Friday, February 14, 2014

The Problematic Nature of Geopolitics – Part I

Of the many activities of the modern State, geopolitics lies perhaps furthest away from the interests of the general public. The reasons for this have to do with the problematic nature of geopolitics. It might not have escaped those with a keen interest in the subject, that geopolitical discourse usually conflates considerations that should really be kept apart. There are two ways this happens: first, in the lack of distinction between means and ends, and second, in the lack of distinction between State and people. As a result of these two all-too-common amalgamations, geopolitical analysis often lacks the right perspective. 

The first point - means and ends - relates to the fact that geopolitics is concerned not only with the strategic interests of nations but also with the ways in which these interests can be tactically achieved. There is seldom enough appreciation in geopolitical thinking, for the fundamental differences between strategy and tactics; that is, between geopolitical interests and the realisation of these geopolitical interests. Questions related to “what?” and questions related to “how?” require two different approaches in geopolitics; not least since the latter, not the former, can lead to government action. Though it is true that to some extent ends and means cannot be entirely separated from each other because they influence one another, this distinction between the interests themselves and their realisation should still be made in geopolitics. Semantics are of course very important in this regard. For instance, the use of the terms “goals” and “objectives” in connection with a geopolitical strategy should perhaps be avoided because these terms already contain a certain idea of execution. A better term to use is “interests,” which has a more passive connotation; it does not imply any form of action.

The second point - State and people - is that geopolitics often conflates the interests of the government with the interests of the population. In reality, there is fundamental difference between the two, even in the so-called “liberal democracies.” Experts in geopolitics and specialists in international relations, whether they are public servants, whether they belong to think tanks, or whether they are members of academia, either fail to recognise, or tend to disregard, this divergence of interests between the State and the people. Geopolitical analysis is usually based on the assumption that the interests of the “nation” are the interests of the country's political and financial decision-makers. This is not only a problem of semantics; such a position is problematic, to say the least, in a political system that calls itself representative.

It is necessary to develop these points; this will be done in the next posts. First, both geopolitical interests and their realisation will be reviewed in detail. After that, the distinction between the interests of the State and the interests of the people will be discussed in more depth in another post. It will then be possible to draw a general conclusion about the problematic nature of geopolitics, and finally, the example of “Eurasia” will be looked at through the methodological lens that has thus been constructed.

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