The United States and the Geopolitics of Water: Human Need, Mississippi River Barges, and Offshore Eurasian Balancing

By Kelly, Phil | Geopolitics, History and International Relations, January 1, 2018 | Go to article overview

The United States and the Geopolitics of Water: Human Need, Mississippi River Barges, and Offshore Eurasian Balancing


Kelly, Phil, Geopolitics, History and International Relations


Introduction

In a central argument of an earlier article published in the journal, Geopolitics, History, and International Relations (Kelly, 2017), the author wrote to relocate Halford Mackinder's original heartland from its first placement in north-central Eurasia to another and more appropriate location in the middle-section of North America, specifically to the Mississippi River watershed - a newly-designated North American heartland. This essay furthers that argument. Mackinder's thesis itself should continue to hold a contemporary relevance, not refuted yet still updated by the present writer. But that earlier Russian depiction instead needs this better American residence, for reasons given in that article. The present essay will broaden that narrative, this being a sequel to it, with some new topics and thoughts, particularly these revolving around the three general insights about water and their geopolitical and neo-realist expressions that will show the power and richness of this liquid resource traditionally enjoyed by the United States.

In contrast to the topics raised here, of water for human need, passage over rivers and lakes, and commanding sea-power astride continents, those three selected for this essay, much of the concern of classical geopolitics has looked instead to territorial and continental placement of states and resources as affecting on land their international relationships, the most prominent example, Mackinder's Eurasian heartland nestled within the continent's far-flung internal World Island (Mackinder, 1919, 1904). The Eurasian rimlands or coastal margins, and the outer peripheral zones of Africa, America, and South Asia and the Pacific islands, complement this territorial-based portrayal by also emphasizing the encircling land-power facets as balancing against the continental hinterland, Michael Gerace (1991), William Kirk (1965), and Nicholas Spykman (1942) adding to Mackinder's thesis in these territorial-based respects.

This fixation on land in foreign affairs and on the international-relations models of geopolitics and neo-realism should bring little surprise since human beings and states alike base their primary livelihoods first on solid territory, their landward-residencies figuring within the machinations of domestic and international politics. The author does not denigrate Mackinder and others for their landward inclinations, indeed, he favors his and also the realist model for this focus. But the geopolitics of water, too, if extended to the breath planned for this essay, should convey attention world-wide as well as locally and in past and present times and in the years ahead - for human and agricultural needs, for dependable river and ocean passage, and for vital defense and other economic and strategic interests pertaining to regional and global affairs.

One more point associated to the arguments stated above. The author believes "heartlands" of the Mackinder depiction can be structured also by combining a seapower orientation to a land-power positioning, the two features interlaced. The essentials of heartlands defined originally by Mackinder included: a central yet isolated and protected continental location, one of internal unity and of sufficient resources for strength and protection and with the ability to extend authority outwardly over the entire continental space and possibly beyond. Showing some contrast but still within his parameters, the North American heartland precisely reflects these qualities, representing a configuration built within both alignments, seaward and landward: an insulated continental interior of wealth and union, both enhanced with the sufficiency of rains and rivers and with the authority to extend power outwardly from America via its marine authority. These all reveal the essential factors outlined by Mackinder but now they are enhanced by water as much as by land in this updated description.

To extend these points further and to repeat for emphasis that stated in the abstract, the purpose of the immediate essay is two-fold: one, to highlight the contribution of water in all of its three levels, human, state, and strategic, as substantiating further the contention that North America represents a true Mackinderisque heartland, and two, to go beyond this assertion to connect the North American heartland and its balancing of strategic forces upon Eurasia within the present debate over security policy now surfacing that links in part to that US maritime offshore balancing astride Eurasia. …

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