How does Geography Affect Foreign Policy?

Plays Geography a vital role in International Relations? Is geography only refers to oceans, lands, animals, plants, atmosphere or more else? It has been a relation between geography and the historic progress of the states? These were some of the questions that came to my mind during the research. The purpose of this essay is to analyze which is the relationship between geography and International Relations, in order to achieve this goal; I focus on certain time periods to understand its relationship. First, I will start to explain the key concepts that I will use in this paper; these concepts are geography and International Relations. International Relations is the study of human interactions through national borders and the factors that affect those interactions. As one of those factors that affect man’s interactions, are geographical factors. When we refers to Geography, it means the study between the Earth and its characteristics and is divided into two main branches-Human geography and Physical geography. Geography not only means lands, oceans, animals, plants, it also refers to population, settlements, social traditions, human migration, economic activities etc. During many years those geographical features have impacted on international actions. Geography has been an essential tool for examining International Relations. It has been developed and tested as a tool of politics for centuries. During the prehistory, the cultures settlements were based on geographic areas that allowed them to develop sustainable economies; such as rivers valleys, which were lands very fertile and provided them to develop transport and communications, If the geographic space resulted insufficient for their survival, they conquered other territories and annexed them to the original one, or also they could lose it by the action of other cultures motivated by the same causes. Moreless geography was deeply important in understanding the first forms of social organization and its interactions with other civilizations. During Ancient area, “philosophers such as Hippocrates, Hecateus, Parmenides, and Aristotle focused on the effects of climate on man’s political culture. They believed different climates created differences in civilizations and in the military characteristics of nations, for example, the more extreme the temperature differences, the more warlike the society. “1

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While in the 19th century some scholars especially in German schools but also American schools started to explain the dynamic complexity of human geography. “Its proponents felt that the political boundaries and political structures which existed in the world were the product of natural ‘laws’. Thus, international relations were thought to be subject to and the product of the operation of these laws “2. They created a science to explain the relationship of geographical features and politics called Geopolitik ( German). A pioneer of this theory was Friedrich Ratzel (1844-1905) who said that the geographical features and natural conditions and especially those big spaces play a important role in states and individuals life, and the society depends in the territory they live and it is determined by natural laws. Also Friedrich Ratzel inspired the theory of the “living space ” (Lebensraum) which is the territory supposedly that requires an state to obtain its survival and self-sufficiency. This was the major political idea of Adolf Hitler during World War and an essential element of the Nazi ideology. It means to have extra space for the welfare and growth of the population and to achieve a superior country; this idea was basically a motivation for the expansionist policies of Germany. During the Mid-20th century, geographers like Rudolf Kjellen, Sir Halford Mackinder and Karl Haushofer pointed out the influence of geographical factors on the relations of the power units in the international system. This classical theory had a significant impact on shaping policy from Imperial British strategy to U.S. Cold War strategy. An example of this classical theory was the term of heartland, introduced by Sir Halford Mackinder (1861-1947) which explained some conflicts of the period: World War II and Cold war. “Mackinder’s notion of geopolitics can be summed up in his saying: Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland, Who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island Who rules the World-Island commands the world ” 3 “The World Island, in turn, is a single slab of land whose all corners can be reached with simple and reliable transport. The railroads and the combustion engine would allow very rapid and even more efficient transportation, that could now surpass the mobility of sea power, tipping the scales in favour of land power. The World Island also contains more population and more of the resources a modern (at the time) economy needs. “4 this world island was considered Eurasia, which include the continents of Europe and Asia.

Therefore, Cold War was a conflict enough to present a real evidence of the heartland theory. At that time, Soviet Union was the one who was ruling the heartland, it controlled

Eastern Europe and as a result was in a position of threat or influence around the whole world. Also in there were located the major oil resources, a key resources of that period to develop military power, and as I said before, the world island was reached with simple and reliable transport, but they need sufficient oil resources to develop an efficient transportation. As result British foreign policy and U:S:A foreign policy was toward this major potential threats. Therefore its main objective during this period was lo limit the expansion and influence of the Soviet Union.

Finally, the end of communism, post-communist states started to develop its economy and created stables institutions. This region became one of the most powerful economies; some scholars began to analyze its political and economic results and considered that “the geographical proximity to the West has exercised a positive influence on the transformation” 5 of this powerful community. Geography was a tool in the EU decision-making process. Currently geography stills playing an important role on international relations. In the 21th century International Relations have facing other issues, making that some geographical factors lose their relevance. Topography, climate, and natural resources affect political outcomes during the first decades. During the 19th territory was a key element but with globalization territory’s view has changed. Now, new theories have tried to give explanation, to subjects like the Iraq War, the emerging markets of China and India, the nuclear issues of Iran and North Korea, the different allegiance of regions: APEC, ASEAN, MERCOSUR, the conflict between Israel-Palestine, the oil reserves, Climatic Change, the water supplying among others. Geography shapes states’ attitudes and constraints political decisions. Currently Foreign Policy has been influence by geographical features like: human immigration, population growth, economy activities, food security, water and energy supply, environmental issues.

My conclusion is that every nation’s geography affects its view of itself and it s view of the world. This essay tests that geography gives insights into the political dynamics. Geography is a permanent feature that has impact on human interactions. Each period of time has been influenced in different ways by geographical factors. We cannot exclude geography to understand internationals relations, modern geography is not longer only physical aspect it is also about human organization of the earth surface, and there is still more situations left that can explain the relationship of geography and international relations and its important role in this field.