Dreaming of an Empire. Theoretical foundations of American Geopolitical Strategy in the World

Jamal Wakim
Ph.D, Communication Arts Department, Lebanese International University


The world is living nowadays in a period of high tension on a line stretching from Ukraine in the North, past the Middle East in the center, all the way to the African Horn in the South, and from Tunisia in the West to Afghanistan in the East. Added to this, the world is witnessing high tension in the Far East. In all these conflicts, the United States of America is being implicated and playing a leading role in them. To its side we see powers like the Western Europeans and Turkey, while the powers contending with American supremacy like China, Russia and Central Asia had joined forces under the Shanghai Cooperation organization. The current situation seems as if it is a continuation of the Cold War, and Western Hostility towards Russia seems to be as strong as before in spite the fact that it relinquished its communist ideology. My argument is that the Western and mainly American Apathy to Russia are much determined by geopolitical factors, so is the Western attitude towards the rest of the world. Hence, in this article, I review the classical Western geopolitical thinkers who have affected Western and American strategies in the past 2 centuries, with Hostility towards Russia being its most constant feature.
Classical Euro-centric Scholarship
When Samuel Huntington wrote his article “the Clash of Civilizations” in 1996, many scholars around the world got enraged at the ideas promoted in this article, and later expanded in a book by the same title. At a time when Western scholars like Francis Fukuyama were propagating the idea of end of History and the end of ideological conflicts in the world, and at a time when they were celebrating the final victory of liberalism, this article seemed to propagate for an ongoing conflict to the detriment of the dreams of idealists. In this article Huntington considered that the world in the 21st century will be dominated by cultural divisions among humankind. He considered that conflict will be witnessed on what he called the fault line between the various civilizations. He bluntly stated that “the US must forge alliances with similar cultures and spread its values wherever possible. With alien civilizations, the West must be accommodating if possible, but confrontational if necessary”. In addition, he identified eight major civilizations which are: Western, Japanese, and Confucian, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox, Latin American and possibly African civilization. For him the fault line between the West and the Slavic-Orthodox Civilization extends from Finland in the North past the Baltic States, Poland and cuts through Belorussia Ukraine and Romania to cross through the former Yugoslavia which he considered as a fault line with Islam. And he concluded that the West which included Western Europe, North America and Australia had reached an unprecedented supremacy over other civilizations and should face the challenge of them trying to undermine it either by accommodation or even by reverting to force.
What Huntington stated in his article was a rephrasing of traditional Eurocentric scholarship that considered itself a byproduct of Christian heritage, which was a continuity of the old classical Greek and Roman Ages. Scholars like Edward Gibbon, Oswald Spengler, Arnold Toynbee, among others, saw that Civilizations evolved in parallel lines and not in an interactive way. Edward Gibbon, in his most famous book, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon praised the Roman Empire, but considered that the loss of civic virtues of its citizens led to its fall at the hands of Barbarian People, concluding that the British had to avoid this failure to protect their superior Empire against the people that they dominated. In His Book the Decline of the West, Spengler identifies eight different civilizations that evolve and act as organisms separate one from the other. Among these civilizations there are eight “high cultures which are: Babylonian, Egyptian, Chinese, Indian, Mexican, Classical Greco-Roman, Arabian and Western. Arnold Toynbee goes in the same line to identify Major Civilizations which are The Egyptian, Sinic, Sumerian, Andean, Hittite, Indic, Mayan, Hellenic, Greek Orthodox, Western, Arabic, Persian, Hindu, Mexican, Yuatec and Babylonian, Polynesian, Ottoman, Spartan, Eskimo, and Nomadic. He argued that a civilization would prosper if led by a creative minority, and would fall if this leading minority would lose its creativity.
Hence the European civilization evolved separately from the Arab – Islamic Civilization, the Slavo – Orthodox Civilization, and from The Confucian, Hindu and other civilizations. This keeps guiding the attitude of Western Europeans vis-à-vis the rest of the world. Hence, to understand the attitude of the Europeans, and of the United States, which considers itself part of the European world, we need to go back to Roman History. It is noteworthy that Romans were able to extend their hegemony over the Italian peninsula before challenging Carthaginian Hegemony in the Western Mediterranean. Three major wars over a period stretching between 264 B.C. and 146 B.C. enabled Rome to extend its hegemony beyond the Italian Peninsula into Spain, and North Africa between the Atlas Mountains and Cyrenaica. In this latter region, desert served as a good protection against people in sub Saharan Africa, and against Ptolemaic Egypt. However, the Romans had to worry about their lines of communications between Spain and Rome mainly in Gaul, and in the Tirol region against the Macedonians. It was this concern that made Rome anxious to delimit its Eastern borders in Western Europe, Northern Italy, and Even in North Africa at one point. This concern was the driving force behind taking over the Balkans and Greece in the late second century B.C. and in the Julius Caesar campaign in Gaul in the mid first century B.C. by this century the borders of the Roman Empire were already safe in North Africa after taking over Syria and Egypt. The same was true in the Aegean Sea after taking over the Balkans and Anatolia, and the Roman borders seemed to be inviolable all along the Rhine and the Danube Rivers. This was the separating line between the civilized Romans on one hand, and the Barbarian Germanic tribes on the other hand.
For nearly four centuries, Roman defenses stabilized along these borders, more or less. It was only in the late fourth century – early fifth century that Germanic tribes were able to cross these borders along the Danube in the Balkans. Manipulated by the Roman Emperors of the Eastern Part of the Empire with Constantinople as their Capital, the Germanic tribes would be manipulated to spare the Balkans and the Eastern Part of the Empire, and to invade Northern Italy, Rome, Spain and North Africa.
It was the trauma caused by these invasions that would cast their spell on the conscience of the Romans and the Roman Catholic Church. This latter, whose bishop had started to claim supremacy over other bishops due to his residence in the old Roman Capital, would play a major role in shaping the drives of later Western Europeans. The great Popes reformers of the eleventh century would cause the final schism in Christianity in 1054 when they insisted on their supremacy over the rest of the Christian world, as the Eastern churches bishops, encouraged by the Byzantine emperors, refused to acknowledge this supremacy. This schism would determine much of the hostility of Western Christianity towards Eastern Christianity. In addition, the Roman Catholic Church would claim to be the true upholder of Roman heritage and with it the Roman concern of delimiting the Eastern borders of Rome and of Western Christianity. The 7th century’s Islamic conquests of North Africa were of less consequence on the sense of Western European identity than the waves of invasions that swept through Eastern Europe in the later centuries. After all, the Mediterranean Sea separated Europe from Islam, except for the case of Southern Italy, Spain and Portugal.
This might explain the fierceness of the crusades waged in this regions and which lasted for centuries and were characterized by systematic persecutions of Arabs, Muslims, Eastern Christians and Jews alike. The crusades would also be directed against the Levant, but also against Central, Northern and Eastern Europe. They were successful in enforcing the roman catholic faith on Scandinavia, Germany, Poland and parts of Ukraine and the Baltic, but were short of achieving success further beyond that realm, or in the Balkans, in spite the fact that one crusade was directed against the Byzantine Empire, and ended with the sack of Constantinople, which rendered the city a shadow of its glorious past. Vasiliev quoted Nicetas Choniates, an eyewitness of the sack of Constantinople saying: “even the Muhammedans had been more merciful towards the Christians after the capture of Jerusalem than these men who claimed to be soldiers of Christ”.
By the 13th century the European Roman Catholic realm would get stabilized in the West, South and North, but would witness another major trauma through the Mongol invasions which ravaged Ukraine, Poland and Hungary. This would determine the later concern of Europe delimiting its Eastern borders all the way till our present time. This would be the driving force for the Teuton incursions into Russia in the 15th and 16th centuries, and would lead major European conquerors to exhaust themselves in wasted campaigns on Russian soil, starting with the Swedish Emperor Charles XII in the early18th Century, then with the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte in his famous invasion of Russia between 1812 and 1814 and in the twentieth century with the Nazi led invasion of the Soviet Union during the second world war. All three wars would be decided to the favor of Russia in battles fought on or around Ukraine Soil, 1709 in the Battle of Poltava against the Swedes, 1812 in the Battle of Maloyaroslavets against the French, and in 1943 in the Battle of Kursk against the Germans.
Emil Reich
In this sense it is important to review what major European and American scholars wrote in the field of geopolitics and how they influenced Western attitude towards the rest of the world. And it would be good to start with Emil Reich who gives a modern foundation of what Europe is. Emil Reich had a great impact on European and American geopolitics. Born in 1854 to a Hungarian Jewish family that immigrated to the United States, Reich became a famous historian who would later settle in Great Britain and teach at Oxford University. He wrote extensively on European and Western history, and considered that the History of the United States was an integral part of European history. He summed up his ideas in a set of lectures in the early 20th century which were compiled in a book titled Foundations of modern Europe”, which was based on several lectures delivered at the University of London, Emil Reich considered that the “American War of Independence is one of these international, or inter-European events of the eighteenth century, terminated by the (second) treaty of Paris, 1783”. For him geography is a constant that has a priority and impact over all other elements which are considered as variables, including humans themselves.
For Reich the real reason behind the drive of the American colonies to acquire their independence was not to seek freedom from the yoke of British authoritarian rule, but rather the eagerness of the colonizers to colonize new territories to the West, which was blocked by edicts from the British court. He also focused on the importance of naval power and decisive role of the French naval power assisting the colonials in the independence of the 13 British colonies in North America which would become the United States of America. He stated that “the Americans kept losing in front of the British as long as the latter were able to transport their troops unhindered across the Atlantic Ocean, and it was only after they lost this capacity due to the intervention of the French fleet that the British would lose their first land battle against the colonials in Saratoga in October 1777. New York and central and Southern colonies had to wait until September 1781 when “the French, under the Comte de Grasse prevented British Admirals Graves and Hood to enter Chesapeake Bay to relieve the forces of General Cornwallis besieged in Yorktown which led to a major victory to the colonials after the naval battle of Cape Henry”.
He awarded several chapters to the French revolution and to Napoleon Bonaparte role in the formation of modern Europe. This revolution was possible due to the homogeneity of the French people achieved in the 18th century. Napoleon was able to install himself as master of Europe until the fateful invasion of Russia in 1812. The disastrous campaign in Russia and the defeat of Napoleon encouraged European monarchs to form another coalition that eventually defeated Napoleon in 1814, and again in Waterloo in 1815. Being apathetic to the old feudal system in Europe, Reich stated that “for over thirty-five years after Napoleon’s downfall the whole of Europe was kept under a regime of the most abominable reaction”, until the revolution of 1848.
Other than the French Revolution, Reich listed other developments that contributed to the rise of modern Europe, which are:
The Rise and Downfall of the Second French Empire with Napoleon III
The fall of the Austrian Empire from its former greatness
The defeat of the Russians by the English and French in the Crimean War in 1856, which directed Russia Eastward
The Unity of Italy
The Unification of Germany
Reich observed that the 19th century would lead to the rise of a fractured Europe which would only be bound together by common cultural values, Russia being excluded from this realm, and he considered it to be a modern Hellas, alluding to ancient Greece which was incapable of getting united under one political authority. Hence Europe would never unite and would only serve as a modern “Hellas”. In the United States, the reverse of this was being achieved as homogeneity of language and of political authority was being achieved. “And we may now indeed say of Europe that it is a greater Hellas. As in the times of the ancient Greeks, small Greece or Sicily contained hundreds of autonomous, absolutely different, hostile, and mutually irreconcilable city-states, so Europe is”, he saw the impossibility of absorbing Europe into the “The Slav Realm” while he predicted that Europe would be absorbed economically by the United States of America.
Prior to Reich, Baron Antoine Henry Jomini would be highly influential on Western geopolitical thinkers, like Alfred Thayer Mahan, Halford Mackinder, Nicolas Spykman and others. A Swiss nobleman born in 1779, he joined the French army and served under Napoleon Bonaparte, before he moved to the Russian army where he served for the rest of his life. His experience in the army of the greatest land powers of their times granted him with great experience that would eventually make him one of the most famous geopolitical thinkers of his time and the forefather of modern Geopolitics. He elaborated his ideas in outstanding writings, the most famous of which would be “The Art of War”. In this book his Eurocentrism was bluntly expressed as he considered that wars of invasion “without good reason like that of Genghis Khan, is a crime against humanity, but may be excused if not approved, when induced by great interests or when conducted with good motives.” Hence, a non European like Genghis Khan is criminal for he is deprived by Jomini from good reason, leaving us to conclude that European conquerors had good reasons for conquest. In addition, Jomini subjected Religion to politics and considered that it is often used to obtain political power. Hence “The successors of Mohammed cared more to extend their empire than to preach the Koran, and Philip II., bigot as he was, did not sustain the League in France for the purpose of advancing the Roman Church. We agree with M. Ancelot that Louis IX., when he went on a crusade in Egypt, thought more of the commerce of the Indies than of gaining possession of the Holy Sepulcher”. Jomini defined strategy as “the art of making war upon the map, and comprehends the whole theater of operations. Grand Tactics is the art of posting troops upon the battle-field according to the accidents of the ground, of bringing them into action, and the art of fighting upon the ground, in contradistinction to planning upon a map”. Though having served in land armies, it is interesting how much Jomini appreciated the sea and naval powers. He added that “The vicinity of the sea is invaluable for the transportation of supplies; and the party which is master on this element can supply himself at will”.
Jomini had a great impact on American Geo-strategists. Alfred Thayer Mahan, a prominent admiral of the second half of the 19th century who argued for the expansion of US navy and to the transformation of the United States into a naval power since becoming a naval power was the key to world hegemony. In his book, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History he considered that the historians had given little attention to the impact of the Sea and maritime strength upon historical event, and he considered that the control of the sea has been “a great factor in the history of the world”. Counter arguing both Historian Arnold Toynbee and Writer Sir Edward Creasy whom he considered failed to see that the key to the failure of Hannibal to defeat Rome in the second Punic War, and of Napoleon Bonaparte to enforce his will on Great Britain, was not the military genius of neither the Roman General Scipio nicknamed Africano nor of the British General Duke of Wellington. It was rather the mastery of the West Mediterranean by Rome that protected its line of communications while it was receiving one defeat after the other at the hands of Hannibal and made it eventually capable of defeating Hannibal in Zarma. It was also the British mastery of the Maritime lines of communication that enabled Great Britain to resist Napoleon’s attempts to subdue it until he was exhausted from long years of war. For Mahan the control of maritime lanes was directly linked to the control of maritime trade which is the most important source of wealth for nations.
For Mahan the Sea is not hindered by crowds of people contending over the possession of land and hindering the free passage of goods and services. The sea “presents itself from the political and social point of view is that of a great highway; or better, perhaps, of a wide common, over which men may pass in all directions, but on which some well-worn paths show that controlling reasons have led them to choose certain lines of travel rather than others. These lines of travel are called trade routes; and the reasons which have determined them are to be sought in the history of the world”. In addition “both travel and traffic by water have always been easier and cheaper than by land”. For him it was imperative for the United States, which was becoming a great economic power to extend its navy to protect its maritime trade. He considered that the elements that affect the sea power of nations are:
“I. Geographical Position. II. Physical Conformation, including, as connected therewith, natural productions and climate. III. Extent of Territory. IV. Number of Population. V. Character of the People. VI. Character of the Government, including therein the national institutions”.
In his book “The Interest of America in Sea Power, Present and Future”, he warned of the threat posed by China, even when China was living through its “century of humiliation” under the hegemony of various European and American powers. And he argued for the importance of Hawaii as a forefront to defend the American West Coast, and therefore Western Civilization against “Chinese Barbarism”. For this purpose he said that the Americans had to value maritime power to protect their markets abroad, had to dominate the Panama Canal that links the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean as it will increase commercial activity in the Caribbean, and is a forefront along with Hawaii to defend the American West Coast. He also emphasized the need for an alliance with Britain, and the shared values with Europe, and warns of the danger of the rise of Japan and China as great powers.
Mackinder: British Legacy
American geopolitical thinkers have also identified themselves with Great Britain. They have always called for a cordial relationship with it. And they have always identified themselves with the British Empire; for this reason American geopolitical scholars were mainly inspired by British geopolitical theorist Halford Mackinder (1861-1947). Mackinder was fond of geography which he taught at several universities, and became the first principal of University of Extension College, which became the University of Reading. Later he was one of the founders of the famous London School of economics and became its director. He wrote extensively on geography as a determinant of politics and history and was much concerned about the challenge that was posed to maritime powers by the development of railways and the prospects of the rise of massive land powers that would challenge the hegemony of Great Britain, being a maritime power. In this he had special concerns about the Trans-Siberian railways that linked for the first time Moscow to Vladivostok and made it possible to assert the potentials of Russia as a world power. His journey culminated in writing an extensive book about the geopolitics of Britain titled “Britain and the British Seas” which became a landmark in British literature. In this book he clearly identified Britain with its empire and sees that the navy has a vital role in upholding the hegemony of the British people.
Later he ventured into many British colonies trying to discover them and assess them from a geopolitical perspective. He joined Oxford University before he got appointed as the director of London School of Economics and Political Sciences. In 1910 he got elected to the parliament on the list of the conservative party during World War I he wrote a paper titled “the geographical pivot of history” in which he argued that interior Asia and East Europe are considered as the major land mass or Heartland that is the strategic Centre of Eurasia or “world island”. Due to technological advance there was a decline of maritime powers with regards to land powers. That was why “The role of Britain and the United States, was to preserve a balance between the powers contending for control of the heartland”. And to stabilize world order to the favor of maritime powers he urged the need to separate Germany from Russia by buffer states in East Europe. He argued that the Pivot area was a region that cannot be reached by the sea powers. It is surrounded by an inner crescent that stretched from Eastern Europe into Turkey and the Near East, Iran and Afghanistan, India, South East Asia and China and Eastern Manchuria which is part of East Russia. British politics aimed at forbidding a Russian German alliance in order not to unite Eurasia. Whoever controlled East Europe could control the Pivot Area and whoever controlled the Pivot area could control Eurasia and whoever controlled Eurasia could control the world. Later he insisted on creating an Atlantic community which got embodied later in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization “NATO”, in order to check the rise of Eurasia. Though he wrote many books, his most influential work would be an article published in the early 1900 in which he argued that human history has revolved around Eurasia and that whoever controlled Eurasia would control the world. The article was highly influential on British, American and even German Geo-Strategists and was enhanced by Mackinder over a period of four decades until the late 1940s. In this article Mackinder considered that the period stretching between 1492 and 1904, which he called the Columbian Epoch was essentially a “period of expansion of Europe against negligible resistance”, whereas “medieval Christendom was pent into a narrow region and threatened by external Barbarism”. Expressing deep Eurocentric tendencies he bluntly considered that the “only history that counted was that of the Mediterranean and the European races, for it was among these races that have originated the ideas which have rendered the inheritors of Greece and Rome dominant throughout the world”. Raising concerns about the threat posed to Europe by Asia he called on looking “upon Europe and European history as subordinate to Asia and Asiatic history, for European civilization is, in a very real sense, the outcome of the secular struggle against Asiatic invasion”.
For him European history was “the harvest of results produced by a cloud of ruthless and idealess horsemen sweeping over the un-impeding plains, a blow as it were, from the great Asiatic hammer striking freely through the vacant space” which is the plains of Eastern Europe”. He gave as an example the Mongol invasions of the Middle Ages, the crusades in the Levant helped stir up a united Europe, which also served to advance Europe in the East against pressures from Asia. For him the result of “the discovery of the cape road to India was to connect the West and East coastal navigation of Eurasia and in some way to neutralize the strategic advantage of the central position of the steppe nomads by pressing upon them in the rear”. This age of European expansion was a continuation of the age old division of Europe between a Latinized Western part and a Greek Eastern part, the Americans and Western Europeans inheriting the Latin World, while the Russians inheriting the Greek World.
The technological advance of the 19th century saw the development of steam power which revolutionized navigation, and railways which revolutionized land transportation. He had special concerns about the development of transcontinental railways across Russia which “are transmuting the conditions of land power”. In the 20th century “Russia replaced the Mongol Empire” as a threat to Europe. And concluded that whoever controlled Western Europe could command the Pivot area where the Russian Empire lays. And whoever controlled the pivot area would command the world island which consisted of Eurasia and whoever controlled Eurasia would control the world.
Karl Haushofer and Hitler
Mackinder was highly influential on the most prominent German Geopolitical thinker of the 1920s and 1930s, Professor Karl Haushofer. A descendant of a German Noble Family of Bavaria, Haushofer, though he was influenced by the German Geopolitical Scholar Frederich Ratzel and his Swedish pupil Rudolph Kjellen, to have interest in Geopolitics, and to look at the state as an organic entity that have birth, expands and dies, yet he would rely on Mackinder’s Theory to build a German geopolitical strategy that called for a confrontation with the British and Americans, and for an alliance with Russia and Japan. He considered that the most important change of the early 20th century was the formation of a strong continental bloc that included Europe, North and East Asia. As he served in Japan prior to the First World War, he became fond of the Japanese Civilization and was among the earliest European scholars to write an article about the geopolitics of the Far East in 1920, predicting the rise of Japanese Hegemony in that region and its eventual clash with the United States. He considered that the Anglo Saxon world was spiraling around the world like a snake to encircle this continental bloc, and called for an alliance of Germany with Russia and Japan as this would add the strong Russian and Japanese fleets to strong German Navy which would lead to a reversal of the balance of power in the world and to the end of Anglo Saxon Hegemony. It is noteworthy that this part of the book was written in 1940 when Germany was still bound by its non aggression agreement with the Soviet Union. However, Haushofer was professing ideas contradictory with that of Hitler. Haushofer would remain valid for the Nazi Germans until Hitler decided to attack the Soviet Union in June 22, 1941. After that period he got marginalized. Still the Japanese were true to his preaching and never turned against the Soviet Union throughout the war, directing their main thrust against the Americans in the Pacific Ocean. At the end of the war Haushofer tried to distance himself from the Nazi crimes by writing an apology of German Geopolitics in November 1945, few months after the defeat of Germany.
It is noteworthy how much the book, that Nazi German Leader Adolf Hitler wrote, was in line with a fragmented Europe that Emil Reich talked about. Having been born an Austrian in the Austro – Hungarian Empire where Germans were the dominant minority, he believed that only a skilful strong leader could hold the empire together. The Habsburg Dynasty, in an attempt to save its domain, tried to appeal to the majority Slavic people which was considered by Hitler as a threat to the dominant German majority and led to the rise of the Pan — German movement in the Austro – Hungarian Empire. He talked about the time he arrived in Munich in 1912 and was delighted for it was a pure German city, and different from the “racial Babylon” Vienna. He was concerned about the rise in German population of 900,000 a year and “how to avert the impending danger of hunger – pauperization in time”. In addition, he was concerned about what he considered the higher birth rate of “culturally inferior people but superior in energy and activity” in taking the lead from Europeans and Germans in particular. Reflecting in his writings elements of social Darwinism he states that “either the world will be ruled according to the ideas of our modern democracy, and then the stress of every decision falls on the races which are stronger in numbers, or the world will be dominated according to the law of the natural order of energy, and then the people of brute strength will be victorious”. The solution for him lied in colonization of the land, and as German territories worthy of cultivation were limited, it was imperative for Germany to expand.
Therefore Germany had to colonize territories to the East and expel the “less cultured Slavic people” from them. Projecting his experience in the Austro – Hungarian empire on a wider scale, Hitler could only see a continental Europe, fractured along nationalist identities, governed by authoritarian rule by Germany, the way the Austro – Hungarian Empire should have been governed by the German minority in order to survive, not by democratic means. Being influenced by the British Racial theorist Chamberlain, and by his own tendencies to make Germany a land power not a maritime one, Hitler had special admiration for England and saw that it would be Germany’s only ally in Europe, of course against continental European powers, but mainly against Russia.
Spykman: Like US like Britain?
On the other side of the Atlantic, Mackinder would also influence American Geopolitical thinking and lead it to have a global outlook. After all Mahan focused only on the United States as needing to become a maritime power to protect its expanding trade, he had a certain influence on elaborating an American strategy in the Caribbean. However American strategy after World War II would be highly influenced by Nicholas Spykman who also relied on Mackinder Geopolitical Theories to forge an American Strategy for Global Hegemony. Spykman was a Dutch Journalist who immigrated to the United States and is considered as the father of the theory of containment. Having taught at Yale University, he was much interested in geopolitics and was influenced by Mackinder’s theory, however due to the influence of the Second World War he came up with the theory of the rim land which encircles the heartland from East Europe, through the Middle East into the Far East. He divided the world into a Heartland that contained much of Russia and Central Asia, the Rim land already described above and equivalent to Mackinder’s inner or marginal crescent, and the offshore Islands and continents, analogous to Mackinder’s outer crescent. Unlike Mackinder, he considered that he who controlled the Rim land would control the Heartland and hence the world. Therefore, British, Russian, and US power would play the key roles in controlling the European littoral, and thereby, the essential power relations of the world. Spykman considered that the rim land was the source of troubles and that the US should prevent the rise of power that could control it for it control Eurasia and hence the world.
Nicholas Spykman considered that the United States could be considered as an island like Britain as it is bordered by two weak neighbors, Canada and Mexico, which could not pose a threat to it. Due to its huge resources and industrial development it is the most important military power in the Western hemisphere with no contenders whatsoever. The US would be worried about the rise of an Asian power that could endanger its West coast, and a continental European power that could pose a threat to its East coast. This made the US after WWII keen on not letting any Eurasian power extend its control and reach the Mediterranean, the Atlantic, the Indian Ocean or the Pacific.
Brzezinski: US Hegemony?
The end of the cold war in 1991 paved the way for the United States to impose its hegemony over the world under various pretexts. Oil was of much concern to the United States and the Middle East contained 61.9 percent of world oil resources especially that the global petroleum need will increase to daily 120 million barrels until 2030 and the US will have to pay 150 billion US Dollars in 2029 for its oil imports. China’s imports were to increase by 100 percent while the EU depended on imports by 92 percent of its needs. These factors make it essential for the US to keep controlling the Middle East. Therefore it was imperative for the US to ensure continuous flow of this oil at “reasonable prices, while preventing the rise of a big power in the region. This was how the war on Iraq was explained by analysts. For this reason the US had to restructure this Middle East, which stretched from the Atlantic Ocean to the borders of China, on geopolitical, military, political and economic levels to ensure its absolute hegemony over it. The American objectives in restructuring the Middle East aimed to integrate the countries of the Middle East in the international system, to eliminate security threats in the region, and to ensure oil resources at reasonable prices. In this sense Iraq is strategically very important as it is located between Iran and Syria, hence controlling Iraq would enable the US to control both Iran and Syria. In addition Pakistan could affect Iran from the East.
US strategists saw the possibility of the rise of various contending powers in the world, and discovered the need to control the Middle East between the Atlantic Ocean and the borders of Xinjiang desert in Western China, as it needed to check the rise of Europe, Russia, and China. With the rise of China’s economy in the 1980s and 1990s, it was clear that there was a shift of economic centre of gravity to the East. Establishing US hegemony in the region would render it capable of obstructing the formation of a Eurasian bloc that could marginalize the United States, and obstruct its plans to be the major power in the world. In this regard, former American national security advisor Zbigniew pointed out in his book The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy And It’s Geostrategic Imperatives that Eurasia is the key to control the world and the great battle for global domination would always hover around it. He gave special importance for Middle East”, as it separates Europe from Africa, and to create a rift between Russia and Europe. This would also create an impregnable barrier against Russia’s intentions to access the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean, and at the same time prevent China from accessing Africa. Controlling the European part of Eurasia through oil and security could allow Washington to control Africa while the economic control over Russia would facilitate the control of Asia, and thus control Oceania and the Indian and Pacific Oceans and the North and South Poles. In this book Brzezinski points out that Eurasia should never be united under the hegemony of one power, and that the United States should be the arbiter of divisions and conflicts between contending powers in Eurasia which is the “chessboard on which the struggle for global primacy continues to be played”. He continues saying that “it is imperative that no Eurasian challenger emerges, capable of dominating Eurasia and thus also of challenging America”. For him the state of affairs in the early 21st century is as follow: NATO Links developed Europe to the United States making the latter a key power in European affairs, and Japan is bound to the US through economic political and military ties rendering it “an American protectorate, and the US controls key areas in other parts like the Persian gulf and South East Asia and balances the state of affairs in Eurasia and the rest of the world. The International Monetary fund and the World Bank, in addition to the United Nations play accessory roles to the US influence.
He considers that Eurasia is the chief Geopolitical Prize. For the first time a non European Country, The US is the primary actor in Eurasia and it should remain as such, and agrees with Huntington who says that “A world without US primacy will be a world with more violence and disorder and less democracy and economic growth than a world where the United States continues to have more influence than any other country in shaping global affairs”. He divides Eurasia into a Western one that includes Europe, a Southern one that includes the Middle East, an Eastern one that includes East Asia, and a Middle one that includes Russia. And he considers that Europe is the bridgehead of the US into Eurasia, and that the real challenge is to draw the middle part into the Western orbit, while preventing any Eurasian power to have exclusive control of the Southern part or to exclude the US from it. He quotes Mackinder again saying that “Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland; Who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island; Who rules the World-Island commands the world. In this sense Ukraine is highly important as its existence as independent country “would help transform Russia”, Hence enabling the US to affect the course of events in Russia proper. Without Ukraine, Russia would no longer be a Eurasian power but mainly an Asia power and would be drawn into central Asia where it would have to compete over influence with China. On the other hand, if Ukraine “loses its independence”-meaning if it falls under Russian influence— then this would have immediate consequences for Poland and central Europe. For him central Asia and by extension the Middle East is the Eurasian Balkans which is the potential geopolitical prize for Eurasian Supremacy, as the Balkans were the potential geopolitical prize for European Supremacy. Hence the US should not be excluded from this region, and should not allow any Eurasian power from having exclusive dominance over it. This would enable the US to be the arbiter of global affairs.
In another book, Strategic Vision: America and he crisis of global powers, Brzezinski considers that there were anomalies in American Politics that were most evident in the way the US handled the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. This led to the financial crisis of the United States in 2008-2009. This crisis “shook global confidence in the United States capacity to sustain its economic leadership over the long haul”. This internal problem had its causes and impact on American hegemony in the world. Several problems cause American anxiety over US capacity to sustain such a dominant role in global affairs such as national debt, financial structural problems related to the incapacity to reduce spending and increase revenues, widening social inequalities, decaying national infrastructure, public ignorance about global affairs, and “gridlock and highly partisan political system”. Yet according to Brzezinski the US still has assets summed up in its overall economic strength, innovative potential, demographic dynamics, reactive mobilization, geographic base and democratic appeal.
For the former national security adviser America failed to benefit from the era of post Cold War to establish an order that fits its interests by being reluctant to resolve problems within its sphere of influence like the Arab-Israeli conflict, or to engage Russia in a positive partnership with the US. But the world cannot live without America which acquires for Brzezinski a messianic role. Since “if America falters, the world is unlikely to be dominated by a single preeminent successor, such as China. While a sudden and massive crisis of the American system would produce a fast moving chain reaction leading to global political and economic chaos”. This is enhanced by his assumption that China is not ready to take over the leading role in global affairs due to its location, and encirclement by hostile neighbors and due to issues related to population and economic development
According to Brzezinski “China is ambitious” and its neighbors, Russia, Japan and India are not ready to accept a Chinese leading role and might turn to US to obstruct the rise of China to prominence. For him the global system would become unstable without a US leading role, and “East Asia and South Asia will be the region’s most vulnerable to international conflicts in a post American world”. America is bordered by only two states Mexico and Canada. In case US gets weakened Mexico will become more volatile and will become a source of threat to American national security. China might benefit from a receding American role to enhance its relations with Brazil, hence getting into the backyard of America. For him “the most immediate foreign policy threat to America’s global status and the longer range challenge to global geopolitical stability arise on the Eurasian continent”. The immediate threat is located in the region East of Egypt’s Suez Canal, West of Xinjiang province, South of Russia’s post soviet frontiers in the Caucasus and with the new central Asian states”.
Therefore a renewal of American domestic dynamism is possible while America by working purposefully with Europe, can shape a larger a more vital West, especially that “the Europe of today is still unfinished business, and will remain so until the West in a strategically sober prudent fashion embraces Turkey on more equal terms and engages Russia politically as well as economically”. Such an expanded West can help anchor the stability of an evolving Eurasia, as well as revitalize its own historic legacy. On the other hand the new Asia will most probably be like old Europe “obsessed with interstate rivalry and eventually the victim of self destruction and the cause of a global catastrophe”
What was presented by Brzezinski as messianic mission for the US to preserve global peace was put more bluntly by George Friedman in his book “the Next One Hundred Years”. In this book he clearly states that Danger to US interests comes from China and Russia. China being a paper tiger for it is having a huge population, an aging one in the next two decades, a Western industrialized and an East that is still mostly rural, the West being drawn into the economy of the pacific. Russia is de-industrialized and relies on oil and on military sales; it is checked by Poland in Europe, by Turkey in the Caucasus and by Japan in the Far East. Therefore in American Geostrategic thinking Turkey would have to play a role in checking the advance of Russia and China Westward towards the Mediterranean and Southward toward the Indian Ocean.
This explains why President Barack Obama gave special importance to partnership with Turkey, which was most evident in his April 2009 visit to Ankara, less than three months after his election as president. The US indicated Turkey, which is called the “Moderate Islam”, as the example to the countries of the Middle East. In return of this Turkey might be granted several rewards including: To be admitted to the World Trade Organization; to sign free trade agreement with the US; and to be admitted to the membership of finance centre that will be established for the Middle East. Yet the prospects of conflict between the US and Turkey might arise if Turkey grows beyond certain limits as to enforce its hegemony over the Middle East which endangers US and Western interests.
Robert Kaplan: Upholding US Legacy
As Mackinder echoes in Spykman’s writings, and the latter in Brzezinski’s, and so Brzezinski echoes in the writings of Robert D. Kaplan. In his book, The Revenge of Geography, he considered that the Middle East stretching from Morocco in the West to Afghanistan in the East is passing through a crisis of central authority, and that History testifies that Tunisia and Egypt were always cohesive, unlike Libya, Yemen, and Syria. Regarding the world in present time he considered that the Post Cold War Era started in the 1980s with the revival of the term, Central Europe, which marked a fracturing of the soviet bloc. This region is a sort of a crush zone between Atlantic Europe in the West and the Eurasian Heartland with its continental outlook. The US, being located between two oceans, had access to the maritime highways of these two big oceans. Whereas Germany stood at the very heart of Europe, a land and sea power both, and thus fully conscious of its ties to maritime Western Europe and to the Heartland Russia–Eastern Europe. For him Central Europe regained its importance in European geopolitics after the end of the Cold War due to the resurgence of a united Germany and German influence over Poland, The Baltic states and Eastern Europe, while Mediterranean Europe and the Balkans “lag behind”. In addition to its expansion Eastward, Kaplan sees that Europe is moving Southward to encompass the Arab World in North Africa. Yet Europe is still hindered by its inner conflicts especially between France and Germany.
On the other hand Russia is still the world’s largest country, a land power that feels under perpetual threat due to the fact that it has little natural boundaries. As they have no maritime boundaries except in the North pole and in the East on the shores of the Pacific, the Russians always feel that they have to keep expanding or else they will be conquered. And Kaplan predicts that Russia which is blocked from expanding Westward by NATO would turn to central Asia where it has to compete over hegemony with China. The Caucasus remains a pivotal area for Russian interests. This made Russia always look to have access to reach maritime borders and sea lanes.
On the other hand Kaplan considers that China does not pose an existential threat to the United States and that the possibility of war between China and the US is “extremely remote”. And he expects that China will be turning its attention to its immediate surrounding including central Asia and Manchuria where it could collide with Russian interests. And he expects that the rivalry between China and the US will be determined by the direction that India takes, whether it would be to the side of the US or China. He notes that as Russia dominates the sparsely populated landmass of Eurasia, it would be surrounded on its peripheries by four densely populated areas which are: Europe, India, South East Asia, and China.
Kaplan also notes that the Middle East is the area where Europe, Russia, Asia, and Africa intersect: “with the Mediterranean Sea and the Sahara Desert to the West; the Black Sea, the Caucasus, the Caspian Sea, and the Central Asian steppe-land to the North; the Hindu Kush and the Indian Subcontinent to the East; and the Indian Ocean to the South”. This area is not united politically and it contains 70 percent of the oil and gas resources in the world, and is highly unstable. But he notes that there are two pivotal areas in this region, the first and primary one being Iran, followed in importance by the Anatolian Plateau which constitutes a bridge between Iran and Europe.
Counter Mainstream Scholarship
It is noteworthy that a counter mainstream scholarship has evolved in the past decades to counter argue the mainstream Imperialist school in the United States and in the West in general. Works of scholars like Edward Said has provided an alternative theoretical ground base for anti Eurocentric scholarship. In his book “Orientalism”, Said discusses extensively the bases of Eurocentric scholarship and argues that Europe, in order to exist, has created an anti-Europe against which it could identify itself. This anti-Europe is not confined to the Arab-Islamic East but encompasses it to other Asian and African countries. Based on this we see scholars like Janet Abu Lughod writing an important book about the pre Eurocentric world analyzing the World system in the 13th and 14th centuries, before the rise of European hegemony. Gavin Menzies went as far as to claim that the new World was in reality discovered by the Chinese in 1421 rather than by Christopher Columbus in 1492. While Martin Bernal worked extensively on the role of Afro-asiatic in urging the rise of both the classical Greek and the roman civilizations. And the list goes on of scholars who worked hard to counter argue the Eurocentric oriental perception of world history and to argue that the History of Civilization is a history of interaction rather than conflict.
Eric Hobbsbawm
By the dawn of the new millennium, the US strategists became anxious about their position in the world. The presidency of George Bush (r. 2000-2008) reflected this anxiousness. Taking a pretext of the 9-11, 2001 incident, when al-Qaida activists attacked the world trade center and the pentagon, they ventured on implementing their strategy at controlling the Middle East. They first invaded Afghanistan in late 2001 and early 2002, a year later they invaded Iraq. However, this megalomaniac US policy has destroyed the “political and ideological foundations of the former hegemonic influence and left the US with little to reinforce the heritage of the cold war era but an admittedly frightening military power”. This made the US isolated and unpopular among most governments and peoples. Hobsbawm considered that this Military strength underlined “the economic vulnerability of a US whose enormous trade deficit is maintained by Asian investors, whose economic interest in supporting a falling dollar is rapidly diminishing, and the relative economic clout of the European union, Japan, East Asia, and even the organized bloc of third world primary producers”.…. this unilateralism indicated a growing crisis within US society, the biggest since the civil war (1859-1865) which was reflected in “a sharp geographical division between the globalized economy of the two seaboards and the vast resentful hinterland, the culturally open big cities and the rest”. And in a prophetic way Hobsbawm stated that “American global policy is aimed inwards, not outwards, however great and ruinous its impact on the rest of the world. It is not designed to produce either empire or effective hegemony”. Democracy was a mere veil to American geostrategic directives and as Hobsbawm stated it “that all of which can be described in the words of the great Thomas Hobbes’s leviathan as insignificant speech, the word democracy means this standard state model”.
This comparison between US and Britain is considered a fallacy by late British historian Eric Hobsbawm (1917-2012). Hobsbawm considered that there are many differences between these two states, for Britain is an island while the US is a continent, while Britain has sent emigrants all over the world, the US remains a receiver of immigrants. He considers that the US is more compared to Russia than to Britain. And unlike Britain the US never saw itself as a power among other rival powers and has never had colonial dependencies. The US had a huge home market unlike Britain that had to rely on world market. In addition the US is a messianic power as it was the byproduct of revolution unlike Britain which was a colonial power. That is why the US thinks that it is endowed with a messianic mission. Furthermore, Britain has built its hegemony based on the centrality of law while the US has built its glory on a tradition of outlaws. the US had no national ancestors to serve as a national past, Britain expanded overseas while the US expanded on land, and as British economy was linked to global economic, it played a central role in the development of nineteenth century world economy, while the US economy has no such organic connection with the world economy. Finally the US is a debtor unlike the case of Britain in its heydays, and the US unlike Britain has always had to rely on its military muscles, for Britain knew its limits while the US aims at being a world empire. The United States has been obsessed by the prospects of the rise of China. As the late British Historian Eric Hobsbawm stated it, “the danger of a major global war, probably arising out of the unwillingness of the US to accept the emergence of China as a rival superpower, has not receded, although it is not immediate”.
In conclusion we see that the American policy in the world has been conducted throughout the 20th century according to the guidelines set by Halford Mackinder over a century ago, and refined by Nicholas Spykman during the Second World War. The United States considers itself as an extension of the European world. This makes it inherit a constant apathy towards Russia, the power that occupies the core of Asia, where all “Barbarians invading Europe came from”. Another factor that determines the behavior of the United States is the fact that its elite considers themselves similar to the British Empire in the sense of being a naval power that should have sole control over maritime trade routes. In this sense, as Britain had to prevent any continental European power from having a full control of the European landmass by playing off one power against the other, so the US, operating at a much larger scale, considers that to preserve its hegemony by preventing the Eurasian landmass from uniting and isolating it from global affairs. Hence, as The Low Lands served the British in the past as a bridgehead into Europe, so Western and Middle Europe serve the United States as a Bridgehead into Eurasia. The Middle East, stretching from Egypt in the West to the Chinese Desert of Xinjiang in the East separate Europe, from East Asia, and blocs Russia from having access to the Indian Ocean and the East Mediterranean. Henceforth the United States should either fully dominate this region, or should not be excluded from having strong footholds in it to serve a higher objective which is to separate Europe from East Asia, and bloc Russia inside Eurasia. It was according to these directives that the United States won the cold War in 1991. As soon as the Second World War ended, the US started to encircle the Soviet Union and its East European Allies with a set of alliances, NATO to the West, Cento in the Middle East and the South East Alliance in South East Asia. The fiercest competition took place in the Middle East which became the hottest spot in the world during the cold war, as it witnessed the eruption of five major wars between the Arabs and Israel (1948, 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982). In 1974 the US achieved a major success when Egypt under President Anwar Sadat cut its relations with the Soviet Union and shifted to the orbit of the US. The Soviet Union tried to substitute this loss by invading Afghanistan, but this proved to be a costly war of attrition. The USSR, unable to break the isolation imposed on it blocking it from having access to maritime trade routes, imploded and led to an American victory. The new directives are aimed at World Hegemony at a time when powers like Russia, China, and other powers are trying to contend with American Supremacy in the World.
Abu Lughod Janet, Before European Hegemony: The World System, AD 1250 – 1350, (London: Oxford University Press, 1991).
Alfred Thayer Mahan, The Interest of America in Sea Power, Present and Future, (Washington: Department of Defense Press).
Bernal Martin, Black Athena: The Afro-Asiatic Roots of Classical Civilization, Vol. 1,2,3, (Rutgers University Press, 1991).
Brzezinski Zbegnew, The Grand Chessboard, American Primacy and its Geostrategic Imperatives, (Basic Books, 1998).
Brzezinski Zbigniew, Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power, (Basic Books, 2012).
De Jomini Baron, The Art of War, translated by Capt. G.H. Mendell and Lieut. W.P. Craighill, (New York: Dod Press, 1862).
Friedman George, The next 100 years a forecast for the 21st century, (New York: first anchor books edition, 2010).
Fukuyama Francis, The End of History and the Last Man, (New York: Macmillan inc, 1992).
Gibbon Edward, The History of Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, (Penguin Classics, 2001).
Graham Sumner, Graham Turner, Roman Army: Wars of the Empire, (London: Brassy LTD, 1997).
Hitler Adolf, Mein Kampf, (New York: Hougbton Mifflin Company, 1950).
Hobsbawm Eric, Globalization, Democracy and Terrorism, (London: Abacus, 2008).
Huntington, Samuel P. “The clash of civilizations? Foreign Affairs”. New York: Summer 1993.Vol.72, Iss. 3; pg. 22, 28. Generated by ABC Amber LIT Converter, http://www.processtext.com/abclit.html.
Kaplan Robert D., The Revenge of Geography: What The Map Tells Us about Coming Conflicts and The Battle Against Fate, (New York: Random House, 2012).
Karl Haushofer, De La Geopolitique, Translated from German by Andre Meyer, (Paris: Fayard, 1986).
Larrabbee Stephen, Turkey’s New Geopolitics, 176.
Mackinder Halford. J., Britain and The British Seas, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1907)
Mackinder Halford. J., The Geographical Pivot of History, the geographical journal, vol. 170, no 4, December 1904.
Mahan Alfred Thayer, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History: 1660 – 1783, (Boston: Brown and Company, 1918).
Menzies Gavin, 1421: The Year China Discovered America, (William Morrow Paperback, 2008).
Reich Emil, Foundations of Modern Europe, (New York: Chautauqua Press, 1908).
Said Edward, Orientalism, (London: Penguin, 1977).
Spengler Oswald, The Decline of the West, (Vintage, 2006).
Spykman Nicholas, America’s Strategy in World Politics-The United States and the Balance of Power, (New Brunswick, Transaction Publishers, 2008).
Sumner Graham and, Turner Graham, Roman Army, Wars of the Empire, (London: Brassey LTD, 1997).
Taylor Peter and Flint Colin, Aljughrafya Assyasiya li Alamina Al Muasser, (Kuwait: Alam Al Maerifah, 2002).
Toynbee Arnold, A Study of History, I – II, (London: Oxford University Press, 1987).
Vasiliev A. A., History of the Byzantine Empire: 324 – 1453, Vol. I – II, (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1952).

Leave a Reply