Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

Geo-Politics in the Modern World: Dimtry Shlapentoph Discusses Two Recent Books That Present Opposing Views on Explanatory Value of Geo-Political Models

Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

Geo-Politics in the Modern World: Dimtry Shlapentoph Discusses Two Recent Books That Present Opposing Views on Explanatory Value of Geo-Political Models

Article excerpt


Editors: Nick Megoran and Sevara Sharapova

Published by. Columbia University Press, New York, 2013, 356pp, US$72.


Author: Christoph Bluth

Published by: I.B. Tauris, London/New York, 2014, 288pp, 59.50 [pounds sterling].



Geo-politics is essentially politicised geography. In this context, geographical location implies either advantages or clear disadvantages for particular states in their struggle to find their niche in the concert of the powers. Another interpretation holds that geographical location defines the nature of the social, economic and political systems and ultimately the notion of foe and friend. While emerging in the late 19th/early 20th century, at the beginning of the conflict among Western powers for supremacy, the concept was developed in the aftermath of the First World War, during the Second World War and in the early stages of the Cold War. It received a new boost more recently when the early prophecy about the end of history', the harmonious networks of democratic nations led by the benign hegemony of the United States, proved to be false. Still, geo-politics is not a globally accepted explanatory model. While popular in Russia, it is less acceptable in the West, where the geo-political framework is just a way of explaining events in a different context. Two recent books highlight the two diverse views.

One of these volumes is a collection of articles dealing with Halford Mackinder, the British geo-politician of the first half of the 20th century, and his influence in Central Asia and its applicability to the geo-politics of Central Asia today. The contributors to this volume come from a variety of backgrounds, some quite exotic, such as Levent Hekimoglu, for example. After spending some time in academia in Canada, he dropped out of academia and, now, if one can trust the biographical blurb, resides in the Arabian Desert.

The articles are divided into several clear groups. The first deals with Mackinder as the first political geographer, who, with scores of other similar thinkers, was the founder of geopolitics, the science that implies that a state's political culture, foreign policy and pecking order in the world order depend on geography. The interest in Mackinder is directly related to his notion that the country that controls the Eurasian heartland is a global leader.

The second segment--and, from this reviewer's perspective, the most interesting--deals with the history of the influence of Mackinder's ideas on Russia and Central Asia. Sevara Sharapova's chapter, 'The Intellectual Life of the Heartland: How Mackinder Travelled to Uzbekistan', shows how geo-politics and, therefore, Mackinder, were expunged from Soviet intellectual discourse by the late 1920s, at the end of the new economic policy (NEP) period. Geo-politics did not re-emerge in the Soviet Union until the time of Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms in the 1980s and almost immediately afterwards became quite popular in Russia. From here the concept transmuted to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, where geo-politics has been incorporated into the broad intellectual context. Kirill Nourzhanov's chapter 'Mackinder on the Roof of the World: Geopolitical Discourse in Tadjikistan' deals with the intellectual history of post-Soviet Tadjikistan in a broad Central Asian context, which is pretty much unknown in the West and, as one might assume, in Russia as well.

Awesome power

The West, especially the United States, which academia regards as the global cultural intellectual leader, had been quite interested in Soviet cultural and intellectual development in the past, despite the rather grayish uniformity of the Soviet intellectual space. …

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