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1. “What is the responsibility of Christians with regards to geopolitics and the mandates of the Gospel? 

Chapter 1

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The New Era in World Politics


On January 3, 1992, a meeting of Russian and American scholars took place in the auditorium of a government building in Moscow. Two weeks earlier the Soviet Union had ceased to exist and the Russian Federation had become an independent country. As a result, the statue of Lenin which previously graced the stage of the auditorium had disappeared and instead the flag of the Russian Federation was now displayed on the front wall. The only problem, one American observed, was that the flag had been hung upside down. After this was pointed out to the Russian hosts, they quickly and quietly corrected the error during the first intermission.

The years after the Cold War witnessed the beginnings of dramatic changes in peoples’ identities and the symbols of those identities. Global politics began to be reconfigured along cultural lines. Upside-down flags were a sign of the transition, but more and more the flags are flying high and true, and Russians and other peoples are mobilizing and marching behind these and other symbols of their new cultural identities.

On April 18, 1994, two thousand people rallied in Sarajevo waving the flags of Saudi Arabia and Turkey. By flying those banners, instead of U.N., NATO, or American flags, these Sarajevans identified themselves with their fellow Muslims and told the world who were their real and not-so-real friends.

On October 16, 1994, in Los Angeles 70,000 people marched beneath “a sea of Mexican flags” protesting Proposition 187, a referendum measure which would deny many state benefits to illegal immigrants and their children. Why are they “walking down the street with a Mexican flag and demanding that this country give them a free education?” observers asked. “They should be waving the American flag.” Two weeks later more protestors did march down the street carrying an American flag—upside down. These flag displays ensured victory for Proposition 187, which was approved by 59 percent of California voters.

In the post-Cold War world flags count and so do other symbols of cultural identity, including crosses, crescents, and even head coverings, because culture counts, and cultural identity is what is most meaningful to most people. People are discovering new but often old identities and marching under new but often old flags which lead to wars with new but often old enemies.

One grim Weltanschauung for this new era was well expressed by the Venetian nationalist demagogue in Michael Dibdin’s novel, Dead Lagoon: “There can be no true friends without true enemies. Unless we hate what we are not, we cannot love what we are. These are the old truths we are painfully rediscovering after a century and more of sentimental cant. Those who deny them deny their family, their heritage, their culture, their birthright, their very selves! They will not lightly be forgiven.” The unfortunate truth in these old truths cannot be ignored by statesmen and scholars. For peoples seeking identity and reinventing ethnicity, enemies are essential, and the potentially most dangerous enmities occur across the fault lines between the world’s major civilizations.

The central theme of this book is that culture and cultural identities, which at the broadest level are civilization identities, are shaping the patterns of cohesion, disintegration, and conflict in the post-Cold War world. The five parts of this book elaborate corollaries to this main proposition.

Part I: For the first time in history global politics is both multipolar and multicivilizational; modernization is distinct from Westernization and is producing neither a universal civilization in any meaningful sense nor the Westernization of non-Western societies.

Part II: The balance of power among civilizations is shifting: the West is declining in relative influence; Asian civilizations are expanding their economic, military, and political strength; Islam is exploding demographically with destabilizing consequences for Muslim countries and their neighbors; and non-Western civilizations generally are reaffirming the value of their own cultures.

Part III: A civilization-based world order is emerging: societies sharing cultural affinities cooperate with each other; efforts to shift societies from one civilization to another are unsuccessful; and countries group themselves around the lead or core states of their civilization.

Part IV: The West’s universalist pretensions increasingly bring it into conflict with other civilizations, most seriously with Islam and China; at the local level fault line wars, largely between Muslims and non-Muslims, generate “kin-country rallying,” the threat of broader escalation, and hence efforts by core states to halt these wars.

Part V: The survival of the West depends on Americans reaffirming their Western identity and Westerners accepting their civilization as unique not universal and uniting to renew and preserve it against challenges from non-Western societies. Avoidance of a global war of civilizations depends on world leaders accepting and cooperating to maintain the multicivilizational character of global politics.


In the post-Cold War world, for the first time in history, global politics has become multipolar and multicivilizational. During most of human existence, contacts between civilizations were intermittent or nonexistent. Then, with the beginning of the modern era, about A.D. 1500, global politics assumed two dimensions. For over four hundred years, the nation states of the West — Britain, France, Spain, Austria, Prussia, Germany, the United States, and others — constituted a multipolar international system within Western civilization and interacted, competed, and fought wars with each other. At the same time, Western nations also expanded, conquered, colonized, or decisively influenced every other civilization (Map 1.1). During the Cold War global politics became bipolar and the world was divided into three parts. A group of mostly wealthy and democratic societies, led by the United States, was engaged in a pervasive ideological, political, economic, and, at times, military competition with a group of somewhat poorer communist societies associated with and led by the Soviet Union. Much of this conflict occurred in the Third World outside these two camps, composed of countries which often were poor, lacked political stability, were recently independent, and claimed to be nonaligned (Map 1.2).

In the late 1980s the communist world collapsed, and the Cold War international system became history. In the post-Cold War world, the most important distinctions among peoples are not ideological, political, or economic. They are cultural. Peoples and nations are attempting to answer the most basic question humans can face: Who are we? And they are answering that question in the traditional way human beings have answered it, by reference to the things that mean most to them. People define themselves in terms of ancestry, religion, language, history, values, customs, and institutions. They identify with cultural groups: tribes, ethnic groups, religious communities, nations, and, at the broadest level, civilizations. People use politics not just to advance their interests but also to define their identity. We know who we are only when we know who we are not and often only when we know whom we are against.

Nation states remain the principal actors in world affairs. Their behavior is shaped as in the past by the pursuit of power and wealth, but it is also shaped by cultural preferences, commonalities, and differences. The most important groupings of states are no longer the three blocks of the Cold War but rather the world’s seven or eight major civilizations (Map 1.3). Non-Western societies, particularly in East Asia, are developing their economic wealth and creating the basis for enhanced military power and political influence. As their power and self-confidence increase, non-Western societies increasingly assert their own cultural values and reject those “imposed” on them by the West. The “international system of the twenty-first century,” Henry Kissinger has noted, “… will contain at least six major powers — the United States, Europe, China, Japan, Russia, and probably India — as well as a multiplicity of medium-sized and smaller countries.”1 Kissinger’s six major powers belong to five very different civilizations, and in addition there are important Islamic states whose strategic locations, large populations, and/or oil resources make them influential in world affairs. In this new world, local politics is the politics of ethnicity; global politics is the politics of civilizations. The rivalry of the superpowers is replaced by the clash of civilizations.

Chapter 4


The Fading of the West: Power, Culture, and Indigenization


Two pictures exist of the power of the West in relation to other civilizations. The first is of overwhelming, triumphant, almost total Western dominance. The disintegration of the Soviet Union removed the only serious challenger to the West and as a result the world is and will be shaped by the goals, priorities, and interests of the principal Western nations, with perhaps an occasional assist from Japan. As the one remaining superpower, the United States together with Britain and France make the crucial decisions on political and security issues; the United States together with Germany and Japan make the crucial decisions on economic issues. The West is the only civilization which has substantial interests in every other civilization or region and has the ability to affect the politics, economics, and security of every other civilization or region. Societies from other civilizations usually need Western help to achieve their goals and protect their interests. Western nations, as one author summarized it:

• Own and operate the international banking system

• Control all hard currencies

• Are the world’s principal customer

• Provide the majority of the world’s finished goods

• Dominate international capital markets

• Exert considerable moral leadership within many societies

• Are capable of massive military intervention

• Control the sea lanes

• Conduct most advanced technical research and development

• Control leading edge technical education

• Dominate access to space

• Dominate the aerospace industry

• Dominate international communications

• Dominate the high-tech weapons industry1

The second picture of the West is very different. It is of a civilization in decline, its share of world political, economic, and military power going down relative to that of other civilizations. The West’s victory in the Cold War has produced not triumph but exhaustion. The West is increasingly concerned with its internal problems and needs, as it confronts slow economic growth, stagnating populations, unemployment, huge government deficits, a declining work ethic, low savings rates, and in many countries including the United States social disintegration, drugs, and crime. Economic power is rapidly shifting to East Asia, and military power and political influence are starting to follow. India is on the verge of economic takeoff and the Islamic world is increasingly hostile toward the West. The willingness of other societies to accept the West’s dictates or abide its sermons is rapidly evaporating, and so are the West’s self-confidence and will to dominate. The late 1980s witnessed much debate about the declinist thesis concerning the United States. In the mid-1990s, a balanced analysis came to a somewhat similar conclusion:

[I]n many important respects, its [the United States’] relative power will decline at an accelerating pace. In terms of its raw economic capabilities, the position of the United States in relation to Japan and eventually China is likely to erode still further. In the military realm, the balance of effective capabilities between the United States and a number of growing regional powers (including, perhaps, Iran, India, and China) will shift from the center toward the periphery. Some of America’s structural power will flow to other nations; some (and some of its soft power as well) will find its way into the hands of nonstate actors like multinational corporations.2

Which of these two contrasting pictures of the place of the West in the world describes reality? The answer, of course, is: they both do. The West is overwhelmingly dominant now and will remain number one in terms of power and influence well into the twenty-first century. Gradual, inexorable, and fundamental changes, however, are also occurring in the balances of power among civilizations, and the power of the West relative to that of other civilizations will continue to decline. As the West’s primacy erodes, much of its power will simply evaporate and the rest will be diffused on a regional basis among the several major civilizations and their core states. The most significant increases in power are accruing and will accrue to Asian civilizations, with China gradually emerging as the society most likely to challenge the West for global influence. These shifts in power among civilizations are leading and will lead to the revival and increased cultural assertiveness of non-Western societies and to their increasing rejection of Western culture.

The decline of the West has three major characteristics.

First, it is a slow process. The rise of Western power took four hundred years. Its recession could take as long. In the 1980s the distinguished British scholar Hedley Bull argued that “European or Western dominance of the universal international society may be said to have reached its apogee about the year 1900.”3 Spengler’s first volume appeared in 1918 and the “decline of the West” has been a central theme in twentieth-century history. The process itself has stretched out through most of the century. Conceivably, however, it could accelerate. Economic growth and other increases in a country’s capabilities often proceed along an S curve: a slow start then rapid acceleration followed by reduced rates of expansion and leveling off. The decline of countries may also occur along a reverse S curve, as it did with the Soviet Union: moderate at first then rapidly accelerating before bottoming out. The decline of the West is still in the slow first phase, but at some point it might speed up dramatically.

Second, decline does not proceed in a straight line. It is highly irregular with pauses, reversals, and reassertions of Western power following manifestations of Western weakness. The open democratic societies of the West have great capacities for renewal. In addition, unlike many civilizations, the West has had two major centers of power. The decline which Bull saw starting about 1900 was essentially the decline of the European component of Western civilization. From 1910 to 1945 Europe was divided against itself and preoccupied with its internal economic, social, and political problems. In the 1940s, however, the American phase of Western domination began, and in 1945 the United States briefly dominated the world to an extent almost comparable to the combined Allied Powers in 1918. Postwar decolonization further reduced European influence but not that of the United States, which substituted a new transnational imperialism for the traditional territorial empire. During the Cold War, however, American military power was matched by that of the Soviets and American economic power declined relative to that of Japan. Yet periodic efforts at military and economic renewal did occur. In 1991, indeed, another distinguished British scholar, Barry Buzan, argued that “The deeper reality is that the centre is now more dominant, and the periphery more subordinate, than at any time since decolonization began.”4 The accuracy of that perception, however, fades as the military victory that gave rise to it also fades into history.

Third, power is the ability of one person or group to change the behavior of another person or group. Behavior may be changed through inducement, coercion, or exhortation, which require the power-wielder to have economic, military, institutional, demographic, political, technological, social, or other resources. The power of a state or group is hence normally estimated by measuring the resources it has at its disposal against those of the other states or groups it is trying to influence. The West’s share of most, but not all, of the important power resources peaked early in the twentieth century and then began to decline relative to those of other civilizations.



Territory and Population. In 1490 Western societies controlled most of the European peninsula outside the Balkans or perhaps 1.5 million square miles out of a global land area (apart from Antarctica) of 52.5 million square miles. At the peak of its territorial expansion in 1920, the West directly ruled about 25.5 million square miles or close to half the earth’s earth. By 1993 this territorial control had been cut in half to about 12.7 million square miles. The West was back to its original European core plus its spacious settler-populated lands in North America, Australia, and New Zealand. The territory of independent Islamic societies, in contrast, rose from 1.8 million square miles in 1920 to over 11 million square miles in 1993. Similar changes occurred in the control of population. In 1900 Westerners composed roughly 30 percent of the world’s population and Western governments ruled almost 45 percent of that population then and 48 percent in 1920. In 1993, except for a few small imperial remnants like Hong Kong, Western governments ruled no one but Westerners. Westerners amounted to slightly over 13 percent of humanity and are due to drop to about 11 percent early in the next century and to 10 percent by 2025.5 In terms of total population, in 1993 the West ranked fourth behind Sinic, Islamic, and Hindu civilizations.

Quantitatively Westerners thus constitute a steadily decreasing minority of the world’s population. Qualitatively the balance between the West and other populations is also changing. Non-Western peoples are becoming healthier, more urban, more literate, better educated. By the early 1990s infant mortality rates in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, East Asia, and Southeast Asia were one-third to one-half what they had been thirty years earlier. Life expectancy in these regions had increased significantly, with gains varying from eleven years in Africa to twenty-three years in East Asia. In the early 1960s in most of the Third World less than one-third of the adult population was literate. In the early 1990s, in very few countries apart from Africa was less than one-half the population literate. About fifty percent of Indians and 75 percent of Chinese could read and write. Literacy rates in developing countries in 1970 averaged 41 percent of those in developed countries; in 1992 they averaged 71 percent. By the early 1990s in every region except Africa virtually the entire age group was enrolled in primary education. Most significantly, in the early 1960s in Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa less than one-third of the appropriate age group was enrolled in secondary education; by the early 1990s one-half of the age group was enrolled except in Africa. In 1960 urban residents made up less than one-quarter of the population of the less developed world. Between 1960 and 1992, however, the urban percentage of the population rose from 49 percent to 73 percent in Latin America, 34 percent to 55 percent in Arab countries, 14 percent to 29 percent in Africa, 18 percent to 27 percent in China, and 19 percent to 26 percent in India.6





These shifts in literacy, education, and urbanization created socially mobilized populations with enhanced capabilities and higher expectations who could be activated for political purposes in ways in which illiterate peasants could not. Socially mobilized societies are more powerful societies. In 1953, when less than 15 percent of Iranians were literate and less than 17 percent urban, Kermit Roosevelt and a few CIA operatives rather easily suppressed an insurgency and restored the Shah to his throne. In 1979, when 50 percent of Iranians were literate and 47 percent lived in cities, no amount of U.S. military power could have kept the Shah on his throne. A significant gap still separates Chinese, Indians, Arabs, and Africans from Westerners, Japanese, and Russians. Yet the gap is narrowing rapidly. At the same time, a different gap is opening. The average ages of Westerners, Japanese, and Russians are increasingly steadily, and the larger proportion of the population that no longer works imposes a mounting burden on those still productively employed. Other civilizations are burdened by large numbers of children, but children are future workers and soldiers.

Economic Product The Western share of the global economic product also may have peaked in the 1920s and has clearly been declining since World War II. In 1750 China accounted for almost one-third, India for almost one-quarter, and the West for less than a fifth of the world’s manufacturing output. By 1830 the West had pulled slightly ahead of China. In the following decades, as Paul Bairoch points out, the industrialization of the West led to the deindustrialization of the rest of the world. In 1913 the manufacturing output of non-Western countries was roughly two-thirds what it had been in 1800. Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century the Western share rose dramatically, peaking in 1928 at 84.2 percent of world manufacturing output. Thereafter the West’s share declined as its rate of growth remained modest and as less industrialized countries expanded their output rapidly after World War II. By 1980 the West accounted for 57.8 percent of global manufacturing output, roughly the share it had 120 years earlier in the 1860s.7



Reliable data on gross economic product are not available for the pre-World War II period. In 1950, however, the West accounted for roughly 64 percent of the gross world product; by the 1980s this proportion had dropped to 49 percent. (See Table 4.5.) By 2013, according to one estimate, the West will account for only 30% of the world product. In 1991, according to another estimate, four of the world’s seven largest economies belonged to non-Western nations: Japan (in second place), China (third), Russia (sixth), and India (seventh). In 1992 the United States had the largest economy in the world, and the top ten economies included those of five Western countries plus the leading states of five other civilizations: China, Japan, India, Russia, and Brazil. In 2020 plausible projections indicate that the top five economies will be in five different civilizations, and the top ten economies will include only three Western countries. This relative decline of the West is, of course, in large part a function of the rapid rise of East Asia.8

Gross figures on economic output partially obscure the West’s qualitative advantage. The West and Japan almost totally dominate advanced technology industries. Technologies are being disseminated, however, and if the West wishes to maintain its superiority it will do what it can to minimize that dissemination. Thanks to the interconnected world which the West has created, however, slowing the diffusion of technology to other civilizations is increasingly difficult. It is made all the more so in the absence of a single, overpowering, agreed-upon threat such as existed during the Cold War and gave measures of technology control some modest effectiveness.



It appears probable that for most of history China had the world’s largest economy. The diffusion of technology and the economic development of non-Western societies in the second half of the twentieth century are now producing a return to the historical pattern. This will be a slow process, but by the middle of the twenty-first century, if not before, the distribution of economic product and manufacturing output among the leading civilizations is likely to resemble that of 1800. The two-hundred-year Western “blip” on the world economy will be over.

Military Capability. Military power has four dimensions: quantitative—the numbers of men, weapons, equipment, and resources; technological—the effectiveness and sophistication of weapons and equipment; organizational—the coherence, discipline, training, and morale of the troops and the effectiveness of command and control relationships; and societal—the ability and willingness of the society to apply military force effectively. In the 1920s the West was far ahead of everyone else in all these dimensions. In the years since, the military power of the West has declined relative to that of other civilizations, a decline reflected in the shifting balance in military personnel, one measure, although clearly not the most important one, of military capability. Modernization and economic development generate the resources and desire for states to develop their military capabilities, and few states fail to do so. In the 1930s Japan and the Soviet Union created very powerful military forces, as they demonstrated in World War II. During the Cold War the Soviet Union had one of the world’s two most powerful military forces. Currently the West monopolizes the ability to deploy substantial conventional military forces anywhere in the world. Whether it will continue to maintain that capability is uncertain. It seems reasonably certain, however, that no non-Western state or group of states will create a comparable capability during the coming decades.



Overall, the years after the Cold War have been dominated by five major trends in the evolution of global military capabilities.

First, the armed forces of the Soviet Union ceased to exist shortly after the Soviet Union ceased to exist. Apart from Russia, only Ukraine inherited significant military capabilities. Russian forces were greatly reduced in size and were withdrawn from Central Europe and the Baltic states. The Warsaw Pact ended. The goal of challenging the U.S. Navy was abandoned. Military equipment was either disposed of or allowed to deteriorate and become nonoperational. Budget allocations for defense were drastically reduced. Demoralization pervaded the ranks of both officers and men. At the same time the Russian military were redefining their missions and doctrine and restructuring themselves for their new roles in protecting Russians and dealing with regional conflicts in the near abroad.

Second, the precipitous reduction in Russian military capabilities stimulated a slower but significant decline in Western military spending, forces, and capabilities. Under the plans of the Bush and Clinton administrations, U.S. military spending was due to drop by 35 percent from $342.3 billion (1994 dollars) in 1990 to $222.3 in 1998. The force structure that year would be half to two-thirds what it was at the end of the Cold War. Total military personnel would go down from 2.1 million to 1.4 million. Many major weapons programs have been and are being canceled. Between 1985 and 1995 annual purchases of major weapons went down from 29 to 6 ships, 943 to 127 aircraft, 720 to 0 tanks, and 48 to 18 strategic missiles. Beginning in the late 1980s, Britain, Germany, and, to a lesser degree, France went through similar reductions in defense spending and military capabilities. In the mid-1990s, the German armed forces were scheduled to decline from 370,000 to 340,000 and probably to 320,000; the French army was to drop from its strength of 290,000 in 1990 to 225,000 in 1997. British military personnel went down from 377,100 in 1985 to 274,800 in 1993. Continental members of NATO also shortened terms of conscripted service and debated the possible abandonment of conscription.

Third, the trends in East Asia differed significantly from those in Russia and the West. Increased military spending and force improvements were the order of the day; China was the pacesetter. Stimulated by both their increasing economic wealth and the Chinese buildup, other East Asian nations are modernizing and expanding their military forces. Japan has continued to improve its highly sophisticated military capability. Taiwan, South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia all are spending more on their military and purchasing planes, tanks, and ships from Russia, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, and other countries. While NATO defense expenditures declined by roughly 10 percent between 1985 and 1993 (from $539.6 billion to $485.0 billion) (constant 1993 dollars), expenditures in East Asia rose by 50 percent from $89.8 billion to $134.8 billion during the same period.9

Fourth, military capabilities including weapons of mass destruction are diffusing broadly across the world. As countries develop economically, they generate the capacity to produce weapons. Between the 1960s and 1980s, for instance, the number of Third World countries producing fighter aircraft increased from one to eight, tanks from one to six, helicopters from one to six, and tactical missiles from none to seven. The 1990s have seen a major trend toward the globalization of the defense industry, which is likely further to erode Western military advantages.10 Many non-Western societies either have nuclear weapons (Russia, China, Israel, India, Pakistan, and possibly North Korea) or have been making strenuous efforts to acquire them (Iran, Iraq, Libya, and possibly Algeria) or are placing themselves in a position quickly to acquire them if they see the need to do so (Japan).

Finally, all those developments make regionalization the central trend in military strategy and power in the post-Cold War world. Regionalization provides the rationale for the reductions in Russian and Western military forces and for increases in the military forces of other states. Russia no longer has a global military capability but is focusing its strategy and forces on the near abroad. China has reoriented its strategy and forces to emphasize local power projection and the defense of Chinese interests in East Asia. European countries are similarly redirecting their forces, through both NATO and the Western European Union, to deal with instability on the periphery of Western Europe. The United States has explicitly shifted its military planning from deterring and fighting the Soviet Union on a global basis to preparing to deal simultaneously with regional contingencies in the Persian Gulf and Northeast Asia. The United States, however, is not likely to have the military capability to meet these goals. To defeat Iraq, the United States deployed in the Persian Gulf 75 percent of its active tactical aircraft, 42 percent of its modern battle tanks, 46 percent of its aircraft carriers, 37 percent of its army personnel, and 46 percent of its marine personnel. With significantly reduced forces in the future, the United States will be hard put to carry out one intervention, much less two, against substantial regional powers outside the Western Hemisphere. Military security throughout the world increasingly depends not on the global distribution of power and the actions of superpowers but on the distribution of power within each region of the world and the actions of the core states of civilizations.

In sum, overall the West will remain the most powerful civilization well into the early decades of the twenty-first century. Beyond then it will probably continue to have a substantial lead in scientific talent, research and development capabilities, and civilian and military technological innovation. Control over the other power resources, however, is becoming increasingly dispersed among the core states and leading countries of non-Western civilizations. The West’s control of these resources peaked in the 1920s and has since been declining irregularly but significantly. In the 2020s, a hundred years after that peak, the West will probably control about 24 percent of the world’s territory (down from a peak of 49 percent), 10 percent of the total world population (down from 48 percent) and perhaps 15–20 percent of the socially mobilized population, about 30 percent of the world’s economic product (down from a peak of probably 70 percent), perhaps 25 percent of manufacturing output (down from a peak of 84 percent), and less than 10 percent of global military manpower (down from 45 percent).

In 1919 Woodrow Wilson, Lloyd George, and Georges Clemenceau together virtually controlled the world. Sitting in Paris, they determined what countries would exist and which would not, what new countries would be created, what their boundaries would be and who would rule them, and how the Middle East and other parts of the world would be divided up among the victorious powers. They also decided on military intervention in Russia and economic concessions to be extracted from China. A hundred years later, no small group of statesmen will be able to exercise comparable power; to the extent that any group does it will not consist of three Westerners but leaders of the core states of the world’s seven or eight major civilizations. The successors to Reagan, Thatcher, Mitterrand, and Kohl will be rivaled by those of Deng Xiaoping, Nakasone, Indira Gandhi, Yeltsin, Khomeini, and Suharto. The age of Western dominance will be over. In the meantime the fading of the West and the rise of other power centers is promoting the global processes of indigenization and the resurgence of non-Western cultures.


The distribution of cultures in the world reflects the distribution of power. Trade may or may not follow the flag, but culture almost always follows power. Throughout history the expansion of the power of a civilization has usually occurred simultaneously with the flowering of its culture and has almost always involved its using that power to extend its values, practices, and institutions to other societies. A universal civilization requires universal power. Roman power created a near-universal civilization within the limited confines of the Classical world. Western power in the form of European colonialism in the nineteenth century and American hegemony in the twentieth century extended Western culture throughout much of the contemporary world. European colonialism is over; American hegemony is receding. The erosion of Western culture follows, as indigenous, historically rooted mores, languages, beliefs, and institutions reassert themselves. The growing power of non-Western societies produced by modernization is generating the revival of non-Western cultures throughout the world.*

A distinction exists, Joseph Nye has argued, between “hard power,” which is the power to command resting on economic and military strength, and “soft power,” which is the ability of a state to get “other countries to want what it wants” through the appeal of its culture and ideology. As Nye recognizes, a broad diffusion of hard power is occurring in the world and the major nations “are less able to use their traditional power resources to achieve their purposes than in the past.” Nye goes on to say that if a state’s “culture and ideology are attractive, others will be more willing to follow” its leadership, and hence soft power is “just as important as hard command power.”11 What, however, makes culture and ideology attractive? They become attractive when they are seen as rooted in material success and influence. Soft power is power only when it rests on a foundation of hard power. Increases in hard economic and military power produce enhanced self-confidence, arrogance, and belief in the superiority of one’s own culture or soft power compared to those of other peoples and greatly increase its attractiveness to other peoples. Decreases in economic and military power lead to self-doubt, crises of identity, and efforts to find in other cultures the keys to economic, military, and political success. As non-Western societies enhance their economic, military, and political capacity, they increasingly trumpet the virtues of their own values, institutions, and culture.

Communist ideology appealed to people throughout the world in the 1950s and 1960s when it was associated with the economic success and military force of the Soviet Union. That appeal evaporated when the Soviet economy stagnated and was unable to maintain Soviet military strength. Western values and institutions have appealed to people from other cultures because they were seen as the source of Western power and wealth. This process has been going on for centuries. Between 1000 and 1300, as William McNeill points out, Christianity, Roman law, and other elements of Western culture were adopted by Hungarians, Poles, and Lithuanians, and this “acceptance of Western civilization was stimulated by mingled fear and admiration of the military prowess of Western princes.”12 As Western power declines, the ability of the West to impose Western concepts of human rights, liberalism, and democracy on other civilizations also declines and so does the attractiveness of those values to other civilizations.

It already has. For several centuries non-Western peoples envied the economic prosperity, technological sophistication, military power, and political cohesion of Western societies. They sought the secret of this success in Western values and institutions, and when they identified what they thought might be the key they attempted to apply it in their own societies. To become rich and powerful, they would have to become like the West. Now, however, these Kemalist attitudes have disappeared in East Asia. East Asians attribute their dramatic economic development not to their import of Western culture but rather to their adherence to their own culture. They are succeeding, they argue, because they are different from the West. Similarly, when non-Western societies felt weak in relation to the West, they invoked Western values of self-determination, liberalism, democracy, and independence to justify their opposition to Western domination. Now that they are no longer weak but increasingly powerful, they do not hesitate to attack those same values which they previously used to promote their interests. The revolt against the West was originally legitimated by asserting the universality of Western values; it is now legitimated by asserting the superiority of non-Western values.

The rise of these attitudes is a manifestation of what Ronald Dore has termed the “second-generation indigenization phenomenon.” In both former Western colonies and independent countries like China and Japan, “The first ‘modernizer’ or ‘post-independence’ generation has often received its training in foreign (Western) universities in a Western cosmopolitan language. Partly because they first go abroad as impressionable teenagers, their absorption of Western values and life-styles may well be profound.” Most of the much larger second generation, in contrast, gets its education at home in universities created by the first generation, and the local rather than the colonial language is increasingly used for instruction. These universities “provide a much more diluted contact with metropolitan world culture” and “knowledge is indigenized by means of translations—usually of limited range and of poor quality.” The graduates of these universities resent the dominance of the earlier Western-trained generation and hence often “succumb to the appeals of nativist opposition movements.”13 As Western influence recedes, young aspiring leaders cannot look to the West to provide them with power and wealth. They have to find the means of success within their own society, and hence they have to accommodate to the values and culture of that society.

The process of indigenization need not wait for the second generation. Able, perceptive, and adaptive first generation leaders indigenize themselves. Three notable cases are Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Harry Lee, and Solomon Bandaranaike. They were brilliant graduates of Oxford, Cambridge, and Lincoln’s Inn, respectively, superb lawyers, and thoroughly Westernized members of the elites of their societies. Jinnah was a committed secularist. Lee was, in the words of one British cabinet minister, “the best bloody Englishman east of Suez.” Bandaranaike was raised a Christian. Yet to lead their nations to and after independence they had to indigenize. They reverted to their ancestral cultures, and in the process at times changed identities, names, dress, and beliefs. The English lawyer M. A. Jinnah became Pakistan’s Quaid-i-Azam, Harry Lee became Lee Kuan Yew. The secularist Jinnah became the fervent apostle of Islam as the basis for the Pakistani state. The Anglofied Lee learned Mandarin and became an articulate promoter of Confucianism. The Christian Bandaranaike converted to Buddhism and appealed to Sinhalese nationalism.

Indigenization has been the order of the day throughout the non-Western world in the 1980s and 1990s. The resurgence of Islam and “re-Islamization” are the central themes in Muslim societies. In India the prevailing trend is the rejection of Western forms and values and the “Hinduization” of politics and society. In East Asia, governments are promoting Confucianism, and political and intellectual leaders speak of the “Asianization” of their countries. In the mid-1980s Japan became obsessed with “Nihonjinron or the theory of Japan and the Japanese.” Subsequently a leading Japanese intellectual argued that historically Japan has gone through “cycles of importation of external cultures” and “ ‘indigenization’ of those cultures through replication and refinement, inevitable turmoil resulting from exhausting the imported and creative impulse, and eventual reopening to the outside world.” At present Japan is “embarking on the second phase of this cycle.”14 With the end of the Cold War, Russia again became a “torn” country with the reemergence of the classic struggle between Westernizers and Slavophiles. For a decade, however, the trend was from the former to the latter, as the Westernized Gorbachev gave way to Yeltsin, Russian in style, Western in articulated beliefs, who, in turn, was threatened by nationalists epitomizing Russian Orthodox indigenization.

Indigenization is furthered by the democracy paradox: adoption by non-Western societies of Western democratic institutions encourages and gives access to power to nativist and anti-Western political movements. In the 1960s and 1970s Westernized and pro-Western governments in developing countries were threatened by coups and revolutions; in the 1980s and 1990s they are increasingly in danger of being ousted by elections. Democratization conflicts with Westernization, and democracy is inherently a parochializing not a cosmopolitanizing process. Politicians in non-Western societies do not win elections by demonstrating how Western they are. Electoral competition instead stimulates them to fashion what they believe will be the most popular appeals, and those are usually ethnic, nationalist, and religious in character.

The result is popular mobilization against Western-educated and Western-oriented elites. Islamic fundamentalist groups have done well in the few elections that have occurred in Muslim countries and would have come to national power in Algeria if the military had not canceled the 1992 election. In India competition for electoral support has arguably encouraged communal appeals and communal violence.15 Democracy in Sri Lanka enabled the Sri Lanka Freedom Party to throw out the Western-oriented, elitist United National Party in 1956 and provided opportunity for the rise of the Pathika Chintanaya Sinhalese nationalist movement in the 1980s. Prior to 1949 both South African and Western elites viewed South Africa as a Western state. After the apartheid regime took shape, Western elites gradually read South Africa out of the Western camp, while white South Africans continued to think of themselves as Westerners. In order to resume their place in the Western international order, however, they had to introduce Western democratic institutions, which resulted in the coming to power of a highly Westernized black elite. If the second generation indigenization factor operates, however, their successors will be much more Xhosa, Zulu, and African in outlook and South Africa will increasingly define itself as an African state.

At various times before the nineteenth century, Byzantines, Arabs, Chinese, Ottomans, Moguls, and Russians were highly confident of their strength and achievements compared to those of the West. At these times they also were contemptuous of the cultural inferiority, institutional backwardness, corruption, and decadence of the West. As the success of the West fades relatively, such attitudes reappear. People feel “they don’t have to take it anymore.” Iran is an extreme case, but, as one observer noted, “Western values are rejected in different ways, but no less firmly, in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, China, and Japan.”16 We are witnessing “the end of the progressive era” dominated by Western ideologies and are moving into an era in which multiple and diverse civilizations will interact, compete, coexist, and accommodate each other.17 This global process of indigenization is manifest broadly in the revivals of religion occurring in so many parts of the world and most notably in the cultural resurgence in Asian and Islamic countries generated in large part by their economic and demographic dynamism.


In the first half of the twentieth century intellectual elites generally assumed that economic and social modernization was leading to the withering away of religion as a significant element in human existence. This assumption was shared by both those who welcomed and those who deplored this trend. Modernizing secularists hailed the extent to which science, rationalism, and pragmatism were eliminating the superstitions, myths, irrationalities, and rituals that formed the core of existing religions. The emerging society would be tolerant, rational, pragmatic, progressive, humanistic, and secular. Worried conservatives, on the other hand, warned of the dire consequences of the disappearance of religious beliefs, religious institutions, and the moral guidance religion provided for individual and collective human behavior. The end result would be anarchy, depravity, the undermining of civilized life. “If you will not have God (and He is a jealous God),” T. S. Eliot said, “you should pay your respects to Hitler or Stalin.”18

The second half of the twentieth century proved these hopes and fears unfounded. Economic and social modernization became global in scope, and at the same time a global revival of religion occurred. This revival, la revanche de Dieu, Gilles Kepel termed it, has pervaded every continent, every civilization, and virtually every country. In the mid-1970s, as Kepel observes, the trend to secularization and toward the accommodation of religion with secularism “went into reverse. A new religious approach took shape, aimed no longer at adapting to secular values but at recovering a sacred foundation for the organization of society —by changing society if necessary. Expressed in a multitude of ways, this approach advocated moving on from a modernism that had failed, attributing its setbacks and dead ends to separation from God. The theme was no longer aggiornamento but a ‘second evangelization of Europe,’ the aim was no longer to modernize Islam but to ‘Islamize modernity.’ ”19

This religious revival has in part involved expansion by some religions, which gained new recruits in societies where they had previously not had them. To a much larger extent, however, the religious resurgence involved people returning to, reinvigorating, and giving new meaning to the traditional religions of their communities. Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Orthodoxy, all experienced new surges in commitment, relevance, and practice by erstwhile casual believers. In all of them fundamentalist movements arose committed to the militant purification of religious doctrines and institutions and the reshaping of personal, social, and public behavior in accordance with religious tenets. The fundamentalist movements are dramatic and can have significant political impact. They are, however, only the surface waves of the much broader and more fundamental religious tide that is giving a different cast to human life at the end of the twentieth century. The renewal of religion throughout the world far transcends the activities of fundamentalist extremists. In society after society it manifests itself in the daily lives and work of people and the concerns and projects of governments. The cultural resurgence in the secular Confucian culture takes the form of the affirmation of Asian values but in the rest of the world manifests itself in the affirmation of religious values. The “unsecularization of the world,” as George Weigel remarked “is one of the dominant social facts in the late twentieth century.”20

The ubiquity and relevance of religion has been dramatically evident in former communist states. Filling the vacuum left by the collapse of ideology, religious revivals have swept through these countries from Albania to Vietnam. In Russia, Orthodoxy has gone through a major resurgence. In 1994, 30 percent of Russians below the age of twenty-five said they had switched from atheism to a belief in God. The number of active churches in the Moscow area grew from 50 in 1988 to 250 in 1993. Political leaders became uniformly respectful of religion and the government supportive of it. In Russian cities, as one acute observer reported in 1993, “The sound of church bells once again fills the air. Newly gilded cupolas gleam in the sun. Churches only recently in ruins reverberate again with magnificent song. Churches are the busiest place in town.”21 Simultaneously with the revival of Orthodoxy in the Slavic republics, an Islamic revival swept through Central Asia. In 1989, 160 functioning mosques and one medressah (Islamic seminary) existed in Central Asia; by early 1993 there were about 10,000 mosques and ten medressahs. While this revival involved some fundamentalist political movements and was encouraged from the outside by Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Pakistan, it was basically an extremely broad-based, mainstream, cultural movement.22

How can this global religious resurgence be explained? Particular causes obviously operated in individual countries and civilizations. Yet it is too much to expect that a large number of different causes would have produced simultaneous and similar developments in most parts of the world. A global phenomenon demands a global explanation. However much events in particular countries may have been influenced by unique factors, some general causes must have been at work. What were they?

The most obvious, most salient, and most powerful cause of the global religious resurgence is precisely what was supposed to cause the death of religion: the processes of social, economic, and cultural modernization that swept across the world in the second half of the twentieth century. Longstanding sources of identity and systems of authority are disrupted. People move from the countryside into the city, become separated from their roots, and take new jobs or no job. They interact with large numbers of strangers and are exposed to new sets of relationships. They need new sources of identity, new forms of stable community, and new sets of moral precepts to provide them with a sense of meaning and purpose. Religion, both mainstream and fundamentalist, meets these needs. As Lee Kuan Yew explained for East Asia:

We are agricultural societies that have industrialized within one or two generations. What happened in the West over 200 years or more is happening here in about 50 years or less. It is all crammed and crushed into a very tight time frame, so there are bound to be dislocations and malfunctions. If you look at the fast-growing countries —Korea, Thailand, Hong Kong, and Singapore—there’s been one remarkable phenomenon: the rise of religion. … The old customs and religions —ancestor worship, shamanism —no longer completely satisfy. There is a quest for some higher explanations about man’s purpose, about why we are here. This is associated with periods of great stress in society.23

People do not live by reason alone. They cannot calculate and act rationally in pursuit of their self-interest until they define their self. Interest politics presupposes identity. In times of rapid social change established identities dissolve, the self must be redefined, and new identities created. For people facing the need to determine Who am I? Where do I belong? religion provides compelling answers, and religious groups provide small social communities to replace those lost through urbanization. All religions, as Hassan al-Turabi said, furnish “people with a sense of identity and a direction in life.” In this process, people rediscover or create new historical identities. Whatever universalist goals they may have, religions give people identity by positing a basic distinction between believers and nonbelievers, between a superior in-group and a different and inferior out-group.24

In the Muslim world, Bernard Lewis argues, there has been “a recurring tendency, in times of emergency, for Muslims to find their basic identity and loyalty in the religious community —that is to say, in an entity defined by Islam rather than by ethnic or territorial criteria.” Gilles Kepel similarly highlights the centrality of the search for identity: “Re-Islamization ‘from below’ is first and foremost a way of rebuilding an identity in a world that has lost its meaning and become amorphous and alienating.”25 In India, “a new Hindu identity is under construction” as a response to tensions and alienation generated by modernization.26 In Russia the religious revival is the result “of a passionate desire for identity which only the Orthodox church, the sole unbroken link with the Russians’ 1000-year past, can provide,” while in the Islamic republics the revival similarly stems “from the Central Asians’ most powerful aspiration: to assert the identities that Moscow suppressed for decades.”27 Fundamentalist movements, in particular, are “a way of coping with the experience of chaos, the loss of identity, meaning and secure social structures created by the rapid introduction of modern social and political patterns, secularism, scientific culture and economic development.” The fundamentalist “movements that matter,” agrees William H. McNeill, “… are those that recruit from society at large and spread because they answer, or seem to answer, newly felt human needs. … It is no accident that these movements are all based in countries where population pressure on the land is making continuation of old village ways impossible for a majority of the population, and where urban-based mass communications, by penetrating the villages, have begun to erode an age-old framework of peasant life.”28

More broadly, the religious resurgence throughout the world is a reaction against secularism, moral relativism, and self-indulgence, and a reaffirmation of the values of order, discipline, work, mutual help, and human solidarity. Religious groups meet social needs left untended by state bureaucracies. These include the provision of medical and hospital services, kindergartens and schools, care for the elderly, prompt relief after natural and other catastrophes, and welfare and social support during periods of economic deprivation. The breakdown of order and of civil society creates vacuums which are filled by religious, often fundamentalist, groups.29

If traditionally dominant religions do not meet the emotional and social needs of the uprooted, other religious groups move in to do so and in the process greatly expand their memberships and the saliency of religion in social and political life. South Korea historically was an overwhelmingly Buddhist country, with Christians numbering in 1950 perhaps 1 percent to 3 percent of the population. As South Korea took off into rapid economic development, with massive urbanization and occupational differentiation, Buddhism was found wanting. “For the millions who poured into the cities and for many who stayed behind in the altered countryside, the quiescent Buddhism of Korea’s agrarian age lost its appeal. Christianity with its message of personal salvation and individual destiny offered a surer comfort in a time of confusion and change.”30 By the 1980s Christians, largely Presbyterians and Catholics, were at least 30 percent of South Korea’s population.

A similar and parallel shift occurred in Latin America. The number of Protestants in Latin America increased from roughly 7 million in 1960 to about 50 million in 1990. The reasons for this success, the Latin American Catholic bishops recognized in 1989, included the Catholic Church’s “slowness in coming to terms with the technicalities of urban life” and “its structure that occasionally makes it incapable of responding to the psychological needs of present-day people.” Unlike the Catholic Church, one Brazilian priest observed, the Protestant churches meet “the basic needs of the person—human warmth, healing, a deep spiritual experience.” The spread of Protestantism among the poor in Latin America is not primarily the replacement of one religion by another but rather a major net increase in religious commitment and participation as nominal and passive Catholics become active and devout Evangelicals. In Brazil in the early 1990s, for instance, 20 percent of the population identified themselves as Protestant and 73 percent as Catholic, yet on Sundays 20 million people were in Protestant churches and about 12 million were in Catholic ones.31 Like the other world religions, Christianity is going through a resurgence connected to modernization, and in Latin America it has taken a Protestant rather than a Catholic form.

These changes in South Korea and Latin America reflect the inability of Buddhism and established Catholicism to meet the psychological, emotional, and social needs of people caught in the traumas of modernization. Whether additional significant shifts in religious adherence occur elsewhere depends on the extent to which the prevailing religion is able to meet these needs. Given its emotional aridity, Confucianism appears particularly vulnerable. In Confucian countries, Protestantism and Catholicism could have an appeal similar to those of evangelical Protestantism to Latin Americans, Christianity to South Koreans, and fundamentalism to Muslims and Hindus. In China in the late 1980s, as economic growth was in full swing, Christianity also spread “particularly among young people.” Perhaps 50 million Chinese are Christian. The government has attempted to prevent their increase by jailing ministers, missionaries, and evangelists, prohibiting and suppressing religious ceremonies and activities, and in 1994 passing a law that prohibits foreigners from proselytizing or setting up religious schools or other religious organizations and prohibits religious groups from engaging in independent or overseas-financed activities. In Singapore, as in China, about 5 percent of the population is Christian. In the late 1980s and early 1990s government ministers warned evangelists against upsetting the country’s “delicate religious balance,” detained religious workers including officials of Catholic organizations, and harassed in various ways Christian groups and individuals.32 With the end of the Cold War and the political openings that followed, Western churches also moved into the Orthodox former Soviet republics, competing with the revived Orthodox churches. Here too, as in China, an effort was made to curb their proselytizing. In 1993, at the urging of the Orthodox Church, the Russian parliament passed legislation requiring foreign religious groups to be accredited by the state or to be affiliated with a Russian religious organization if they were going to engage in missionary or educational work. President Yeltsin, however, refused to sign this bill into law.33 Overall, the record suggests that where they conflict, la revanche de Dieu trumps indigenization: if the religious needs of modernization cannot be met by their traditional faiths people turn to emotionally satisfying religious imports.

In addition to the psychological, emotional, and social traumas of modernization, other stimulants to religious revival included the retreat of the West and the end of the Cold War. Beginning in the nineteenth century, the responses of non-Western civilizations to the West generally moved through a progression of ideologies imported from the West. In the nineteenth century non-Western elites imbibed Western liberal values, and their first expressions of opposition to the West took the form of liberal nationalism. In the twentieth century Russian, Asian, Arab, African, and Latin American elites imported socialist and Marxist ideologies and combined them with nationalism in opposition to Western capitalism and Western imperialism. The collapse of communism in the Soviet Union, its severe modification in China, and the failure of socialist economies to achieve sustained development have now created an ideological vacuum. Western governments, groups, and international institutions, such as the IMF and World Bank, have attempted to fill this vacuum with the doctrines of neo-orthodox economics and democratic politics. The extent to which these doctrines will have a lasting impact in non-Western cultures is uncertain. Meanwhile, however, people see communism as only the latest secular god to have failed, and in the absence of compelling new secular deities they turn with relief and passion to the real thing. Religion takes over from ideology, and religious nationalism replaces secular nationalism.34

The movements for religious revival are antisecular, antiuniversal, and, except in their Christian manifestations, anti-Western. They also are opposed to the relativism, egotism, and consumerism associated with what Bruce B. Lawrence has termed “modernism” as distinct from “modernity.” By and large they do not reject urbanization, industrialization, development, capitalism, science, and technology, and what these imply for the organization of society. In this sense, they are not antimodern. They accept modernization, as Lee Kuan Yew observes, and “the inevitability of science and technology and the change in the life-styles they bring,” but they are “unreceptive to the idea that they be Westernized.” Neither nationalism nor socialism, al-Turabi argues, produced development in the Islamic world. “Religion is the motor of development,” and a purified Islam will play a role in the contemporary era comparable to that of the Protestant ethic in the history of the West. Nor is religion incompatible with the development of a modern state.35 Islamic fundamentalist movements have been strong in the more advanced and seemingly more secular Muslim societies, such as Algeria, Iran, Egypt, Lebanon, and Tunisia.36 Religious movements, including particularly fundamentalist ones, are highly adept at using modern communications and organizational techniques to spread their message, illustrated most dramatically by the success of Protestant televangelism in Central America.

Participants in the religious resurgence come from all walks of life but overwhelmingly from two constituencies, both urban and both mobile. Recent migrants to the cities generally need emotional, social, and material support and guidance, which religious groups provide more than any other source. Religion for them, as Régis Debray put it, is not “the opium of the people, but the vitamin of the weak.”37 The other principal constituency is the new middle class embodying Dore’s “second-generation indigenization phenomenon.” The activists in Islamic fundamentalist groups are not, as Kepel points out, “aging conservatives or illiterate peasants.” With Muslims as with others, the religious revival is an urban phenomenon and appeals to people who are modern-oriented, well-educated, and pursue careers in the professions, government, and commerce.38 Among Muslims, the young are religious, their parents secular. Much the same is the case with Hinduism, where the leaders of revivalist movements again come from the indigenized second generation and are often “successful businessmen and administrators” labeled in the Indian press “Scuppies”—saffron-clad yuppies. Their supporters in the early 1990s were increasingly from “India’s solid middle class Hindus —its merchants and accountants, its lawyers and engineers” and from its “senior civil servants, intellectuals, and journalists.”39 In South Korea, the same types of people increasingly filled Catholic and Presbyterian churches during the 1960s and 1970s.

Religion, indigenous or imported, provides meaning and direction for the rising elites in modernizing societies. “The attribution of value to a traditional religion,” Ronald Dore noted, “is a claim to parity of respect asserted against ‘dominant other’ nations, and often, simultaneously and more proximately, against a local ruling class which has embraced the values and life-styles of those dominant other nations.” “More than anything else,” William McNeill observes, “reaffirmation of Islam, whatever its specific sectarian form, means the repudiation of European and American influence upon local society, politics, and morals.”40 In this sense, the revival of non-Western religions is the most powerful manifestation of anti-Westernism in non-Western societies. That revival is not a rejection of modernity; it is a rejection of the West and of the secular, relativistic, degenerate culture associated with the West. It is a rejection of what has been termed the “Westoxification” of non-Western societies. It is a declaration of cultural independence from the West, a proud statement that: “We will be modern but we won’t be you.”


EMPLOYED FROM 1899, GEOPOLITICS IS AN AMORPHOUS concept, both efficacious and misfiring, and a plastic or malleable (as well as controversial) term. Different working definitions have been advanced, and there is no universally accepted definition and, indeed, no agreed definition in English. All definitions of geopolitics focus on the relationship between politics and geographical factors, although that relationship has been very differently considered and presented. In this context, politics is approached principally in terms of the composition and use of power. The geographical factors that are treated vary, but space, location, distance, and resources are all important. Geopolitics is commonly understood as an alternative term for all or part of political geography 2  and, more specifically, as the spatial dynamics of power. In practice, there is a persistent lack of clarity about whether geopolitics—however defined—and, more particularly these dynamics, should be understood in a descriptive or normative sense. Moreover, what in 2002 the American geopolitical commentator Harvey Sicherman termed “the facts of geopolitics—the resources and locations of various peoples and states” 3 —involves subjective as well as objective considerations, and the significance of the former is commonly downplayed. This is true across the varied dimensions of geopolitics.

Four levels of assessment can be differentiated although, in both theory and practice, they interact to a considerable degree. At the first level, geopolitics can be considered as both concept and practice, each of which can, in turn, be classified. At the second level, it can be approached as a malleable doctrine heavily dependent upon the casuistries of leaders and politicians conducting statecraft. At the third level, the roles and approaches of professional intellectuals and commentators command attention—roles and approaches that have been, and are, very different. Whereas a geographer has a formal qualification, usually a university degree, anyone can be a geopolitician, including ardent polemicists without any in-depth knowledge. This situation can be related to the dynamic between political geography, which seeks scientific-style precision, and geopolitics which is, in part, political practice and journalism—both based on concepts in political geography. At the fourth level, geopolitics has emerged as a durable mindset and a set of doctrines that have outlasted major changes in ideology and international power. This durability reflects the plasticity of geopolitical doctrines and the extent to which fundamental concepts have remained intact, even though they are changeable, not least with major shifts in the understanding of spatiality—these concepts even bridging the large differences separating certain geopolitical doctrines from one another.

Varying definitions, contrasting usage, and the extent of subjectivity involved in the assessment of power do not mean that there is no objective reality or, indeed, no useful concept. As far as reality and perception are concerned, a human environment may be defined in terms of the human needs, desires and capabilities for satisfying them from the materials at hand (or, rather, apparently at hand). This definition depends in part on the conscious awareness of the situation and, thereby, on perception. However, no amount of desire and will can enable the production of steel from coal and iron deposits if those deposits do not exist, or if it is impossible to transport the raw materials, and at a reasonable cost.

Nevertheless, any subjective appreciation of what is objectively available lends itself to historicizing. 4  Coal deposits exist in France and Germany, but from 1870 to 1945 the location and real significance of coal and iron deposits played a role in the territorial aspirations and strategic planning of those nations. From a different angle, responses to, say, the possibility of nuclear power or to France’s interests at any time, involved, involve, and will involve ideological, cultural, and political assumptions.

Politics has, indeed, played a role throughout human geography. For example, in France during the early decades of the nineteenth century there were initial ideas for creating an integrated rail network based on grandiose economic needs, but a more political rationale came to prevail, with a national plan, imposed in 1842, that led to a rail system radiating from Paris and linking it to all parts of the country, especially the frontier regions. Transverse links that did not focus on Paris were not part of the Second Empire (1852–1870), but in 1879 the need to consider parliamentary constituencies under the Third Republic (1870–1940) produced the Freycinet Plan, which led to the building of what were termed “lines of local interest.” This designation was, in turn, a clear sign of the hierarchy and usage of political space.

To take another example, the US government has recently found the notion of “ungoverned spaces” useful as a way to classify the world. This notion was centrally linked to discussion in the 2000s about so-called failed states, notably Afghanistan—discussion that was linked to an alleged need to intervene in them. The Pentagon’s “National Defense Strategy,” issued in 2008, referred to “ungoverned, under-governed, misgoverned and contested areas.” Yet, in practice, definitions on this point are difficult. Failure as a state occurs in different ways, and with varied consequences. There are contrasts between domestic and international perception and different mechanisms at play that might help us in understanding something called “state failure.” There may be a failure at the level of national government, but effectiveness at the level of some, or all, regional governments within a particular state. Moreover, as an instance of the role of perception, a murder rate that in Denmark would be seen as a sign of societal collapse is not perceived the same way in Brazil or South Africa. Not all the supposedly weak states are centers for terrorism. Indeed, this issue underlines the problem of thinking geopolitically in terms of states, as the key spaces in terms of instability are often parts of states, for example, dissident regions and communities. Since the fall of the Taliban government in 2001, instability and opposition have been more pronounced in eastern and southern Afghanistan than in the north. This point demonstrates a concomitant need to think of geopolitics, at least in part, in terms of the spatial imprint and geographical shaping of ideologies, an imprint and shaping that may not reflect national boundaries. Geopolitics reflects the extent to which space is a reality, a process, and a perception,5 with a dynamic and contested character to each.

Geoffrey Sloan, a student of classical geopolitics, drew attention to different approaches in 2007 by considering geopolitics as a policy science and as an appendage of political propaganda. 6  This is not, however, a clear classification. In practice, such a use of geography for propaganda is long-standing. For example, Augustin Fitzhugh’s map of Newfoundland in about 1700 makes a political point, with the small area for “English fishing boats” appearing to be entirely shut in by the huge part of the sea controlled by their French counterparts. 7  The 1930s Nazi map that showed Germany to be threatened by Czechoslovakian air power was a piece of propaganda, as there was no such threat. However, not all maps are easy to define. A map depicting the utility of the Suez Canal for British shipping might be propaganda or mere description, depending on the use to which the map is put, how it is drawn, and the accuracy of the data on which it is based. 8  Moreover, the criteria for propaganda and description cannot always be readily distinguished.

In the longer timescale, alongside the objective criteria discussed above—criteria that play a key role in military, political, and economic strategy—geopolitics, like other forms of geographical analysis and expression, can, in part, be seen as a belief system. This is not least due to the symbolic weight attached to methods of depiction, whether symbols on maps or geopolitical phrases, such as “natural interests.” Furthermore, as a more general point, the perception of power, as of success, is centrally involved in issues of power. 9  Even place, its constraints and relationships, is a matter of perception, as much as an element that can be objectively measured and displayed in terms of coordinates. As geography is a means by which political entities, including their populations, make sense of their situation, specifically (but not only) their territorial setting and interests, so are these perceptions of key importance. As a related point, it is troubling to see the extent to which there is limited, or no, formal discussion of geopolitics in some of the synoptic literature produced by major experts in politics and international relations. 10

Perceptions of space are particularly significant for new states as they seek to define their interests. This point can be readily illustrated from history. For example, alongside “realist” issues of the inherent strength of the Brazilian state, perceptions of the space necessary for the state to operate, its real geographical identity, play a role. Alongside contingent political circumstances, this can be seen in the contrast between Brazil’s ability to retain cohesion after the Portuguese link was broken in the 1820s and the strongly fissiparous character of former Spanish America in the same period. The definition and perception of space took place in a highly competitive fashion. Thus, in the late nineteenth century, the definition of the interests of the newly unified states of Germany and Italy was complicated by assumptions that derived from readings of the past, not least those of vulnerability to hostile neighbors that had allegedly prevented earlier unification, notably France and Austria. There was, and is, a broad social dimension to this issue of perception and to consequent attitudes and actions. For example, in the newly independent United States geographical literacy played an important cognitive, symbolic, and pedagogic role. 11

Yet, to indicate the variety of directions in which geopolitics can be taken, the question of making sense of the spatial setting of states (whether or not this “sense” is discussed in terms of realism, perception, or both) is made more complex when the understanding of geopolitics is expanded. This is the case in particular when geopolitics is expanded from a simple notion of debating military strategy (now often termed geostrategy) to consider, in addition, domestic policy and its multiple locations as key aspects of geopolitics and strategy. Indeed, part of the value of “critical geopolitics,” a significant development in the subject over the last two decades, is that discussion of practical and popular geopolitical culture plays a prominent role in some of the literature.


It is the very drive of the political system that is at question when domestic policies, the processes of identity, and the pressures for obedience and order, are all considered; and these factors all have spatial dimensions. Moreover, to take the political aspect further, geopolitics and strategy can be understood in terms of a process of policy formulation, execution, and evaluation, to which military purposes are frequently both instrumental and secondary. In part, the definition and discussion in recent decades of a separate operational dimension to war and policy—a dimension very much understood in military terms and with reference to military organizations and goals—provide, in contrast, a key opportunity for emphasizing a political approach to strategy, one in which geopolitics plays a major role.

An emphasis on the significance of domestic political issues and drives offers a possibility of dispensing with analytical models of international state and military development that assume, at that level, some mechanistic search for efficiency and for a maximization of effectiveness. One traditional strand of geopolitical argument can be located in this context by seeing it as designed to help secure such effectiveness and efficiency, and such claims are at least implicit in much of the conventional discussion of geopolitics. Such ideas, however, can do violence to the inherently controversial nature of efficiency and effectiveness, and to the complex processes by which interest in new ideas and methods interact with powerful elements of continuity.

Thus, replicating, and overlapping with, the situation in which geography, geographical relationships, and maps can all be variously defined and presented, geopolitics has a range of meanings and can be understood in different terms. These meanings can be grouped in terms of the geography of politics and, as significant, the politics of geography. These meanings, moreover, relate as much to how each is discussed as to what is being considered. In part, this range reflects the porosity of geography as a subject, especially once the public discussion of geographical factors is also considered. Analysis of the range of meanings of geopolitics in terms of a typology of meanings would not be terribly helpful, as there is a sliding and elision between them. Furthermore, what to a practitioner may be an objective geopolitical analysis may be a subjective, rhetorical, politicized use of geopolitical ideas to commentators or other practitioners. Such a contrasting understanding of geopolitics is well-grounded.

However overlapping, conditional, and contested, definitions are still valuable. As a field upon which policymakers rest (or even unthinkingly base) their decisions, and in which they seek to implement them, geopolitics most frequently calls attention to the context in which national security decisions are made and issues of war and peace are decided and, more particularly, calls attention to the relationship between strategy and geography. Thus, classical geopolitics discusses the key importance of geography for statecraft. 12  In doing so, classical geopolitics defines the relevant relationships between, and among, the exercise of power, notably the changing geographical constraints and opportunities for success and failure. Classical geopolitics does so as those constraints and opportunities are perceived by actors engaged in conflict, as well as with reference to the capabilities of adversaries, such as population and critical resources, their perception of their interests, the available technology for war (and now also terrorism) and economic competition.

Geography is deployed by commentators in a number of respects. In particular, power in geopolitics is frequently positional, often focusing on a particular location or pivot (real or apparent) that may lend itself to weakness or strength, such as the possession of “choke points”—for example, the straits of Hormuz and of Malacca. Similarly, the idea of a drive for warm-water ports and for access to the oceans is an established theme in geopolitical literature, the former in the case of Russian history and the latter in that of modern Chinese politics.

Moreover, geographical factors are deployed in particular conceptual and methodological ways. For example, whereas both realism (as an approach in international relations) and geopolitics contain balance-of-power theories, their descriptions and use vary by subject. For realism, the relative physical strengths of nations and coalitions are measured in terms of physical-balance relationships. In contrast, for geopolitics, balance-of-power relationships come, in part, in terms of spatial positions or patterns.

At the same time, what these and other relationships meant to contemporaries—and what they also can be said to mean to subsequent commentators—varied greatly. These variations need to be borne in mind. This point provides a vital role for the historian, reflecting, as it does, the tension between a desire on the part of many social scientists to look for universal entities that can then be analyzed and, on the other hand, historical reservations about such an approach. 13  These reservations tend to focus on the nature of changing meanings and of altering implementation, not least as a consequence of the specific discursive contexts within which entities and concepts exist and are to be understood. In the latter approach, geopolitics is historicized.

A historical placing of geopolitics as a subject throws a valuable critical light on some of the geopolitical analysis that has been produced across time. At present, geopolitics viewed as an academic sub-discipline reveals the problems created by the recent turn toward “critical” social sciences as well as by the nature of much contemporary social theory. Indeed, geopolitics offers a valuable case study, precisely because it is a field where history ought to be deployed but rarely is, except in a crude way. Moreover, in some of the literature, determinism is often favored over freedom in explanations, changing values and understandings of terrain and other physical factors are too rarely considered, and the ambiguous and uncertain nexus of power, violence, and strategy is (or ought to be) revealed, but is often obscured in a rush to judgment on political terms.

Nevertheless, it is important not to criticize geographers in general when critiquing “critical geopolitics.” Indeed, skepticism about the latter has been expressed by geographers. 14  Some regard writings on “critical geopolitics” as trying to reinterpret recent history from a contemporary left-wing viewpoint. More generally, the term critical is misused by academics, and not only in the veiled polemical sense. No academic would want an audience to read an uncritical text, and the term is redundant if applied in its literal meaning.

However expressed, an a historical approach is unhelpful because, across time, there is a general tendency to adopt a politically partisan approach to the present rather than to attempt to engage with the complexities of a long-term historical dimension. There is the related but different risk in the replacement of common sense by a particular jargon or discourse, as well as of self-referential and self-reverential patterns of verification and endorsement within their own fields. Such a replacement can be seen to undermine common action based on fear, interest, and glory, the triad of motives taken from the history of the Peloponnesian War (ca. 460–400 BCE), written by Thucydides, a major founder of the subject of history. This triad can be noted across history, and these motives condition attitudes toward spatial factors.

In practice, whatever the weight to be given to perception, objective reality cannot be wished away. Political and cultural contexts are both crucial (as this book seeks to demonstrate), as are subjective assessments, but alongside these assessments objective factors counted and count: for example, the nearby presence of coal really mattered for industrialization, as did the availability of rail links to move that coal. Industrialization had a clear spatial component linked to resources, and this was true not only of the classic British Industrial Revolution, but also of the earlier location of water-powered industry, a topic that interested Ellen Churchill Semple, a key figure in the development of American geographical thought in the early twentieth century. Resources have repeatedly affected military capacity. For example, on December 18, 1861, in the early stages of the American Civil War, Richmond’s Daily Dispatch lamented the lack of involvement on the part of the Confederate government in the development of full industrial production: “[L]ook after these interests, for the question of independence [for the South] may soon become no other than the question of an abundant supply of iron and coal.” Moreover, across the world, the later shift to oil and gas has had key consequences for power politics. These points affect, and thus underline, the capacity for action on the world stage—although they do not necessarily determine the decision to act or not.

Geopolitics can historically be seen as a way to help clarify assumptions—for example, the imperialist creed of many policymakers in the late nineteenth century—while assumptions also help clarify geopolitics. This process offers an argument for employing geopolitics today to discuss international relations. Yet, in doing so, it is necessary to employ the appropriate caution if such decoding is to be successful in throwing light on the spatial aspects of power.


Moving from a geographical perspective, it is instructive to consider the very writing of history from a geopolitical angle. The geopolitics of historical study includes the extent to which there is writing for national audiences and, indeed, in particular languages. This approach, with its stress on the contingent spatial character of historical approaches, is inherently problematic, if not political, when addressing the histories or present situations of once-contested or contested lands, such as those of Silesia, Lithuania, Israel, and Sri Lanka. National identity was, and is, asserted and contested through historical works, as are territorial claims. 15  While drawing attention to the role of perception in geographical terms, and of politics in geopolitical discussion, it is appropriate to note that there are similar issues for historical works. History, historical consciousness, historical relationships and the periodization of events can be variously defined and presented, also ensuring a range of meanings.

The historicism of geopolitics can turn in two different directions. It is conventional to focus on the period since 1899, in which geopolitics was discussed as a distinct subject. This is the approach taken here in  chapters 6  to  9 . However, geopolitics can also be considered both as an issue throughout the history of organized human society and moreover as a means of analysis that is highly pertinent across time, irrespective of the lack of a formal language for the subject. These are themes pursued in  chapters 2  to  5 . To do so moving boldly across time poses risks, but does not necessarily entail a failure to note the specificities of particular contexts. These specificities cover both very different relationships between power and space and the need to vary the means of analysis in order to take note of the cultural dimensions of these relationships.


For example, although not employing the term, a good illustration of geopolitical thought is provided by one of the great successes of eighteenth-century political theory, L’Esprit des Lois (The Spirit of the Laws) by Charles-Louis Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu (1689–1755). Published in 1748 and reprinted 22 times in its first 18 months, this book, which was to have a considerable impact on contemporaries, was a comprehensive account of government systems. Montesquieu had a strong sense of the constant changes brought about by time in the fortunes of states. He also believed that human society, far from being constant, was affected by environmental circumstances such as climate, as well as by social forces: for example, education and religion. Montesquieu therefore proposed an interaction of geography and peoples. 16

The sense that a tropical climate affected, if not determined, society with heat-inducing torpor and lasciviousness was a key aspect of Western triumphalism, as well as of differentiation within the West, notably with the Protestant rejection of Mediterranean culture and society from the sixteenth century. In the case of general Western attitudes, this analysis of the impact of climate was closely linked to the slave trade. Montesquieu, Georges-Louis, Count of Buffon (1707–1788), the author of Histoire Naturelle (1748–1804), and others explained skin color as a function of exposure to the tropical sun, but the ability of Africans to cope better than Europeans with disease in the tropics was believed to exemplify an inherent difference between the races, a difference that was alleged to be the result of a closeness to the animals of Africa. Thus, crude geographical determinism was related to a form of anthropology, and both served to justify slavery. 17

Without going to this extent, there were also firm and persistent beliefs that particular environments, such as mountainous regions, had clear consequences in terms of their social organization and political control. 18  Halford Mackinder, the leading British political geographer (he did not call himself a geopolitician) of the early twentieth century, was to contrast the “rooted provincialism” of island or peninsular provinces with the attitudes allegedly found on the vast plains. 19  The notion of provincialism is inherently bound up with the cultural and political consequences of spatial relationships. Modern counterparts include discussion of Afghanistan and the mountainous northwest of Pakistan in terms of the physical context of their societies and the recurrent problems these pose for attempts to control them. Indeed, political geography has played a key role in defining the parameters and contours of society, as with borderlands (on which there is extensive literature in geography) and their very different characters. 20

Moreover, as a variant on “provincialism” or, rather, as an instance of geographical specificity, the external policies of states have often been traced to geographical concerns and interests, and these have been emphasized alongside, or instead of, ideological factors. This approach is not only the case for small states. For example, much Cold War geopolitics rested on the attempt to make sense of Soviet policy. Arguing a pronounced continuity with pre-Soviet Russian expansionism, and thus emphasizing political geography at the expense of ideology, was a frequent theme, and one that has been continued in subsequent scholarship. 21  Similarly, while allowing for frequent “tectonic, apparently nonlinear, shifts in the geopolitical context,” a distinctive geopolitical pattern to American national security has been discerned, with a focus since the 1940s on an anti-hegemonic policy toward Eurasia. 22

The value of geopolitical concepts can also be seen in the discussion of Chinese policy. This is markedly the case with the relationship between East China, which can be presented as part of the “rimland” (a term used by Nicholas Spykman in the early 1940s 23 ) and Chinese Central Asia which, in contrast, can be discussed as part of Mackinder’s “heartland.” Thus, Hsiao-Ting Lin argued that China’s reassertion of its sovereignty over part of Central Asia in 1937–1945 was in part a response to Japan’s success in overrunning much of China’s coastal rimland, a challenge that also led to the reshaping of relations between the Nationalist (Kuomintang) central government and regional power-brokers in West and Southwest China. In turn, this process was seen by Lin as altering the geopolitical context by transforming modern China from a maritime economy rooted in East Asian trade, to a continental one based on overland trade routes through Asia. 24  Thus, Japan’s ability to take much further the maritime-based territorial pressure applied by Western powers from the 1830s changed Chinese geopolitics, with political and cultural consequences that subsequently were to be seen, from 1949, under Communist rule. At the same time, ideology played a key role alongside geography. The ideological drive of Chinese Communism was against a commercial engagement with free-market maritime economies, while alliance with the Soviet Union in the 1950s further enhanced a continental approach.

Thanks in large part to political factors, however, the “Heartland” as well as China was changed. Opposition to the Soviet Union from the 1960s and, in addition (after the death of Mao Zedong in 1976) economic liberalization from the 1980s each greatly reduced the continental draw on Chinese policy and, instead, led to closer political and economic relations with the United States. In the 1990s, however, as a cross-current or additional factor, the Chinese geopolitical drive into Central Asia was renewed, as Russia ceased to dominate the region. 25  Partly as a result, the ideas of Mackinder and Spykman have been reconsidered in the context of present-day Central Asian affairs. 26  Alongside such parallels, however, the geopolitical characterization of analysis for one period is likely to be challenged, if not negated, by a characterization adopted in the period following. Politics has played a key role in this changing characterization and in the resulting analyses. China, for example, shifted from a continental strategy to an autarchic one, and then to a global one. These strategies also had important regional implications within China.

Some of the geopolitical literature (for example, the Lin article) while arresting and instructive, suffers from a disinclination to hedge the use of geopolitical arguments with caution. In practice, aside from the repeated difficulties of demonstrating the influence of geopolitical perceptions on policymakers, there is the problem that more than one conclusion can be drawn from particular examples. Thus, for example, a “rimland” approach to modern China can be seen alongside “heartland” interests within the interior of Eurasia. Such a rimland approach would focus on transoceanic trade and resource links, as well as on: the greater Chinese world in the Southeast Asian diaspora; on maritime and naval ambitions; and on strategic concerns with Taiwan, Japan, and the United States. There is nothing implausible in arguing that both drives can, and do, coexist.


Accepting these cautions, it is appropriate to employ the term geopolitics to discuss such aspects of political geography, despite this frequently being a case of using a term when discussing a period in which this term was not employed. Such usage can be controversial, as is also seen in the application of concepts such as strategy, or descriptions such as class and the Enlightenment. Distinguished historians, notably Hew Strachan and Nicholas Rodger, have expressed reservations about the use of strategy to analyze warfare in periods prior to the nineteenth century, as they are worried about “backfitting” a modern conception of strategy upon eras that did not use the term. However, even if the word, or a synonym, is absent, the function of strategy—the relationship between ends, ways, and means in power politics—was present. 27

So also with geopolitics: a practice exists before a concept, and a concept exists before a term. Western statesmen read and reflected on Thucydides in order to hone a geopolitical sensibility, even if the term itself was not in use. 28  Moreover, geopolitics can be combined with strategy. Thus, Sylvia Hilton has lately written, with regard to the late eighteenth century, “geopolitical factors weighed heavily in Spain’s imperial defense strategies.” 29

Terms used at the time could have a geographical component. To give an instance of one such term, much employed at the time, it is reasonable to ask what Christendom meant as a geographical space. There was certainly a dynamic character to the understanding of the term. This dynamism initially owed much to Christian proselytizing, which was very much a process with a spatial component, and to resisting the attacks of non-Christian powers. Subsequently, it is pertinent to consider how Protestants and Catholics understood Christendom after the sixteenth-century Reformation, during the Wars of Religion and thereafter. It is also instructive to note how the understanding of Christendom altered with transoceanic Western expansion from the fifteenth century. This expansion led to the extension of control over non-Christian peoples, to new possibilities for proselytizing, and to transoceanic settlement by Christians. The value of a spatial dimension, in the shape of English confessional geography, understood by the study of travel books, was indicated in Tony Claydon’s study of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. 30  Such studies help to establish the range and limits of religious concern, and this religious dimension was a key aspect of geopolitics, both before the term appeared and thereafter. Moreover, the argument that the modern international rules-based system derives from the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 encourages a search for long-term roots and patterns that are at least partly linked to the limited de facto religious tolerance linked to, and stemming from, the Peace.


It is also pertinent to consider why geopolitics developed as a self-conscious subject at the close of the nineteenth century, a topic considered in  chapter 6 . This is a subject that has been valuably discussed by historical geographers, notably Felix Driver and Mike Heffernan. 31  There were clearly particular geopolitical circumstances that encouraged speculation in terms of an explicit geopolitical language. These circumstances can be clarified by modern scholarship.

In turn, on the broader scale, historical scholarship on the late nineteenth century, before the term geopolitics was devised, would certainly benefit from an understanding of the work of historical geographers. For example, without mentioning the geopoliticians of the 1890s on, a recent account of “the geopolitics of war in the mid-nineteenth century” repeated Mackinder’s central theme of a binary difference between land-based and sea-based powers. Michael Geyer and Charles Bright argued that “a new breed of imperialist wars” drew on advances in technology in communications and transportation, especially telegraphy and steam-powered shipping, and the resulting enhanced capabilities. They inscribed this general shift in terms of the pattern of power politics, with Britain allegedly having invented “a politics of global power which no longer depended exclusively on the occupation of territory and the surpluses that could be squeezed from the land but aimed at controlling global lines of communication and exchange and living off the surpluses of this circulation.”

As with many broad-brush approaches to imperial geopolitics, this account can be queried, especially with reference to the earlier and highly successful Portuguese and Dutch empires in the Indian Ocean. Nevertheless, Geyer and Bright captured the extent to which power in the late nineteenth century gained what they termed a new liquidity, so that “what mattered was no longer the force at hand but the force that could be generated and put into place.” Geyer and Bright suggested that “the imperial premium on the control of space was replaced by a premium on the control of time.” This is a reminder that geopolitical considerations should not solely be understood simply in terms of varied accounts of the distribution of resources, opportunities, and threats across space and, moreover, that all three can change chronologically, not least with technological developments. These considerations were seen by Geyer and Bright as pertinent for both land and sea powers, but with important differences: “Properly understood, the ability to sustain a global presence was the maritime equivalent of the newly acquired capabilities of military mobilization on land by the new national states[;] . . . the new nationalizing land mobilizations moved along the inner lines of geopolitics, outward (and thus faced problems of dispersal), while the globalizing maritime mobilizations moved along the perimeters, inward (and thus faced problems of concentration).”

Germany was presented as able to command the interior lines of global geopolitics but unable to transcend the landed nature of its power. In contrast, in the twentieth century the United States could “fuse the capacities of the national state for mobilization with the logistical capabilities of maritime power,” combining land-based and seaborne power to become a “global superpower.” 32


Geopolitics can be described as both the policy and the study of using geography and any factors attendant upon it, to understand, or influence, or, outright govern inter-state relations, and international relations more generally. Long before the term geopolitics was invented at the close of the nineteenth century, those conducting national and imperial relations had employed geopolitical thinking and functioning in their statecraft. Moreover, as modern theoretical approaches need to be historically based in order to be accurate, so it is mistaken to restrict those approaches to the periods when a given term is actually used.

This argument guides what follows. It begins with three chapters on the understanding and role of geopolitics prior to the use of the term. These are lengthy because the contention here is that this period—most of human history—should play a key role in the discussion.  Chapters 2  and  3  focus on frontiers, a significant concept and practice in geopolitics, and also on maps, crucial tools in the understanding and presentation of geographical information, the analysis of geopolitical issues, and the propagation of geopolitical arguments.  Chapter 4  uses the case study of British power to assess the role and understanding of geographical factors in strategy, with particular reference to the Seven Years’ War (1756–1763) known in British North America as the French and Indian War. The Seven Years’ War was the key struggle in which Britain became the major world power, and what was to be called the Anglosphere came to dominate the Western world. The chapter closes with a brief discussion of methodological points. Against this background,  chapter 5  considers the geography of nineteenth-century imperialism.

In  chapter 6 , we consider the classic age of geopolitical thought and, in particular, the work of Ratzel, Kjellén, and Mackinder. Their arguments are related to the power politics and geographical thought of the period 1890–1932.  Chapter 7  adds Nazi geopolitics and World War II.  Chapter 8  takes us forward to assess the Cold War from 1945 to 1990;  chapter 9  considers developments since 1990, including the work of Fukayama and Huntington, and the “War on Terror”;  chapter 10  looks from present to future, a process frequently seen in geopolitical works, and  chapter 11  offers some conclusions. It will be shown that geopolitical arguments, both particular ones and general ones, in large part respond to the particular requirements of specific conjuncture. For example, after the Cold War, geopolitics played a role when considering how to define, discuss, and plan for security in a globalizing world, as in 2012 when President Obama sought to redirect America’s overall strategic commitment to the Pacific and Asia.

Readers will not agree with everything that follows, but I hope that, in disagreeing, they will define why they think I am wrong. That is one of the great benefits of contributing to debate. At present, there is valuable, but insufficient, debate between historians and geographers. In part, this is because historians, chary of what they see as geographical determinism and often ill-informed on the geographical literature, tend to ignore the first-rate literature by historical geographers. In addition, on the part of historians, there is only limited awareness of “critical geopolitics.” In turn, geographers do not always appreciate the nature and complexities of historical evidence. I hope this book contributes to a debate that will be conceptually fruitful as well as of value in public discussion.


Geopolitics before the Term: Spatiality and Frontiers

ONE SET OF TRAMLINES IS THAT OF PAST UNDERSTANDINGS of the geographical context and spatial nature of power, while another is that of the application of modern understandings to the many past centuries under discussion. Although different, these approaches—historic and historical1—are not completely separate, because an aspect of the second rests on the ability to appreciate the cultural perceptions of the past. Indeed, there are profound differences between modern understandings of spatiality and past perceptions.


The most fundamental difference between past and present relates to the treatment of sacred space and the religious dimensions of power. The pertinence of this issue is enhanced by the degree to which, today, religious considerations cannot be accurately treated as an anachronistic legacy of past superstition dispersed in a Whiggish fashion by the rise of knowledge. That approach seriously underplays the continuing role of religious senses of space, and perceptions of religious space, in international and domestic politics.

As a related point, an approach that underplays religious considerations today also underrates the earlier extent to which the shaping of space and the understanding of power both owed much to the strong belief in the existence of extraterrestrial forces operating consistently and effectively in the here and now. For example, the sense of a porous boundary between the world of deities and that of humans ensured a shaping of the latter that very much overlapped with ideas of the supra-natural and its potency.

This overlap was made more complex because particular sites on Earth were strongly resonant of the supra-natural, not least due to the presence of potent oracles, as at Delphi in Greece and Cumae in Italy. Shrines added further locations for an intercessionary interaction with deities. In some cultures, such as the Pacific Island of New Caledonia, there were also subterranean countries of the dead, and therefore entrances to the underworld, which were spatially specific, as well as understood as spiritual and/or psychological. Pantheistic beliefs added a further, and more widespread, dimension to the overlap between the human and the supra-natural. This overlap ensured a particular geopolitics in terms of the value of specific sites and the hierarchy of importance involved. The human response, both to the natural and the human landscape, captured this overlap. In Mesopotamia, where city states developed from about 3500 BCE, the sacred enclosure of raised mud-brick temples was an important feature in each city, not only because the priests provided sacral power, but also because the temple administered much of the city’s land while the priests could record production and store products.

The move in the first millennium CE (AD), and, more specifically, in the fourth to the eighth centuries (across part, but certainly not all, of the world) to monotheism and to a more powerful but also distant God, one not located at a particular site, did not end these potent overlaps. Medieval Christian thinkers, like many other religious commentators, saw inherent connections between the world and their salvation—indeed saw God in their world, as well as their constant connection with, and dependence on, Him through the world.2 St. Augustine’s book, The City of God (412–427), with its presentation of good and evil as distinct and yet competing spheres, encompassing both the extraterrestrial worlds and human society, very much captured the geopolitics of spiritual power, and not only for Christians. Indeed, the book demonstrated the extent to which religious and philosophical texts could lay out basic ideas of space, frontiers, and spheres of influence (divine, human and territorial) on some intellectual level. The City of God reflected, and developed, a pattern for the understanding of human society as a lasting competition between larger forces, each of which was located in and across time and space, and gave this pattern meaning and authority in Christian terms. Both Christian mappae mundi (maps of the world) and Aztec maps, bridged human and sacred time and place, as well as running together episodes from very different periods.

At the individual level, the sense of direct Providential intervention, of a daily interaction of the human world and wider spheres of good and evil, of heaven and hell, of sacred places and saintly lives, is one that is today heavily constricted by secularism and science. However, for most of history, life and public morality were explicitly framed in terms of a continual struggle between good and evil, each of which was understood in religious terms. Moreover, good and evil were physically placed in terms of particular locations. They were treated as being able, indeed keen, to intervene in the human world. The consequences were both individual and collective.

Thus, the key spatial sense was of these relationships between good, evil, and humanity, and of such aspects as the routes for humans to salvation or damnation. This was a spatial sense that was collective as much as individual, and this can be seen in the iconography of Buddhist art as much as its Christian counterpart. These relationships were depicted visually, for example, in church wall paintings. Scenes of the Last Judgment, with the wicked condemned to a grisly fate in Hell, while the righteous ascended to Heaven, had a clear spatial component. So also with the alignments of sacred sites, notably churches and mosques, as well as with the role of feng zhui in the location and alignment of East Asian cities and buildings, including Kyoto, the home of the Japanese emperor from 784 to 1868. More commonly, the relationships between good and evil encouraged a metaphorical, spiritual, and physical segregation, one that matched the walling of settlements.

Relationships were also shown aurally, in religious services, and in the tales and conversation of oral culture; as well as being acted out. Such acting symbolized visually moral relationships that had a strong spatial component. So also for morality plays in other religions. The Coopers’ pageant in the 1415 York Corpus Christi play depicted: “Adam and Eve and a tree between them, a serpent deceiving them with apples, God speaking to them and cursing the serpent, and an angel with a sword casting them out of Paradise.”

The impact of printing, combined with the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century, ensured that, at least in some areas, the understanding of good and evil became more literary, and less oral or visual. That change, however, did not diminish the need for people to understand their world in terms of the struggle between the two, and the resulting spaces of, and for, good and evil. One such spatial alignment was that between night and dark. The latter was a world of uncertainty, danger, and menace, especially for the traveler literally unable to see his route:

The west yet glimmers with some streaks of day:

Now spurs the lated traveller apace,

To gain the timely inn. (Macbeth, III, iii)

More generally, the dark was a world outside human understanding and control. Macbeth’s evil, in William Shakespeare’s 1606 play of that name, is measured by his willingness to call on the dark to cover the murder of his rival, Banquo:

Come, seeling Night,

Scarf up the tender eye of pitiful Day. (III, ii)

Thus, there was a moral and physical difference, one expressed in terms of a spatial dimension that changed totally over a 24-hour cycle. Moreover, the natural contrasts of night and day and, over a longer but also regular pattern, of the seasons, provided a time–space matrix within which past, present, and future could be understood as a continuing process. The parameters were set by more fundamental sacral indicators of time and space. This was notably the case of foundation myths and indicators that were often of cataclysmic impact: for example, the Christian belief in the Apocalypse, which would mark the divinely decreed end of human time.

Ideas of the source, nature, and goal of being influenced, at several levels, relations between humans. As a consequence, religious accounts and animosities were highly important in international relations. This is a somewhat tame and permissive description of the imperatives of belief—imperatives, moreover, that had a major impact. Thus, the concept of geopolitics held by the Mongols in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries essentially came down to the argument that Heaven had decreed that Chinggis Khan (d. 1227) and his descendants were to rule the world. Sacred endorsement and support tended to be seen as requiring proselytism (conversion) at the point of the sword, as well as support for religious activity within the state.3

Religious commitments and concerns, however, did not exclude other drives, nor did they provide the sole way to understand and represent space. Jerusalem was at the center of medieval European “T” maps, with the depiction of the world in terms of Europe, Asia, and Africa, all contained within a circle, the O, with the horizontal bar of the T representing the rivers separating Asia from the other two continents. The T was a symbol of the Christian cross, and mappae mundi inscribed the Biblical story as a central theme in the depiction of the world. Medieval Indian cartography focused on astral bodies.4

That, however, did not mean that the Crusaders of the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth centuries had no understanding of the spatial geography of the Near and Middle East, nor that the Lodi Sultanate of Delhi in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries had no understanding of the geography of North India. Indeed, the location of Crusader castles suggest a very good appreciation both of the geopolitics of localities and of their broader relationships. However, alongside practical issues of control, especially over communication routes and nodes, such as mountain passes and bridges, there are also questions about the role of political symbolism in castle-building.5 The same is the case for non-Western fortifications, for example, in India and Japan. This symbolism encouraged the choice of prominent locations.


Castle location, like that of walls, was a sharp edge of geopolitics. The topic also serves as a demonstration that the geopolitical approach can, and should, be taken toward phenomena at a scale below that of the struggles of major states, the scale that has most frequently attracted attention. Indeed, geopolitics may well have been unduly limited as a subject because of this standard approach while, as a separate issue, this approach frequently lent itself to a form of commentary that a critic might regard as a higher form of journalism.

The example of the castle underlines the difficulties of readily applying modern concepts of space because, in this case, the idea and practice of the frontier have varied across time as well as varying geographically. As a result, the notion of the castle, as a form of frontier consolidation and defense, has to be seen in a changing context and, frequently, a contested one. These variations throw considerable light on the importance of geopolitics and on its changing application. The prominence of frontier consolidation, as with new settlements, and defense as a topic, also serves as a reminder of the difficulties of distinguishing geopolitics from geostrategy. Indeed, it is not clear that such a distinction is helpful.

Frontiers are a key site of concern in the study of geopolitics. However, like most of the vocabulary employed and applied by geopoliticians, that of frontiers is neither unique to them nor shaped by them. Indeed, frontiers, originally and primarily a legal concept (as a place locating sovereignty and authority) as well as a geographical idea, now provides a basic language for linguistic and social studies. This is because of the interest, in these studies, in concepts of control and contention. The linguistic interchangeability of frontiers and borders contributes to this situation. In a point that is of wider relevance for the study of geopolitics, linguistic, and social studies demonstrate a central point about frontiers: they are places of compliance as well as control, and of opportunities for eliciting cooperation and ensuring interaction, as well as for demonstrating hostility. They are places for asserting power and for achieving peaceful success, as well as for waging war. Indeed, for geopoliticians and others, there is an essential typology at stake, one, moreover, that covers both external conquest and internal rule. This typology encompasses two key understandings of the idea of force as an enabler of power, each of which is crucial to geopolitics: one of force as an assertor of control, the more usual emphasis; and the other of force as an expression and product of cooperation.

In practice, of course, there is a continuum of circumstance, and also an overlap of definition, between these understandings. This overlap, furthermore, adds a powerful element of complexity to geopolitical thought and the consequent use of geopolitical language. Indeed, the resulting ambiguity should encourage a probing of the complex reality and understanding of terms such as control, dominance, and expansion, let alone imperialism, and of the general preference in geopolitical consideration for binary divides and antagonistic relationships. It is the case that cooperation often rested on an asymmetrical relationship based on the stronger force of one power. However, force is not the sole active element. In particular, control required compliance. Alongside these elements, the typology advanced in the previous paragraph offers a model that can be widely applied.

The model is particularly valuable as it also addresses the internal (or domestic) dimension of control and contention. This is a dimension that is generally ignored in conventional accounts of geopolitics and frontiers because internal lack of control rarely had (or has) a jurisdictional expression. Similarly, although not to the same extent, such lack of control rarely excited the attention of geopoliticians unless it extended to a large-scale insurrection, or a civil war between regular, or mostly regular, forces—in the manner, in particular, of the English (1642–1646, 1648) and American (1861–1865) civil wars. The majority of civil wars did not, and do not usually take such a form. In practice, moreover, the denial of obedience short of large-scale insurrection was (and is) common. Nevertheless, this denial greatly lessened the authority and power of the state. Overlapping with the issues posed by peoples who remained essentially stateless,6 variations in authority and power within states led to internal frontiers7 that were important. Such frontiers often marked the division between sedentary agrarian societies that were largely under control, and regions, often forested and/or mountainous, where the agriculture was less intensive and the control far less.8

The significance of internal frontiers was particularly the case for large states, but not only for them. Indeed, a crucial aspect of empires was that they had to be able to adjust to the roles of such internal frontiers. This remains a problem for their successor states in the modern world—for example, for Russia in the northern Caucasus. Yet, as a reminder of the need for commentators to confront conceptual change, the modern context of internal frontiers is scarcely identical with that in the past.

Internal frontiers had varied consequences for geopolitics. Irrespective of whether they were characterized by rebellion, they were a challenge to the authority and, even more, to the power of states. These frontiers could be the site of large-scale military activity, as with the sustained and unsuccessful Mughal conflict with the rebellious Marathas in India in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Ironically, internal as well as external frontiers could also be the site of military strength, as the frontier relationship was frequently mediated, even defined, by the recruitment of auxiliaries for service with regular imperial forces, for example, by Imperial Rome, as well as by Britain in India from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries. This service was a key aspect of the rule of European and other imperial powers; although the recruitment of auxiliaries was not restricted to this method nor to these regions. To illustrate the complexity already referred to, auxiliary recruitment was an aspect of both strength and weakness. It was an expression of the need of the imperial power to negotiate for support and, yet, also a product of its ability to do so. Taking this further, the military service could be on terms, explicit or implicit. This conditionality was another aspect of internal and external frontiers, and was a further reminder of its complexity and, therefore, of the mistake of thinking (or presenting power) in terms of undifferentiated blocs. The latter characteristic is widespread in maps and in some of the writing on political geography and geopolitics.

The relationship between the Nazi German Empire and Vichy France in 1940–1942 provides an instance of such conditionality, most obviously in the case of limited German control over the French fleet and the French colonies in North Africa. Another example is that of the Soviet Union and Romania in the 1960s to 1980s; or the exclusion until 1918, of Ireland from conscription when it was introduced in Britain in 1916 during World War I. The habit of thinking in geopolitical blocs, notably, but not only, during the Cold War, rested on a serious underplaying of the extent of conditional support within these blocs.

Both conditionality and complexity can also be seen at the level of frontiers between apparently hostile powers. These elements serve as a reminder that interpretative geopolitical models that seek to simplify rivalry and conflict and make them unidimensional are flawed: for example, models of the European state system of the nineteenth century and of the supposed “clash of civilizations” discerned in the 1990s and 2000s.9 For an earlier period, much revisionism, indeed, has come from work on frontiers between civilizations and those deemed to be barbarian, notably the frontiers between both China and Rome and their neighbors. This work is pertinent for classical geopolitics with its standard emphasis on binary divides, as well as because of the interest by geopoliticians, from Halford Mackinder on, in the idea of a Eurasian “heartland” pressing outward on other societies in what would later be termed the “rimland.” In 1904, Mackinder wrote: “Through the steppe . . . there came from the unknown recesses of Asia, by the gateway between the Ural mountains and the Caspian Sea, in all the centuries from the fifth to the sixteenth, a remarkable succession of Turanian nomadic peoples. . . . The Huns . . . dealt blows . . . against the settled peoples of Europe. A large part of modern history might be written as a commentary upon the changes directly or indirectly ensuing from these raids.”10

The geopolitics of the medieval centuries was to be cited anew by Mackinder when reconsidering the genesis of his seminal 1904 paper on geopolitics. Revealing an interest in “deep history,” he went back in two successive leaps. The first was from the Boer War (1899–1902) and the war between Russia and Japan (1904–1905), to Vasco da Gama rounding the Cape of Good Hope in 1498 en route to India, and to the Cossacks crossing the Urals into Siberia in 1581, and then to the long succession of raids made by the nomadic tribes of Central Asia upon the settled populations of a crescent of subcontinents from Europe to China.11

The Eurasian steppe has, indeed, for over a century been a key area of geopolitical discussion, notably as the dynamic basis for Mackinder’s “pivot” and “heartland.” Prior to the formal development of geopolitics, the divide between “heartland” and “rimland” had been of long-standing interest to commentators. This was notably so with Edward Gibbon’s highly influential History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776–1788). Both Rome and China could be presented as key “rimland” powers that were under pressure from the “barbarians” of the “heartland.”


This pressure was not a case of unproblematic, anti-civilizational violence. Indeed, analysis of raids on China by steppe people (a subject where research bridges military and nonmilitary history, indicating the tenuous character of the distinction) has emphasized the latter’s quest for politically useful luxury goods, rather than for subsistence. This was a quest also seen with Native Americans negotiating with Europeans in North America in the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. More generally, the steppe people raided China to build alliances and to force the acceptance of commercial links. The relationship between the Russian princelings and the Tatars from the thirteenth to the late fifteenth century has also been presented in symbiotic terms.12

Rather than separating hostile blocs that were internally undifferentiated, frontiers were generally zones of interaction. Conflict was only one part of the interaction, and was itself linked to aspects of political and economic developments. Trade and other features of symbiotic behavior were also very important.13 Furthermore, nomadic attacks frequently arose because the commercial and other relationships had been disturbed, or the terms were no longer acceptable to one party. In short, these attacks were not the “natural” characteristic of the relationship, but a product of its failure. This argument represented a key qualification to ideas of geographical determinism or, even, explanations. Most of the nomadic rulers who controlled the northern borderlands wanted to extract resources from China rather than to conquer it. This extraction was most efficient if relations were peaceful, and intervention was usually a response to political fragmentation within China.

Instances of failure occurred in the Ming–Mongol conflict of the 1440s, and in the refusal of the Ming to trade with the Mongols in the mid-sixteenth century. This refusal has been traced to Ming xenophobia and to a determination to appear strong. Both of these elements play a key role in international relations and need to be incorporated in the geopolitical analysis. Partly as a result of poor relations with the Mongols, Ming China abandoned the voyages to the Indian Ocean from 1433, and focused on conflict to the north and not with other potential targets, for example, Japan or the states on the southern borderlands.14 This geopolitical “tasking” was highly significant to not only military goals but also to the pattern of Chinese military development and, more importantly, to China’s interaction with the outside world. As a consequence of this tasking, the Portuguese faced a relatively benign situation when they entered the Indian Ocean from 1498, as they did not need to confront Chinese naval power, although they were to face serious challenges from Mameluke and Ottoman naval forces. Nor did the Chinese intervene when Portugal went on to attack places with which they traded, notably Malacca in 1511. In terms of Mackinder’s analysis of the relationship between the oceans and the “heartland,” this change in Chinese policy was highly important, as it situated China as a continental power, rather than an oceanic one.

From one perspective, geopolitics relates to the extent and range of polities with which a state interacts, and these change. Thus, earlier in China, the Northern Song Empire (960–1126) dealt with the Tanguts in the northwest and the Kitan in the northeast. These ensured a much more extended sense of politics than some previous dynasties but, in turn, one that was much less extended geographically than that of the conquering Mongols.15

When the steppe people or China resorted to war, a relationship between means and ends affected the nature of the frontier and the character of the resulting geopolitics. Thus, China’s building of defensive walls altered the expression of the frontier.16 To turn, conversely, to the most prominent attacker, the Mongols in the thirteenth century, they tended to invade and devastate a large region before withdrawing. This policy created a buffer zone that made it impossible to attack them and that also weakened the enemy’s resources. This allowed the Mongols to fight on multiple fronts without overextending themselves.

Military imperatives greatly influenced the way China sought to understand her borderlands. The resultant mapping was ad hoc and episodic. For example, the plan for an ambush or a fort might be drawn with a stick in the dirt. The degree of spatial depiction at the strategic level is less clear, but it may well have been significant. Armies in China, as elsewhere, carried out complex operations that would have required a foreknowledge of terrain.


Similar points to those raised in a discussion of China can be made about Imperial Rome. This was an empire that has attracted geopolitical discussion that is more widely relevant. The nature and impact of frontier structures and ideas have been topics for discussion. Not all parts of the empire had walls such as Hadrian’s in Britain or the wall between the Rhine and the Danube, the roles of which are anyway debated, with uncertainty about the extent to which military purposes should be stressed, rather than the delimitation of a frontier. More generally, it has been argued that the Roman frontiers should be understood as permeable and characterized by shifting frontier zones that were significant for interaction.17 In addition, although the expansion of Roman power is invariably shown in historical atlases in terms of a series of provincial “annexations,” this approach is misleading since it has little connection with contemporary perceptions of the imperium populi Romani. The notion of a political boundary for the Roman Empire has itself been questioned.18 It is also unclear to what degree the provinciae were thought of as territorial entities or with clearly defined boundaries.19 Moreover, Byzantine frontiers (those of the Eastern Roman Empire) have been presented as best understood as the shifting consequence of a number of dynamic elements that include the regular movements of people and animals arising from the role of tribal transhumance.20

There is uncertainty about the nature and scale of the Roman usage of maps, not that maps defined, or define, spatial awareness. The value of show was captured by the large-scale plan of the city of Rome, the Forma Urbis Romae, which was incised on a wall for public view. Julius Caesar and other leaders used the display of maps in Rome to demonstrate their furtherance of Rome’s destiny for imperial expansion. The Peutinger map, a twelfth-century copy of a map originally from between 335 and 366, indicates that the Romans felt the need for cartographic sources, rather than merely written lists, with the map also placing accurately the main junction settlements on the roads. Yet, in practice, this map would have served travelers, administrators, and generals poorly. Instead, it should be considered as an idealistic, not to say propagandistic, item for display. Flavius Vegetius, the author of the fourth-century CE Epitoma Rei Militaris, a summary of the art of war that was much reproduced over the following millennium, stated that a general must have tables drawn up establishing the distance and quality of routes, including accommodation and the need to cross rivers and mountains. Vegetius represented the attempt to bring order to war, an attempt that was moral in intention as well as functional.21

Points about the understanding of frontiers need to be borne in mind when assessing geopolitics and strategy, especially as there is a risk of ahistorically ascribing a modern understanding of these concepts. Geopolitics and strategy are centrally linked to frontiers, as they classically provided definitions of threat and opportunity as well as sites for concern or advance. Debate over the alleged character of the “grand strategy” of the Roman Empire is in part a discussion of geopolitics. This is, however, a debate that is problematized by two historical issues, each of which is relevant across the range of historical examples and into the present: first the limited nature of the sources, especially (but not only) as far as intentions are concerned; and, secondly, the difficulty of determining to what extent modern analytical approaches are appropriate.

The latter has been a vexed issue in the discussion arising from Edward Luttwak’s influential, but also controversial, The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire from the First Century A.D. to the Third (1976), a work that was followed by another by Luttwak on the Byzantine Empire.22 Luttwak influenced John LeDonne’s Grand Strategy of the Russian Empire, 1650–1831 (2004), an important work that, in trying to shape and analyze Russian strategy, made much use of the idea of a geopolitical background and the concept of the “heartland.”23 In an interesting guide to how geopolitical arguments can be regarded in a contrasting fashion by different specialists, military historians have found Luttwak more helpful24 than have other historians of the Roman world. The latter have assumed that a systematic plan should be in evidence and, in its absence, that there was no grand strategy.

In contrast, drawing on Luttwak, there have been attempts to classify Roman policy and link apparent changes in policy to broader geopolitical issues. In particular, a shift has been discerned toward a strong frontier defense based on permanent border garrisons, which became the norm from the late first century. This defense had become more important when the Emperor Hadrian (r. 117–138) abandoned the Mesopotamian conquests of his ambitious predecessor, Trajan (r. 98–117), whose war with Parthia to the east in 114–117 had exposed Rome’s overreach: there was to be no repetition for the Romans of the success of Alexander the Great of Macedon (r. 336–323 BCE) in expanding the Mediterranean world into southern Asia. That Alexander was able to do so, advancing to the Indus valley in 326 BCE, whereas the Romans were not, raises questions about the extent to which military opportunities were determined by the physical environment. Instead, the strength of opposition and the range of other requirements emerge as significant.

Alongside the requirement for a movement of Roman forces from other frontiers to fight specific eastern wars, between the mid-70s and the mid-second century there was a permanent shift in the distribution of legions, particularly from the Rhine to the Danube and the East. Manpower, a term and analysis that Mackinder employed and developed,25 was therefore a key element in geopolitics (a term he did not favor) and, more specifically, in responding both to the opportunities of the physical environment and the threats from multiple challenges. The limits on Roman manpower exposed Rome’s weakness if faced by war on two fronts, which events, indeed, were to force on the empire in the third century. The problem offers an instructive prefiguring of current US problems about relating force structure and strategy to the number of geopolitical commitments. Luttwak was to go on to write and advise on US geostrategy.

In turn, this prefiguring of current US problems can be inscribed onto recent and current debates about priorities, as with the argument that Rome fell due to “barbarian” attack, and not war with empires, such as Parthia, to the east; and, therefore, that the United States should focus on the “War on Terror” and not on symmetrical great-power conflict with China and Russia. Such a rereading of history into present and future can be instructive, opening up ideas, but only if it is not prescriptive. At any rate, the rereading of the past in light of the present has proved, and will continue to prove, significant for geopolitical analysis and is very attractive to publishers and to commentators who find ahistoricism a positive release. Moreover, there is a significant tradition in US political and academic discussion, as earlier in that of Britain when it was a great power, of looking to Roman examples.

In about 235, the frontier system of Imperial Rome was abandoned in favor of a defense in depth, relying on mobile field armies as the key element providing a strategic reserve in a system that included fixed fortifications. Cavalry played a greater role in these armies than hitherto in Roman warfare. A scholarly focus on patterns of troop movement indicates that imperial decision-making about grand strategic issues did occur. As so often, prioritization among objectives and the resulting allocation of resources were key factors.26 This allocation was inherently spatial, as both challenges and opportunities were seen in terms of particular frontiers. The same was true of other empires, such as Philip II’s Spain,27 Imperial Russia28 and Britain, and led to questions about overstretch.29

Geopolitics and strategy have to be understood in their political as well as military context, insofar as the two were separable. The ostensible purpose of the Roman field armies was to move out to meet invaders, a purpose that was frequently necessary. However, their primary function often became the protection of the emperor from internal rivals. This emphasis ensured that, in order to mass the necessary forces, provinces could be left vulnerable to invasion from non-Roman attackers. This was a situation that sapped both resources and political support for Roman rule, and that indeed can be seen as a form of negative geopolitics, a concept that would repay development. Moreover, the political role of the army was such that many of the emperors in the third century, for example, Diocletian (r. 284–305), were Illyrian soldiers from the western Balkans, a region that was a major recruiting ground for the army. Thus, the geopolitics and strategy of the Roman Empire became in large part a matter of the geopolitics of power within the empire. This is a point more generally true of states, and one also relevant to the question of strategic overreach.


Rulers’ perceptions of the world around, both similar and different, were important to their practice of power,30 and the relationship between the understanding of frontiers, geopolitics, and warfare clearly varied. This variation draws attention to controversies over the causes of war, not least the respective role of, and relationship between, structure and agency, as well as between the determination to fight and the specific factors that can cause war. For example, the nature of geopolitics and boundaries in early-modern African states, those in the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries (a contentious subject) helps explain a key context of the conflict there. In the approach of John Thornton, African law did not recognize landed private property, and states did not assess land taxes. State jurisdiction became critically important in defining who was taxable and who not, and the key goal of control was over labor rather than land. This goal involved concepts of frontiers and boundaries and purposes of conflict that are different to the conventional European ones. Nevertheless, in early-modern Africa, jurisdiction was ultimately territorially bounded, so that subjects of states could, and often did, cross borders to escape taxation, although usually this only put them within the taxable boundaries of another similar state.

This situation was an aspect of the equation of force and labor control that was so important to the slave trade within and from Africa. This was a trade that very much reflected a type of geopolitics, namely the spatial dynamics of control over labor. In Africa, the emphasis on labor control was related to another aspect of the use of force: that by larger political units, ones which typically agglomerated mini-states, either by charging them tribute or by interfering in their institutional, judicial or leadership functions. As a reminder of the value of a broad working definition of frontiers, the point at which such a state lost sovereignty and became a part of a larger unit is problematic: it is unclear whether it was when one state recognized the supremacy of another with nominal presents, or when significant tribute was assessed, or when judicial functions or leadership positions were taken over and appointed from outside or when boundaries were completely redrawn.31

Moreover, the notion of a transforming interference by a more potent force is one that can, in part, be understood in terms of the concept of informal empire. Again underlying the potential value of historical scholarship for geopolitical work, this concept is one that was insufficiently deployed in the early twentieth century age of classical geopolitics. Its absence or weakness then affected the character and validity of geopolitical analysis, and often seriously so. In contrast to the concept of “informal empire,” with the ambiguities and “shared space” it offers,32 the idea of US imperialism has been employed more frequently since, notably (yet not only) in critiques of US power. However, this description has not always been employed with sufficient care, nor with adequate knowledge of the extensive literature about informal empire.

The concept of informal empire is an important qualification to ideas of boundaries and frontiers as clear-cut. The latter have generally been seen as an aspect of the Western spatial imagination and territorial order. It is, indeed, all too easy to see Western international history as in some way different to that of the rest of the world, often with some Whiggish reference to the Westphalian system of clear territorial sovereignty that supposedly began in the mid-seventeenth century. Yet, leaving aside the question of the value of this system, both as an analytical construct and as a set of norms, the Western mind-set was centered for long on an approach to territory in legal/feudal terms, rather than on more modern, spatial terms; or, rather, space. As a consequence, frontiers and the goals of conflict, were considered in these legal/feudal terms.33 This situation pertained both before and after the Peace of Westphalia of 1648, the settlement at the end of the Thirty Years’ War that is usually presented as transformative in international relations or, at least, Western-based relations.


This emphasis on legal and feudal claims and issues was linked to a situation in which there were areas of transition from one authority to another, often via several stages, as with the medieval Welsh March, which was militarily important to the English Crown and the politics of England. The March was the result of late eleventh-century Norman invasion and conquest, but it remained part of Wales, and not a kind of no-man’s land between Wales and England.

As territories and their relationships were the building blocks of spatial consideration and geopolitics, so the difficulty of assessing them is worthy of note, as it underlines the point already made about the need to handle terms with care. For example, Marcher lordship has been seen as essentially Welsh political authority exercised by Anglo-Norman lords by right of conquest—in short, Welsh royal rights in baronial hands. Marcher lordship, however, has also been presented as compact feudal lordships, with much in common with lordships in northern France (whose lords made war and peace, and exercised “high justice”), and with the “castleries” of early Norman England, and with conflict organized accordingly.

A chronological dimension in judging spatial identities and related values is of great value. Marcher lordships would come to look increasingly odd as the March stayed outside the orbit of the developing common law and centralized government in England; but that was not yet the case in the eleventh century. However, although the March had its own law and Marcher lordships were part of Wales rather than England, they came to be regarded as held of the English Crown, which exercised rights of wardship, marriage, and escheat over feudal vassals. Indeed, in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries many lordships spent lengthy periods in the king’s hands, or were pushed toward his supporters through marriage to heiresses.34

The widespread medieval practice within the West of overlapping jurisdiction and divided sovereignty challenge an approach to their territorial considerations in modern terms. As a result, the territorial divisions of the period are difficult to represent clearly on modern maps. This point is worth bearing in mind when trying, without qualification, to employ modern methods of exposition in order to explain, let alone analyze, geopolitics in the past or, indeed, to read from the past to the present. As Jonathan Riley-Smith, a prominent expert on the Crusades, pointed out:

[I]t is well known that even when the course of a frontier can be accurately plotted—and that is rare for the Middle Ages—it meant less than it does now, being more often than not simply the boundary between the lands of the villages which owed returns to lords who were the subjects of different powers. In some regions, indeed, frontiers were characterized by broad belts of condominia, in which lords of different nationalities, and in Palestine and Syria of different religions, shared the ownership of great swathes of villages. Customs posts were sometimes to be found[,] . . . but they were often not on the border itself.35

The same was true of many other cultures.36 Even in the Italian states of the early Renaissance, then the epicenter of Western, that is, European, intellectual development and scientific and geographical discourse, mapping was not a common conceptual tool. This point was important to the understanding of what frontiers meant. At the same time that mapping was developing in the West, even before the impact of the Age of Western (i.e., Christian European) Exploration,37 subjects such as the division of ownership of open-field farmland or directions for a journey “continued to be expressed through verbal details of boundaries and topological lists of travel days.”38

Nevertheless, despite the limitations of cartography, medieval and Renaissance states had a concept of the spatial dimension of power, a key element in geopolitics. For example, the rulers of the House of Aragon, which dominated eastern Spain and eventually the western Mediterranean, displayed such a concept both in in-house type statements among the royal family and officials and, in public, political statements meant to persuade. Among the in-house statements, a remark of Pere III (r. 1336–1387) to his heir in 1380 is typical: “If Sardinia is lost, Majorca, without its food supply from Sicily and Sardinia, will be depopulated and will be lost, and Barcelona will also be depopulated, for Barcelona could not live without Sicily and Sardinia, nor could its merchants trade if the isles were lost.”

Pere was trying to convince his heir to keep up the dynasty’s long and intractable effort to conquer Sardinia, as well as to persuade him to seek a bride among their own cousins in Sicily. Part of this geographical awareness certainly came from the dynasty’s long Mediterranean involvement in the islands and its strong ties to merchants and sailors. The famous cartographic school in Majorca, which came under royal patronage after Pere conquered the island from the Moors in 1342–1343, was an aspect of this involvement. This school focused on the production of portolan maps, some of them luxury presentation-type items made under royal commission.

The dynasty also showed as much geographic awareness about its landward side in Spain. Thus, in 1363, Pere told an assembly that the neighboring Castilians were about to conquer the whole Crown of Aragon:

Now we give ourselves to great disaster and great misadventure, and what we have striven to conquer for five centuries, we lose in fifteen days. And we consciously tell you fifteen days, and not more, because according to the news we have had today before the meal, the king of Castile comes to these parts with great power, and we understand that he will come to [the city of] Zaragoza. . . . If it [Zaragoza] is lost in consequence, we do not reckon that he will stop until [he reaches] the sea, even to Barcelona, and Barcelona is not a city that can withstand a long siege, because it is not in a place that has or can have much food, but instead it would be lost in a long siege through lack of food.

This kind of domino-effect statement was very frequent: Pere often told captains that they had to defend a castle at a ford because of what the enemy could reach if they gained the ford; or he lamented the fall of one castle because that made specific other castles extremely vulnerable; and so on. Likewise, Pere would argue that it was better to attack in one place or another because of terrain or logistics. Pere’s chronicle was also meticulous about tracing the stages of his itinerary around his kingdoms; this was in accordance with the king’s instructions to the secretaries who wrote the chronicle for him. He appears to have thought of the chronicle in part as a book of advice for future rulers. The Aragonese court, moreover, displayed a sort of chess-like sense of power and power-rankings, which offer an aspect of spatiality. Thus, in one letter, Pere tried to persuade the king of Portugal to abandon his alliance with the king of Castile by arguing that the latter was reaching for domination of the whole Iberian Peninsula. Similarly, Pere tried to persuade the counts of Foix to stop attacking him, reminding them that their nearby enemies, the Armagnacs, were always watching for an opening. This geopolitical awareness, however, existed alongside more stereotypically “medieval” features, as when Pere, looking for funds to fight in Sardinia, treated an assembly to a long scholastic discourse on all the meanings of “ingratitude.”39

In China, from the twelfth century, maps were used frequently in documents such as administrative works and histories, which probably reflected a move toward a spatial rather than a cosmological definition of how China was envisaged. Much information was certainly available for the production of maps: the government was assiduous in collecting reports.40

Separate to medieval attitudes, there is the question of the value today of using geopolitics to discuss developments in the Middle Ages, the period from the fifth to the fifteenth centuries. This millennium indeed repeatedly demonstrated the significance of what can, at least in part, be seen in terms of geopolitics. Instances include the movement of Germanic tribes’ thrust into the Roman Empire by the Huns coming in from the steppes, and then the Huns themselves entering in the fifth century; the Muslim conquests from the seventh century; the Magyar invasion of Eastern Europe; the Viking expansion; the advance of the Seljuk Turks into the Middle East; the Crusades; the Mongol explosion of activity; the Ottoman conquests; and also the geopolitics of trade that propelled the Silk Road and then the investigation of alternative routes from Europe to East Asia once that path was closed. Geopolitics was closely linked to communications, such as the ability of the Vikings to make and travel by ships capable of crossing the North Atlantic, and the use of horses by the Mongols. These horses were suited to the steppes, but were thwarted, in part, by the lack of grasslands in Western Europe and the Middle East. Within Europe, geopolitics played a major role in warfare. Relatively few armies passed over the Pyrenees, while the Alps were also a major factor affecting campaigning. Because of their geography, Southern Italy and Sicily were difficult to control, while malaria from the swamps of central Italy proved a significant impediment in campaigning. Geography played a major role in most military decisions. Problems affecting the German-based Holy Roman emperors helped the northern Italian cities to flourish, although more than the obstacles presented by the Alps played a role: it was also significant when Germany was in political turmoil, which it frequently was.41

What is, by modern standards, the jurisdictional and territorial fragmentation of the medieval Western world poses problems for the uncritical modern usage of geopolitics. In contrast, the collision of the Crusades provides an opportunity to think in more conventional geopolitical terms. Such terms are also pertinent for the Mongols. It is appropriate, moreover, to adopt a geopolitical approach if studying the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire, once it came to occupy a vast space. Without an understanding of the varied commitments of that wide-ranging empire, we have a very Western view based on the response to only part of it: that in Christian Europe. At the same time, the struggles of medieval empires entailed more issues than those of competing commitments. For example, the Muslim advances of the seventh and eighth centuries were cultural as much as military, and established an important and lasting cultural realm. Some Muslim lands would pass under non-Muslim control, especially under that of European colonial rulers from the mid-nineteenth century, but Islamicization was reversed in relatively few areas, principally Sicily, Iberia, the Volga valley and Israel. This constitutes a geopolitical element that is not explicable in terms of the fundamentals of physical geography.


Western geographical knowledge greatly increased in the “Age of Exploration” that began in the late fifteenth century, a period in which transoceanic voyages to South and East Asia and the Americas brought not only information, but also a sense of new prospects and urgent opportunity. These voyages were not the sole source of information and, more particularly, of the need and possibility of its organization. The rediscovery of Classical knowledge in the European Renaissance of the fifteenth century was also significant. Ptolemy’s second-century Geography, a gazetteer that displayed the range of the ancient world and made no concessions to religious geography, proved a particularly significant source of ideas and images.42 In the 1482 Septe Giornate della Geografia (The Seven Days of Geography) the Florentine Humanist Francesco Berlinghieri produced a poem describing the world that followed the order of Ptolemy’s Geography, and also expounding his cartographic science, all illustrated by twenty-six engraved maps. As with other geographical works, Berlinghieri offered a morality he deemed appropriate, providing Christian moral perceptions that looked to Dante’s Divine Comedy.43 Indeed, boundaries continued to be not only functional in intention but were also an aspect of a larger universe that was given purpose by divine intention.

While global geography, as a result of transoceanic exploration, was rethought and presented anew by Western powers creating new economic and strategic opportunities, the pursuit of more immediate territorial interests was of greater concern. The nature of frontiers was linked to the conceptualization of territory, a key element in geopolitical thought.44 This conceptualization was related not only to issues of sovereignty but also to the goals of conflict. In Western Europe’s medieval and early-modern periods, the essential unit of diplomatic exchange and strife was jurisdictional-territorial, and not geographical–territorial. This focus was reflected in the dominance of succession disputes in the international relations of the period. For example, most of the major wars in Western Europe in the pre-Revolutionary eighteenth century were succession conflicts—the Spanish (1701–1714), Polish (1733–1735), Austrian (1740–1748) and Bavarian (1778–1789). Moreover, the Seven Years’ War (1756–1763) can be seen, at least in Europe, as an attempt to reverse the principal territorial consequences of the War of the Austrian Succession, the Austrian loss of Silesia to Prussia, and thus as an extension of that war.

For the pre-Westphalian period, there was, in contrast, a major emphasis on ideology in the shape of the 1540s to 1648 Wars of Religion, although the territorial building-blocks under dispute in these conflicts were jurisdictional–territorial. In addition, succession disputes were important in this period, for example, with the War of the Mantuan Succession (1628–1631) which, in practice, involved France and the Habsburgs as a result of a complex dispute in northern Italy, or indeed with the French royal succession in the latter stages of the French Wars of Religion in the 1590s.

A focus on succession issues serves as a reminder of the prominence of dynasties. They were the key players in international relations, rather than the abstract concept of states. Indeed, it is unclear how far subsequent theories of international relations are really appropriate when considering the geopolitics of dynastic interests and of gloire in past societies. Moreover, the modern resonances of the geopolitics of gloire (a term only partially translated as glory) repay consideration.

For premodern societies, a grasp of the spatial understanding and bounding of notions of honor is problematic, other than in dynastic terms, which tended to equate with legal and feudal considerations and with a competition for superior prestige and ranking. The dynastic dimension, itself, was extremely varied, not least because of the tensions between opportunistic and legitimist dynasticism. Dynastic aspirations and claims can be discussed in terms of the geopolitical goals of particular rulers, but there was this tension between opportunism and legitimism. In pursuing goals and interests specific to particular ruling families, the historical legacy was a difficult one. Aside from the emphasis on territory as a jurisdictional entity, frontiers, such as that of France in Alsace from those agreed under the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 to the French Revolution, were frequently highly complex, and remained characterized by divided sovereignty. This point can be appreciated if it is stressed that abstractions such as France and, even more, Spain, described the patrimonies of ruling dynasties and went on doing so until the eighteenth century, when a more national vocabulary came to the fore. The possessions and pretensions of these dynasties extended as a result of, and in the context of, feudal overlordships,45 rather than from a situation of “natural” linear frontiers, such as rivers. Thus, the medieval experience remained very relevant in the understanding of authority and its spatial characteristics.

Honor was bound up in other issues such as confessional conflicts. Yet, religious wars offered a different context for geopolitics, in that the issues at stake were less subject to compromise than were disputes over dynastic concerns. Thus, the Western Wars of Religion of the 1540s to 164846 created and reflected a geopolitics that did not propose jurisdictional boundaries. Instead, the geopolitics at stake was the product of an ideological worldview and urgency that transposed into the West rivalries hitherto seen when confronting the infidel outside. This was notably so of rivalry with Islam in the long series of conflicts that began with its rapid expansion from the seventh century. This argument of transference is similar to that which presents the energy and attitudes characteristic of colonial conquest by the major powers in 1815–1914 as subsequently seen in conflicts involving them in 1914–1945—more particularly with Germany apparently displaying in Europe policies and norms developed in Africa, although the linkage between the two has been greatly contested.

The phrase “created and reflected,” applied above to the Western Wars of Religion, presents the analytical problem of determining the agency involved in geopolitics. This is a problem that is latent in the literature but not always explicitly discussed. To what extent do issues create geopolitics, or to what extent does whatever is understood to comprise the latter lead to particular issues becoming important, and in a specific fashion? A nonlinear approach to the past, one that notes discontinuities in policy and circumstances, would suggest the former, but some of the literature emphasizes the formative power of geopolitical factors.

There are parallels between the Wars of Religion and late twentieth-century Cold War confrontations, or the “War on Terror” of the early twenty-first century, not least in terms of the frequently complex relationship between ideological clarity and the particular strategies of rulers and ruling groups. Thus, there could be cooperation with the outside group against coreligionists, as in medieval Spain (for both Christians and Moors), or with the Crusader kingdoms (again for both sides), or in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries with rulers of France allying with German Protestant princes and, separately, with the Ottoman Turks against the Habsburgs. Most prominently, Francis I of France (r. 1515–1547) cooperated with the Ottoman sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent (r. 1520–1566), in the 1530s and, alongside the more general element of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend,” geopolitics played a specific role. The lack of a port from which to launch attacks into the western Mediterranean affected Suleiman’s strategy, encouraging cooperation with France so that the port of Toulon could be used.47 The successful siege of Metz by Henry II of France in 1552 was designed to gain benefit from confessional conflict in Germany. Cardinal Richelieu, the leading minister of Louis XIII of France, was to pursue a similar policy, notably in subsidizing Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden to attack Austria in 1630. Such cooperation offers a qualification to attempts to argue for the centrality of ideological division, a qualification which therefore directs attention to more conventional geopolitical rivalries. Richelieu appeared to encapsulate a raison d’état (reason of state) that was the progenitor of what would later be termed realism.

At the same time as this cooperation across ideological boundaries, there was scant attempt, at the general or systemic level, to work out limits or compromises, containment or détente. This remained the case until the Wars of Religion essentially ended with the Peace of Westphalia of 1648.48 The specifics, again, were crucial, as the wars ended not with a total victory, but with only local and regional victories—victories, moreover, whose results did not align. The consequence was a practice of tolerance through necessity. In the meanwhile, debates within the Western states of the period over policy could not (and should not) be seen solely as part of the ordinary weft and warp of adversarial politics, whether ministerial, court or public. Instead, to emphasize the role of ideology, these debates, given the problems posed by, or believed to be posed by, religious minorities within states, focused on more serious questions of loyalty. While the Wars of Religion dramatized the role of ideological factors in international and domestic power-politics in the early-modern West, and the struggle between Sunni Ottomans and Shia Safavids did the same in the Middle East, this issue did not exhaust the place of religious considerations in geopolitics at the international, state, and local levels.

For example, sacred space involved fundamental questions of legitimacy, such as that enjoyed by the Ottoman sultans as a consequence of their custody of the Muslim holy places of Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem. They had gained this custody as a result of the conquest of the Egyptian-based Mameluke Empire in 1516–1517. This conquest transformed the geopolitics of the Islamic world and also of the Mediterranean.49 The custody of the holy places strengthened the position of the Ottomans in their bitter competition with the Safavids of Persia (Iran), a fierce struggle between Sunni and Shia, as well as for dynastic prestige and political advantage. The Ottomans had a religious responsibility to protect pilgrims en route to the holy places. This can be seen in the agreements Suleiman the Magnificent made with Venice and France, and also in the costly and difficult Ottoman naval presence in the Indian Ocean. The Sultans also gained great religious prestige and status as a result of Mehmed II’s capture of Constantinople (modern Istanbul) in 1453. Earlier Muslim sieges had failed.

Similarly, the dukes of Savoy-Piedmont, in moving their court and capital from Chambéry in Savoy to Turin in Piedmont in the 1560s, also moved the Holy Shroud, a relic of Christ’s death that gave the dynasty particular prestige. Moreover, the dukes sought to patronize shrines whose saints could be seen as working for the state as a whole and not for only part of it. The cult of relics was a long-standing aspect of the pursuit of status, as well as of the ranking of places and institutions within the state.50 Status rested on control over particular sites.

The absence of ideological triumph in the Western Wars of Religion led to a different tone in the geopolitics of international relations in the second half of the seventeenth century, as well as to looking toward a new definition of Europe (understood as the West or Christian Europe). This moved away from a Christian understanding of goals, external limits and internal organization and, instead, toward a secular geopolitics. Moreover, as a result of the decline of the religious rift between Catholics and Protestants as a key element in European international relations, there was a stronger concern, thereafter, with the specific and regional than with that which had characterized the previous century, the Wars of Religion—although, even then, this element had been highly important. With time, and notably from the 1720s, this secular geopolitics came more frequently to encompass relations with the Ottoman Turks.

Returning to the important earlier role of dynastic patrimonies, and the values thus expressed, serves as a reminder that the long-term character of spatial elements that is a key point in geopolitical literature is not a continuity necessarily restricted to the physical environment nor to resources. Looked at differently, claims to territory are an important aspect of legitimacy as well as spatial resource. These claims were, and are, not necessarily swept aside by, or subordinated to, ideological considerations. This point is relevant to disputes in the 2010s over Chinese claims in the East and South China seas, and over the future of Crimea.

In Eastern Europe, geographical–territorial issues played a larger role than did their jurisdictional counterparts in Western Europe. The major states in the region, notably Russia and Sweden, lacked good historic claims to the areas in dispute. The texture of sovereign polities was less dense (and increasingly less dense) than in Western Europe, not least because hitherto autonomous regions, such as Ukraine, were brought under greater control.51 Dynastic succession was not the major diplomatic idiom in the region, nor generally a means by which large areas of territory changed hands and through which relative power could be assessed. For example, succession disputes were not generally the issues at stake between Russia and its rivals, let alone as far as the Ottomans were concerned. The idiom of disputes in Eastern Europe, instead, was geographical–territorial. This emphasis put a premium on spatial considerations and on the framing of senses of opportunity and challenge in spatial terms.52 International relations and war became in part measures of the pursuit and impact of such considerations. The successive southward extension of Russian defensive lines in the seventeenth century was an aspect of this emphasis on territory.

The implication of this contrast between Western and Eastern Europe, for geopolitics, military tasking, and the planning and conduct of operations, was significant. A focus on jurisdictional–territorial goals led to an emphasis on the gain of particular territories (rather than territory as a whole, let alone the destruction of the opponent’s army), and may well also have encouraged sieges of the cities that were the centers of jurisdictions: for example, in the seventeenth century, Besançon (over Franche-Comté), Lille (over what became French Flanders), or Perpignan (over Roussillon), irrespective of their abstract military value. Grasping control symbolically, as well as practically, was significant, not least in terms of the international response that would register and legitimate a transfer of territory. Concepts of decisive victory in battle are not terribly helpful here and, instead represent an unwarranted extrapolation of a particular type of conflict and, specifically, the reading back of the views of a distinct period. Modern counterparts suggest themselves, particularly the importance of symbolic factors in wielding control and exerting influence, and also the abiding difference between military output, in the shape of activity, and outcome, in the form of success: notably the other side accepting defeat.

Alongside the issue of goals came that of means. Spatial considerations were particularly important in terms of communications and logistics, notably routes used for movement and supply. Thus, the “Spanish Road,” the route along which in 1567 10,000 Spanish troops marched north from Italy to the Low Countries, enabling the Duke of Alba to reimpose the authority of Philip II, was a key factor in strategy and strategic capability. Maps of Franche-Comté were produced in order to help plan the route for Spanish units moving through Habsburg-ruled regions between Italy and the Low Countries in the late sixteenth century. The maps showed relief features, which crucially affected the choice of routes and timing along part of the “Spanish Road.” The Valtelline Pass was also a factor in strategy. Once through it, Spanish troops could march from Milan to Austria, and Austrian troops in the opposite direction, as they did during the War of the Mantuan Succession (1628–1631). The ability to cut these routes threatened the articulation of Spanish power and, in the latter case, the relationship between the Spanish and Austrian branches of the Habsburg family. Thus, France and its allies sought to attack them in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.53 Fortresses such as Luxembourg became more significant because of their linkage to such routes.


A more spatially territorial approach to frontiers developed in Europe, particularly Western Europe, in the eighteenth century, although this process remained incomplete at the time of the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789. The process was related to the consolidation of territorial sovereignty, the increasing state monopolization of organized violence, and the mapping of frontiers. All of these can be seen as crucial preparations for the stage of international relations that was to give birth to modern concepts of “realist” international behavior, including geopolitics as classically understood. This process extended to the Turks in the 1760s, with Ahmed Resmi, mapping the frontier province of Wallachia, the control of which had been contested with Austria earlier in the century.54

There was an important military component in Europe, as the implementation of firm frontiers was bound up with the existence of more assertive states and with growing state bureaucracies, which sought to know where exactly they could impose their demands for resources, including recruits, and where they needed to create their first line of defense. At the same time, the control of frontier zones by states enhanced their military capability, not least by strengthening the provision of supplies, which was so crucial for operating in and beyond these zones. Geopolitical capacity thus involved governmental as well as military strength. There was a widespread symbiotic relationship, with resource mobilization by government used to the benefit of the military, as in Russia.55

International competition was a key factor in driving governmental development, including the integration of disparate elements in order to produce a more coherent strategic vision. This process was also seen with China.56 As a related factor—but also as a consequence of the interaction of geopolitics, war, and governmental development—international competition led to pronounced differences between states, including Western states. These differences related as much to internal structure as to apparently objective measures of strength in terms of territory or population. Indeed, the capability for effective governance suggested by these factors of internal structure and political culture helped determine the benefit, in terms of revenue and troops, that could be obtained from these measures of strength.57 To separate out the domestic from the international, and to focus on the latter when considering geopolitics, would be inappropriate.

A lack of uniformity in governmental effectiveness was important and ensured a geopolitics of real or apparent opportunities and threats. Differences between states created possibilities for expansion, notably by Prussia, Russia, and Austria in the three Partitions of Poland in 1772–1795. These partitions led to the extinction of Poland as an independent state, a dramatic geopolitical change, and one that lasted until the end of World War I.58 Part of the discussion of international relations was a matter of considering how best to respond to differences in political systems between states, and also how to secure their continuance to the benefit of particular states. This goal encouraged intervening to ensure the continuation of a political system that was of benefit. Both ideological and practical issues played a role in this discussion of how best to preserve or replace particular governmental systems in individual states, for example, the Swedish Age of Liberty in 1719–1772 or Hanoverian rule in Britain from 1714 to 1760.

In turn, ideological developments became a more significant dynamic within the West in the late eighteenth century. The geopolitical context within the West changed with different political assumptions. For example, in France in the second half of the century, honor as a theme of policy was increasingly attributed by critics to the nation, and not, as hitherto, to the royal government.59 This shift, and a related nationalization of attitudes to foreign policy,60 looked toward the more abrupt discontinuities produced from 1776 with American independence and, more starkly, from the 1790s as a result of the territorial ideology of the French Revolution and its nationalism without the Crown. The habitual bases of legitimate rule in territory, whether inherited or conquered—dynastic right, feudal law, and the laws of conquest—were to be renounced by Revolutionary France from 1792 in favor of popular will and the ideology of “liberation.” This ideology provided a potent claim for control and transformation.61

The impact of the Revolution and then, from 1799, of Napoleon led to the creation of new states and empires, which helped to make necessary new concepts and analyses of international relations. These eventually provided a basis for the development of formal ideas of geopolitics. To assess the geopolitics of the age, both prior to the French Revolution and thereafter, in terms of power politics without integrating these ideological dimensions is seriously mistaken. Moreover, as this chapter indicates, these dimensions varied geographically and changed through time, notably under the impact of politics.


Geopolitics before the Term: Maps

IN THE INTERACTION BETWEEN GEOPOLITICS, WAR AND STATE formation in the early-modern period of the Western world, geographical information became increasingly prominent and was regarded as important by contemporaries. The development of maps and cartographic skill went hand in hand with notions of force projection and control capabilities. These notions interacted with technological change, particularly in warfare, and also with bureaucratization, leading to a strategic evolution that reconceptualized, on a global level, the relationship between physical geography and policy. This reconceptualization provided a new context for the more common assessment of the situation at more regional, and thus detailed, levels.


The role of information-gathering techniques in geopolitics was of particular significance. This role, both in collecting and in depicting spatial information, introduced a dynamic component in the understanding of geopolitics. Change occurred at a number of levels, but the use of maps was a common element. At the global level, reasonably accurate projections and representations of the entire world were an important development.

A key element was the national one, as it was especially at this level that governmental efforts to acquire information operated. A bureaucratization of spatial knowledge was increasingly apparent from the seventeenth century. In the case of Sweden, for example, there was a marked change between the sixteenth century and the first half of the seventeenth with the start of military mapmaking and naval cartography, both by collecting maps and by the training of professional mapmakers. The Swedish war archives contains a collection of maps from the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648, which Sweden entered in 1630) and later, reflecting the army’s need of maps for planning and information during operations in foreign countries. Moreover, the National Land Survey of Sweden, which began in 1628 under the guidance of Anders Bureus, mapped not only Sweden at a large scale but also lands occupied by the Swedes. In France, provincial officials were ordered in 1663 to send all available maps and geographical information to Paris. This knowledge was then used by Nicolas Sanson, the geographe du cabinet, to devise a series of maps of France.1

The varied potential of maps as information systems repays consideration because it throws considerable light on the extent to which geographical knowledge could be involved in the formulation and execution of policy. The background was of a major development in the way in which the world was seen. The linear perspective, which became important in Western painting from the fifteenth century, mirrored cartography in its attempt to stabilize and reify perception. In both landscape and maps, there was an emphasis on accurate, eyewitness observation, faithfully reproduced. The use of mathematics to order spatial relationships provided a visual record of measured space. In place of the idealized and formulaic representation of cities—the norm in the medieval period—came a desire for topographic specificity.

Western advances in trigonometry and, critically, the dissemination of practice and perception, and across a broad range, were intertwined with the ability to use maps and to understand spatial dimensions without necessarily seeing the physical object. More broadly, humans were stimulated to learn and visualize more, and a self-reinforcing link was established between these processes and book- and map-learning. This situation was linked to the application of knowledge. In the seventeenth century, applied knowledge as a process responsive to changing information became more common in the West. This was linked to interest, both governmental and individual, in the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge.

A map presented knowledge at a distance. War was the prime focus for such knowledge, and General Henry Lloyd argued in 1766 that the “most important object of any, to those who aspire to the command of armies, is geography.” For Lloyd, this was a matter, not only of topography and natural resources, but also of the “form of government” and its consequences for the society in question.2 Lloyd influenced Clausewitz.

To be effective tactically—in short to have power over a locality—it was necessary to understand the terrain. Maps could help in this,3 and terrain was already being mapped in manuscript in the mid-1540s, as in John Rogers’s technically advanced plans of the environs of Boulogne, which had been captured by Henry VIII of England. By the late sixteenth century, the mapping of terrain was commonplace in manuscript mapping, although such mapping did not need to be precise in order to meet contemporary needs. The mapping of topography was to be more common and more precise by the late nineteenth century, by which time the surveying and mapping of elevations had improved, not least with the use of contour lines. Nevertheless, there were useful devices prior to that: for example, using numbers to indicate the relative height of the ground. Important to placing artillery, this technique, termed “relative command,” was taught by François Jarry, a French émigré who in 1799 became topographical instructor at Britain’s school for staff officers, which soon would become the Royal Military College. Jarry influenced the teaching of reconnaissance to the Royal Engineers, as can be seen in the reconnoitering sketches that were used by the Duke of Wellington to plan his successful dispositions at the battle of Waterloo in 1815.

Maps were particularly important for the employment of artillery, not so much at the tactical level (because of the problems of mapping height), but at the operational level, as maps provided indications of where artillery could be transported. Maps could be unhelpful in their depiction of roads,4 but by the 1530s there was an awareness of the need, and this need was increasingly catered for. In England, Thomas Elliot’s The Book Named the Governor (1531) praised the utility of maps. More generally, the requirement for information on where cannon could be transported was a product of the operational issues posed by the greater scale of war and by the need, despite this scale, to retain mobility. Thus, an understanding of routes was crucial to war, and maps provided a key aspect of this.

Although this was scarcely a new feature, the eighteenth century featured conflicts in which operational theatres spanned hundreds of miles. Notably in North America, British and French forces had to traverse vast distances, often through wild, inhospitable terrain, making large armies vulnerable to enemy tactics of petite guerre, by which small, highly mobile, detachments carried out fleeting attacks and ambuscades on the flanks of their larger adversary. Commanders therefore required maps that conveyed very practical knowledge that would allow their forces to move quickly without being over-exposed to enemy action. A needs-based account for more geographical information can, however, only be part of the equation as other militaries with the same requirements—for example, the Ottomans—did not have a comparable cartographic culture.

The Western requirement for spatial information in North America in the eighteenth century gave rise to what Brian Harley termed “the cartography of military movement,” which included two distinct practices of cartography: reconnaissance maps and route maps. With reference to the former, commanders would dispatch troops, sometimes disguised as civilians, to record observations that were “closely related to the requirements of troops moving through and subsisting in unfamiliar terrain. By means of sketches and written notes, only relevant information was to be collected.”5 While such maps and instructions would include details such as major roads, bridges, serious obstacles, and obvious sources of supplies, the maps, although drawn to a rough scale, were invariably crude, being executed with some degree of haste. Such reconnaissance mapping was often not done in expectation of any specific military movement, but rather in anticipation of activity in that general theatre. For example, in February, 1775, just months before the Battle of Bunker Hill, General Thomas Gage, the British commander, dispatched two amateur surveyors to reconnoiter the countryside around Boston, their maps and notes today preserved in the Library of Congress in Washington.6

Route maps, the second type of cartography in North American warfare, were usually executed by professional military surveyors, laying out the intended course of a specific armed force under set conditions: “As a generator of cartographical by-products, such troop movement was a formal activity that had more in common with fortification planning than with reconnaissance.”7 While they may have incorporated intelligence gleaned from reconnaissance maps, these maps laid out specific routes for the army to take, often also drawing on information from (sometimes already-existing) topographical surveys conducted under scientific conditions. This mapping was frequently undertaken with specific reference to an intended itinerary, which considered daily progress and the most appropriate sites for encampments and resupply of the force. As a result, an accurate and formal detailing of distances and features of the landscape was critical. Perhaps the finest set of route maps produced during the period are those by the Comte de Rochambeau’s engineers who, in 1781 painstakingly charted the route of the French army from Newport, Rhode Island, to Yorktown, Virginia. This carefully chosen route afforded the army the speed and stealth that allowed it to arrive at its objective at an ideally opportune moment, while avoiding British detection.8 Whether or not accompanied by maps, or by maps that have survived, the planning of itineraries was a key element of military activity.

Insofar as warfare provided a central aspect of the expanded use of maps for administrative purposes, as well as of the use of information for geopolitical purposes, it was route-planning that was fundamental. The Hardynge maps of Scotland of ca. 1420–1450 showed military invasion routes. Signot’s map of Italy, which appeared in manuscript in 1498 and in print in 1515, was explicitly an invasion plan for Louis XII and then Francis I of France during the lengthy Italian Wars (1494–1559). This process was not restricted to Western Europe. The first Polish operation to rely on theatre maps drawn up expressly for the campaign was King Stefan Bathory’s successful 1579 offensive to retake the city of Polotsk from Ivan the Terrible (Ivan IV) of Russia. In this case, maps of the Lithuanian–Muscovite border were prepared by Maciej Strubicz, Stanisław Pachołowiecki, and the Wallachian Petr Frankus. The Russians made increased use of mapping in the seventeenth century, especially toward its close. For his march on the Crimean khanate in the unsuccessful campaign of 1689, Prince Golitsyn made use of a primitive wagon-mounted odometer and compiled a versta or distance-book that was intended to be used to prepare a map. This book is preserved in the archive of the Military Chancellery and is useful in retracing the route Golitsyn’s army took.9

Maps that could aid campaigning were, however, more common further west. Under Henry IV of France (r. 1589–1610), the ingénieurs du roi produced detailed manuscript maps of the major frontier provinces, maps that were designed to aid campaigning against Spain and Savoy and that were soon printed. One of the engineers, Jean de Beins, who was also a fortification expert in the province of Dauphiné, drew maps based on his surveys of the different valleys which he then linked into a master map. A map of Ireland survives in the French archives, showing the major military moves made in the campaign there in 1690. By then, the French had established a permanent collection of maps for military purposes, the Dépôt de la Guerre being founded in 1688. The records of fortifications there included the Recueil des plans des places du roi, also known as the Louvois Atlas of 1683–1668, an atlas of fortresses.10

War led to an increased demand for geographical information. Thus, the silk maps printed for military use in northern Italy at the Milanese press of Marc’ Antonio Del Re in the 1730s and 1740s, during the wars of the Polish (1733–1735) and Austrian (1740–1748) successions—for example, Italiae Septentrionalis (1735) and Nuova Carta Corografica, o sia centro del gran teatro di guerra in Piemonte Savoia l’anno 1744 (1744)—were very useful for route planning. These maps also indicated the geographical relationship of the numerous principalities. As war involved the pursuit of military advantage in terms of the politics of this complex territorial world, so it was necessary to understand the geopolitics of the latter, and notably the relationship between places and territories. The war in northern Italy could also be followed in Johannes Covens and Cornelis Mortier’s Le Cours du Po (Amsterdam, 1735). This map may have helped the nearby negotiators at The Hague seeking (unsuccessfully) to settle the War of the Polish Succession in protracted negotiations during the winter of 1734–1735, or may have been primarily for a public interested in war news. The United Provinces (Dutch Republic) had a large public for such news.

Similarly, it is no accident that Georges-Louis Le Rouge published in Paris in 1768 a Carte Militaire de l’Isle de Corse, for that was the year France purchased Corsica from the republic of Genoa, only to face a rebellion that led to large-scale, and ultimately successful, French military intervention. Le Rouge was a military engineer and cartographer, and his wall-map of Corsica marked the military posts. He was also to publish Cartes des Troubles de l’Est (1770) at the time of the Russo-Turkish war of 1768–1774. This was a conflict followed with attention further to the west, where it appeared to usher in the beginning of what became the “Eastern Question”: the West’s concern with the fate of the Ottoman Empire. The activities of Le Rouge were examples of the growing importance in the eighteenth-century West of large-scale military surveys. These were part of a broader economy of knowledge, which expanded considerably, helped by the diffusion of information through print.11

This cartography and literature became more prominent from the 1750s. It seems to be related, at least in part, to the expansion of the zones of Western wars away from an emphasis on positional conflict (and zones), classically sieges of fortified positions, to larger, theatre-wide operations, as well as transoceanic campaigning, which became more important for Britain and France from 1754 as far as North America was concerned. This significance of maps for route planning was particularly true for operations beyond the area of existing Western territorial control. This was the case of Russian advances against the Turks southward into the Balkans, and also of Western transoceanic expansionism. An absence of maps hindered the Dutch in their unsuccessful operations into the interior of Sri Lanka in 1764 and, as a result, Lubert Jan Baron Van Eyck, the Dutch governor, had new maps drawn while his forces operated.12

An emphasis on the significance of maps for route planning helped ensure a degree of “non-specificity” that is one of the characteristics of military cartography and, indeed, an aspect of its more general importance to the development and practice of mapping. This non-specificity relates to the extent to which maps were not solely of value for military purposes. A wider geopolitical agenda can be readily grasped in the case of British military mapping, as during the period between the Seven Years War (1756–1763) and the American Revolution (1775–1783), there was an emphasis on the broader needs of colonial government.13 The mapping of coasts and coastal waters served commercial as well as military ends. The Swiss-born Joseph Frederick Wallet Des Barres, who had been trained at the Royal Military College, Woolwich, and served as a military engineer in North America, was instructed to survey the coastlines of Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and the Gulf of St Lawrence, which became a basis for his The Atlantic Neptune, a survey of the northeast coast of North America.14 An earlier instance of the ownership of such maps by a key figure is shown in the copy of the Atlas Maritimus and Commercialis; or, a General View of the World (London, 1728) by Nathaniel Cutler and Edmond Halley that belonged to John Clevland, a commissioner of the British Royal Navy in 1743–1746, who became joint secretary to the Admiralty from 1746, and sole secretary from 1751 until his death in 1763. This work included a coasting pilot for mariners, with fine charts of most trading areas of the world. More generally, geographical knowledge was clearly linked to naval and economic power.

Earlier, in the late sixteenth century, there was already much awareness of the utility of charts for warfare, defense and trade. Anthony Ashley, the Secretary to the English Privy Council, sponsored the translation into English of Waghenaer’s rutter (sailing instructions and charts) in the months before the Spanish Armada conflict in 1588. Established commercial chart publishers were called on in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to meet official needs for charts, as with the activities of the Blaeu dynasty in connection with the Dutch East and West India companies in the seventeenth century,15 and with the publication of the Neptune François and the Dutch pirated version in the early 1690s. In a direct and ultimately successful challenge to Dutch hegemony over the sea-chart market, a challenge that can be linked to the movement of maritime hegemony to England, the initial issue of The English Pilot, Book Four, covering American coastlines, was published in London in 1689. Eventually running to four books encompassing the known globe, numerous editions were published throughout the eighteenth century. Although many of the maps dealing with European waters were derivatives of earlier Dutch charts, the work proved enormously popular, not least due to the charts’ accompaniment of sailing directions written in English. The project had been conceived in the 1670s by John Seller, but was only realized by the cartographer John Thornton in collaboration with the publisher William Fisher. Most of the subsequent editions of The English Pilot were published by the firm of Mount and Page.16

Naval operations were heavily dependent on maps. The Swedish navy used Dutch maps of the Baltic Sea until 1645, when the first Swedish map was published by the navy’s senior master pilot, Johan Månsson. This map, too, was greatly reliant on the Dutch maps. After extensive surveying operations, a much better map was published by Petter Gedda in 1695, and from then on the navy continually surveyed and updated maps of the Baltic and the Swedish coast. Official hydrographic offices followed in Britain, France, and Spain in the eighteenth century. The pace of development varied by state, but there was a clear direction of change.

As a testimony to the importance attached to geographical material, there were attempts to restrict the availability of maps, and indeed of information, and most especially about distant regions, where new information and novel geopolitical possibilities most clearly combined. In particular, the Spanish government tried to keep other Westerners out of the Pacific, which it regarded as a monopoly, and consistently attempted to restrict information about the ocean. However, in 1680, a band of English buccaneers under Bartholomew Sharp crossed the Isthmus of Darien from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Using a Spanish vessel they had seized off Panama, they attacked Spanish shipping, before navigating the waters south of Cape Horn from west to east (Pacific to Atlantic), returning to England in 1682. The band included Basil Ringrose, who both wrote a journal of the expedition that was published in 1685 and compiled a substantial “waggoner”—a description in the form of sailing directions—to much of the coast he sailed along, as well as to some parts he never visited. This description stemmed from the derrotero or set of official manuscript sailing directions, illustrated by a large number of coastal charts that Sharp seized from a captured Spanish ship in 1681 and that he presented to Charles II of England in order to win royal favor. Such atlases had been regarded by the Spaniards as too confidential to go into print. Arrested at the instigation of the Spanish envoy, Sharp was acquitted of piracy.17

Earlier, Jan Huygen van Linschoten, who had worked as a clerk and scribe for the Portuguese Archbishop of Goa, being involved in mapmaking, returned to the Low Countries in the 1590s and passed on the cartographic information that the Portuguese had consistently striven to keep a secret. Captured by the Portuguese in 1509, Goa became their principal base in India. Cartographic information from Goa, as well as work produced there, reflected the extent to which Western expansion helped create a dynamism in the flow of geographical information, one that lent itself to geopolitical speculation. Van Linschoten’s commercial espionage helped enable the Dutch East India Company to deploy its naval force in the Indian Ocean. Van Linschoten published his findings in Itinerario. Voyage ofte schipvaert van Jan Huygen van Linschoten naar Oost ofte Portugaels Indien, inhoudende een corte beschrijvinghe der selver landen ende zeecusten (Amsterdam, 1595–1596). In turn, the maps of the Dutch East India Company were secret and therefore not printed. Secrecy was also the case for maps of forts, and indeed for detailed maps of important ports, which, for example, the Swedes kept secret. Part of the politics of geopolitics was that access to geopolitical material was limited, and this crucial dimension of secrecy reaches to the present.


The emphasis on only fractional usage of maps for military purposes or, looked at differently, on the wide parameters of geopolitical information in the Western world, can be expanded by considering two other dimensions of warfare and cartography: the strategic and the public. There have been arguments that strategic planning is not a helpful concept. Certainly, in terms of the institutionalization of planning seen by 1900, with the development of general staffs on the Prussian model, and indeed with strategy as a formal military process, there was scant strategic planning in the early-modern period. However, that is possibly not the most helpful basis of comparison, not least because the issue of allocating military resources between competing commitments was a serious one, and it is difficult to see how this issue can be understood other than in terms of strategy. More generally, information about resources played a role in planning.18

Furthermore, there are instances of strategic planning, as by the British in 1726–1727 when considering how best for the Anglo–French Alliance of Hanover to resist likely Austrian and Prussian advances in Germany.19 In such cases, a sense of place was crucial, as British ministers wished to prevent such advances from threatening Hanover, the ancestral territory of the Hanoverian dynasty that was on the British throne from 1714. To that end, the value to the Alliance of Hanover of seizing and using the Rhine crossing point at Rhinefels, enabling French troops to move forward, was emphasized. If archives, printed primaries and secondary literature were systematically searched for such material, then it is likely that far more would be uncovered.

Maps played a role in planning and exposition. In the early 1760s, the French navy used a map for a planned invasion of England: Britain and France were at war from 1756 to 1763. This showed how particular French squadrons were designed to blockade the naval bases of Plymouth and Portsmouth, while another covered an invasion near Hastings. The location of the invading troops was also depicted.20 This is a rare survivor, but Philip II of Spain must have had something like an invasion plan of England at the time of the Spanish Armada in 1588, while Henry VIII of England appears to have sought maps of the Boulogne area from John Rogers with a view to deciding on the most advantageous boundary line between his and Francis I’s forces during their peace negotiations in 1546. In the next reign, that of the infant Edward VI, Thomas Seymour is recorded as trying to use a manuscript map of England in the late 1540s to demonstrate the extent and strategic nature of his support as a means of persuading his friends to join him in revolt against his brother, the Protector, Edward, Duke of Somerset.21

Royal and princely collections of maps were a major feature of early-modern courts, notably with the painted maps that decorated audience halls. The use of maps for overlapping utilitarian and symbolic purposes was matched by that of globes, for example, those displayed in the Escorial, Philip II of Spain’s major palace. Rulers were particularly interested in maps of their own estates, but they also amassed collections of battle plans and maps. Maps were to record triumphs, for example, those of the French Crown in the seventeenth century, which were depicted by Jacques Callot, Stefano della Bella, Nicolas Cochir, Sébastien de Pontault, and Roomeyn de Hooghe. The Landgraves of Hesse-Cassel amassed an excellent collection of maps22 that are very revealing about the visual depiction of military operations. Clearly, the Landgraves actively collected information about earlier battles.

There are also examples of the use of maps by ministers in order to understand the military dimension of international crises. In England, in response to the crisis of war with Spain (1585–1604), Lord Burghley’s map of Lancashire depicted the seats of both Catholic and Protestant gentry. This was a clear indication of the security problems believed to be posed by the loyalties of the former.23 Two centuries later, the use of maps can be seen, during the Dutch crisis of 1787, in the advice offered the British cabinet in person by Charles, 3rd Duke of Richmond, the Master-General of the Ordnance, and Sir James Harris, the British envoy in The Hague, and later 1st Earl of Malmesbury, an experienced diplomat. Richmond demonstrated the contrast between the distance allied Prussian troops would have to traverse from their base in Cleve, in order to mount an invasion of the Netherlands, with the greater distance French forces needed to travel from Givet in France in order to intervene on behalf of their Dutch protégés.24 This advice was designed to encourage British support for Prussian action by illustrating the viability of the latter. In the event, the British lent naval backing, the Prussians successfully invaded, and French preparations did not result in action.

In 1792, George III of Britain used a map to follow the Prussian invasion of France.25 In 1800, George Canning, later a successful foreign secretary, wrote to his successor as undersecretary in the British Foreign Office about French campaigning in Italy: “What do you think of the Italian news? And what consolation does Pitt point out after looking over the map in the corner of his room by the door?”26—a reference to William Pitt the Younger, the prime minister, whose responsibilities, expertise and interests were primarily in government finances. Pitt had headed the ministry that received the advice from Richmond and Harris in 1787.


The public dimension of the use of maps fits most easily with the theme of the development of a public sphere27 in which map consumption was driven by the interaction of public demand and entrepreneurial activity. Such a public sphere is a commonplace in discussion of eighteenth-century Western Enlightenment culture and, although it may be overplayed,28 the thesis has considerable value. War provided a key issue for the public, which, in part, reflected a different political agenda from that of the modern world, with far less attention devoted to economic management, social welfare, or health and education as public issues. Secondly, despite frequent claims that warfare prior to the outbreak of the French Revolutionary War in 1792 was limited and indecisive, in practice crucial issues were at stake in this conflict, not least fears about hegemony in Europe, as well as the fate of transoceanic power.29

Public interest encouraged the production of two types of maps, first the plans of prominent battles. In 1590, an English account of the defeat of the Spanish Armada two years earlier was illustrated by a set of plans by Robert Adams showing the successive stages of the campaign on a background of scale maps of the English Channel. Illustrative plans and maps were being published with official cooperation in England by at least 1689, when Thomas Phillips published plans of Londonderry in northern Ireland, which was then being blockaded by forces loyal to James II (VII of Scotland). That plans were produced was an instructive variant on the earlier focus on pictures, although the latter remained prominent. Furthermore, there was the important fusion type of map: an illustration of the conflict that included a map of the battle. In this format, the illustration provided the dynamic quality and sense of vigor and could also throw light on the topography of the battle. The map, however, was clearly part of the authority of the scene. Such a fusion was also seen in depictions of naval battles, such as that between the British and a Franco-Spanish fleet off Toulon in 1744.30 The limited number of ships involved in naval battles facilitated this process of depiction.

Secondly, public interest encouraged the production of maps showing the region of contention and hostilities, in short the placing of the contestation of power, which is a key theme in geopolitics. In 1635, a map depicting recent Dutch operations in Brazil and Curaçao was published in The Hague. It provided both details of particular sites, such as the Brazilian city of Recife (captured by the Dutch from the Portuguese in 1630), and a large-scale map of Brazil on which the general campaign against the Portuguese could be followed. More commonly, wars in Europe were understood with the help of maps such as A True and Exact Map of the Seat of War in Brabant and Flanders with the Enemies Lines in their Just Dimensions (1705), a detailed map on which could be charted the moves of Anglo-Dutch-German forces commanded by John, 1st Duke of Marlborough, and his French opponents. This map was followed by the issue, by John Harris, of A New Map of Europe Done from the most Accurate Observations communicated by the Royal Societies at London and Paris Illustrated with Plans and Views of the Battles, Sieges and other Advantages Obtained by her Majesties Forces and those of Her Allies over the French. Insets included plans of the battles of Blenheim (1704) and Ramillies (1706), both key victories for Marlborough.31 Similar maps appeared for particular battles, enabling readers to understand the general context, as well as the course, of the battle. Thus, the battle of Falkirk in 1746, a major clash in the Jacobite rising that had started in 1745, was soon commemorated in a map showing the general area. It included a plan of the battle of Falkirk and of the subsequent battle at Culloden; the latter was also the subject of a separately published plan.

Sieges were frequently shown in printed maps and had been since the sixteenth century, although not by non-European societies. Fortifications readily lent themselves to mapping, and this mapping provided a ready source of material for entrepreneurial publishers such as the Huguenot exile Abel Boyer who published, in London in 1701, The Draughts of the Most Remarkable Fortified Towns of Europe . . . with a geographical description of the said places. And the history of sieges they have sustained. This was a moment in international tension that was propitious for entrepreneurs, as the wide-ranging and lengthy War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714, Britain involved 1702–1713) was beginning. Four years later, there appeared in Paris a collected edition of Nicolas de Fer’s fortification plans, Les Forces d’Europe, which had first appeared between 1690 and 1695, during the Nine Years’ War. Similarly, in 1727 the second edition of Jacques Ozanam’s A Treatise of Fortification was published in London with the addition of A New and Exact Plan of Gibraltar with all its Fortifications by Hermann Moll, the latter plan made topical by the Spanish siege of that year, which was the high point of the unofficial war between the two powers. The relationship between mapping, public interest, and the military was taken further with dedications, as of Moll’s A New Map of Germany, Hungary, Transylvania and the Suisse (1712) to Marlborough. Such dedications provided a symbolic aspect to geopolitics.

Naval battles were also commemorated with maps, although, as a static presentation of a more complex and fluid set of events, they generally had only limited value, as for example, with the maps of the Anglo–Bourbon battles of Malaga (1704) and Toulon (1744). The difficulties of the move between the general and the specific was also an issue in naval planning. Difficulties in establishing location at sea accentuated the problems of planning, conducting, and recording naval operations. Thus, in 1708, when a French squadron carrying the so-called James III and VIII, the Jacobite Pretender to the crowns of England and Scotland, succeeded in avoiding the British blockading squadron off Dunkirk in the mist, reaching Scottish waters before its pursuers, the initial landfall was made not, as intended, at the mouth of the Firth of Forth, from which Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh, could be attacked, but, as a result of error, 100 miles further north. In turn, seeking, in 1741, to enter the Pacific in order to attack Spanish positions, an instance of power projection designed to create and exploit vulnerability, George Anson of the British navy nearly ran aground on the island of Tierra del Fuego: dead reckoning had put his position more than 300 miles out to sea. He was to succeed in circumnavigating the world.

As a result of the difficulties of mounting blockades, the British navy made major efforts to produce accurate charts of the waters off France and Spain. More problems were encountered in planning or mounting operations further from Western Europe. When, in 1791, the British planned war with Russia in the Ochakov Crisis, they discovered that they had no charts for the Black Sea and had to turn to the Dutch for advice. This was an aspect of the degree to which alliances created and communicated the information and established the information systems necessary for the effective linkage of strategy and geopolitical information. This feature can also be seen in information-sharing during and after the Cold War, notably between the United States and Britain. In 1791, a lack of knowledge, which reflected not so much the lack of detailed contemporary maps of the area as it did the deficiencies of the British information system, left the British unclear whether the fortress of Ochakov, the crucial issue in the negotiations, really controlled the entrance to the River Dnieper, as was claimed. Ochakov is, in fact, on the northern shore of the Dneprovskiy Liman, a nearly landlocked section of the Black Sea into which open the estuaries of both the Bug and the Dnieper. Ochakov is situated at the narrow strait that forms the seaward entrance of this section of bay, but the British lacked adequate maps and coastal charts to illustrate this location, a deficiency that affected diplomatic discussion and military planning.32 The British government sought to argue, to both domestic and international audiences, that the return of Ochakov to the Turks, from whom the Russians had captured it in 1788, was a key goal, but the limited information at its disposal made this a difficult argument to substantiate. In the event, although unrelated to the issue of mapping, the British government backed down in the face of serious domestic opposition.

The creation of popular printed maps of areas of conflict goes back to the early sixteenth century, with Vavassore’s map of Lombardy of about 1515, the year in which Francis I of France invaded the region. Advertisements from the London Gazette indicate that war-induced special cartography was thriving by the 1680s. However, the limited nature of the technology available for the printing of illustrations in newspapers, as well as the extent to which illustrations were not expected, were such that few maps were published in a newspaper format, then or in the next century.

The interrelationship of war and cartography was demonstrated by disputes and conflict in North America from the 1740s. In 1749, the presentation of “a map and a written account of the importance of Nova Scotia” were considered by opposition politicians deciding whether to bring the issue up in Parliament.33 Conflict greatly increased interest in maps of North America. The unexpected British colonists’ capture of the new French coastal fortress of Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island in 1745 (with the support of a small Royal Navy squadron on patrol) had led to the publication of broadsheet maps in Britain. New maps of North America were announced in the issues of a London newspaper, the Daily Advertiser, on August 3, September 5, and September 10, 1755, as large-scale conflict between Britain and France began there in 1755. John Clevland also had a copy of a series of tracts of 1755–1766 that dealt with the geography of North America, bound in one volume and supported by maps. These works moreover reflected the contention that maps could lead to. One of the tracts, Lewis Evans’s Geographical, Historical, Political, Philosophical and Mechanical Essays. The first containing an analysis of a general map of the middle British Colonies in America and of the country of the confederate Indians (London and Philadelphia, 1755), was criticized in New York, especially by the New York Mercury, for acknowledging too many French territorial claims, but it was used by General Edward Braddock, who advanced into the interior in 1755.

Maps and the politics of space were closely linked. Criticism of Evans’s map led in 1756 to the publication of a second essay by Evans. Clevland’s volume also included Ellis Huske’s The Present State of North America (1755), which backed the cartographer John Mitchell in his pro-British Map of the British and French Dominions in North America (1755),34 and Thomas Jefferys’s Explanation for the New Map of Nova Scotia . . . with the adjacent parts of New England and Canada (1755), which took issue with the accuracy of Mitchell’s map. Public interest can be gauged from the fact that two editions of Huske appeared in Boston in 1755 and two in London.35

The capture of Québec from France in 1759 led to the production and sale in Britain of more maps on North America. A Universal Geographical Dictionary; or, Grand Gazetteer (London, 1759) was, the title-page proclaimed, “Illustrated by a general map of the world, particular ones of the different quarters, and of the seat of war in Germany.” At the end of the Seven Years’ War with France, a conflict discussed in the following chapter, the Universal Magazine of March 1763 provided a map of the extent of territory Britain now controlled in North America. This map was both a triumphant display of British achievement and a response to reader interest. Meanwhile, readers of the London Magazine who wished to follow the course of the war of 1760–1761 in North America between the Cherokees and British and colonial forces could turn to “A New Map of the Cherokee Nation . . . engraved from an Indian draught by Thomas Kitchin,” in early 1760.

Interest in cartography was not, of course, restricted to the public but, instead, overlapped with military concerns. In October 1760, Colonel James Montresor wrote to General Jeffrey Amherst, the British commander-in-chief in North America, a master of planned, methodical campaigning:

I think it my duty to acquaint your Excellency that I have got in great forwardness a general map of that part of North America which has been the seat of war wherein is distinguished the roads that have been made by the troops, the navigation of its rivers, its carrying places, the new forts and posts constructed, the several hospitals, barracks and buildings for the soldiers, the marches of the army, the places where have been engagements, attacks, sieges and camps, interspersed with useful remarks. The most part laid down by actual surveys with geographical and military observations made in that country from the year 1754 to 1760. As this map will show at one view what has been done in that country, I hope that it will be very acceptable, as well to the ministry as to the military, as your Excellency’s march from Albany to Montreal, and Brigadier-General Murray’s from Quebec is only wanting to complete it.

Montresor sought information on the details of those successful advances earlier in 1760.36

Postwar British popular interest in North America continued to encourage the publication of maps and strengthened with the War of Independence, which broke out in 1775. Thomas Jefferys published a number of atlases, including A General Topography of North America and the West Indies (1768) and, using his maps, Robert Sayers and John Bennett published The American Atlas, or a Geographical Description of the Whole Continent of America (dated 1775), with subsequent editions dated 1776 and 1778.37 The first major battle of the American Revolution, Bunker Hill in June 1775, was rapidly followed in London by the publication of maps of the battle, the earliest appearing four days after the report of the engagement reached London. The struggle for Boston was also followed on the Continent, with Samuel Holland and George Callender’s Chart of the Harbour of Boston, published by J. F. W. Des Barres, being used by Jean, Chevalier de Beaurain, to produce a map. The latter map was soon re-engraved and printed in Leipzig.38 In 1776, detailed maps of New England enabled British readers, anxious about the civil war in the empire, to follow the course of the conflict in its initial theatre,39 while in 1777 William Faden published a large-scale map of New Jersey and, in the following year, a plan displaying the recent campaign on the Delaware River, waged by the British in order to ensure occupied Philadelphia’s access to the sea. Faden did the same for other campaigns and engagements, such as the unsuccessful 1776 British attack on Fort Sullivan, South Carolina, and George Washington’s operations at Trenton and Princeton in New Jersey in the winter of 1776–1777.

Several plans depicting the decisive clash of the war, the successful American and French siege of the British position at Yorktown in 1781, appeared shortly after the event, notably including Sebastian Bauman’s masterly work, printed at Philadelphia in 1782. An interesting contrast in perspective is evident when comparing two important French maps of the siege, Carte de La Partie de La Virginie ou L’Armée Combinée de France et des Etats-Unis de l’Amerique a fait prisonniere l’Armée Anglaise (Paris, ca. 1782), which put much emphasis on the battle between the British and French fleets near the mouth of Chesapeake Bay, whereas Georges-Louis Le Rouge’s map closely focused on the action immediately surrounding the besieged town, an approach that led to a stress on the American army’s role.40

The relationship between war and knowledge was repeatedly seen with cartography. Reviewing Lewis Evans’s Analysis of a General Map of the Middle British Colonies in America, in 1756, Samuel (Dr.) Johnson wrote that “the last war between the Russians and the Turks [1736–1739] made geographers acquainted with the situation and extent of many countries little known before,”41 a reference to the lands on the northern shore of the Black Sea. Conflict encouraged both supply and demand: military mapping and the commercial production of maps. Thus, in 1733, Louis Felix Keralio published Histoire de la guerre entre la Russie et la Turquie, particulerement de la campagne de 1769, a book relating to the 1768–1774 war, and Histoire de la guerre des Russes et des Imperiaux contre les Turcs en 1736, 1737, 1738, 1739 (Paris, 1780), works that included maps. The Journal Politique de Bruxelles of February 2, 1788, advertised a map of the northern and northwestern littoral of the Black Sea that would help those interested in the Russo–Turkish war (begun the previous year) follow its course. The ability of maps to serve a political agenda, or at least to make geopolitical points, was seen in the case of Russia. Later critics depicted the state as an octopus spreading its tentacles in cartoon maps such as Fred Rose’s Serio-Comic War Map for the Year 1877, as well as Japanese maps produced at the time of the Russo–Japanese War of 1904–1905. This concept may well have influenced Mackinder in his 1904 depiction of Eurasian power politics. He was to refer in 1943 to his recollection of childhood concerns about Russian expansionism, concerns that were particularly strong in 1877–1878.42

In many respects, the use of maps to follow wars, both in the eighteenth century and thereafter, was an aspect of a general map culture, with rising map consumption being focused on particular interests.43 At the same time, this focus involved not only conflicts in which one’s own country was a participant, but also others, which provides a reminder of the different audiences for geopolitics. Cartography served as an aspect of the news, and that in a West in which the provision of news was becoming more central and its presentation more clearly scientific and rational, rather than providential and impressionistic. Yet, there is need for care in distinguishing between the popularity of “science” and the reality: while, in the eighteenth century, there was an increasing number of map publishers, like Faden or d’Anville—in London and Paris, respectively—who took accuracy seriously, there were plenty whose considerations remained purely commercial and who disguised a lack of accuracy behind grand claims made in map titles and/or the new austere form of map decoration.44

During the Enlightenment, as another indication of change—change, moreover, that reflected and established different criteria in the display of place and power—there was a general shift of cartography from pictorial to book forms and conventions. However, this shift should not be exaggerated: small-scale maps had used conventional signs for centuries, while in the mid-nineteenth century pictorial maps of small areas were still being employed for military planning purposes.


Encouraging the map culture in the eighteenth-century West, there was also a general downgrading of theory in favor of facts, not least as the notion of applied knowledge acquired definition and prestige, especially thanks to the development of political arithmetic and political economy. This intellectual shift was linked to a situation in which information, rather than received wisdom, had greater currency, both as a source of authority and as a practical guide to policymaking. This shift is generally treated as an aspect of the history of science, but it was far wider in its sources and application.45 Indeed, the deployment of information to support geopolitical analyses and arguments can be related to this process as can, more profoundly, the presentation of these analyses as based on information.

The dynamic relationship between war, geopolitics, and cartography in the eighteenth century can be traced to a developing consciousness about an explicit process of planning, with warfare providing instances of using information both for policy prescription, in the shape of planning, and for policy discussion. Scientific methods entailed not only the concerns of generals with artillery and sieges, but also the use of scientific knowledge at the operational level, with the need to plan foraging and marches requiring an understanding of agronomy, surveying, celestial navigation, botany, and forestry. Military technology and practice were thus influenced by the larger economy of knowledge, which expanded considerably, helped by the diffusion of information through the culture of print. Locational skills were important to the staff planning that was at an increased premium: for example, with the Austrian army during the Turkish war in 1737–1739, a war the Austrians lost.46 Under the direction of Field Marshal Lacy, inspector general of the Austrian army, the Austrians took this planning forward after 1748, establishing, during the Seven Years’ War (1756–1763), what became an effective proto–general staff.

At the same time, the use of the military as the major source for mapping, and indeed as a key basis for map publication, provided another important dimension of military cartography. The longstanding surveying and charting facilities and interests of Western armies and navies varied greatly, but they were certainly important in the eighteenth century. The French ingenieurs-geographes had been busy with this sort of mapping, and in an organized way, since the 1600s. However, in terms of scale and, more arguably, of accuracy, the eighteenth-century surveys were in a different class. Drawing on the cartographic traditions of their varied possessions, especially Italy and the Austrian Netherlands (modern Belgium), the Austrians were particularly prominent in this mapping, notably in Sicily, Lombardy, Austria, Bohemia, Hungary and the Austrian Netherlands. Ruling Sicily between 1720 and 1734, the Austrians employed army engineers to prepare the first detailed map of the island. As an aspect of defense preparations against Prussia, a major military survey of Bohemia was begun in the 1760s and completed under Joseph II in the 1780s. Lower Austria was surveyed from 1773, and an enormous survey of Hungary completed in 1786. The use of the military in this fashion was important in societies where, ordinarily, attempts to gain information were heavily dependent on the co-operation of others. The resulting detail was often considerable. The maps of the Austrian Netherlands—drawn-up in 1771–1774 and supervised by Joseph-Johann-Franz, Count of Ferraris, the director-general of the artillery—were based on military surveys and comprised 275 leaves. As an instructive instance of the relationship between military activity and commercialization (a relationship focused on entrepreneurs), Ferraris was then permitted to produce his own commercial version, which was published in 1778.

Military engineers from other countries were also important. The French military engineers of the period, such as Pierre Bourcet, tackled the problems of mapping mountains, creating a clearer idea of what the Alpine frontier looked like. He also mapped Corsica. This mapping was an expression of the assertion of French control on the troublesome island from 1768, a process which also included roadbuilding. Bourcet’s work on the Alps was continued by Le Michaud d’Arcon, and the mapping helped the French Revolutionary forces in their successful campaigns there in the 1790s.47 Following the suppression of the 1745 Jacobite rebellion, William Roy of the Royal Engineers carried out a military survey of Scotland that served as the basis for more accurate maps. Surveys and maps were designed to help in the British military response to any future rebellion, and to assist in the process of governmental reorganization of the Highlands. As such, surveys and maps complemented both fortification and legislative action,48 which was similar to the process that was also to be seen in Corsica. This was a geopolitics judged crucial to control.

The Russians were less at the fore in mapping than the Austrians. Nevertheless, the Russian army was employed to produce relatively good maps of the western provinces. The government regularly dispatched groups of officers to conduct surveys and prepare maps. This was particularly done in 1810–1812, when the western lands were thoroughly surveyed as part of a process of defense against a likely French invasion, a process that included an improvement to the existing fortifications. In contrast, there was a lack of maps of the empire’s eastern provinces, especially beyond the Ural Mountains, provinces that were not threatened by the risk of invasion. This contrast indicated the needs-based nature of cartography and, more generally, of geopolitical information, a situation that is a problem if conflict or interest suddenly shifts, as to Afghanistan in the 2000s. In this case, as earlier with the Falklands War in 1982, the British government scrambled around to gain reliable geographical and cartographic information.

A separate issue for Russia in the 1800s was posed by the shortage of maps for offensive operations, because this shortage reflected a dependence on army sources and the difficulty of securing information about foreign countries through these means. Thus, in the 1800s, the Russian army lacked maps of Central Europe. When an army under Kutuzov marched to support Austria in 1805, he was desperately short of maps of the Habsburg dominions and asked the Russian ambassador in Vienna, Prince Razumovsky, to send any maps of the theatre of war. The prince sent him general maps of the region, which he had purchased in a shop, but he could not find the detailed maps that would have been useful at the operational and tactical levels. This contrast in the availability of the necessary detail was more generally the case.

The role of the military was often more directly entrepreneurial, as with Johann Jaegar, captain of artillery and an inspector of arsenals in Frankfurt, who opened a map shop there in 1762 and, from 1766, published eighty-one sheets providing a map of Germany and its surrounds. There are many earlier examples of soldiers with time on their hands teaching cartography and publishing commercial maps. In addition to an emphasis on entrepreneurial interests, it is pertinent to note continued peacetime military concerns. Long-standing Prussian intervention in the neighboring Duchy of Mecklenburg acquired a cartographic dimension when Friedrich, Count von Schmettau, a Prussian colonel, produced a Carte Chorographique et Militaire du Duche de Mecklenburg-Strehlitz (Berlin, 1780), followed by an engraved survey, Topographisch, Oeconomisch und Militarische Charte des Herzogthums Mecklenburg Schwerin (Berlin, 1787). Similarly, on the other side of the Atlantic Lieutenant John Ross of the British army was sent, in 1765, on an expedition up the Mississippi that resulted in his Course of the Mississippi (London, 1775). So also with the party sent down the Ohio Valley in 1766, which led to Thomas Hutchins’s map of it.49 These expeditions reflected the British determination to seize real and imaginative command of the trans-Appalachian territories ceded to them under the Peace of Paris of 1763 with France.

Alongside cartographic interest in North America, military activity elsewhere led to an expansion of the mapping of other areas about which Europeans lacked reliable cartographic knowledge. For example, Napoleon’s successful invasion of Egypt in 1798 led to the first accurate map of the country. The French army carried out the trigonometric survey of the Nile Valley and the Mediterranean coasts of Sinai and Palestine, all of which were areas in which it operated. The resulting map, on forty-seven sheets, was designed to help military planning, as well as being part of a geographical enquiry that was intended to ennoble Napoleon in enlightened European opinion. In addition, the French occupation led to the production of a map of Cairo, where the French had a garrison. That French rule of the city included a heavy bombardment in response to a rebellion there, indicated the range of activity that information was designed to further.

More generally, Napoleon regarded maps as a key operational tool. In his numerous criticisms of his subordinates, Napoleon often commented that, if they simply looked at a map, they would see the error of their ways. Describing the emperor’s headquarters in 1813, Baron Odeleben wrote:

In the middle . . . was placed a large table, on which was spread the best map that could be obtained of the seat of the war. . . . This was placed conformably with the points of the compass . . . pins with various colored heads were thrust into it to point out the situation of the different corps d’armée of the French or those of the enemy. This was the business of the director of bureau topographique . . . who possessed a perfect knowledge of the different positions. . . . Napoleon . . . attached more importance to this [map] than any want of his life. During the night [the map] was surrounded by thirty candles. . . . When the Emperor mounted his horse . . . the grande equerry carried [a copy] . . . attached to his breast button . . . to have it in readiness whenever [Napoleon] . . . exclaimed “la carte!”50

In 2014, a French television program L’Ombre d’un doute, argued that Napoleon was misled at Waterloo by an inaccurate printed map of the battlefield.51 In practice, that was not why he lost: his tactical and operational handling of the day were both deeply flawed. The extensive use of mapping and maps seen during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars52 was not a new development, as already-existing patterns of behavior continued in a Western society and military culture that were carto-literate.


Geopolitics was a matter not only of international conflict, but also of the attempt to make uniform both governance and the internal politics of states and, as such, was an instance of the application of knowledge for the service of government, a key theme in the self-image of the latter in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.53 Despite the continuation of internal differences, many of them geographically linked, the increasing demands of sovereign states also helped to reconfigure power relationships within their boundaries, notably in border areas, and thus to take them closer to being blocs of territory. For example, in the Val d’Aosta in 1767–1768, Charles Emmanuel III of Savoy-Piedmont transferred duties and powers from the Conseil des Commis, the executive body of the Estates, to royal delegates. The scope of Piedmontese law was extended in the valley, obligatory taxes were decreed, which effectively neutralized the Estates, and the state-appointed office of intendant was introduced.

This process made the areas comprehended by state frontiers on maps more real as units, and the crystallization of Western frontiers was both real and mappable. By the end of the seventeenth century, it was common in the case of Christian Europe to distinguish between traditional provincial borders and contemporary international frontiers by marking the latter on maps when they occurred within historically united provinces. The redrawing of boundaries was an aspect and means of power. Thus, in Galicia, the area that is now southern Poland and western Ukraine that Austria gained from Poland in 1772, Joseph II in the 1780s followed a policy of centralization in which administrative boundaries were redrawn. Moreover, Joseph reorganized the system of Hungarian provincial administration, in part to increase his power as well as to create units dictated by geographical and demographic convenience.54


At the same time, the suggestion of consolidated blocs of territory helped lead, from the late seventeenth century, to a mechanistic concept of international relations, one understood and described in terms of a balance of power. This understanding had a clear geographical dimension, not least as it could be readily transposed into spatial terms, providing a basis for the geopolitical imagery of the age and for much of the related thought. The balance seemed an appropriately modern conception in a West of Cartesian mathematics and Newtonian physics. The concept appeared to offer an apparently rational way to arrive at a scientific analysis of international relations and, indeed, in the case of the United States, in establishing a constitution. Once quantified, power could be understood in mechanistic terms that corresponded to those being popularized for Newtonian physics.55 The notion of the balance assumed that hegemonic power would meet with a matching reaction, rather as, in his laws of motion, Sir Isaac Newton (1642–1727) had revealed that the action of a force created an equal and opposite response. A twentieth-century version, albeit without the scientific gloss, was offered by the idea of containment, an idea deployed against the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

In some respects, the concept of a balance of power was also a radical geopolitical understanding. Taking forward the opposition to the “universal monarchy” supposedly threatened by the Habsburgs in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, the concept suggested that the theme of an empire, made normative in the West by the legacy of Classical Rome, as well as the subsequent search there for hegemonic power, was unnatural. Instead, the balance represented an idea and practice apparently appropriate for a polycentric international system. To treat this crucial shift simply in terms of geopolitical thought would be naïve. Key elements in the politics of the day were involved, notably opposition to the power and expansionism of Louis XIV of France (r. 1643–1715), especially from the mid-1670s, as well as what might be understood as the changing Western political thought of the age about international relations. In part, as so often is the case, conceptualization followed politics as commentators sought to explain the rationale of opposition to Louis and to devise appropriate means accordingly. This was a process later seen with Cold War containment. Yet, to separate out these elements of politics and conceptualization is not overly helpful with regard to the thought of the seventeenth century. There was far less specialization in terms of sub-disciplines than there would be in the late nineteenth century, when geopolitics is generally seen as beginning as a distinct subject. As a consequence, the balance of power can be regarded as a part of the thought of the period without implying that geopolitical thought was a distinct strand.

As a concept, the balance of power indicated some of the issues and problems that were to attach to later geopolitical discussion. For modern commentators, the balance can be presented as a means to encourage restraint, but also as an aspect of a ruthless pursuit of self-aggrandizement involving often short-term shifts in alliance partners. There was a contrast between the pursuit of balance in Christian Europe and that of unconstrained primacy further afield.56 In addition, there was the important question of whether the balance was descriptive—explaining what allegedly happened naturally—or prescriptive: outlining what ought to happen but, nevertheless, required human volition to take effect. This contrast was elided in much of the rhetoric that employed the balance. The prescriptive approach was, in part, an aspect of the more general move, also seen in cartography and science, to regarding the natural world as an analyzable, knowable, and controllable structure.57 Yet, the role of balance-of-power language in calling for policies supposedly in pursuit of such a balance underlined its place as polemical as much as analytical and, again, markedly prefigured the similar use of the language of containment during the Cold War. There was also the serious problem that power could not be readily defined or measured, and thus balanced, a fundamental issue for the rationalist use of geopolitical arguments. This issue was to recur with the Cold War.

The balance carried with it the concept of natural interests: goals that apparently stemmed from inherent characteristics. The thesis of natural interests, however, underplayed the extent of serious differences in opinion within states over interests and, therefore, goals. The thesis also raised the prospect that rulers could be criticized for failing to understand national interests. For example, Louis XV of France was criticized from 1756 for allying with Austria. Thus, the thesis of natural interest (and thereby national interest) potentially challenged the idea that governments were best placed to choose policies and to change them.

This approach could be seen as providing an intellectual pedigree for modern “critical geopolitics.” However, as a reminder of the need for caution in looking for parallels, there was, in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a key difference in the belief that there indeed were inherent national interests and, therefore a correct policy, which could be objectively assessed and which governments could be criticized for failing to understand. In contrast, drawing on postmodernist thought, modern “critical geopolitics” is wary of this commitment to objective reality—notably, if linked to government policy. Linked to this, the balance of power has been presented as an ambiguous metaphor transformed into a distorting myth.58

As a key aspect of the territorialization of Western states in the eighteenth century, and of the particular geopolitics of the Enlightenment and the revolutionary West, the concept of natural frontiers—readily grasped geographical entities, principally mountains and rivers—became an established aspect of geographical description and political discussion. The concept also implied an apparently more rational territorial practice and international system. The idea of natural frontiers relied on assumptions about clearly differentiated blocs of territory. These encouraged a determination to enforce control in frontier zones, as such zones no longer appeared as valid or desirable as linear frontiers. In the 1790s, it was with reference to this idea that Revolutionary France justified its invasions of its neighbors, including annexing most of Savoy and the left bank of the River Rhine, as France’s “natural boundaries” were said to follow the heights of the Alps and Pyrenees and the mid-channel of the Rhine. The eighteenth-century anticipations of such ideas of natural frontiers serve as a reminder of the need to see French Revolutionary foreign policy and warfare (1792–1799) in terms of continuity as much as change. Indeed, the Revolution has been presented as “old wine in the old bottles of French geopolitical pride,” as well as a product of geopolitics in the shape of international competition.59 At the same time, the emphasis on “natural boundaries” did represent a form of critical geopolitics directed against ancien régime practices of territorial control.


Much of the classical geopolitics with which we are familiar draws on the concepts and practices of clear blocs of territory and readily mappable frontiers. These concepts and practices arose in the West, notably in the eighteenth century. However, the extent to which it is helpful to apply this concept and practice more widely on the world scale is questionable. So, also, is the notion of this situation as a terminus of historical development and/or a best practice for all time. In short, we face the position, familiar with much geopolitical thought and military history, of a desire to apply a chronologically specific descriptive and analytical criteria more widely, and (separately, but linked) to derive notions of state interest and relative military capability as a result. This issue relates to the situation across space as well as time.

Turning, for example, to non-Western concepts and practices of frontiers, geopolitics and war, there is much excellent work on asymmetrical conflict, and it covers much of the world. However, the emphasis in this work is Anglophone, while, at least in relative terms, there is far less on the frontier conflicts and understandings of non-Western societies with, and toward, their counterparts, particularly if neither was, or is, in the first league of power. Thus, the nature and role of warfare and the related geopolitics in Southeast Asia in the eighteenth century, such as the fierce conflicts between Burma and Siam, have not received the attention devoted to such conflict involving China; meanwhile, the latter is modestly covered60 compared to the extensive and excellent work on the situation in North America in the eighteenth century.


The discussion of advancing Western frontiers of settlement, and the resulting conflict of land claim, appropriation and clearance, are themes pursued when geography, both as subject and as practice, is treated as an adjunct of imperialism, a theme also considered in chapter 5. Yet, this discussion can underplay the extent to which, alongside conflict, colonies, such as those of British and French North America, involved co-operation with non-Westerners, in this case the Native Americans. Underplaying this co-operation can lead to a simplification of frontier society and thus “the frontier,” with consequences for an exaggeration of the role of warfare there. Frontier society, anyway, is an aspect of Western imperialism that often receives insufficient attention because better records survive for those of the colonial population who lived in port cities, such as Boston or New Orleans, and their linkage with frontier conflict was often indirect. Moreover, the port cities, and their trade with imperial metropoles, engaged most fully the attention of the home governments.

Thus, the Anglo–French crisis of the mid-1750s, which arose from the rivalry over the remote Ohio Valley, a rivalry that led in 1754 to the conflict discussed in the next chapter, was an aberration for the British government. Looked at differently, the extent to which the British government in this crisis was largely responding to developments, in part reflected its earlier lack of attention to the frontier issues. Yet, in what was to be a recurrent pattern, what became a new determination on the part of the government to take these issues into its hands and to enforce its views in the borderlands of empire, clashed with colonists’ assumptions, not least a zeal for land speculation.61 Indeed, the destruction of the geopolitical bloc of Anglo-America in the War of American Independence (1775–1783) in part rested on significant tensions within that bloc already visible in midcentury.62 Such qualifications about coherence and unity in policy and practice are more generally pertinent in the discussion of geopolitics. Some of the literature is prone to underrate political tensions within geographical units or blocs.

The geopolitics of frontier zones, as in the case of North America in the eighteenth century, were complex because their economies and societies were inherently unstable and prone to be absorbed by the controls, practices, and ethos of more colonized areas, especially as immigration gathered pace. Similarly, changing land use had significant environmental consequences.63 The state of flux created major problems for contemporary cartographers and, notably, if they sought a synchronic display of features involving different cultures.64

Nevertheless, however unstable, frontier societies were not some mere fag-end of empire. Instead, in North America, the phrase “frontier society” encapsulates complex relationships, both between colonists and Native Americans, and between colonists and their governments. Furthermore, these frontier societies have been presented as providing what has been termed a “middle ground” of shared cultural space between colonists (especially if traders rather than settlers) and Native Americans. In this space, individuals and groups have been regarded as playing an active role in organizing relations, instead of being in conflict or, indeed, simply victims of a distant imperial power. This approach is part of an understanding of empire, and of geopolitics more generally, in terms of processes rather than structures. These were processes in which not only those immediately engaged in colonization played a crucial role but also those affected by imperialism. In other words, Native Americans as well as colonists, had agency. As a separate point, there was also a Native American pursuit of advantage and geopolitics that can be seen as a variant on imperialism.65 This point repays examination before focusing exclusively on Western imperialism.

Moreover, there was an ethnic dimension to geopolitics on the imperial frontier, a dimension in both practice and classification. Many individuals prominent in the “middle ground” were the product of Western–Native American marriages, which helped them to act as translators and to play a major role in trade and in raising auxiliary forces. In addition, as more mixed-race children were born, so the prospects of marrying mixed-race women increased. The process of participation in the “middle ground” and, more generally, in the imperial system, however, was both unstable and unequal. Western mores were strongly asserted, which played a role in considering the attitudes of allies, and Native American views were slighted. As a consequence, mixed-race relationships faced opposition to what was seen as concubinage.

The “middle ground” with the Native Americans was central to the reality, if not the concept, of the frontier. The context, however, was to change radically with American independence in 1776. No longer constrained by British power, the newly independent Americans were able to define and pursue a distinctive geopolitics within North America, a process that was subsequently to be seen when the Portuguese and Spanish empires in the New World collapsed in the 1820s. This was a geopolitics that was as much a matter of the specific tone of the relations with the Native Americans as of particular geographical considerations, although the latter affected the pace of expansion. The spatial consequences of US political culture were significant, not least a strong desire for territory and influence that manifested itself as land-hunger. This provided the context within which, in 1893, Frederick Jackson Turner was to discuss the impact of the frontier in American society and, in effect, geopolitics, a topic discussed in chapter 6.


As so often with the geopolitics of expansion, there was a gap between the self-perception of the expansionist period and the perceptions held by others. As Robert Kagan pointed out in 2006, Americans have cherished an image of themselves as, by nature, inward-looking and aloof, only sporadically and spasmodically venturing forth into the world, usually in response to external attack or perceived threats. This lack of self-awareness was presented by Kagan as a problem in another way: not only had Americans frequently failed to see how their actions could provoke reactions from others, but they had not even accurately predicted their own responses. Kagan argued that the War of 1898 with Spain, in which the United States conquered Cuba and Puerto Rico and eventually the Philippines (in the Philippine-American War, 1899–1902) and became a transoceanic power, was consistent with his central themes: “[T]he war was the product of deeply ingrained American attitudes toward the nation’s place in the world. . . . It reflected Americans’ view of themselves, stretching back to before the nation’s founding, as the advance guard of civilization, leading the way against backward and barbaric nations and empires.”66

In practice, as with so many works, there is a tendency on Kagan’s part to simplify American attitudes and politics in order to offer a misleading consistency. His approach depoliticized the national space, which is an instance of a well-established practice of doing so, including, but not only, by geopoliticians. Instead, the reality within the United States was of very different views, as in the War of 1812 and the Seminole, Mexican and Spanish-American wars: There was often significant opposition to expansion in each of these cases. Moreover, this opposition had a geographical component, being strongest in each case in the Northeast. Thus, Kagan’s zeitschrift approach was (and is) questionable.

Much modern geopolitical theory is concerned with the asymmetries of power, especially (but not only) their spatial dimensions. As already discussed in the previous chapter in the case of China and Rome, frontiers can be profitably understood as zones of asymmetrical interaction. This point leads directly to two issues of geopolitical interaction that locate, and are located, on frontiers and yet are also of wider applicability: the recruitment of native auxiliaries and the diffusion of Western arms, organization and technique. In the nineteenth century, the two overlapped to help produce potent armies, as was the case with the British in South Asia and the French in West Africa. Western success in this respect (like that of the Manchu in China from the seventeenth century) greatly extended what can be seen as another definition of the frontier—that of strategic reach: the frontier of the militarily viable. This is a key issue in modern strategy and geopolitics, as seen with the debate in the 2000s and early 2010s, over the value and practicality of Western power-projection in Afghanistan.

The opposite of strategic reach, strategic overreach is a concept much employed by leading scholars of empire, most prominently Paul Kennedy and Geoffrey Parker.67 This concept provides them with an apparent frontier of practicality which, when exceeded, helps to provoke crisis; although the concept is not always employed so mechanistically. The idea is an apparently plausible one, and one that can be readily translated into geopolitical discussion. Nevertheless, the idea of strategic overreach faces the serious conceptual difficulty of assuming a clear-cut measure of strategic reach and geopolitical concern, whether in military or in other terms. The extent to which, however objective resources and distances may be, overreach is, on the contrary, a matter of perception, both for contemporaries and subsequent generations, should lead to a questioning of any ready application of the concept of overreach. The concept needs to be returned to the sphere of contention in which policy was formulated and discussed. For example, financial problems or a lack of adequate military resources are not helpful as measures of overreach, as each circumstance is true of most combatants.

Moreover, in assessing geopolitical practicalities, it is unclear that restraint (the presumed opposite of overreach, and a description generally applied as praise) can be readily abstracted from the political culture of the age. In early-modern Europe, both Western and Ottoman, there was a strong stress on honor and dynastic responsibility, and a concern with gloire and the normative values of combat. Furthermore, in prudential terms, war and expansion appeared possible, successful, and necessary. In contrast, the modern emphasis on restraint in strategic planning not only clashes with the cultural assumptions of the earlier period, but also presupposes that compromise could have been reached and sustained short of large-scale conflict. That is implausible, not only for early-modern Europe, but also in some modern circumstances, for example, for the United States when faced by an expansionist Japan in 1941.

Thus, frontiers of power were inherently unclear and, therefore, unstable, both in practical and in cultural and ideological terms. This situation helped lead to confrontation, if not conflict. There is scant reason to believe that this will not also be true for the future. At the same time, geopolitical discussion needs to take note of the cultural assumptions of particular periods rather than assuming the same set of values, or evaluative criteria, across time. Looked at differently, geopolitical discussion—including early-modern versions, the classic geopolitics of the early twentieth century, its Cold War revival, the “critical geopolitics,” and the post-1990 “revival of geopolitics”—can all be seen, at least in part, as discussions reflecting the cultural assumptions of particular periods. At the same time, it is necessary not to reify and simplify the situation at any particular moment, nor to assume a measure of determinism. Instead, concepts at any given time varied; while there was a degree of autonomy in the relationship between ideas and circumstances.

The problematic nature of the scholarly assessment of appropriate frontiers of aspiration is indicated by the case of the Ottoman Turks in the Indian Ocean. There is the obvious contradiction between the charge of strategic overreach that would have arisen had the Turks projected power there more consistently in the sixteenth century, and the fact that, because they did not do so this policy is taken to indicate limited goals and, in particular, a failure to appreciate the oceanic destiny of empires, or indeed to recalibrate their geostrategy in the face of a new geopolitical situation.68 As in other cases, this contradiction exemplifies the need, in advancing geopolitical judgments, to assess cultural norms and to reconcile the military historian’s perspective on operational practicality and strategic norms, with the knowledge offered by scholarship on “foreign policy,” insofar as the latter can be separated from strategic norms. Whichever perspective is adopted, it is appropriate not to argue the existence of coherent policies in the past simply by tracing them to the choices and actions that were taken, without employing due care in assessing the relationship between policies and actions, and the problems more generally of ascribing cause from effect. This point is pertinent in understanding what frontiers and other geopolitical elements meant to contemporaries in terms of purpose and practicality, norms, problems and possibilities.


The naval dimension of frontier geopolitics has attracted relatively little attention as the emphasis, instead, has been on shifts in naval dominance on a grander scale and on symmetrical conflict between similarly armed fleets. This emphasis, which continues to the present, owes much to the prominence of Western concepts of naval power, as well as to the impact of the writing of Alfred Thayer Mahan in the late nineteenth century, about which see chapter 6. In practice, similar points can be made about the complexities of maritime frontiers, as for their land counterparts. However, the extent to which ships are not a permanent presence like forts and frontier walls also introduces an important contrast. So, also, does the ability of warships to refuse battle by not sailing forth: it is harder to force battle on naval opponents than on their land counterparts.

The standard narrative of naval power and geopolitics focuses on ships of the line and proposes the superiority of Western navies and naval systems from the early sixteenth century. This was a superiority that was only compromised in 1904–1942, when the Japanese used their borrowing of Western systems with considerable success, against Russia, Britain, the United States and the Dutch. This account has considerable force, but underrates the extent to which, in the fifteenth to nineteenth centuries, Western warships, with their deep drafts, were unable to bring their force to bear readily upon much of the maritime environment of the world, notably shallow coastal, deltaic, and estuarine waters, let alone rivers and lakes. Along the coasts of Africa, Southeast Asia, the East Indies, New Zealand and Pacific North America, there were polities that controlled shallow-draught boats that enjoyed a local range denied Western warships. These boats were quick, maneuverable, beachable, and inexpensive. Their crews usually fought with missile weapons which, in the eighteenth century, increasingly meant muskets, and some canoes also carried cannon. The ability of such forces to achieve operational goals was seen in conflict between the New Zealand Maori in the early nineteenth century, and, even more clearly, in the unification of the Hawaiian archipelago from the 1790s to the 1810s. In these and other cases, operational goals drew on a capacity for troop transport and amphibious operations.

This situation did not change until the mid-nineteenth century, when steam-driven, iron-bottomed, shallow-draft gunboats gave the West a more varied and extensive capability. At the same time, crucially, there was a strong determination to use this power—the latter a reminder of the need to locate the practical and spatial considerations of geopolitics in terms of the political culture of the age. Shifting frontiers of maritime power then came to be rapidly apparent. Looked at differently, the maritime sphere as an effective restraint on, and thus frontier to, Western power ceased to operate. Instead, Western power could now be projected into the heart of continents, as evinced by the French and Belgian navigation up the Congo River in the late nineteenth century, and the British up the Nile, with British gunboats playing a role in the decisive victory over Mahdist forces at Omdurman near Khartoum in 1898.69

Western power could also be projected along new sea routes made possible by the digging of canals. British concern about French ambitions led to the mapping of the Suez isthmus in 1836, and a canal was subsequently dug across it, opening in 1869. The Panama Canal followed, opening in 1914. These canals indicated the malleability of some geographical factors, in this case the presence of marine routes, and thus the extent to which geopolitics should not adopt a deterministic reading of geography as a whole. The opening of the Panama Canal transformed the strategic place of the Caribbean in naval plans and greatly increased the flexibility of the US Navy by making it easier to move warships between the Atlantic and the Pacific. This enhanced the US ability to act in the Pacific and in protection of what would later be termed “the global commons” of maritime links.

Now, as a similar instance of power altering geopolitical structures, there is talk of China sponsoring a canal across the Kra isthmus in Thailand in order to: improve security on the maritime route from the South China Sea to the Indian Ocean; to shorten the route; and to further the deployment of Chinese naval power. There is also talk of Chinese sponsorship of a canal across Nicaragua to link the Caribbean to the Pacific. This would be a route at once suitable for bigger ships than can sail through the Panama Canal and less under US influence than the latter.


Power-projection into the heart of continents was an important aspect of the reordering of frontiers across the world in the nineteenth century, as the Western matrix of knowledge as well as Western equations of force were employed—in a period of unprecedented power for Western states70—in ordering the world on Western terms and in Western interests, a process considered in chapter 5. Force and legitimacy were brought together, for example, in the drawing of straight frontier and administration lines on maps, without regard to ethnic, linguistic, religious, economic, and political alignments and practices, let alone drainage patterns, landforms and biological provinces. The reconceptualization of the frontier, and the redrawing of frontiers, were thus crucial aspects of the expression of Western power as Western norms and conventions were applied globally. Non-Western states, such as Siam (Thailand), followed if they wished to survive.71 The development of geopolitics at the end of the nineteenth century as a formal discourse, call for action, and system of analysis can all be linked to this process, even though, as discussed in chapter 6, other elements also played major roles.

Hello, my name is Ed Smith and I teach at church history and Global Studies here at Liberty. And my task this week is to offer a biblical perspective on the rise and fall of nations. Now throughout the ages, a number of philosophers and historians have struggled to get at the idea of a universal notion of history. What is a philosophy of history? Especially as it pertains to the rise and fall of civilizations. We go back to the Greek historian Herodotus, who’s considered the father of history, who sought to interpret and get an understanding of world history. Are we fast-forwarding to the middle Ages? And the Arab philosopher called June in North Africa struggled to interpret the history of the rise and fall of civilizations in the African context or from a Christian perspective. One of the most interesting attempts to understand universal history was from the fourth, fifth century African church father and Christian theologian, Augustine of Hippo.

Augustine was born in the year 354, died in 430, and lived most of his life in what is now the country of Algeria. And as the Roman Empire was crumbling, he set out in the early fifth century to write a Christian philosophy of history. In his magisterial work on the city of guide. Let me just set the scene for that. On August the 24th, the year 410, the General Eric lead the Vandal armies into the city of Rome set it on fire. They starve the inhabitants. And really what they did was they wrecked the confidence of the Roman civilization. Rome was considered at that time to be the eternal city. It couldn’t be conquered. And so the historian Peter Brown has said it would be just like an army marching into Paris, into the luca, or into Westminster Abbey in London, or perhaps to the White House in the United States and overtaking it and conquering it. Now, the reaction to the conquest of Rome was very different from two different groups. On one hand, you had the, the traditional pagans of Rome that, that worship the deities of Rome, the Roman gods. And they were outraged that the, that the gods had not protected Rome. In fact, they blamed the Christians in the Roman Empire for causing the gods to be angry at Rome and not protecting them. And so they were, they were angered. They were outraged. On the other hand, you had Christians in the Roman Empire that this was the only civilization they had ever known. And what was to become of them as Roman Christians?

Well, when Augustine wrote his work on the City of God, he dedicated the first 10 books or chapters to his pagan audience, and he set out to ultimately dismantle a pagan world view to show that the Roman gods had never really protected Rome, that they didn’t exist. And so a Roman pagan worldview wasn’t legitimate. But in the second half of the book, Books 11 to 20 to, he directed his thoughts to the Christians of Rome. How do we understand our existence, our identity, when the only civilization that we have known? His falling really asked the question, what is home? Eugene give on, says that what Augustine did in this book is he went beyond Herodotus. And he says that what the City of God is, it is a world history, like Herodotus’s work. Yet he doesn’t eliminate the relationship of guide telling the story. So for August in the, the exile and the decline of a civilization didn’t actually begin with the fall of Rome. It actually began with the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. And it, and it separated out these two groups, what he called the City of guide and the earthly city. His famous work, the interiority and Augustan said that when Adam fell into sin, Adam became an exile from the presence of God. So in Books 11 to 14 of City of God, Augustine shows the origin of the two cities. He says that the earthly city is represented by Caine and the heavenly city, or the CEO of God is represented by Abel. And those two affections. In later books, books 15 to 18, he will chart the history of scripture and the history of biblical revelation, citing figures like Abraham and David and show this duality of the two cities. Conflict and in the final books of City of God.

Augustine speaks of the end of the two cities; the earthly city will end ultimately. And how, apart from the presence of guide and members of the heavenly city will of course, spend eternity with God in heaven. So how Augustine did described these two cities as they were in space and time history? He described the earthly city is being symbolized by Babylon, guided by self-love and independence and self-sufficiency. Its values were, were antithetical to the humility of being a follower of Christ. He said that it makes sense that in the earthly cities will have disasters and we’ll have wars. On the other hand, he said that the heavenly city is symbolized by Jerusalem. It’s characterized by justice and peace with, with neighbor preferring love for others and for guide. And virtue is achieved and following the model of Christ and throughout the City of God, Augustine will use the term heavenly city and you’ll use that the church interchangeably. So that is that people enter the heavenly city or the city of guide, their faith and their allegiance to Christ. What council or encouragement did Augustan give to Christians who were citizens of the heavenly city? But so journeying in the earthly city, what did he say to them? There are three areas.

First is, he said that he wanted to give them an eternal perspective. That is, they sojourn in the earthly city that they were chess temporary pilgrims. They were longing for the heavenly city in this gave them hope to continue on. At the same time, it helped them not to become satisfied by what they could find in the earthly city. Secondly, the earthly city was a place to, to, to train and to, and to exercise by faith of being members of the heavenly city. It was a place to spiritually grow. And then thirdly, he said that being a part of the heavenly city did mean that we escaped from the earthly city. Rather, we sought to, to be agents of light and transformation, bringing the values of the heavenly city to the earthly city, link inclusion for August. In 20 years after they conquered Rome, they actually made their way into North Africa. And the besieged his city of Hippo Regis. Augustine lay dying at the age of 76. Actually, he died from a fever while the Vandal armies were besieging his own city. As Augustine was dying. His disciple and, and biographer for city has said this about him that in his last days, Augustan found strength in the slayings of a wise man. Probably the philosopher Plotinus, who said that no one is great, who was amazed that wood and stone collapse and mortals die. Now while Augustine was encouraged by the words of the Egyptian philosopher Plotinus. In this, he had also share these ideas himself because earlier in his own confessions he wrote, we need not fear to find no home again because we have a fall and we have fallen away from it. We are absent while we are apps that are home falls not to ruin, ruins. Forgot our home is in your eternity. So just a little bit on August in the city of guide and a perspective on eternity. When nations rise and fall.

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