By Colin Dueck, Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy Research Institute
Reviewed by Francis P. Sempa, Contributing Editor
Americans are slowly relearning that ignoring geopolitics can be dangerous to the nation’s security. The so-called Arab Spring has produced governments in the Middle East/North Africa region that are either unstable or hostile to U.S. security interests. Russia, though undergoing a “time of troubles,” yearns to be a superpower once again. China seeks to outpace the U.S. economy and translate its growing economic power into strategic predominance in the Far East.
Colin Dueck, in a timely and insightful article on the FPRI website, points out that contrary to the prophecies of some foreign policy “experts,” neither multilateral institutions, technological change, economic interdependence, global democratization, nor the personal qualities of the U.S. President have rendered irrelevant the “traditional patterns of international power politics.” Yet such nostrums have been accepted by the current administration and much of the “foreign policy establishment” in the United States. The result, writes Dueck, is that the United States is “left drifting in an era where geopolitical competition between major world powers… continues, without a firm understanding of it on the part of Western opinion.”
Dueck argues that it is only by hearkening back to the wisdom of the classical geopolitical theorists that the United States and the West can regain an accurate appreciation of the fundamental aspects and “enduring truths” of global politics. He identifies a geopolitical triumvirate who collectively show the way for American statesmen to navigate the ship of state in the 21st century.
Alfred Thayer Mahan wrote prolifically in the late 19th-early 20th century about the importance of sea power in history and its geopolitical implications for the global balance of power. Dueck notes the importance of Mahan’s 1890 The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660-1783, but Mahan’s key geopolitical insights are spread among several books and numerous articles, including The Problem of Asia (1904) and The Interest of America in International Conditions (1910).
The great British geographer Halford Mackinder is the second of Dueck’s triumvirate, and probably the most important. Mackinder’s 1904 article “The Geographical Pivot of History,” his 1919 masterpiece Democratic Ideals and Reality, and his 1943 article “The Round World and the Winning of the Peace,” identified the centrality of Eurasia to world politics and analyzed the enduring competition between sea powers and land powers in the global geographical setting.
The third of Dueck’s triumvirate is Nicholas Spykman, the Yale political scientist who wrote America’s Strategy in World Politics and The Geography of the Peace during World War II. Spykman built upon the writings and theories of Mahan and Mackinder and developed a geopolitical world view suitable to the post-World War II balance of power.
Dueck’s article shows how the theories and concepts of Mahan, Mackinder, and Spykman remain relevant to 21st century world politics. He focuses on the rise of China and its geopolitical implications for U.S. security. While Dueck applauds the strategic “pivot” to Asia, he laments that the rhetorical pivot is being undermined by the unwillingness to commit necessary resources, especially naval power.
Dueck recognizes that the most fundamental insight common to Mahan, Mackinder, and Spykman is that U.S. security is inextricably linked to the balance of power on the Eurasian landmass.