. What stamped the 20th century as a new age was the circumscription of global geography and the closure of space. Once the globe was completely divided up among nation-states, only redivision was possible through either diplomatic chess or war. Alas, every movement that statesmen made on the single squares of the grand-chess-board effected the whole of the interconnected modern world.

In our opinion the most significant geographical factors for modern political history is America and Britain’s physical distance from the Eurasian continent. Both nations have been geographically blessed compared to Germany, who has been historically surrounded by enemies. Much of their success stems from their geographically strategic position and their ability to master the sea. Geopolitically, America, like Britain, is an island. Although the United States is really a continental land power like Russia, it never faced a dangerous heartland. On the one hand, during the second industrial revolution of the 1870s both Germany and America’s power waxed after the political unification of their respective wars. Their greater acquisition of world markets allowed them to surpass Great Britain in manufacturing and commodity trade. However, by the end of the 1890s an informal Anglo-American alliance to solve common problems was formed. On the other hand, the geographical remoteness of the United States’ ascending power seemed less threatening to the rest of the world in comparison to Germany, whose expansion unleashed nationalist rivalries, and eventually war.

Power is determined by mobility, and geographical factors delimit the capacity of great powers to interact. Geographical factors influence human history, when they facilitate or impede movement, but as technology develops--the effects of geographical factors on mobility change over time. Distance becomes relational in connection to developments in communication technologies that are based on complex social processes. Yet, social relational space does not only refer to historical and technological transformations but to political developments. Historically, empires expressed their power in absolute space through the rule of colonies. The American empire has been strong enough to make do without colonies. In opposition to earlier empires, the postmodern empire’s territoriality found a new expression—globalization. American strategy has attempted to control people rather than land. The boldest move this century is America’s geopolitical projection into the Heartland of Mackinder’s ‘world island.’