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Mackinder's World
By Francis P. Sempa

Halford Mackinder’s ideas, which began to appear in print almost a century ago, have assumed classic status in the world of political geography. Policy makers and scholars remember them now mainly for the seemingly simple formula that control of Eastern Europe would bring command of the “Heartland,” thus control of the “World-Island” (Eurasia), and ultimately the world. His ideas in their entirety, including his own later reconsiderations, form a complex, powerful body of work. The author, who is deputy attorney general for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, revisits Mackinder’s professional career.  ~ Ed.

The study of international relations is impossible without a firm grasp of geography. The geographic factor in world history is the most fundamental because it is the most constant. Populations increase and decrease, natural resources are discovered and expended, political systems frequently change, empires and states rise and fall, technologies decline and advance, but the location of continents, islands, seas and oceans has not changed significantly throughout recorded history. That is why great nations neglect the study of geography at their peril.

No one understood better the important relationship between geography and world history than the great British geographer, Halford John Mackinder. Born in Gainsborough, England, in 1861, Mackinder attended Gainsborough Grammar School and Epsom College before entering Oxford in 1880. As a boy, according to W. H. Parker, Mackinder had “a strong curiosity about natural phenomena, … a love of the history of travel and exploration, an interest in international affairs, and a passion for making maps.”1

imageAt Oxford, Mackinder fell under the influence of Michael Sadler and Henry Nottidge Mosely, key figures in the effort to establish geography as an independent field of study in England. Mackinder was appointed a lecturer in natural science and economic history in 1886 and that same year joined the Royal Geographical Society. According to Brian W. Blouet, one of Mackinder’s biographers, the membership of the Royal Geographical Society “consisted of men with a general interest in the world and its affairs, officers from the army and navy, businessmen, academics, schoolteachers, diplomats, and colonial administrators.”2 The next year (1887), Mackinder wrote his first major paper, “On the Scope and Methods of Geography,” which has been called “a classic document in the history of the development of British geography.”3 In that paper, Mackinder argued that “rational” political geography was “built upon and subsequent to physical geography.” “Everywhere,” he wrote, “political questions will depend on the results of the physical inquiry.” Political geography’s function was “to trace the interaction between man and his environment.” That environment, Mackinder explained, included the “configuration of the earth’s surface,” climate and weather conditions, and the presence or absence of natural resources.4

Four of the ideas mentioned in “On the Scope and Methods of Geography” are key to understanding Mackinder’s subsequent geopolitical writings.

First, Mackinder expressed his view that the goal of a geographer was to “look at the past [so] that he may interpret the present.”
Second, he noted that man’s great geographical discoveries were nearing an end; there were very few “blanks remaining on our maps.”
Third, Mackinder described the two kinds of political conquerors as “land-wolves and sea-wolves.”
And, fourth, he recognized that technological improvements made possible “the great size of modern states.”5

Upon the foundation of those four ideas Mackinder later constructed his famous global theory.

In June 1887, Mackinder was appointed Reader in Geography at Oxford, and he began to lecture on the influence of geography on European history. He visited the United States in 1892, lecturing at the University of Pennsylvania, Swarthmore, Drexel, Harvard, Princeton and Johns Hopkins. The same year, he was appointed Principal of Reading College at Oxford, a position he held for eleven years. In 1893-1894, Mackinder gave a series of ten lectures on the relations of geography to history in Europe and Asia. Five years later, he helped found the School of Geography at Oxford, and participated in an expedition that climbed Mount Kenya, Africa’s second-highest peak.6

In 1902, Mackinder wrote his first major book, . Although primarily concerned, in Mackinder’s words, “to present a picture of the physical features and conditions” of Britain, the book’s chapters on “The Position of Britain,” “Strategic Geography,” and “Imperial Britain” contain insights on global affairs that foreshadowed Mackinder’s subsequent geopolitical works. In the book, he described Britain as being “of Europe, yet not in Europe,” and as lying “off the shores of the great continent.” British predominance in the world rested on its “command of the sea,” wrote Mackinder, because “[t]he unity of the ocean is the simple physical fact underlying the dominant value of sea-power in the modern globe-wide world.” “A new balance of power is being evolved,” Mackinder opined, and it included “five great world states, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and America.” Mackinder suggested, however, that Britain’s position as the preeminent world power was endangered due to “permanent facts of physical geography” in the form of “the presence of vast Powers, broad-based on the resources of half continents” (i.e., Russia and the United States).7

The threat to British preeminence and to the liberty of the world was the subject of Mackinder’s bold, provocative essay, “The Geographical Pivot of History,” which he delivered to the Royal Geographical Society on January 25, 1904. He began this seminal work by noting that the last stage of “geographical exploration” (which he called the “Columbian epoch”) was nearing its end. “In 400 years,” he wrote, “the outline of the map of the world has been completed with approximate accuracy.” Moreover, since conquerors, missionaries, miners, farmers and engineers “followed so closely in the travelers’ footsteps,” the world was for the first time a “closed political system.” This meant, wrote Mackinder, that “every explosion of social forces, instead of being dissipated in a surrounding circuit of unknown space and barbaric chaos, will be sharply re-echoed from the far side of the globe, and weak elements in the political and economic organism of the world will be shattered in consequence.” Nations, in other words, could no longer safely ignore major events that occurred in far away places of the globe.

Mackinder’s avowed purposes in writing the “pivot” paper were to establish “a correlation between the larger geographical and the larger historical generalizations,” to provide “a formula which shall express certain aspects… of geographical causation in universal history,” and to set “into perspective some of the competing forces in current international politics.”

Mackinder pictured Europe and Asia as one great continent: “Euro-Asia.” He described Euro-Asia as: “a continuous land, ice-girt in the north, water-girt elsewhere, measuring twenty-one million square miles….” The center and north of Euro-Asia, he pointed out, measure “some nine million square miles, … have no available waterways to the ocean, but, on the other hand, … are generally favorable to the mobility of horsemen…. ” To the “east and south of this heart-land,” he further explained, “are marginal regions, ranged in a vast crescent, accessible to shipmen.”

Mackinder noted that between the fifth and sixteenth centuries, a “succession of … nomadic peoples” (Huns, Avars, Bulgarians, Magyars, Khazars, Patzinaks, Cumans, Mongols and Kalmuks) emerged from Central Asia to conquer or threaten the states and peoples located in the “marginal crescent” (Europe, the Middle East, southwest Asia, China, southeast Asia, Korea and Japan). Beginning in the late fifteenth century, however, the “great mariners of the Columbian generation” used seapower to envelop Central Asia. “The broad political effect” of the rise of sea powers, explained Mackinder, “was to reverse the relations of Europe and Asia….” “[W]hereas in the Middle Ages Europe was caged between an impassable desert to south, an unknown ocean to west, and icy or forested wastes to north and north-east, and in the east and south-east was constantly threatened by the superior mobility of the horsemen,” Mackinder further explained, “she now emerged upon the world, multiplying more than thirty-fold the sea surface and coastal lands to which she had access, and wrapping her influence around the Euro-Asiatic land-power which had hitherto threatened her very existence.”

Often unappreciated, however, Mackinder believed, was the fact that while Europe expanded overseas, the Russian state based in Eastern Europe and Central Asia expanded to the south and east, organizing a vast space of great human and natural resources. That vast space would soon be “covered with a network of railways,” thereby greatly enhancing the mobility and strategic reach of land power.

With that geo-historical background, Mackinder identified the northern-central core of Euro-Asia as the “pivot region” or “pivot state” of world politics. He placed Germany, Austria, Turkey, India and China, lands immediately adjacent to the pivot region, in an “inner crescent,” and the insular nations of Britain, South Africa, Australia, the United States, Canada and Japan in an “outer crescent.” He then warned that, “[t]he oversetting of the balance of power in favour of the pivot state, resulting in its expansion over the marginal lands of Euro-Asia, would permit the use of vast continental resources for fleet-building, and the empire of the world would then be in sight.” Mackinder suggested that either a Russo-German alliance or a Sino-Japanese empire (which conquered Russian territory) could contend for world hegemony. In either case, “oceanic frontage” would be added to “the resources of the great continent,” thereby creating the geopolitical conditions necessary for producing a great power that was supreme both on land and at sea.

“I have spoken as a geographer,” Mackinder acknowledged toward the end of the paper. But he carefully avoided geographical determinism in assessing the world situation: “The actual balance of political power at any given time is… the product, on the one hand, of geographical conditions, both economic and strategic, and, on the other hand, of the relative number, virility, equipment and organization of the competing peoples.”8

“The actual balance of political power at any given time is… the product, on the one hand, of geographical conditions, both economic and strategic, and, on the other hand, of the relative number, virility, equipment and organization of the competing peoples.”


Mackinder’s “pivot” paper caused one member of the Royal Geographical Society to “look with regret on some of the space which is unoccupied here.” Unfortunately, as W. H. Parker has pointed out, “in the English-speaking world Mackinder’s paper lay forgotten . . . for thirty-five years.” It was only during and after the Second World War that Englishmen and Americans began to appreciate the wisdom and prescience of Mackinder’s “pivot” paper and his 1919 masterpiece, Democratic Ideals and Reality.

A few months before he delivered the “pivot” paper to the Royal Geographical Society, Mackinder was appointed the director of the London School of Economics, a post that he held until 1908. In 1910 he was elected to the House of Commons, where he served until 1922. In 1919, as civil war raged in Russia, Lord Curzon, the Foreign Secretary, chose Mackinder to be British High Commissioner for South Russia. In that post, Mackinder promoted the idea of a British-supported anti-Bolshevik alliance because he feared that if the Bolsheviks consolidated their control of Russia “there is… great risk that such a weapon may be forged as may become a danger to the world.” “[T]here is to-day,” he warned, “a growing threat from Moscow of a state of affairs which will render this world a very unsafe place for democracies. . . .”9 Among British policy makers of the time, only Winston Churchill voiced strong support for Mackinder’s anti-Bolshevik strategy.

During his directorship of the London School of Economics and his stay in Parliament, Mackinder continued to think and write on geography and world affairs. His articles and books included: “Man-Power as a Measure of National and Imperial Strength” (1905), Our Own Islands: An Elementary Study in Geography (1906), “On Thinking Imperially” (1907), “The Geographical Environment of Great Britain” (1908), The Rhine: Its Valley and History (1908), “Geographical Conditions Affecting the British Empire” (1909), “The Geographical Conditions of the Defence of the United Kingdom” (1909), “The New Map” (1915), “Some Geographical Aspects of International Reconstruction” (1917), “This Unprecedented War” (1917), and “The New Map of Europe” (1918).

Shortly after the end of the First World War, Mackinder wrote ,10 arguably the most important work on international politics ever written by a geographer. Here Mackinder greatly expanded on his 1904 “pivot” paper, drawing on recent lessons learned from the Great War. In the book’s preface, referring to the continuing relevance of the ideas expressed in the “pivot” paper, Mackinder opined that “the war has established, and not shaken, my former points of view.” In the two hundred or so pages that followed, Mackinder presented a masterful synthesis of historical and geographical analyses that has withstood the test of time.

Early in the book, Mackinder emphasized the paramount importance of geography to the study of history and global politics. “The great wars of history,” he wrote, “are the outcome, direct or indirect, of the unequal growth of nations, and that unequal growth… in large measure … is the result of the uneven distribution of fertility and strategical opportunity upon the face of the globe.” The “facts of geography” indicated to Mackinder that “the grouping of lands and seas, and of fertility and natural pathways, is such as to lend itself to the growth of empires, and in the end of a single world empire.” In order to prevent future world conflicts, he advised, “we must recognize these geographical realities and take steps to counter their influence.” He proposed to reveal those “geographical realities” by measuring “the relative significance of the great features of our globe as tested by the events of history….”

Mackinder pointed out that although the “physical facts of geography have remained substantially the same during … recorded human history,” it was only at the beginning of the twentieth century that the globe became, in political terms, a “closed system.” “Every shock, every disaster or superfluity,“ he wrote, ”is now felt even to the antipodes…. Every deed of humanity will henceforth be echoed and re-echoed in like manner round the world.”

In geographical terms, Mackinder’s world as sketched in Democratic Ideals and Reality consisted of the following: (1) one ocean covering nine-twelfths of the globe; (2) one great continent encompassing Europe, Asia and Africa; and (3) several smaller islands including Britain, Japan, North America, South America and Australia. The one great continent, which Mackinder called “the World-Island”, he further subdivided into six regions: the European coastland (Western and Central Europe), the Monsoon or Asian coastland (India, China, Southeast Asia, Korea and eastern Siberia), Arabia (the Arabian peninsula), the Sahara (North Africa), the Southern Heartland (Africa south of the Sahara), and, most important, the Heartland (the northern-central core of Eurasia which he had called the “pivot region” in his 1904 paper).

Mackinder showed the significance of the position of the Eurasian-African “World-Island” on the globe by geo-historical analogy. The “World-Island” was to North America, he explained, what Greece under the Dorians had been to Crete, and what the Roman Empire had been to Britain, i.e., an unchallenged peninsular land power versus an insular sea power. In both of those instances of history, strongly-based unchallenged land power defeated the less strongly-based sea power. But it was not simply a case of land power being superior to seapower. The victorious land power had to be unchallenged by land, and had to possess sufficient resources to enable it to construct a fleet powerful enough to defeat the insular sea power. Absent those two conditions, a strongly-based insular power would prevail, as evidenced by the British defeat of Napoleon’s France, the latter of which, while possessing tremendous resources, faced a significant land power challenge to the east (Russia) which prevented it from harnessing those resources to overwhelm British seapower.

Indeed, in Mackinder’s view, the optimum geographical position combined insularity with greater resources, and that was precisely the position of the “World-Island.” Strategists, he explained, “must no longer think of Europe apart from Asia and Africa. The Old World has become insular, or in other words a unit, incomparably the largest geographical unit on our globe.” In the First World War, had Germany conquered Russia and France, “she would have established her sea-power on a wider base than any in history, and in fact on the widest possible base.” Although Germany lost the war, Mackinder cautioned, “must we not still reckon with the possibility that a large part of the Great Continent might some day be united under a single sway, and that an invincible sea-power might be based upon it?” “[T]hat,” Mackinder wrote, “is the great ultimate threat to the world’s liberty.”

The most strategically significant geographic feature of the “World-Island” was the Heartland, which Mackinder described as “a great continuous patch in the north and center of the continent… from the icy, flat shore of Siberia to the torrid, steep coasts of Baluchistan and Persia.” This region’s great rivers (Lena, Yenisei, Obi, Volga and Ural) emptied either into the frozen Arctic Ocean or inland seas (the Caspian and Aral), thereby rendering the Heartland “inaccessible to navigation from the ocean.” The Heartland also included a great “lowland” plain that formed “a broad gateway from Siberia into Europe,” which is suitable to highly mobile land power.

As in his 1904 “pivot” paper, Mackinder in Democratic Ideals and Reality, used history to illustrate the strategic significance of geography. He noted that beginning with the Huns in the fifth century, successive waves of mobile hordes emerged from the Heartland to conquer or threaten the coastlands of Europe and Asia. Those hordes, however, lacked sufficient manpower and organization to conquer the whole World-Island, or a large part of it (although the Mongols came close to doing so). Two modern developments—increased population and advanced means of overland transportation (railroads, motorcars)—threatened to upset the balance between land power and seapower, and constituted, in Mackinder’s words, “a revolution in the relations of man to the larger geographical realities of the world.”

Mackinder described how during the nineteenth century following the defeat of Napoleon and until the rise of the German empire, British sea-power sought to contain Russian land-power, a geopolitical struggle that has since been called the “great game.” Germany’s rise to world power after 1871 shifted the geopolitical focus of British statesmen and set the stage for the First World War. For Mackinder, the most important aspect of that war, for the purposes of strategy, was Germany’s near successful conquest of Eastern Europe and the Heartland. Had Germany discarded the Schlieffen Plan, remained nominally at peace with France and Britain, and directed all her efforts and resources eastward, the world would be “overshadowed by a German East Europe in command of the Heartland.” “The British and American insular peoples,” warned Mackinder, “would not have realized the strategical danger until too late.”

Mackinder perceived a consistent geographical basis for British policy during the “great game” and the First World War. “We were opposed to the… Russian Czardom,” explained Mackinder, “because Russia was the dominating, threatening force both in East Europe and the Heartland for a half century.” “We were opposed to the… German Kaiserdom, because Germany took the lead from the Czardom, and would have crushed the revolting Slavs, and dominated East Europe and the Heartland.” This strategic insight formed the basis of Mackinder’s memorable advice to the Western statesmen at Versailles: “Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland: Who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island: Who rules the World-Island commands the World.”

The postwar settlement and reconstruction was the focus of the final part of Democratic Ideals and Reality. Mackinder worried that failure by the statesmen at Versailles to construct an effective security system for Eastern Europe would mean that after the terrible sufferings of the First World War, the Western democracies “shall merely have gained a respite, and our descendants will find themselves under the necessity of marshaling their power afresh for the siege of the Heartland.” To those who argued that Germany’s defeat would alter the German desire for conquest and power, Mackinder sagely replied: “He would be a sanguine man…who would trust the future peace of the world to a change in the mentality of any nation.” To those who argued that peace would be secured by the new League of Nations and its professed ideals, Mackinder prophetically remonstrated: “No mere scraps of paper, even though they be the written constitution of a League of Nations, are, under the conditions of to-day, a sufficient guarantee that the Heartland will not again become the center of a world war.”

Mackinder’s proposed solution to the problem of Eastern Europe, which he derived from “a consideration of the realities presented by the geography of our globe,” was the formation of a “tier of independent states between Germany and Russia,” which would form “a broad wedge of independence, extending from the Adriatic and Black Seas to the Baltic….” This “territorial buffer between Germany and Russia,” wrote Mackinder, must have access to the ocean, and must be supported by the “outer nations” (i.e., Britain and the United States).11 Otherwise, the East European power vacuum would again serve as the spark to ignite yet another struggle for Eurasian hegemony.

During the 1920s and 1930s, unfortunately, Mackinder’s ideas had little influence in Britain or the United States. That was not the case, however, in Germany where Mackinder’s global view attracted the attention and praise of Karl Haushofer and his associates at Munich’s Institute of Geopolitics. The German geopoliticians, influenced by the writings of Oswald Spengler, Friedrich Ratzel and Rudolf Kjellen, adapted Mackinder’s theories and concepts to promote German expansion. Haushofer in the 1920s and 1930s was close to Rudolf Hess, a close adviser to Hitler. But it is unclear to what extent the German geopoliticians influenced the Führer’s global strategy. Haushofer considered Mackinder the author of “the greatest of all geographical world views.” “Never,” exclaimed Haushofer referring to “The Geographical Pivot of History,” “have I seen anything greater than these few pages of a geopolitical masterwork.” The German geopoliticians divided the world into “Pan Regions” each of which was dominated by a great power. Haushofer advocated the formation of a “Eurasiatic great continental bloc”; in essence, an alliance between Germany, Japan and Russia that would eventually overwhelm the British Empire.12

During the inter-war period, Mackinder was knighted (1920), lost his seat in Parliament (1922), chaired the Imperial Shipping Committee (1920-1939), sat on the Imperial Economic Committee (1925-1931), was made a Privy Councilor (1926), and continued to write and lecture on geography and related topics. His inter-war writings included: “Geography as a Pivotal Subject in Education” (1921); “The Sub-Continent of India”(1922); The Nations of the Modern World: An Elementary Study in Geography and History After 1914 (1924); and “The Human Habitat”(1931).13

The Nazi-Soviet Pact of August 1939, the beginning of the Second World War and Germany’s subsequent invasion of the Soviet Union drew attention in the United States to Mackinder’s works. In 1941 and 1942, Newsweek, Reader’s Digest and Life published articles which prominently mentioned Mackinder and his writings. Democratic Ideals and Reality was reprinted in 1942. That same year, Hamilton Fish Armstrong, the editor of Foreign Affairs, asked Mackinder to write an article to update his Heartland theory. That article, entitled “The Round World and the Winning of the Peace,” appeared in July 1943, and was Mackinder’s last significant statement of his global views.

“[M]y concept of the Heartland,” wrote Mackinder, “… is more valid and useful today than it was either twenty or forty years ago.”14 He described the Heartland in geographical terms as “the northern part and the interior of Euro-Asia,” extending “from the Arctic coast down to the central deserts,” flowing westward to “the broad isthmus between the Baltic and Black Seas.” The Heartland concept, he explained, is based on “three separate aspects of physical geography.”

  • First, “the widest lowland plain on the face of the globe.”
  • Second, “great navigable rivers [that] flow across that plain [but have] no access to the ocean.”
  • And third, “a grassland zone which… presented ideal conditions for the development of high mobility” by land transportation.

The Heartland, in essence, wrote Mackinder, was equivalent to the territory of the Soviet Union, minus the land east of the Yenisei River.

If the Soviet Union defeated Germany in the war, opined Mackinder, “she must rank as the greatest land Power on the globe.” “The Heartland is the greatest natural fortress on earth,” he explained, and “[f]or the first time in history it is manned by a garrison sufficient both in number and quality.”

A second geographical feature which Mackinder estimated to be “of almost equal significance” to the Heartland was the “Midland Ocean,” consisting of the eastern half of Canada and the United States, the North Atlantic basin and its “four subsidiaries (Mediterranean, Baltic, Arctic and Caribbean Seas),” Britain and France (a remarkable description of the NATO alliance that was formed six years after Mackinder wrote his article).

Completing his updated global sketch, Mackinder identified three additional geographic features. The first was “a girdle of deserts and wildernesses” extending from the Sahara Desert eastward to Arabia, Tibet, and Mongolia to eastern Siberia, Alaska, part of Canada, and the western United States. The second consisted of South America, the South Atlantic Ocean, and Africa. And the third encompassed the “Monsoon lands” of China and India. He expressed the hope that those lands would prosper and, thereby, balance the other regions of the globe. “A balanced globe of human beings,” he wrote, “[a]nd happy, because balanced and thus free.”15

Mackinder expressed the hope that Heartland Russia would cooperate with the Midland Ocean powers in the postwar world and, thereby, prevent future German aggression. But his theories and concepts proved readily adaptable to the emerging Cold War struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union. American strategists during and after the Second World War borrowed aspects of Mackinder’s world view in formulating and implementing the policy of “containment” of Soviet Russia.16 Anthony J. Pierce, in his introduction to the 1962 edition of Democratic Ideals and Reality, could confidently assert that “[i]n America and in England, since 1942, most studies of global strategy or political geography have been based, in whole or in part, upon [Mackinder’s] theories.17 “Mackinder, of course, had his share of critics,18 but as Colin Gray has pointed out, “Mackinder’s interpretations of historically shifting power relationships in their geographical setting have stood the test of time much better than have the slings and arrows of his legion of critics.”19

More recent and current political observers and strategists attest to the continuing influence of Mackinder’s ideas. In 1974, R. E. Walters wrote that “the Heartland theory stands as the first premise in Western military thought.”20 In 1975, Saul B. Cohen noted that “most Western strategists continue to view the world as initially described by Mackinder.”21 Zbigniew Brzezinski’s Game Plan (1986) and The Grand Chessboard (1997) present global views almost wholly based on Mackinder’s concepts. In 1980, Robert Nisbet claimed that “[e]very geopolitical apprehension that Sir Halford Mackinder expressed some six decades ago in his Democratic Ideals and Reality has been fulfilled.”22 The influential journals, Strategic Review and The National Interest, published several articles in the 1980s and 1990s wherein the authors applied Mackinder’s theories and concepts to contemporary global issues.23 In 1988, the respected strategist Colin Gray asserted that “[t]he geopolitical ideas of the British geographer Sir Halford Mackinder … provide an intellectual architecture, far superior to rival conceptions, for understanding the principal international security issues.”24 In 1992, Eugene Rostow remarked that “Mackinder’s map remains an indispensable tool of analysis” of global politics.25 In 1994, the former State Department Geographer, George J. Demko, wrote that “the geographic ideas of … Mackinder, still provide important insights into international political processes.”26 Henry Kissinger in his book, Diplomacy (1994), concludes with a warning that “Russia, regardless of who governs it, sits astride territory Halford Mackinder called the geopolitical heartland….”27 Paul Kennedy, Robert Chase, and Emily Hill invoked Mackinder’s theories in a 1996 Foreign Affairs article on post-Cold War “pivot states.”28 Finally, in 1996 the National Defense University issued a reprint of Democratic Ideals and Reality.

Twentieth century global politics were shaped, in part, by Mackinder’s geopolitical vision. Following his concepts, the continuing struggle for Eurasian mastery was the geopolitical essence of the First World War, the Second World War, and the Cold War. First Great Britain, then the United States, organized great coalitions to oppose successive bids for Eurasian hegemony launched by Wilhelmine Germany, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. The Great Power struggles of the twenty-first century will likely repeat this pattern.

The People’s Republic of China, situated at the gates of Mackinder’s “pivot region” or Heartland, and with access to the sea, possesses sufficient human and natural resources to make a bid for Eurasian mastery sometime in this new century. Russia, though currently undergoing a new time of troubles, still occupies the Heartland and possesses vast human and natural resources, as well as thousands of nuclear weapons. The nations of Western, Central and Eastern Europe are moving toward economic unity and, perhaps, political unity, with Germany playing a leading role. Whatever specific power constellation emerges, however, U.S. foreign policy will continue to be shaped by Mackinder’s geopolitical vision of a Eurasian-based world hegemon.

In 1944, the American Geographical Society awarded Mackinder the Charles P. Daley Medal, which was presented to him at the American Embassy in London on March 31, 1944. Ambassador John Winant remarked that Mackinder was the first scholar who fully enlisted geography as an aid to statecraft and strategy. A year later, the Royal Geographical Society awarded Mackinder the Patron’s Medal, and its president noted that ”[a]s a political geographer his reputation is … world wide.”29 Mackinder died on March 6, 1947, at the age of eighty-six. More than fifty years later, as we enter a new century, statesmen and strategists still operate in Mackinder’s world.

1. W. H. Parker, Mackinder: Geography as an Aid to Statecraft (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982), pp.1-2.

2. Brian W. Blouet, (College Station,Texas: Texas A&M University Press, 1987), p. 33

3. Parker, Mackinder, p.8.

4. Halford J. Mackinder, “On the Scope and Methods of Geography,” in (New York: W. W. Norton & Company,1962), pp. 213, 214, 217.

5. Ibid., pp. 211, 218, 236, 237.

6. The details of Mackinder’s education and teaching positions are found in Parker, Mackinder, and Blouet, Mackinder: A Biography.

7. Halford J. Mackinder, (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1969; originally published 1902 by D. Appleton and Co.), pp. vii, 12, 350-51, 358.

8. Halford J. Mackinder, “The Geographical Pivot of History,” in Democratic Ideals and Reality, pp. 241-42, 255, 257-58,262-64.

9. Parker, Mackinder, pp. 149, 158, 170.

10. Sir Halford John Mackinder, Democratic Ideals and Reality: A Study in the Politics of Reconstruction (London, Constable and Co. Ltd., 1919).

11. Ibid., pp. 1-2, 4, 28-29, 29-30, 65-66, 62, 70, 73, 74, 150, 139, 154, 155, 114, 182, 158, 165, 160.

12. Hans W. Weigert, (New York, Oxford University Press, 1942), pp. 116, 186.

13. See Blouet, Mackinder: A Biography, pp. 207-215.

14. Mackinder, “The Round World and the Winning of the Peace,” in Democratic Ideals and Reality, p. 276.

15. Ibid., pp. 268-69, 272-73, 274-75, 277-78.

16. Among those strategists were Nicholas Spykman, James Burnham, George Kennan, Edward Mead Earle, General Omar Bradley, and William C. Bullitt.

17. Mackinder, Democratic Ideals and Reality, p. xxi.

18. For an excellent summary of criticisms of Mackinder, see Parker, Mackinder, pp. 211-247.

19. Colin S. Gray, (Lexington, Ky: The University Press of Kentucky, 1988) p. 4.

20. Quoted in Parker, Mackinder, p. 192.

21. Saul B. Cohen, Geography and Politics in a World Divided (New York: Oxford University Press, 1975) p. 44.

22. Robert Nisbet, (New York: Basic Books, 1980), p. 331.

23. See, for example, Eugene V. Rostow, “Of Summitry and Grand Strategy,” Strategic Review (Fall 1986), pp. 9-20; Francis P. Sempa, “Geopolitics and American Strategy: A Reassessment,” Strategic Review (Spring 1987), pp. 27-38; William C. Bodie, “The American Strategy Schism,” Strategic Review (Spring 1988), pp. 9-15; Mackubin Thomas Owens, “Force Planning in an Era of Uncertainty,” Strategic Review (Spring 1990), pp. 9-22; Henry C. Bartlett and G. Paul Holman, “Force Planning for the Post-Cold War World: What Can We Learn From Geopolitics,” Strategic Review (Winter 1991), pp. 26-36; Francis P. Sempa, “The Geopolitics of the Post-Cold War World,” Strategic Review (Winter 1992), pp. 9-18; Mackubin Thomas Owens, “Toward a Maritime Grand Strategy: Paradigm for a New Security Environment,” Strategic Review (Spring 1993), pp. 7-19; Francis P. Sempa, “Preventive Containment,” Strategic Review (Summer 1994), pp. 83-85; Colin S. Gray, “NATO: In Trouble at the Crossroads Again,” Strategic Review (Summer 1995), pp. 7-15; Francis P. Sempa, “Central and Eastern Europe,” Strategic Review (Fall 1996), pp. 71-72; Francis P. Sempa, review of The Grand Chessboard in Strategic Review (Spring 1998), pp. 71-74; Colin S. Gray, “Keeping the Soviets Landlocked: Geostrategy for a Maritime America,” The National Interest (Summer 1986), pp. 24-36; Francis P. Sempa, “The Geopolitics Man,” The National Interest (Fall 1992), pp. 96-102.

24. Gray, The Geopolitics of Super Power, p.4.

25. Eugene V. Rostow, (Washington, D.C.: National Defense University Press, 1993), p. 13.

26.George J. Demko and William B. Wood, ed. (Boulder, Colo: Westview Press, 1994), p. 4.

27. Henry Kissinger, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994) p. 814.

28. Paul Kennedy, Robert Chase, and Emily Hill, “Pivotal States and U.S. Strategy,” January/February 1996 Foreign Affairs.

29. Parker, Mackinder, p. 54, 55.


The author, an attorney who is a senior deputy attorney general for Pennsylvania, earned degrees from the University of Scranton and the Dickinson School of Law. He has written extensively on national security questions, publishing articles in Strategic Review, The National Interest, National Review, and Presidential Studies Quarterly. Mr. Sempa has filled the position of adjunct professor of political science at the University of Scranton and at Wilkes University.

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