A Modern Geopolitical Theory in the USA

  • Martin Kupka


Geopolitics as a science, which seeks to explore and explain how international politics is influenced by its geographic dimension, is not, and never has been the exclusive domain of German scholars. The author of the essay unquestionably places weaker emphasis on the pejorative shadow of this word because of associations pointing to the problematic relationship between geopolitics and the practical foreign policy of Germany's expansionism which, by its horrific consequences, came to a head during the Second World War; he puts before the reader the most prominent American geopolitical theories which emerged after the end of the Second World War. In the second half of the 20th century, the US became the centre of all major events which influence the theory of international relations; this is also where most modern geopolitical theories emerged which need not be considered a taboo since they have nothing in common with the Nazi ideology or with the political justification of aggressive war.
The essay is divided into two sections. The first describes the major American bipolar geopolitical theories which emerged from the rivalry between the US and USSR superpowers in the course of the Cold War, whereby the other protagonists of international relations are pushed rather into the background. We can find the roots of bipolarity, albeit different from the Cold War bipolarity, in certain pre-war geopolitical theories, which are briefly described in the introduction to the essay. This goes mainly for the theory by Halford J. Mackinder which for a long time influenced the further progress of geopolitical science and became a challenge for many representatives of practical international politics. The work by Nicolas J. Spykman whose geopolitical concept seeks to come to terms with the threat of post-war communist expansion, is on the borderline between classical and modern geopolitics. The approach chosen by Spykman and Mackinder was corrected in the 1950s by Donald W. Meinig, and two decades later by the purely realistic theory of Colin S. Gray.
The second section contains multipolar, or rather American pluralist, geopolitical concepts, which, putting it in simple terms, regard international relations as an interaction of a larger number of actors, not necessarily merely states. As far back as the 1960s, during a period of a relative relaxation of tension between the two superpower blocs, Saul B. Cohen introduced the theory of geostrategic and geopolitical regions, which enhanced the bipolar vision of the world of that time by a strong element of multiplicity. A so-called new geopolitical school began to develop in the early 1980s; it rejected the reductionism of bipolar theories and replaces their geographical determinism with possibilism. And the latest phenomenon - the so-called critical geopolitics of the 1990s - debunks bipolar thinking by means of a pluralist approach which deals mainly with alternative geopolitical processes such as centrifugal and emancipatory tendencies in peripheral spheres or the increasing regionalisation and heterogeneity of the geographical space.

Author Biography

Martin Kupka



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