"Does A 1904 Geopolitical Theory Explain The War In Ukraine?"
by John Wilder
"When I look at the war in Ukraine and other world events, I see evidence of Sir Halford John Mackinder. It would have been cool if he was the frontman for a 1910s version of Judas Priest, but no. Mackinder was a guy who thought long and hard about mountains, deserts, oceans, steppes, and wars. You could tell Mackinder was going to be good at geography, what with that latitude. The result of all this pondering was what he called the Heartland Theory, which was the founding moment for geopolitics.
What’s geopolitics? It’s the idea that one of the biggest influencers in human history (besides being human) was the geography we inhabit. Mackinder’s first version wasn’t very helpful, since he just ended up with “Indonesia” and the rest of the world, which he called “Outdonesia”.
Mackinder focused mainly on the Eurasian continent. Flat land with no obstacles meant, in Mackinder’s mind, that the land would be eventually ruled by a single power. Jungles and swamps could be a barrier, but eventually he thought that technology would solve that. Mountains? Mountains were obstacles that stopped invasions, and allowed cultures to develop independently. Even better than a mountain? An island.
There’s even a theory (not Mackinder’s) that the independent focus on freedom flourished in England because the local farmers weren’t (after the Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Mormons, and Vikings were done pillaging) subject to invasion and were able to develop a culture based on a government with limited powers, along with rights invested in every man.
Mackinder went further, though. He saw the combination of Eurasia and Africa as something he called the World Island. If the World Island came under the domination of a single power, he thought, it would eventually rule the rest of the world – it would have overwhelming resources and population, and it would have the ability to outproduce (both economically and militarily) everything else. “Pivot Area” is what Mackinder first called the Heartland.
Mackinder, being English, had seen the Great Game in the 1900s, which in many cases was a fight to keep Russia landlocked. The rest of Europe feared a Russia that had access to the sea. Conversely, Russia itself was the Heartland of the Mackinder’s World Island. Russia was separated and protected on most of its borders by mountains and deserts. On the north, Russia was protected by the Arctic Ocean, which is generally more inaccessible than most of Joe Biden’s recent memories.
Russia is still essentially landlocked. The Soviet Navy had some nice submarines, but outside of that, the Russians have never been a naval power, and the times Russia attempted to make a navy have been so tragically inept that well, let me give an example: The sea Battle of Tsushima between the Japanese and Russians in 1905 was a Japanese victory. The Japanese lost 117 dead, 583 wounded, and lost 3 torpedo boats. The Russians? They lost 5,045 dead, 803 injured, 6,016 captured, 6 battleships sunk, 2 battleships captured. The Russians sank 450 ton of the Japanese Navy. The Japanese sunk 126,792 tons of the Russian fleet. Yup. This was more lopsided than a fight between a poodle and a porkchop.
Mackinder noted that the Heartland (Russia) was built on land power. The Rimlands (or, on the map “Inner Crescent”) were built on sea power. In the end, almost all of the twentieth century was built on keeping Russia away from the ocean, and fighting over Eastern Europe. Why? In Mackinder’s mind, “Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland (Russia); Who rules the Heartland commands the World Island; Who rules the World Island commands the World.” In one sense, it’s true.
Mackinder finally in 1943 came up with another idea, his first idea being lonely. I think he could see the way World War II was going to end, so he came up with the idea that if the United States were to team up with Western Europe, they could still command the Rimlands and contain the Soviet Union to the Heartland.
There are several reasons that the United States has responded with such an amazing amount of aid to Ukraine. $60 billion dollars? Some people don’t work a whole year and get that much money. No, the idea is to bleed Putin as deeply and completely as they can. Why? If they’re following Mackinder, this keeps Russia vulnerable. It keeps Eastern Europe from being under Russia’s control – if you count the number of “Battles of Kiev” or “Battles of Kharkov” you can see that it’s statistically more likely to rain artillery in Kiev than rain water.
This might be the major driver for Russia, too. A Russian-aligned (or at least neutral) Ukraine nicely plugs the Russian southern flank. And this is nearly the last year that Russia can make this attempt – the younger generation isn’t very big, and the older generation that built and can run all of the cool Soviet tech? They’re dying off. Soon all their engineers with relevant weapons manufacturing experience will be...dead. If Russia is going to attempt to secure the south, this is their only shot. Depending on how vulnerable the Russians think they are, the harder they’ll fight. NATO nations tossing in weapons isn’t helping the famous Russian paranoia.
I think that the United States, in getting cozy with China in the 1970s, was following along with Mackinder’s theory – I believe Mackinder himself said that a Chinese-Russian alliance could effectively control the Heartland and split the Rimland, given China’s access to the oceans. And that’s what China is doing now, with the Belt and Road Initiative. Remember Mackinder’s World Island? Here’s a map of the countries participating in China’s Belt and Road Initiative:
Spoiler alert: It’s the world island."
Full screen recommended.
"Halford Mackinder, Heartland Theory and Geographical Pivot 1"
"In this presentation we discuss the theory for Geographic Causation in Universal History proposed by Sir Halford Mackinder in his paper - "The Geographic Pivot of History" delivered as a lecture in 1904. The theoretical propositions in the paper regarding how natural geography controls the flow of history of civilizations - with nature acting as a stage for man to act upon - was the most relevant contribution of Halford Mackinder towards developing a philosophic synthesis between geography, history and statesmanship, leading to the development of modern geopolitics.
In this part we see how he proposes the beginning of a new era in the international system from the 1900s, predicts (in a way) the break out of the First World War, and builds a unified model based on Geo-history for understanding the emergence and evolution of European civilization."
Full screen recommended.
"Halford Mackinder, Heartland Theory and Geographical Pivot 2"
"In this presentation we view Mackinder’s historical analysts by looking at the interactions between different Geographic zones, seeing how the Mongols used land power to unify the core of the World Island and how Europeans circumvented nomadic heartland power by investing in sea power. The core idea of Halford Mackinder’s Thesis was that in the beginning of the 20th century, geographers needed to develop a philosophical synthesis of geographical conditions and historical trajectories of nations over long ranges of time.
He attempted to do this for the history of Eurasia, which he called, the World Island. According to his theoretical model, there was a link between geographical conditions and the nature of geopolitical order, for one, but for further depth in understanding historical trajectories we need to do a wider scale analysis of interactions between different geographically influenced political orders by building a model of Heartland-Rimland interactions across history."
Freely download "The Geographical Pivot of History",
by HJ Mackinder, April 1904, here:
Why is this important? Consider history, from which we learn nothing...
"The earliest evidence of prehistoric warfare is a Mesolithic cemetery in Jebel Sahaba, which has been determined to be approximately 14,000 years old. About forty-five percent of the skeletons there displayed signs of violent death. Since the rise of the state some 5,000 years ago, military activity has occurred over much of the globe. The advent of gunpowder and the acceleration of technological advances led to modern warfare. According to Conway W. Henderson, "One source claims that 14,500 wars have taken place between 3500 BC and the late 20th century, costing 3.5 billion lives, leaving only 300 years of peace." An unfavorable review of this estimate mentions the following regarding one of the proponents of this estimate: "In addition, perhaps feeling that the war casualties figure was improbably high, he changed 'approximately 3,640,000,000 human beings have been killed by war or the diseases produced by war' to 'approximately 1,240,000,000 human beings.'"
The lower figure is more plausible, but could still be on the high side considering that the 100 deadliest acts of mass violence between 480 BC and 2002 AD (wars and other man-made disasters with at least 300,000 and up to 66 million victims) claimed about 455 million human lives in total. Primitive warfare is estimated to have accounted for 15.1% of deaths and claimed 400 million victims. Added to the aforementioned figure of 1,240 million between 3500 BC and the late 20th century, this would mean a total of 1,640,000,000 people killed by war (including deaths from famine and disease caused by war) throughout the history and pre-history of mankind. For comparison, an estimated 1,680,000,000 people died from infectious diseases in the 20th century."
"It would indeed be a tragedy if the history of the human
race proved to be nothing more than the story of an
ape playing with a box of matches on a petrol dump."
- David Ormsby-Gore