Observations of an ex pat: The heartland

The Heartland Theory and its corollary discipline of geopolitics was all the rage in the twentieth century.

It emerged from the morass of nationalism to dominate diplomatic thinking right through the Cold War. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union it sunk slowly over the political horizon as nationalism was gradually replaced by globalism governed by an internationally agreed set of laws enforced by a largely – but not completely– altruistic United States.

A Victorian geographer called Halford Mackinder was responsible for the Heartland Theory. He unveiled it in 1904 at a packed meeting of the Royal Geographical Society. He argued that advances in railways in other land transport meant that British-dominated sea power would be replaced by land power.  And that whomever controlled the territory from Eastern Europe to China would control the “heartland” of Eurasia. Furthermore that whomever controlled the heartland controlled what Mackinder called “the world island”which encompassed all of Europe, Asia and Africa; and whomever controlled the world island controlled the world.

In the 1920s’s Mackinder’s ideas were picked up by the German geopolitical academic Karl Haushofer who became an adviser to Adolf Hitler. Hitler and Haushofer fell out over Hitler’s racial policies, but the heartland theory became the blueprint for German expansion. During the Cold War the Americans adopted it to justify the policy of containing the Soviet Union which it thought was pursuing the Heartland dream in Eastern Europe, Central Asia and China.

The collapse of the Soviet Union rendered the Heartland Theory redundant—for a time. It has been revived again by developments in the two Eurasian giants China and Russia.   China’s Belt/Road initiative could have been taken straight out of Mackinder’s book. Its railway links from Shanghai to London and its heavy investment in Africa can easily be viewed as a pre-emptive bid to gain control of the “world island” of Europe, Asia and Africa.

In this context the current warm relations between Beijing and Moscow are worrying. Also worrying is a tightening embrace of the heartland theory by Russian strategic thinkers. Chief among them is self-proclaimed ultra nationalist fascist Alexander Dugin, who is known to be a close adviser to President Putin as well as his chief cheer leader.  In 2014 he told Der Spiegel that any Russian who opposes Putin is mentally ill.

Dugin  is also a regular visitor to China, Mongolia, and the former Soviet satellites in Central Asia, where he urges political, economic and military cooperation with Russia in such a way that a Russian-dominated collective controls Mackinder’s heartland. In his view the decade and a half between the end of the Cold War and the rise of Putin was merely a pause in the eternal struggle between an authoritarian Russia and an American-led liberal West.  Dugin is also strongly opposed to globalisation, and the expansion of the EU and NATO into the former Soviet satellites in Eastern Europe.

According to his book “Basics of Geopolitics”, The Russian geostrategist sees his united Eurasia as “the staging area of a new anti-bourgeois , anti-American revolution…The new Eurasian Empire will be constructed on the fundamental principle of the common enemy: the rejection of Atlanticism, strategic control of the USA and the refusal to allow liberal values to dominate us.”

Not surprisingly, Alexander Dugin’s name was near the top of the American list of sanctioned individuals following Russia’s Ukrainian adventure. With his long hair and unkempt beard he has been compared to the mad monk Rasputin of Tsarist Russia.

So what is the West doing in response to the revival of the Heartland theory? Nothing at best. Britain is self-obsessed with Brexit. France and Germany are struggling to hold the EU together. NATO and the Atlanticism is suffering from Trump-inspired divisions. And as for globalism underwritten by an agreed set of international rules—the obvious antidote to any world domination theory—that has been thrown out the window by Donald Trump in favour of a law of the jungle America First policy.

 

* Tom Arms is the American-born membership secretary for Tooting Lib Dems. His Observations of an Expat appears regularly on Lib Dem Voice and in a number of US newspapers. He is the author of “The Encyclopedia of the Cold War”.

Read more by or more about .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.
Advert

3 Comments

  • Peter Hirst 9th Mar '19 - 1:33pm

    Patriotism and nationalism are a bit like anti-semitism and anti-zionism, challenging but important to distinguish. We need to be clearer about what we are for and against. Headlines and one liners do not make this easier. Probably Russia merges the two to its advantage as perhaps do others.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem Logo appear next to your comments to show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

*
*
Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?

Advert



Recent Comments

  • User AvatarWilliam Fowler 23rd Aug - 1:11pm
    Be interesting to see if the "final" MP vote on this is no-deal v remain, with the polls maybe showing 60 percent in favour of...
  • User AvatarMichael Berridge 23rd Aug - 1:02pm
    "The leavers will have lost nothing, except the chance to squeeze through a flawed and massively unpopular decision by undemocratic means." That makes perfect sense...
  • User AvatarJohn Littler 23rd Aug - 12:59pm
    I like the cabinet. Everyone gets a go
  • User AvatarDavid Allen 23rd Aug - 12:54pm
    The idea of revoking while committing to launch a second referendum sounds superficially attractive. However, the ruling that the UK would be free to revoke...
  • User AvatarLorenzo Cherin 23rd Aug - 12:51pm
    Richard I do not see we miss the point, we can surely discuss our new leader and her position, it is about Brexit also Jo...
  • User AvatarThomas 23rd Aug - 12:46pm
    TCO - all those Continental European countries with free tuition university have lower inequality and more robust economy than Britain. You haven't showed us the...
Sat 24th Aug 2019
Thu 29th Aug 2019
Mon 9th Sep 2019