What Is Meant By Geopolitics?

First let us understand what is foreign policy, it is the declared program of actions of an international actor to deal with the external environment in order to attain necessary objectives and goals. Foreign policy is a one way road in which the focus is on the objective and actions and neglecting the reaction.

Foreign policy is the result of inner and outer interactions it is a two way interactions. The policies that are made are response to external aspect mainly the international world and the inner domestic aspect.

In this paper we will make a theoretical frame work to study the relation between geography and foreign policy. This can be defined as GEOPOLITICS.

With the aim of studding foreign policy and understanding how the decisions are made and what are the factors that can influence foreign policy, three level of analysis have been formulated to help solving these questions. Those levels influence the foreign policy decisions and they help to understand the environment foreign policy works in. the first level of analysis is the global level or the international; this level of analysis main locus is to study what is happening outside the borders of the state what is internationally happening that influences the foreign policy decisions. The second level is the domestic level or the interstate level which stresses on what is happening domestically what different variables that can affect foreign policy, the third and last level is the individual level which deals with the individual characteristics and psychology which designed to understand what factors influenced the leader or the decision maker to behave in a certain way. So it mainly focuses on the cognitive factors [1]

our focus is going to be on the international level of analysis we will focus on what is known as geopolitics, which is a fundamental determinant that shapes foreign policy

WHAT IS MEANT BY Geopolitics,

The word is from the term geo which is a Greek word that means earth and the rest of the word is politics, it mainly focuses on the relation that could be and result of politics and territory.

Whether this territory is on the local or international scale. The term was created at the beginning of the 20th century by Rudolf Kjellen a Swedish political scientist. Kjellen was inspired by the German geographer Friedrich Ratzel, who published a book in 1897 titled political geography. [2]

The geopolitical world framework consists of two great landmasses ;North America, and Eurasia, South America, Africa, and Australia; and five major sources of water, Indian, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans besides the North Polar Sea the South Polar Sea

The term encompasses analyzing, describing, forecasting, and using of political power over a given territory. It is a main method of foreign policy analysis which helps understanding explaining and predicting international political behavior through specific geographical variables. Those geographical variables are;: geographic location of the country, climate of the region the countries are in size of the countries, , topography of the region, demography, natural resources and technological development Traditionally, the term has applied primarily to the impact of geography on politics, but its usage has evolved over the past century to encompass wider connotations

It is multidisciplinary in its scope, and includes all aspects of the social sciences with particular stress on political geography, international relations and, the territorial aspects of political. Also, the study of geopolitics includes the study of relations between the interests of international political actors, interests focused to an area, space, geographical element or ways, relations which create a geopolitical system. [3]


It is believed that the countries location and its physical terrain are of the most effective influences on the state’s foreign policy behavior .the geographic variable studies the impact of the geography on understanding and shaping foreign policy that through knowing if the state has neighbor states on its borders or does the state has natural borders and frontiers like vast oceans or mountains, which protect the state from invasions and foreign interference thus an independent foreign policy decision. [4]

State’s foreign policy can be better when they are free from any external influences, for more clarification the United States. According to its geographic nature it is a separated country, it has vast oceans that act like borders separating it from most of the world. This geographic location guaranteed the independence and the preservation of the united states foreign policy from any intervention also it helped the united states to adopt the suitable foreign policy which at early times was the isolationist policy. If the United States had been as near to the European continent as is Great Britain, it could never have adopted a policy of isolation, and if most of South America had been as near to Europe, the United States could not have prevented the European powers from colonizing South America as they have colonized Africa as it was nearer. Beside the United States, we can find states that their geographic location makes it difficult to be invaded or interfered within it thus their foreign policy is made independently Switzerland and Ethiopia, the jungles and mountains of Paraguay and, Bolivia. These states have enjoyed greater isolation than even the island states; because of their difficult topography communication, and transportation routes have passed them by; they have been developed and safeguarded as detached entities.

Other countries which are not isolated or insular, and have neighboring countries on their borders their foreign policy is deeply affected that’s because it is hard to not be involved in the world affairs or in others foreign policy, noninvolvement is not an option. Germany is a significant example its foreign policy was highly affected due to its location in the center of Europe. Also Egypt and Israel are clear examples .the realist school of thought and the political geography stress on the impact of the geographic factors on the state power and international conduct. [5]


variety of scholars talked about the importance of geopolitics in the study of foreign policy as they see that there is a direct relation between the geographic location territory, natural resources topography and climate and the foreign policy making.

Some of those scholars talked about the relation between them and hope foreign policy should the certain issues into consideration and others made theories explaining that importance;

First we have Mahan’s his theory of NAVAL POWER , his focus was on the significance of the navies in world conflict. As he said in his book the theory of naval power that the big powers can control the world by controlling seas with the use of naval power , through it you can be an empire and a super power thus states should have a powerful fleet and a big naval to control the seas. Mahan is considered the first to influence foreign policy be stressing on the importance of sea power. President Roosevelt was affected by this theory and he took actions and decisions to build navy power

The second was Sir Halford Mackinder his theory about the geopolitics as concept and its main idea which is geography gained importance and grabbed the attention thanks to Sir Halford Mackinder and his theory of THE HEART LAND 1940, this theory encompasses concepts that are different from that of Alfred Mahan’s ideas. Mackinder. The heartland theory hypothesized that a huge empire which can be brought into reality does not need the ports, costs or oceans to remain coherent, but for him the geography of earth and its division is the center of focus. Mackinder’s theory is assuming that the world -earth- is divided into two ares the world island (the core) including Eurasia and the other area is the perephiry which includes Americans ausrtallia japan . the world islands are sufficient with natural resources needed for a developed economy.the perephiry are smaller than the core and requires sea transport for him who rules the heart land can rule the world island and who rules the world isleand can rule the world .. His doctrine was influential during the World Wars and the Cold War, for Germany and later Russia each made territorial strides toward the Heartland.

However, after the cold war those theories lost their glory and they were no longer relevant, this was even noticed before 1989 as those theories were not reflecting no more the reality most of the state facing. And new theories or concepts related to geopolitics began to emerge replacing those old once.

As a result of the cold war and the rivalry between the united states and the soviet union new geopolitical ideas were evolved like

The policies of containment; the united states realized that if one state adopted communism and fell in communism this will affect its neighboring countries and will influence them to adopt it too, thus the united states should adopt the policy on containment to prevent this to happen.

The iron curtain; which is a policy adopted by the soviet union to separate a one geographical area -germany- to show that this part adopt different ideology, and as result flow of ideas people ideologies or resources were prohibited. [6]

How geography influences foreign policy???

Foreign policy makers should be aware of how does geography affects foreign policy. Geopolitics as a determinant of foreign policy focuses on the size the location the natural resources and the typography of states. Those elements are given to states they are not manmade, they are unchangeable and slowly changes. Decision makers should cope and adapt with this fact but also take into consideration the changing relation between the physical, technological and political.-this is not our focus- we will focus on how the location , the size and the typography of a state makes the things clear in the eyes of foreign policy maker to formulate foreign policy.

The geographic area of the state is the territorial space where states operate from in the times of war and during the times of truces peace agreements and most importantly during the temporary peace times. The geographic factor is the most important factor in the formulation of the policies whether they are domestic national ones or foreign policies and that’s because the simple reason that geography of any state is permanent they are the most permanent variable. Permanent here means that its characteristic is lasting unchanging and so the geographic demands are unchangeable too they remain for years and centuries. However the geography as a concept is a source of friction as we can find a lot of conflicts are emanated from the geography. Thus at the door of geography may be laid the blame for many of the age-long struggles which run persistently through history while governments and dynasties rise and fall.

The nature of the territorial base has influenced the state to formulate their policies in the past and will continue to do so in the future.

The elements that affect the foreign policy formulation are:

Geography is about the, Size affects the relative strength of a state in the struggle for power. Natural resources influence population density and economic structure, which in themselves are factors in the formulation of policy. The significance of size: size is a prior element of defense especially in those areas where states are far removed from borders

Typography: Typography is mountain the depth and width of valleys, rivers, and the effect of climate on all of these features, will depend the ease of communication within a country. Topography is an important factor as it affects the strength of the state thus its foreign policy too that’s because of its influence internal coherence and on unity. Typography of the state determines if barriers are needed for expansion should those barriers be demolished and overcome or, continues to operate as obstacles to effective defense and successful integration of the new territory with the old domain.

The borders: The effect of the natural borders territory on the problems of defense and foreign policy. The problem of effective control quite apart from the danger of aggression, because only with effective centralized control does large size become an element of strength rather than of weakness

Climate, too is a factor affecting the foreign policy as it affects the transportation ,structure of the state and determining the limits to the possibility of agricultural production, conditions the economic , and thus, indirectly but unmistakably, foreign policy. [7]

location: the location of the state near or far from the equator the oceans great powers or are of conflict and established roots of communication also the location with reference to the potential enemies. all those factors determines the states foreign policy how it will act towards others and how it will defend itself and stand for fundamental problems like the territorial security. Location as a factor to understand foreign policy cannot be evaluated without the consideration of other factor like typography

The location of a state may be defined from a world location point of view that is, which will be explaining the location in accordance to the oceans of the world the land masses as a whole in terms of in terms of altitude latitude, longitude, , and distance from the sea;,

the other point is the view of regional location, that is, with reference to the territory of other states and the nature of border territory and surroundings areas and . Distances, lines of communication,

The geographic location of a state is the most fundamental factor in its foreign policy. World location defines climatic zones and thereby economic structure, and regional location defines potential enemies and thereby the problem of territorial security and potential allies, and perhaps even the limits of a state’s able as a participant in a system of collective security

Another important aspect is the regional location is the relative strength of the states strength, there are obviously three types

the strong state between two weak neighbors

two states of equivilant equality and power ;relation of approximate equality is a difficult position as states are in constant danger of attacks thus this state and its neighbors should be united under one alliance .

And the weak state between two strong states; is like a buffer zone between the two states so they won’t clash. The foreign policy of such state will be very special and specific.

Such a state will be forced to adopt a very special foreign policy. Its own security depends on the security which its neighbors derive from its continued existence.

States with more than two neighbors have a location which can be indicated only by describing the specific combination of basic types. If such a state has broad sea access, there arises the additional complication

Also in the regional location states can be categorized into three main types; island states, states with land and sea frontiers and land lock states.

Island states those states that enjoy sea outlet shores and ports. Normally they face potential pressure from other naval powers. Those states are secure as long as navigation remained in an undeveloped stage, and, later, as long as they maintained naval supremacy.

Offshore island states they have both outlets land and sea boundaries they combine both fears and pressures. The security problem is overcome by maintaining coastal buffer states, overcoming or colonizing coastal areas, , and supporting a balance of power between continental powers. States with both land and sea frontiers deseign their principal security orientation based on several factors, including land frontiers and the extent of their sea ,the power potential of their immediate or nearby neighbors.

Example Great Britain and Japan

Landlocked states are those states that do not enjoy a sea outlet as they are surrounded by lands from every direction. The landlocked states usually face security problems because they are very near from their neighbor countries even share the sane boundaries, example of them in Africa we have Ethiopia Serbia in Europe we have two countries. [8]

Foreign policy of all such states is characterized by the attention given to the security and defense, their security problem is crystallized in terms of land defense, and therefore continuous and effective concentration should be given to the immediate neighbors at the borders.

States cannot escape their geography so a state’s foreign policy must consider the geographic facts. It can deal with it expertly or inefficiently; it can modify them; but it cannot ignore them.

Also a point to stress on that there is an important link between geography and hegemony, sometimes there are states who have tendency to expand This was true of both sea powers and land powers it is expected that it will make them more powerful and will be able to conduct more effective foreign policy, and it leads to what is called shifts in the balance of forces. At any given moment, there are certain large powers which operate in that field as poles. A shift in the relative strength of the poles or the emergence of new poles will change the field and shift the lines of force. So any change in the balance of power will make states revise their foreign policies to decide and determine which state to ally with and which it can manipulate and maneuver. [9]

Nowadays it is said that geopolitics is no longer important theory in discussing foreign policy and that’s because of globalization and its effect on the world. Globalization broke the boundaries and the frontiers between states making intercommunication between states now there is no fine line between the domestic and the international which now is known as intermistic. Globalization made the world as a small village that nothing separates a state from other.

But this point view is not completely right. Because as mentioned before geopolitics is still an important determinant of foreign policy as it is important interns of location near or far from the enemies also in terms of natural resources and the ecological consequences of the population.



-Evans, G & Newnham, J., (1998), “The Penguin Dictionary of International relations”, Penguin Books, London, Uk. ISBN 0-14-051397-3

-Hill Christopher, The changing politics of foreign policy. Palrave macmillan,2003 p.166-170

-kegley Charles w , world politics: foreign policy decision making,

– Kearns, Gerry.. Geopolitics and Empire, Oxford: Oxford University Press


Spykman Nicholas J. Gography and foreign policy I, the American political science review. Vol32no.2 feb1938) http;//www.jstore.org/stable/1949029/26-11-2012

Spykman Nicholas J. Gography and foreign policy II, the American political science review. Vol32no.2 April1938) http /stable/1948667/26-11-2012





-Dr. Hala El Soudy lectures on: the International relation (geopolitics and foreign policy) lectures for student of second year political science at the faculty of economics and political science.2010-2011