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  Geopolitics is the analysis of power relations between countries. It is often viewed from the perspective of the superpowers, or at least major powers or alliances, rather than that of the minor powers, and it is more concerned with strategic military issues than with those of democracy or human rights. In the long run, geopolitical power relates to size of population and territory and to economic development, but military power tends to lag behind economic power: for example, compared to Japan the UK and the US are militarily stronger but economically weaker.

One of the pioneers of geopolitical ideas was the first British professor of geography, Halford Mackinder, whose analysis of 1904 was summed up in the dictum: ‘Who rules East Europe commands the heartland; who rules the heartland commands the world island; who commands the world island commands the world.’ In coded language this identified Germany and Russia as well placed for world domination, and sought to justify Britain\'s imperial activities in the fringes of Eurasia and in the oceans and islands as a way of blocking the continental powers. It was a perspective which fitted the priorities of the USA after 1945, and probably one which created the USSR\'s fear of encirclement and attack.

In fact the USA had experience of geopolitics dating back at least to 1823, when it adopted the Monroe Doctrine, which committed it not to intervene in European affairs so long as the European powers avoided colonial intervention in Latin America. In 1947, the Truman Doctrine changed the commitment to one of ‘active support for free people’—which meant active opposition to Soviet and Chinese influence, even if this meant support for dictatorial régimes or even breaking the law. This led to intervention over Berlin, Korea, Vietnam and the Lebanon and to paranoia over Castro\'s Cuba and the destabilization of Allende\'s Chile. In 1979, influenced by US reliance on imported oil, the Carter Doctrine identified the Persian Gulf as vital to the USA and contributed to conflict with revolutionary Iran, support for Iraq and the sudden reversal of view over Iraq\'s occupation of Kuwait.

As we approach the end of the millennium, the collapse of the USSR has left the US as the sole superpower. The only immediate counter forces are Europe and Japan, but in neither case is the potential power being realized, Europe because of fragmentation and Japan because of distaste for past geopolitical adventures. In the longer term China and India have great potential because of their huge populations, but will be of limited influence until they achieve a higher level of development. In the shorter term the pattern looks likely to be one of smaller scale conflict, whether in the fragments of the eastern bloc or from heavily armed oil states such as Iraq. Such a world will not encourage broad geopolitical concepts, but this is probably a good thing, because the cynical concern for power makes geopolitics unable to contribute to solving international issues like sustainable development or the inequalities of the international division of labour. PS



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