We humans are social animals. Being social – interacting and cooperating in spite of our differences, has everything to do with ensuring our continued survival.
A part of what shapes our experiences is the environment we live in: the resources available and how they are employed, whether nations covet riches in lands not theirs and how such conflicts are resolved.
The definition of politics includes ‘... the debate or conflict among individuals having or hoping to achieve power.’
How does that definition change when placing the prefix 'geo-' in front of 'politics'?
Today, countries don’t (necessarily) engage in the use of force to access riches enjoyed by people in other lands – and thus gain power.
We tend to settle transnational disputes or come to an arrangement for sharing resources through mediation and trade agreements.
Still, the foundation for both the disputes and the resolutions lies largely in the resources that can be brought to the table. When seen from that aspect, geography plays a large part in the politics of today.
But just how far-reaching is geopolitics? Can one nation have an impact on a country that is not its immediate neighbour? And which lands hold the riches that would make it a world power?
Now, we look at global geopolitics as well as the geopolitics of individual regions; the effects of such politics and the prospective benefits to humankind’s future.
What Are Geopolitics?
You might have thought we already answered that question and, to an extent, we have but the brief outline above does not represent the full complexity of the discipline.
Did you know that climate plays a part in geopolitics?
Not only does a region’s climate dictate which consumables can grow - for domestic consumption or for export, but it also impacts safety and infrastructure.
Indonesia, for example, has suffered terribly from typhoons wiping out their crops and levelling their cities while droughts and excessive heat are severely impacting coffee-producing regions.
Other factors that influence geopolitics include:
- Natural resources such as arable land, minerals, forests and water
- Demography: the diversity of people in a region; their religious beliefs and sectarian strife, cultural norms
- Government: internal policy issues, economic policy, foreign policies and how they manage rivalries with other countries and within their borders.
Does economics play a role in geopolitics? Find out in our full-length article on the subject...
Geopolitics in Africa
Having thrown off the shackles of European colonialism only in the last 70 years or so, the nations that make up the world’s second-largest continent are still trying to find their way onto the global political stage.
While relations between African nations are mostly neutral, some countries have risen up against authoritarian regimes, causing their internal politics to endure seismic shifts in power.
Strangely enough, while the great powers of the world cast anxious (or covetous) eyes on other global political hotspots such as the Middle East and Latin America, in Africa, it is only the most dramatic incursions that seem to make headlines.
The tensions in African nations have little to do with global security or world politics... yet.
There is one superpower that has taken a special interest in developing countries in Africa. It is providing funding opportunities and helping to build up infrastructure.
Find out who that global power is in our African geopolitics article.
Geopolitics in the Middle East
The region we refer to as the Middle East is actually on the Eurasian continent. Nevertheless, in geopolitical terms, that collection of countries is thought of as an entity in its own right.
And quite correctly, too!
Many of the world’s affairs centre on Middle Eastern countries; in part because they account for nearly 70% of the world’s petroleum supply.
Another, far less flattering reason that Middle Eastern affairs are so closely scrutinised is that some of the doctrines born in that region have a dramatic impact on international security.
To date, the Islamic State has done more to cause chaos in the Middle East as well as elsewhere in the world, including causing friction between Turkey and Egypt, both of whom are considered emerging powers.
Strategic studies reveal that their unique geographic position – the link between East Asia, Africa and Europe provides each of those nations with the ability to destabilise the entire region’s balance of power.
Thus, those states, even though they are only marginally included in international affairs, bear heavy influence on our current world order.
Who is the great power of the Middle East region?
Although the Iran nuclear deal that the Obama administration brokered currently has the spotlight in Middle East politics, the real mastermind of global politics... is revealed in our companion article on the subject.
American foreign policy was instrumental both in clinching the Iran deal and mediating the Israel-Palestine conflict, but they were by no means the only powers involved in these affairs.
Since the Second World War, America and Europe have enjoyed a mutually beneficial alliance but, since that time, European nations have come into their own; especially those in western Europe.
France and Germany, in particular, have crafted a balancing of power, with Germany considered the economic leader and France’s president actively courting international relations through his uncanny use of soft power.
In fact, so adept have these two political leaders become at managing their interdependence that their combined political clout actually threatens the global American hegemony!
When you think of their relationship from a historical perspective, it might seem odd that France’s former invader would be so warmly embraced.
And what standing will the UK have in their international policy once our exit from the European Union is finalised?
Would you like to take a closer look at how Europe's unique dynamic evolved from being competing powers to becoming world leaders in international politics?
Geopolitics in Russia
Naturally, not all is rosy in Europe, especially Eastern Europe.
Many of those countries are still struggling to build a competitive economy and, after years of being controlled by their larger neighbour, finding their place in the international system of politics.
Russia’s grand strategy at the end of the Second World War was to establish a buffer between herself and the unpredictable powers in Europe.
To that end, the lands between Russia and western Europe were absorbed into what became known as the Soviet Union.
Thus began the Cold War, a time when diplomacy failed and armed conflict was a very real possibility.
Or was it?
For all that the Soviet Union comprised of vast lands – approximately 1/6 of the earth’s habitable territory, it had vast natural resources but few skilled enough to work them; a dire situation made worse by a faltering economy.
And, although Russian leaders enjoyed a show of might, they actually had little the way of materials or money with which to build up military power.
The end of the Cold War came about when the people behind the Iron Curtain grew so restless that Russia’s imperialism could not withstand their multi-pronged assault.
Following the Cold War, Russia and associated nation-states endured an economic recession that lasted nearly a decade; some countries are still trying to recover from the economic devastation they suffered during the Cold War.
As for the former Soviet Union, she’s doing only okay. She has as her head of state a crafty man who knows how to command attention; in fact, that is a major part of his foreign policy!
In our Russian Geopolitics study, you can find out how Mr Putin is influencing international development.
Many people embroiled in the study of political science and international relations wonder why Soviet leaders did not more forcefully pursue their alliance with China.
The fact is that the Chinese leader felt that the philosophies evolving in Russia undermined the purity of the Leninist doctrine – the catalyst that led to the Sino-Soviet split.
Immediately after breaking off relations, Mao Ze Dong gave up on foreign affairs to focus exclusively on his vast nation-state. His brand of nationalism proved to be particularly damaging as international institutions repeatedly condemned his practices.
His successor saw China’s potential for global leadership early on; in fact, he could hardly wait to open up, welcoming international organizations and taking part in global economic affairs.
Today, thanks to Deng Xiao Ping’s vision, President Xi Jinping has the power (and the capital) to tap emerging markets as far away as Venezuela, making China one of the fastest rising stars of global governance.
By no means is China the only influencer in Asia; other regional powers give the largest country in Eurasia a run for its money in world affairs...
Do you know who the other heavy hitters in Asia are?
Geopolitics in Latin America
As mentioned before, China is making inroads in far-flung places such as Africa and even in South America.
South America, like other regions, is a collection of nations bound by geography as well as history. These countries share several cultural elements such as language and religion.
Many of them also enjoy multilateral relations through the World Trade Organisation but, as far as their political economy, it lags behind other countries of similar development.
The reason for it is that most of the population, especially in South America, is dotted along the coastline, with little development made inland – meaning that coastal regions have significant infrastructural development while inner provinces are nearly primaeval.
Learn how Latin America's energy security outshines the rest of the world in our longer exposé of that region's geopolitics.
Western Europe’s liberalism contrasts with the ethnic conflict and civil wars that plague African nations. Meanwhile, Russia still struggles to prove itself a leading world power.
The rise of China and her perceived hegemonic tendencies clash with their constructivism and world economic endeavours – providing financing and resources to undeveloped countries.
In our globalized world, policymakers no longer think in terms of deterrence so much as conflict management and cooperation. And, if we’re really lucky, they aim for conflict resolution.
Still, flareups do occur, even in these times post-Cold War, when the threat of nuclear annihilation was at its highest.
Military buildup in the South China Sea, North Korea (and the U.S.) bragging of missiles, jihadist groups still active...
With all of these diverging factions, is it really possible to hope for an end to international conflict and strive for peace and security?