As a modern political concept, the term geopolitics comes from the West. Rudolf Kjellen molded geopolitik, the German terminology, and that later evolved into English geopolitics. Subsequent theoretical studies produced many explanations about geopolitics(Johnston, 1998). But books with a special academic status usually treat geopolitics as a theory or analytical method.
The Encyclopaedia defines geopolitics as “an analytical study of how geopolitics affects the interrelationship of nations in international politics.”(Johnston, 1998). Encyclopedia of China considers geopolitics a theory of political geography that states that “it is based on a variety of geographical elements and political patterns of geographical form, analyze and predict the world or regional strategic situation and the political behavior of the countries concerned. It regards the geographical factor as a basic factor that affects or even determines the political behavior of the country(Johnston, 1998), and this view is based on the theory of international relations.
Above definition gives us different angles to look Geopolitics. Geopolitics is a kind of specific political relationship formed between human social groups based on geographical environment. It is not limited to the interior of human society, but deeply rooted in the geographical environment on which human activities depend. It is a combination of human politics and geography. Accordingly, to explore the nature of geopolitics, we can start from the two aspects of geographical environment and social relations.
- Spatial From
Many political achievements, although with different specific perspectives, researchers abstract the specific social relations of politics from the concrete material forms. They do not consider the geographical basis of politics nor do they place politics in geographical spatial analysis, and the results such as power politics, class politics, etc. do not have the geographical composition and meaning (Castree, 2003). Thus, people understand politics in the general sense which does not have geographical attributes.
Geopolitics is different. It is a product of the combination and interaction of human politics and geographical environment. Various real and material geographical factors such as location, space and resources directly affect and influence all aspects of human politics. Geopolitics has been deeply rooted in geography. On the one hand, the influence of geography on politics makes the close connection between the political phenomenon of man and the geographical environment on which political activities depend, or even the interaction between the two(Castree,2003). On the other hand, it makes the political phenomenon appear in different spatial forms and characteristics such as regional differences and distribution rules. This is an essential feature of geopolitics from general politics, a characteristic given by the attributes of the geographical environment during the interaction between the geographical environment and human politics (Castree,2003). Therefore, geopolitics is different from politics in the general sense and has other forms of politics with obvious geographical attributes that other form of politics does not have.
The attribute of space derives from the essential nature of geography. Geo-political space makes the original abstract and empty politics into the real politics with a concrete objective physical form, the transformation intermediary is the physical geographical environment. Therefore, the geographical environment is not only a factor that affects politics, but also a carrier of politics. Spatiality is the soul of geopolitics, without the geographical space, geopolitics is nothing.
Politics is essentially a specific social relationship. The Marxist political concept profoundly reveals the essence of politics. Wang Pu-jing defines politics as follows: It is a fusion of political and geo-environmental interactions based on a certain economic basis, in which people define and realize social rights with specific public interests through social public power(Castree,2003). Geopolitics is different from general Politics, nor geography itself, but a geopolitical political relationship. In geopolitics, the social property of politics is always an important source of its essential attributes. Compared with geographical attributes, the political attributes of politics are more active . Therefore, in general, geopolitics belongs to the category of social relations more.
From the perspective of geographical reality, the uneven distribution of the natural forms, geography and flow make the opportunities for gaining benefits of the countries in the international community unequal. The structure formed by the positional relationship between political actors is relatively fixed and unchangeable. The actors are in different relations. Their status, problems and possible strategic choices are constrained by the structure. From a realistic point of view, international politics and international relations are essentially anarchy. It is impossible for the international community to consciously form a fair and reasonable system and principle of imparting a fair distribution of interests to the actors. Power has become the highest principles and fundamental instruments that determines the distribution of benefits , the pursuit of power has become the instinctive and policy goal of all nations(Castree,2003). As the power of actors in international politics is based on the geographical environment and constrained by the geographical factors such as the location, space and resources of the actors, the pursuit of the advantages and favorable positions in the geographical environment such as space, resources and bases becomes the main content of geography, which make geopolitics evolve into the battle over the domination of space such as the mainland, the ocean and the sky, the domination of resources such as oil, minerals and grain, the strategically important place, and the control of the bases such as the ocean passage(Campbell, 2007). The competition among nations, especially the nation-states, which is the outstanding competitiveness of geopolitics.
In the meantime, from a dynamic point of view, politics is an activity and it is a process. In our traditional context, the meaning of politics is the state’s governance and the government’s activities. Western political thoughts often defines politics as an activity(Benhammou,2003). The view of Marxism is that “politics is the struggle between all classes” recognizes politics as a social attribute and treats politics as a dynamic process as well. Therefore, when we study geopolitics, we should not only tap the essence of political social relations, but also pay attention to it as a dynamic feature of the process.
Geopolitics is not a simple summation of politics and geography, but an organic unity formed by the interaction of the two. Geopolitics is achieved through the process of geographical and political geography. Geographically, firstly, geography has become an important parameter influencing politics due to its profound influence on politics, which has led to the fact that geography has become an essential component of geopolitics (Campbell, 2007). The system of geographical environment is the basis for the survival of human society and the platform from which human political activities cannot be separated. The impact of various geographical factors on the degree and nature of politics. As a result, geographical factors have become incentives for political issues, especially territories, borders, resources, strategic sites and ocean channels, which often lead to contention and conflict (Benhammou, 2003). Second, some of the geographical elements can become political chips and instruments. Such as oil, which itself is only a purely natural mineral, but its political role has been known to the world. And some of the geographical elements may become political targets, that is, the political or military goal itself is to obtain relevant geographical elements such as space and resources. In this way, in geopolitics, the “dead” thing of geography has come to life, becoming the carrier and incarnation of politics, and the geography has been politicized.
From a political point of view, geopolitics transforms politics from an abstract social relation into a variety of realistic geographical existential and political resources, spatialization and regionalization through the process of political geography (Benhammou,2003). The geography of politics is achieved through the elemental and spatialization of politics. In geopolitics, competition among actors is not for abstract power, but for some specific geographical elements, such as territories, oil, strategic passage, etc. The targets for the fight are real geographical goals. Important political connotations such as national interests, state power and national security are materialized and transformed into the requirements of geographical objectives such as resources, location, space, routes and buffer zones. Political struggles are also organized around these goals. This is the political elementalization.
The competition between actors is carried out in a specific geographical space, and the interaction of actors forms a certain spatial structure, which is the spatialization of politics.
Based on the above analysis of the fundamental attributes and core contents of geopolitics, The paper believes that geopolitics is, through the control and utilization of the geographical environment, political actors realize the specific rights centered on power, interests and security (Benhammou, 2003) . Geopolitics is, above all, a dynamic process and a process of competition based on geographical environment among actors (Benhammou, 2003). At the same time, from a static point of view, it is a competition between actors in geospatial form. Due to the prominent anarchy of the international political system, the public power of the international community that equitably distributes the national interest is obviously insufficient. In more time and space, the actor can only achieve self-interest through its own efforts and thus compete to realize the power and interests. Therefore, the essence of geopolitics is competition, and competition is conducted in the geographical environment.
Johnston, Ron. “Geopolitics: Re-visioning world politics, by John Agnew.” Politische Vierteljahresschrift 41.2(1998).
Campbell, David. “Geopolitics and visually: Sighting the Darfur conflict ☆.” Political Geography 26.4(2007):357-382.
Castree, Noel. “The geopolitics of nature.” (2003).
Benhammou, F, and L. Mermet. “Strategy and geopolitics of the opposition against the preservation of nature: the bear in the Pyrenees.” Transplantation Proceedings 35.2(2003):763.