Working Paper

Working Paper 91 (2016)   

An Overview of Concepts and Empirical Examples from International Relations

Publicerad 18.4.2016

Sören Scholvin
The Finnish Institute of International Affairs

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Geopolitical research is frequently portrayed as a dead end. To some scholars it appears that in the 21st century geography is largely scenery, all but irrelevant to the most important issues of grand strategy.

This working paper aims to revitalise geopolitics, reflecting both on the critique of the subject and the strengths that have characterised it for more than a century. It is argued that geographical conditions constitute a set of opportunities and constraints, a structure that is independent of agency. General patterns and long-term processes can be aptly explained by this structure but geopolitics is not a theory of state behaviour or foreign policy.

Understanding specific phenomena that occur in international relations therefore requires taking into consideration non-geographical factors. Such a combination of geographical and non-geographical factors provides sound explanations, as several examples demonstrate: China’s projection of power into the Indian Ocean, South Africa’s approach to the political crisis in Zimbabwe in 2008, Iran’s maritime strategy and the poor integration of Colombia and South America.

Given that geopolitics is about analysing international relations (or politics) for its geographical content, all those committed to geopolitics should concentrate on the three guiding questions: Do geographical conditions influence the observed outcome? If yes, do geographical conditions influence the observed outcome significantly? If yes, how, meaning in combination with which other factors do geographical conditions influence the observed outcome?


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