THE PAPER | "Heartland Theory" of Mackinder & its Relevancy in Central Asia Geopolitics

THE PAPER | "Heartland Theory" of Mackinder & its Relevancy in Central Asia Geopolitics

THE PAPER | "Heartland Theory" of Mackinder & its Relevancy in Central Asia Geopolitics

By Suban Kumar Chowdhury and Abdullah Hel Kafi 

 "Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland; 

who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island; 

who rules the World-Island commands the world." 

(Mackinder, Democratic Ideals and Reality, p. 150)

 "The Geographical Pivot of History" was an article submitted by Halford John Mackinder in 1904 to the Royal Geographical Society that advanced his "Heartland Theory"

The Heartland theory of Mackinder placed the pivot in the center of the planet, which includes the river basins of the Volga, Yenisey, Amu Draya, Syr Draya, and two seas the Caspian and the Aral. [1]. In the Heartland theory, Mackinder actually engages geography in international politics both literally and figuratively. Literally the Heartland theory pointed out that, Eurasia is strategically the most advantageous geographical location (See: Figure 1).

Geographical Figure of Heartland Theory

Figure 1: Heartland lays at the centre of the world island, stretching from the Volga to the Yangtze and from the Himalayas to the Arctic. Mackinder's Heartland was the area then ruled by the Russian Empire and after that by the Soviet Union, minus the Kamchatka Peninsula region, which is located in the easternmost part of Russia, near the Aleutian Islands and Kurile islands.

On the other hand figuratively this theory put emphasis on the centrality of the Eurasian region. Mackinder stated that in the context of the global geopolitical processes, the Eurasian continent is found in the center of the world politics. Under this statement he suggested that the state that dominated the Heartland would possess the necessary geopolitical and economic potential to ultimately control the world politics. Although the Heartland Theory faced much criticism in the decades since its publication, this paper does not aim to readdress these criticisms. Rather the study aim to justify how far the philosophy is rational as well as influential in the contemporary environment of international politics. More specifically the study intends to seek the influence of this theory in the foreign policy directions of the United States and Russia in Central Asia. In order to fulfill this aim the next section of this study review few selective literatures on foreign policy discourse of both states.

Study from the perspective of geo-strategy reveals that in geo-politics there exist endemic powers at two influential levels: that of the domestic and the state. This endemic powers consolidate their influence to the respective policies of the USA and Russia [2]. Therefore, geo-strategy is not entirely immune to domestic participation since it implies a vast concept to deal with. The extensive push for geopolitical pluralism by the United States in the region can best be exemplified in that case. Any initiative by the United States to open the market access in Central Asia implies that this state is targeted for the exploration of multinational energy companies. The efforts of domination for the exploration of natural resources are also apparent in the case of Russia. Study found that Russia wants to have pipelines be transported through its territory. However the Russian energy companies are working on behalf of market interests, they often constrain the behavior of the state. Under the above assertion it is hardly possible to say that the Heartland theory of Mackinder is obsolete. 

However, considering the great power politics in Central Asia critics argued that Mackinderian analysis is not rational because it assumes conflict in a system where there is none. Such argument of the critics is hardly found out because a variety of literatures repeatedly cites the geo-strategic importance for USA security in fighting terrorism and preventing Russian dominance over oil production and transportation. Accordingly after making a review of selective literature the study found that various scholarly analyses attest to the fact that Russia builds regional alliances with Iran and China to stabilize its hegemony and prevent external influence from the United States. The relevancy of the Heartland Theory of Mackinder is also found as evident in an article which was published in the Oil & Gas Journal, in the post-Cold War political “struggle between Russia and the West conflict may [be determined] by who controls the oil reserves in Eurasia.” [2]. From the political view, the declarative statement of the first Bush Administration that the “United States has deemed it a vital interest to prevent any power or group from dominating the Eurasian landmass” [4] demonstrates that the obsolescence of Mackinderian theory is irrelevant.

Simultaneously the Russian official cited a similar concern by stating that: “[w]estern policy constitutes a challenge for Russia’s regional dominance." [5]. So at this stance it could be said that American fear of Russia is not irrational. The leadership interest of the United States in Central Asia would further disprove the claim of the irrelevance of the theory. As for instance, Vice-President Richard Cheney’s (who also served as CEO of the oil supply corporation, Halliburton) statement that: “I cannot think of a time when we have had a region emerge as suddenly to become as strategically significant as the Caspian”, or former secretary of energy Bill Richardson’s evaluation that: “we’re trying to move these newly independent countries toward the West. We would like to see them reliant on Western commercial and political interests rather than going on path influenced by Russia. Such statements of the leaders not only represent the national conception of the United States but also the domestic conceptions.” [6]. The United States and Russia formulate their respective foreign policy towards Central Asia in line with two different aspects. Whereas the United States followed an offensive policy towards Central Asia, Russian policy direction towards this region is found as quite defensive. It's quite evident that, there exists a conflict over energy security between the United States and Russia. The nature of the conflict between Russia and the United States is considered in this study as critical which is therefore not inevitable or a phenomenon only restricted to armed conflicts. In studying the nature of great power politics in Central Asia the study has found the growth of consumerism combined with the economization of international affairs. Such economization of world affairs caused the United States and Russia to move for raw materials/natural resources and it is evident from the analysis Philippe Le Billon who termed this competitive move between them as “resource wars.” [2]. Both the United States and Russia wants to gain their market interest in Central Asia at highest level. Based on this argument it is found that the stance of United States is considerably offensive in that it utilizes the GUUAM as a strategic alliance and promotes democracy to balance market favor on its side.

To maximize its economic power the foreign policy of the United States is directed through different political outlets through containing Russian sphere of influence in this region. Study has argued that the Russian foreign policy towards Central Asia is just a reaction of what the United States has pursued. Through such policy reaction Kremlin attempts to strengthen its hold in a ‘near-abroad’ policy that sees the region as its backyard. Geo-strategically the Central Asian region is very important for both the United States and Russia. Russia wants to control the Central Asian landmass to maintain its control over the natural resources. Likewise Russia, the United States wants to maximize their accessibility to the natural resources of this region by containing Russia. The Heartland theory falls short of grasping the context of that influence. 

To put it into perspective, the Central Asia is considered as very influential to each power. However, in light of Mackinder’s notion of “the actual balance at any given time,” the literature shows that geographic proximity has made Russia as the dominant power. Economically, it already controls many export routes for the shipment of natural gas and oil to western markets. On the contrary, the USA effort is likely to remain what it is now: promoting a market economy for the diversification of energy supply, whereby Russian monopoly will be broken.

The article has reached to a conclusion that the United States and Russia is indicative to the relevancy of Heartland theory. The application of “Geographical Pivot” thesis of Sir Halford J. Mackinder as an analogy to present day foreign policy of USA and Russia regarding Central Asia reveals the foreign policy discourses of both states deals greatly with the philosophy of Mackinder. This reveals that the Heartland theory is still influential in foreign policy outlook of the United States and Russia in Central Asia. Competition for gaining control over natural resources between Russia and the United States together with geopolitical and strategic factors characterized the geopolitics of Central Asia. Control over natural resources as well as market access is indeed the main motto of the foreign policy direction of both states. In fact it may be said that, outlined in 1904 through his speech, the “Heartland theory” was a founding moment for geo-politics. His argument regarding the control of the Eurasian landmass (Europe, Asia and the Middle East), is still considered as the major geopolitical prize.

About the Authors:

Suban Kumar Chowdhury
MA Department of International Relations University of Rajshahi, Bangladesh

Abdullah Hel Kafi
PhD Department of International Relations Jahangirnagar University, Bangladesh

Cite this Article:

Chowdhury, Suban Kumar ; Hel Kafi, Abdullah: The Heartland theory of Sir Halford John Mackinder: justification of foreign policy of the United States and Russia in Central Asia. In: Journal of Liberty and International Affairs 1 (2015), 2, pp. 58-70. URN: http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:0168-ssoar-446277

References:

1. Halford J. Mackinder. 1943.“The Round World and the Winning of the Peace,” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 21, No. 4, 595-605. 

2. Alcenat, Westenley & Scott, Margaret. 2008. Revisiting the Pivot: The Influence of Heartland Theory in Great Power Politics, URL: http://www.creighton.edu/fileadmin/user/CCAS/departments/PoliticalScience/MVJ/ docs/The_Pivot_-_Alcenat_and_Scott.pdf. Retrieved on: 19th August 2015, 18. 

3. Billon, Philippe Le. 2006. “The Geopolitics of Resource Wars: Resource Dependence, Governance and Violence,” in The Geopolitics Reader, 2 ed. Ed. by Gearoid O Tuathail. Routledge.New York, 204. 

4. Fettweis J. C. 2003. “Revisiting Mackinder and Angell: The Obsolescence of Great Power Politics.” Comparative Strategy, 109-129.  

5. Jonson, Lena.2001. “Russia and Central Asia” in Central Asian Security: The New International Context, Ed. by Roy Allison and Lena Jonson. Brookings Institution Press. 

6. Lutz C. Kleveman. 2003. The New Great Game: Blood and Oil in Central Asia. Atlantic Monthly Press. New York, 4-6. 

Publication Details:

This article is an excerpt from research paper, titled - "The Heartland theory of Sir Halford John Mackinder: justification of foreign policy of the United States and Russia in Central Asia" published at Journal of Liberty and International Affairs (Vol. 1, No. 2, 2015 | UDC 327 | ISSN 1857-9760) under Creative Commons License CC-BY-3.0 by the Institute for Research and European Studies – Bitola at www.e-jlia.com


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