Cold War and Classical Geopolitics

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  • Topic: Cold War, Critical geopolitics, Geopolitics
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  • Published : April 28, 2013
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‘Geopolitical reasoning operates through the active simplification of the complex reality of places in favour of controllable…abstractions.’ (Agnew and Corbridge, 1995). Discuss this claim.

The term ‘Geopolitics,’ as coined by Rudolph Kjellen is ‘notoriously difficult to define’ (O’Tuathail, 1992), especially in academia where new ‘sub-categories’ of geopolitics have been put forth with labels such as ‘feminist’, ‘urban’, and ‘alter’ geopolitics serving as a response from original critical geopolitics to the discursive events witnessed in classical geopolitics. Coincidently, it seems, the classical type of geopolitics appears to be the type that generates a greater response from the public through the practice of popular geopolitics (newspapers, cartoons, and media). Whereas, academics tend not to simplify or even compress the ‘complex reality of places’ in their practice of ‘formal geopolitics’ (Dodds, 2007). This is due to the fact that as they attempt to redefine geopolitics as ‘relative economic power has begun to displace military force…as an important feature of international relations – (rather than conventional geopolitical attributes of power) – (Agnew and Corbridge, 1995) the whole meaning of the world has been lost. However, the practical forms of geopolitics – ‘policy orientated geographical templates used by political leaders (Dodds, 2007) – reinforced by popular geopolitics is still an ‘active process’ (Ingham and Dodds, 2009) through which the ‘geographical complexity and richness of the world gets reduced to schematic spatial templates e.g. East versus West, developed versus developing and international community versus the ‘axis of evil’ (Ingham and Dodds,2009). According to both Dodds and O’Tuathail the exact definition of geopolitics involves ‘a discursive practise’ (O’Tuathail, 1992) or is a ‘form of discourse’ (Dodds, 2007) with discourses, as explained by O’Tuathail enabling ‘one to write, speak and act meaningfully’ with O’Tuathail progressing to state that ‘it is only through discourse that the building up of a navy or the decision to invade a foreign country is made meaningful and justified.’ Therefore it is through the very definition of the word ‘geopolitics’ that one can see the operation of such reasoning would support the title claim as it is through discurses that geopolitical reasoning takes place. For example, discourses such as President Reagon’s declaration of the USSR as an ‘evil empire’ (Painter and Jeffrey, 2009) actively simplify the complex reality of the cold war in order to justify the stigma associated with it. In order to discuss this claim in more detail, I will attempt to examine case studies throughout the last century in order to prove that the practise of geopolitical reasoning does indeed simplify the complex reality of places in favour of controllable geopolitical abstractions – at least the practice of popular and practical geopolitics. However, the practice of formal geopolitics – the work of schloars and academics – do not simplify these realities.

The ‘explicit association’ of geopolitics with Nazism ‘discredited the term’ (Kearns, 2009) as many people saw Geopolitics as the ‘handmaiden of Nazism’ (Dodds, 2007). The reason being behind these connotations stemmed from the ideas of Mackinder and the reasoning of Ratzel. Thus being that the state was considered to be a ‘super organism’ which required ‘living space’ (Dodds, 2007). The idea of domination and therefore controlling space dates back to the 16th century, first emerging in Europe (Toal, 1996). Moreover, geopolitics written before World War 2 had an imperialistic agenda (Toal, 1996) – classical geopolitics – with Imperialism meaning ‘the control by one state of the territories (Painter and Jeffrey, 2009). Therefore this set of idea’s link perfectly with Hitler’s agenda of Lebensraum. Hitler used maps which serve ‘the practical interests of state machine (Yves Lacoste) showing the population of Jews as the...
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