by Leonhardt van Efferink
Comments Off on Karin Fierke: Critical Approaches to International Security

Karin Fierke: Critical Approaches to International Security

Dr Karin Fierke

Dr Karin Fierke

Karin Marie Fierke has both American and British citizenship. She completed her Ph.D. in Political Science at the University of Minnesota in 1995 and has since been a Prize Research Fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford, a Reader at Queen’s University Belfast and was appointed to a chair in International Relations at the University of St. Andrews in 2006.

Critical Approaches to International SecurityThe “My New Book” Blog seeks to provide a multidisciplinary angle on the countries and the world we live in. The interviews address the book’s key themes, questions and findings. Moreover, the book is put in perspective by linking it to the author’s background and existing literature. Overall, the underlying question is: why should we consider reading this new book? Below each interview, you find a form that enables you to ask the author more questions, or share your views on the topics that the book covers.
Dear Sir, Madam, for an overview of my Summer courses on geopolitics, country risk and media framing/discourses, please go to GeoMeans Courses at Maastricht Summer School 2018. Kind regards, Leonhardt, editor of ExploringGeopolitics

1. What are the main themes of the book?

The main argument of Critical Approaches to International Security is that security is always political. This is explored through an analysis of the emergence of Critical Security Studies since the end of the Cold War as well as the ‘expansionist’ debate and arguments that ‘security’ is an essentially contested concept.

The book is structured around a range of concepts, including change, identity, danger, fear and trauma, human insecurity and emancipation, all of which are explored in relation to concrete security issues in a global context.

2. What are the central questions of the book?

-What does it mean to approach the study of security from a critical perspective?
-How have the debates surrounding critical studies evolved over time?

3. How have you sought to answer these questions?

I have sought to answer these questions through an extended analysis and synthesis of the debates that have shaped critical security studies, which, within the book, are structured around key concepts, and tracing how these debates have changed since the inception of critical security studies in the 1990s.

4. What are the main findings of your book?

While the book has been used by many as a textbook, it does contain an argument that security is political, essentially contested and dependent on context for its meaning. While the early concern of critical security studies was the narrow military definition of security, which was a focus of the first edition, the second edition traces a shift in these debates with a greater focus on practices of global liberal governance.

While the first edition highlighted claims that traditional security studies is ethnocentric, shaped by primarily American concerns in the context of the Cold War, the second edition adds the voices of those who have argued that Critical Security Studies is also ethnocentric and European. I conclude, against the backdrop of current global changes and emerging non-Western powers, that there is a need at this critical juncture for a more global conversation regarding the meaning of security and protection from harm.

5. What does the book contribute to existing literature in the field?

The first edition was very well received and is frequently cited within the larger CSS literature. The second edition tries to place CSS within an evolving context in order to address questions about the continuing relevance of a specifically ‘critical’ security studies, given some would argue that having become mainstream, particularly in Europe, it has run its course.

My argument, in light of the evolution of CSS, comes back to one of its central themes, that is, that critical scholars are always positioned in historical space, and from there raise questions about the assumptions or contradictions of their context, as a point of departure for opening a space for change. Thus, while the world has changed, there is no endpoint to the critical endeavour, and the need for reflexivity about our assumptions, including theoretical assumptions.

6. How does the book relate to your own (personal/professional) background?

Critical Approaches to International Security, 2nd Edition

“Critical Approaches to International Security”, 2nd Edition

I began my professional life, prior to becoming an academic, in the context of the nuclear debates of the 1980s. Since becoming an academic, my own work has been less framed by critical security studies per se than social constructivist debates about questions of meaning, post-Wittgenstein, and tracing changes of meaning in use.

While this has been a critical enterprise and related to questions of security, my positioning in relation to the broader literature explored in the book is less to identify with any one theoretical tradition, of which the Frankfurt School and Foucault figure prominently, but rather to trace the evolution of these debates and attempt to draw out what is at stake.

7. What further research into the book’s themes would you suggest?

Securitization, which is the focus on one chapter, has generated a huge literature and continues to do so, although at some point this is likely to run its course. The book touches on a number of other emerging issues that are at the cutting edge of research and debate, including emotions and security, ethics and security, quantum approaches to security or the engagement in a more global conversation that goes beyond the West.

by Leonhardt van Efferink
Comments Off on Roland Bleiker: Aesthetics and World Politics

Roland Bleiker: Aesthetics and World Politics

Professor Roland Bleiker

Professor Roland Bleiker

Roland Bleiker is Professor of International Relations at the University of Queensland. He grew up in Zürich, Switzerland, where he was educated and worked as a lawyer. He then studied international relations in Paris, Toronto, Vancouver and Canberra. Professor Bleiker worked for two years in a Swiss diplomatic mission in Panmunjom, the Korean DMZ. He held visiting research and teaching affiliations at Harvard, Cambridge, Humboldt, Tampere, Yonsei and Pusan National University as well as the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and the Institute of Social Studies in The Hague.

Professor Bleiker is the author of several books, including Aesthetics and World Politics (Palgrave, 2009); Divided Korea: Toward a Culture of Reconciliation (University of Minnesota Press, 2005) and Popular Dissent, Human Agency and Global Politics (Cambridge University Press, 2000). He is currently working on a project that examines how images, and the emotions they engender, shape responses to humanitarian crises. Recent samples of this work in include an essay on “Multiple Methods for Visual Global Politics” (forthcoming in Millennium: Journal of International Studies) and a co-edited Forum on “Emotions and World Politics” in International Theory (Vol 3/2014).

"Aesthetics and World Politics"The “My New Book” Blog seeks to provide a multidisciplinary angle on the countries and the world we live in. The interviews address the book’s key themes, questions and findings. Moreover, the book is put in perspective by linking it to the author’s background and existing literature. Overall, the underlying question is: why should we consider reading this new book? Below each interview, you find a form that enables you to ask the author more questions, or share your views on the topics that the book covers.
Dear Sir, Madam, for an overview of my Summer courses on geopolitics, country risk and media framing/discourses, please go to GeoMeans Courses at Maastricht Summer School 2018. Kind regards, Leonhardt, editor of ExploringGeopolitics

1. What are the main themes of the book?

My book is an attempt to provide a systematic introduction to the aesthetic turn in international political theory: the growing recognition that aesthetic sources, such as poetry, photography, music and film, offer important insight into the issues and conflicts that shape world politics. Interweaving theory and practical illustration, I try to demonstrate how an engagement with aesthetics helps us understand and perhaps even address key political challenges, including terrorism, inequality, poverty and authoritarianism.

2. What are the central questions of the book?

In essence I try to ask: what types of political insights can aesthetics sources offer that we cannot gain through more conventional political analysis.

3. How have you sought to answer these questions?

Professor Roland Bleiker

Professor Roland Bleiker

In the first part of my book I draw upon different theoretical sources, such as the concept of the sublime or the juxtaposition of mimetic and aesthetic approaches. I highlight how we represent political events and what consequences this has for our understanding – and political engagement – with them. I illustrate the issues at stake by engaging the phenomenon of global terrorism, showing how we can rethink the issues at stake when viewing them through aesthetic sources, such as painting, literature, photography, architecture and music.

In the second part of the book demonstrate how, in different cultural and historical settings, aesthetic insight can give us new perspectives on key political dilemmas. My case studies deal with topics that range from war and genocide to authoritarianism and poverty. They move from Stalinist Russia to post-war Germany, from Cold War Eastern Europe to Chile and contemporary Korea.

4. What are the main findings of your book?

I argue that aesthetic sources offer us alternative insight: a type of reflective understanding that emerges not from applying the analytical skills that are central the social sciences, but from cultivating a more open-ended level of creativity and sensibility about the political. We then might be able to appreciate what we otherwise cannot even see: perspectives or people excluded from prevailing purviews, for instance, or the emotional nature and consequences of political events

5. What does the book contribute to existing literature in the field?

It offers us a new way of conceptualizing and understanding political issues and problems.

6. How does the book relate to your own (personal/professional) background?

I have had a long interest in questions of aesthetics and politics. My first systematic statement on the issue was in a journal article on “The Aesthetic Turn in International Political Theory,” published in Millennium: Journal of International Studies (Vol. 30, No. 3, 2001). For many years, I focused my aesthetic inquires on issues of language and poetics. In more recent years, I focused in particular on the role of visual factors. Besides looking into the links between art and politics, I am, at the moment, involved in a long-term collaborative project with Emma Hutchison and David Campbell. We examine how images shape responses to humanitarian crises.

7. What further research into the book’s themes would you suggest??

There is already a lot of very exciting research out there on the aesthetic turn in international relations. But there is even more room left for new inquires on numerous links between aesthetics and politics.

Other books by Professor Roland Bleiker

"Divided Korea - Toward a Culture of Reconciliation"

“Divided Korea – Toward a Culture of Reconciliation”

"Popular Dissent, Human Agency and Global Politics"

“Popular Dissent, Human Agency and Global Politics”

by Leonhardt van Efferink
Comments Off on L.H.M. Ling: The Dao of World Politics – Towards a Post- Westphalian, Worldist International Relations

L.H.M. Ling: The Dao of World Politics – Towards a Post- Westphalian, Worldist International Relations

Dr L.H.M. Ling

Dr L.H.M. Ling

L.H.M. Ling is Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs at the New School for Public Engagement (NSPE). Moreover, she is Professor at the Milano School of International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy of the New School. Dr Ling obtained a BA at Wellesley College (1979) and an MS (1982) and PhD (1989) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
She has authored four books: Postcolonial International Relations: Conquest and Desire between Asia and the West (2002), Transforming World Politics: From Empire to Multiple Worlds (co-authored with A.M. Agathangelou, York University, 2009); Imagining World Politics: Sihar & Shenya, A Fable for Our Times (2014); and The Dao of World Politics: Towards a Post- Westphalian, Worldist International Relations (2014). This interview is about the last book.

The Dao of World Politics: Towards a Post- Westphalian, Worldist International RelationsThe “My New Book” Blog seeks to provide a multidisciplinary angle on the countries and the world we live in. The interviews address the book’s key themes, questions and findings. Moreover, the book is put in perspective by linking it to the author’s background and existing literature. Overall, the underlying question is: why should we consider reading this new book? Below each interview, you find a form that enables you to ask the author more questions, or share your views on the topics that the book covers.
Dear Sir, Madam, for an overview of my Summer courses on geopolitics, country risk and media framing/discourses, please go to GeoMeans Courses at Maastricht Summer School 2018. Kind regards, Leonhardt, editor of ExploringGeopolitics

1. What are the main themes of the book?

Imagining World Politics Sihar & Shenya, A Fable for Our Times

Another recent book by dr L.H.M. Ling: “Imagining World Politics Sihar & Shenya, A Fable for Our Times”

The Dao of World Politics aims for a more democratic, sustainable world politics. It draws on Daoist yin/yang dialectics to move world politics from the current stasis of hegemony, hierarchy, and violence to a more balanced engagement with Others through parity, fluidity, and ethics. The book also focuses on those aspects of world politics usually erased or overlooked by conventional International Relations (IR) – e.g., folk tales and popular culture – and how these affect/ inform/ underpin supposedly objective, rational policy analysis.
The book, in effect, turns a non-Western gaze onto Western/Westphalian IR. But it does not reject or exclude the latter. Rather, the book adheres to what the dao teaches: nothing ever stays the same and yet everything emanates from this eternal truth. Accordingly, this book suggests new ways of articulating and acting in global politics so that it is more inclusive and less coercive. Only then, the book claims, could IR realize what the dao has always stood for: a world of compassion and care.
The Dao of World Politics bridges the humanities and social sciences, and will be of interest to scholars and students of the global/international, as well as policymakers and activists of the local/domestic.

2. What are the central questions of the book?

How do we overcome the hegemony of the West in contemporary world politics? And how do we do so without reproducing another hegemony?

3. How have you sought to answer these questions?

Daoist Dialectics: Balanced Yin-Yang Relations

Figure 1- Daoist Dialectics: Balanced Yin-Yang Relations

Daoist dialectics offer a way out of hegemony by perforating its binaries (e.g., Self vs Other, West vs Rest, Order vs Chaos). Daoist dialectics begin with two oppositional conditions: yin vs yang. Yin represents the “female” principle (dark, cold, soft); yang, the “male” principle (bright, hot, hard). But yin and yang do not stay opposed since Daoist dialectics also recognize that each exists within the other: i.e., yin-within-yang and yang-within-yin (Figure 1). From this basis, we can see how change can take place without resort to violence to the Other. To do so, after all, would harm the Self.

4. What are the main findings of your book?

A new mode of engagement between Self and Other called Worldist Dialogics. It proposes a method of discourse called Creative Listening and Speaking (CLS).

5. What does the book contribute to existing literature in the field?

The Dao of World Politics: Towards a Post- Westphalian, Worldist International Relations

“The Dao of World Politics: Towards a Post- Westphalian, Worldist International Relations”

The book contributes a way of thinking and doing, being and relating that stems from a non-Western, non-modern source – Daoist dialectics – but which holds the promise of taking world politics forward to a post-Western future beyond the constraints of modernity.

6. How does the book relate to your own (personal/professional) background?

I am a product of both East and West. Growing up in this hybrid space has allowed me to see the possibilities and drawbacks of both traditions; accordingly, the best way to proceed is to syncretize the best of both worlds, thereby leaving behind the worst of each.

7. What further research into the book’s themes would you suggest?

I am currently working on a follow-up volume titled, A Worldly World Order. It will look specifically at how we can bridge supposedly irreconcilable theories in IR – like realism and a pre-modern, indigenous worldview like the Andean cosmovision – to arrive at a more dialogical and democratic world politics.

by Leonhardt van Efferink
Comments Off on Nathalène Reynolds: Pakistan and the West’s Construction of the Malala Yousafzai Phenomenon

Nathalène Reynolds: Pakistan and the West’s Construction of the Malala Yousafzai Phenomenon

ExploringGeopolitics_TheWayISeeIt_LogoDr Nathalène Reynolds, Pakistan Security Research Unit of Durham University:
“The way I see it…
…is that Malala Yousafzai’s Nobel Prize for Peace has been instrumentalised both in Pakistan and in the West,
to the detriment of a genuine examination of girls’ access to education.”



Pakistan in the Aftermath of the Attacks of September 11th 2001
Before addressing the construction of the Malala Yousafzai phenomenon, it is important to briefly look at some of the changes in international relations that followed 9/11. Washington’s response to those attacks is well-known: backed by numerous Western capitals1, in the aftermath of the attacks on US soil, it chose to launch Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan (October 2001). In similar vein, the White House enjoined a reluctant Pakistan to join the ‘war on terror’. The government of President General Pervez Musharraf was obliged to give up a concept that the state had long judged crucial to its defense: that of ‘strategic depth’.

Nathalène Reynolds / Malala

Nathalène Reynolds

The territory of Afghanistan had in effect been a testing ground for this since the coming to power of the Taliban regime in Kabul on September 27th 1996. The Islamic Republic of Pakistan thus considered that it had achieved its goal of establishing a hinterland in its Afghan neighbour that could play a vital role in the event of a new conflict with India. Conscious of the need to satisfy an American ally that was seeking – in addition to various other geostrategic goals – to eradicate Osama Ben Laden and Al Qaeda, Pakistan bowed to what looked very much like a demand. At least it pretended to have abandoned the Afghan Taliban movement, even though it allowed a number of its most prominent leaders to re-group in the Pashtoon tribal zones within Pakistan.
Seeking to regain the position it had earlier occupied, in parallel it promoted the creation (or was it already rather the strengthening?) of a national Taliban movement. The latter, through bloody attacks targeting the Pakistani civilians, was by 2006 in a position to try to assert its claim to take over the country2. The military-political leadership of the state, trying in a sense to save the future, made a fine distinction. ‘Bad’ Taliban, responsible for attacks in Pakistan, were to be eliminated, while ‘good’ Taliban, those defending Afghanistan against foreign invaders, would help Pakistan regain influence once the foreign troops in Afghanistan had gone home.


On the Rise of the Politics of Gender in International Relations

Nathalène Reynolds: "Le Cachemire dans le Conflit Indo-Pakistanais"

Book by Nathalène Reynolds: “Le Cachemire dans le Conflit Indo-Pakistanais”

An important dimension to the transformation of global affairs at the start of the Twenty-First Century is that of the instrumentalisation of discourse around the condition of women in the Islamic world. The West, choosing a theme around which it could rally its members, omitted nuance in a definition that smacked of a new civilizing mission, a resumption of assuming the ‘White Man’s Burden’. This was less illustrative of an ignorance of the varying status of Muslim women, than of a conscious choice to construct a discourse that could rally western public opinion. It thus deemed itself justified in employing what it described as a novel military strategy, predicated on minimising the loss of life of the military forces making up the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) that itself was backing up the US-led offensive operations. An enemy portrayed as barbarian permits the use of means that would be otherwise condemned.
The West, forgetful as to the relatively recent changes in the position of women within its own society, not to mention continuing gender inequality, was only too happy to lecture numerous developing countries, notably those of Muslim tradition. Its discourse included two key themes: the inexorable rise to near universality of the democratic political system, a slogan that came to the forefront following the collapse of the Soviet Bloc, and the necessity of improving the condition of women. This second call to action that accompanied the American intervention3 in Afghanistan was left unchallenged by Western media on a crucial point. It is nigh impossible to promote improvements to the condition of women when the great majority are subject to a grinding poverty. Even men, in theory the holders of power in any patriarchal system, lack the prospect of even modest social advancement. Moreover, it is almost inevitable that the living conditions of both men and, especially, women, tend to deteriorate in periods of armed conflict.


A Divided Pakistani Civil Society

Nathalène Reynolds / Malala Yousafzai

Book by Malala Yousafzai in English

Still today, the United States does not hesitate to strike using drones against ‘high-value’ targets hiding within the civilian population in remote Pakistani villages. It argues that its strikes are only hitting terrorist targets, thus respecting the principle of distinction between military and civilian targets required by international humanitarian law.
Washington also prefers to describe innocent victims of drones as ‘collateral damage’, arguing that the scale of this is limited, and within the limits of the legal principle of ‘proportionality’4. The Islamic Republic of Pakistan remains, it should be recalled, a privileged ally of the United States. Indeed, the ambivalent position of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan towards these strikes is perplexing5. Islamabad, the political capital, and above all Rawalpindi, seat of the military headquarters, publicly condemn the use of drones, a practice that has been ongoing since 2004. Have they been unable to convey such a position to Washington? Or has the Pentagon obtained tacit consent?
Pakistani civil society, dominated by an elite that is by and large unaffected by such attacks, criticizes the killing of innocent victims (who may number some 2,3006). However, many of the same individuals appear quietly not unhappy at the elimination of extremists that threaten their existence7, or at least the continuation of their current way of life. They are confronted by a dilemma; they condemn western propaganda that – to simplify somewhat crudely – at least until the arrival in power of President Barack Obama on January 20th 2009 – tended to portray Islam as an obscurantist religion and Pakistan as the example par excellence of this. They challenge the depressing depiction by western media of the condition of women, underlining rather the diversity of how Pakistani women – and men – live. However, a plethora of NGOs (who take up the slogan of ‘female empowerment’ dear to many in the West) have no hesitation to accept western project funding that continues to flow into the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.


On Pakistani perception of the role of Malala Yousafzai in the light of Western Instrumentalisation

Nathalène Reynolds / Malala Yousafzai

Book by Malala Yousafzai in Dutch

A country marked by the long period that followed the launching of Operation Enduring Freedom could not but be divided over the reputation build up by Malala Yousafzai. First of all, Pakistan was incensed that this courageous adolescent, who defended the right of young girls to go to school, was the target of a despicable attack on October 9th 2012. This was a girl who had anonymously written a blog for the BBC Urdu service in which she related the problems of daily life while Swat was under the Taliban regime8. Pakistan, however, is home to many social workers who have not hesitated to put their own lives at risk by speaking up for human rights under threat from Islamist extremism. The fate of women, in such a context, is one of the great causes for concern for Pakistani civil society. This is an aspect that neither Malala Yousafzai nor her father, Ziauddin, chose to acknowledge, deliberately or not giving the impression that their struggle was unique.
Benefitting from the interest of governments, but also various sections of western civil society, the young woman was happy to accept a number of rewards and nominations. She can boast of the ultimate in recognition, the Nobel Prize for Peace, she received on October 10th 2014. Might she not have pointed out the West’s part in responsibility, from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 onwards, for the growth of a threatening Islamist fundamentalism that today seeks to achieve hegemony at the very least at the regional level? Her silence (along, of course, with that of many others) helps the West to boast of being the worthy heirs of the Enlightenment philosophy, in essence European – but also, implicitly, Christian, the values which should, it believes, guide the fate of humanity as a whole. The same West can also pride itself on the support it offers to exceptional Muslim women who dare to take up the fight against obscurantist customs.


Nathalène Reynolds

Book by Nathalène Reynolds: “Le Cachemire dans le Conflit Indo-Pakistanais”

(1) The expression ‘the West’ refers to a geopolitical construction (employed following the end of the Cold War) uniting the states of Western Europe and North America in a common foreign policy endeavor.
(2) There remains the issue of plans of a movement comprising multiple factions with little by way of a common programme beyond the implementation of Sharia that, following an interpretation of Koranic texts that many would question, refuses all rights to women.
(3) Desirous of being impartial, we employ the term ‘intervention’, preferring it to that of ‘invasion’.
(4) Many would question the US position as to whom drones have, in reality, killed, but there are very few, if any independent sources, to verify what has gone on in the tribal areas.
(5) The Pakistan Army, which has conducted numerous operations in the tribal areas, has paid a heavy price in terms of loss of personnel.
(6) Only 84 of 2,379 US drone attacks victims in Pakistan confirmed Al Qaeda militants – report, 20 October 2014, http://rt.com/news/197100-usa-drones-pakistan-killed/
(7) Such an assertion gives cause for thought, since the figures in the cited report suggest that the majority of those killed in drone attacks are innocent by-standers.
(8) On February 15th 2009, the provincial government of North-West Frontier Province, after negotiations with the Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM, Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Law), made the concession of pledging to introduce the enforcement of this movement’s very restrictive understanding of Sharia law in Malakand Division. However, at the start of May of the same year, the Pakistan Army launched Operation Rah-e-Rast (Black Thunderstrom) that aimed to re-take control from the TNSM of the Swat District of Malakand Division.


Dr Nathalène Reynolds is Associate at the Pakistan Security Research Unit of Durham University, Visiting Fellow at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) and member of the Banque d’Experts at the Réseau de recherche sur les opérations de paix (ROP) of the Université de Montréal.


Scholars who contribute to the “The Way I See It” series write in a personal capacity. The views expressed in this forum do not always reflect those of the organisations to which the authors are affiliated or those of the editor of this series.

by Leonhardt van Efferink
Comments Off on Charalampos Efstathopoulos: Middle Powers in World Trade Diplomacy – India, South Africa and the Doha Development Agenda

Charalampos Efstathopoulos: Middle Powers in World Trade Diplomacy – India, South Africa and the Doha Development Agenda

Charalampos Efstathopoulos

Charalampos Efstathopoulos

Charalampos Efstathopoulos is a Lecturer in the Department of International Politics at Aberystwyth University, Wales, UK. Charalampos’ research interests focus on the diplomacy of Southern powers in global governance. He specialises in the foreign policy of India and South Africa, and especially their diplomacy in international institutions such as the World Trade Organisation and the United Nations Security Council. Charalampos was awarded his PhD at the University of Warwick in 2012. He is Associate Editor for the International Relations journal.

"Middle Powers in World Trade Diplomacy - India, South Africa and the Doha Development Agenda"The “My New Book” Blog seeks to provide a multidisciplinary angle on the countries and the world we live in. The interviews address the book’s key themes, questions and findings. Moreover, the book is put in perspective by linking it to the author’s background and existing literature. Overall, the underlying question is: why should we consider reading this new book? Below each interview, you find a form that enables you to ask the author more questions, or share your views on the topics that the book covers.
Dear Sir, Madam, for an overview of my Summer courses on geopolitics, country risk and media framing/discourses, please go to GeoMeans Courses at Maastricht Summer School 2018. Kind regards, Leonhardt, editor of ExploringGeopolitics

1. What are the main themes of the book?

The book explores how the middle powers of the global South deploy different bargaining approaches to influence international economic negotiations. The book presents a comparative analysis of India and South Africa, and examines how the two states provided leadership in the negotiations of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) during 2001-13. The book argues that both countries played a critical role in shaping the various phases of the current round, the Doha Development Agenda. It also demonstrates that India was eventually successful in overcoming the limitations of middle power diplomacy and emerging as a major player in the WTO. In contrast, South Africa initially assumed a pivotal role as bridge-builder between North and South, but was unable to maintain an influential role in the more recent phases of the negotiations.

2. What are the central questions of the book?

The book addresses two main questions. First, it attempts to identify the ideas, interests, and strategies that inform and drive middle power diplomacy in international economic negotiations. Second, it attempts to identify the conditions that facilitate or hinder middle power diplomacy, focusing in particular on the relations of Southern middle powers with major powers and smaller states.

3. How have you sought to answer these questions?

The book’s methodology involves an extensive analysis of WTO documents and public statements (speeches, press releases and international news reports). It also involves a focus on the ministerial conferences of the WTO, which comprise the highest decision-making body of the organisation.

4. What are the main findings of your book?

The book presents three main findings. First, it argues that the bargaining approach of Southern middle powers does not aim at transforming the WTO, but rather at reforming the institution in order to place development at the centre of global trade governance. Second, the book argues that the bargaining influence of Southern middle powers is conditioned by two principal factors: (i) their ability to compensate for the lack of major power leadership; and (ii) their ability to mobilise follower states in the global South.

5. What does the book contribute to existing literature in the field?


“Middle Powers in World Trade Diplomacy – India, South Africa and the Doha Development Agenda”

The book aspires to make two contributions. First, it aims to contribute to the field known as the politics of international trade. The field has traditionally been dominated by approaches that focus on different groups of developing countries, but more research is required to examine the influence of the leading powers of the global South. Recent studies have increasingly highlighted the role of the BRICS states, and this book seeks to further expand this research agenda by providing a detailed analysis of India and South Africa.

Second, the book aims to contribute to the study of middle powers. It demonstrates that the middle power concept is relevant to understanding the foreign policies of Southern powers and the nature of their influence in global governance. The concept allows for identifying the proactive role of Southern powers in different regimes, while delineating their preference for caution and reformism, rather than revisionist politics.

6. How does the book relate to your own (personal/professional) background?

Most of the research for this book was conducted during my PhD at the University of Warwick. To complete the project, it was also important to look at more recent developments and especially the changing role of the BRICS after the outbreak of the 2008 global economic crisis. My future research plans are to focus furthermore on the role of the BRICS in the post-crisis order, and attempt to understand how these states are assuming different roles in the management of the global economy.

7. What further research into the book’s themes would you suggest?


Charalampos Efstathopoulos

The role of middle powers in global governance can be examined to a greater extent and in different multilateral fora. The discipline of International Relations traditionally focuses on the role of major powers, but the contemporary global order has become more pluralist in various decision-making processes. Further research into multilateral fora such as the G-20 Leaders Summit could reveal the various roles that middle powers perform in the conduct of international affairs.

by Leonhardt van Efferink
1 Comment

Marijn Nieuwenhuis: Spatial Sensitivity, Terrestrial Fixity and China’s Territory

Marijn Nieuwenhuis

Marijn Nieuwenhuis

Marijn Nieuwenhuis teaches International Relations and Political Geography at the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Warwick. He finished his PhD in late 2013 on the emergence and evolution of modern territory in China. Marijn is currently in the process of converting his PhD into a book. Marijn has since the completion of his PhD become increasingly interested in non-terrestrial understandings of territory. His recent work looks at the idea, medium and concept of air and its relationship to geography.

During the Geopolitics Summer School at Maastricht University, Marijn will give the guest lecture “The Formation of Territory in China and the Case of the Senkaku/ Diaoyu Island Dispute”.

The ‘Geopolitical Passport’ series offers visitors to ExploringGeopolitics a unique opportunity to find out more about the enormous variety of views within the geopolitical traditions. The floor has been given to scholars from several countries and various disciplines. The questions address issues all people with an interest in geopolitics grapple with. How should we define it? What are the most fascinating geopolitical ideas? And how will the geopolitical future look like?
Dear Sir, Madam, for an overview of my Summer courses on geopolitics, country risk and media framing/discourses, please go to GeoMeans Courses at Maastricht Summer School 2018. Kind regards, Leonhardt, editor of ExploringGeopolitics

Your relationship with geopolitics

At what age did you discover geopolitics and what attracted you to it?

I honestly can’t say that I really remember when I first ‘discovered’ geopolitics. In many ways I find myself rediscovering geo-politics on a weekly, if not daily basis. I think it’s the very changeability of the geo which attracted me to the discipline of geography.

I like to think that I have always been interested in the idea of the permanence of and truth that stems from borders, maps, territory but also architecture, urban planning and landscape paintings. Becoming aware that nothing is static or lasts forever has not only been an ongoing process of growing-up for me but remains also a source of marvel and wonder.

Which geopolitical topics have your focus and why did you choose especially these?

I have become increasingly interested in the word ‘geo’ in geopolitics. I think that there is something baffling about the idea that the earth and the political somehow form an organic unity.

I am as much interested in the historical and the political reasons why we look so much “down” to the earth as the site where both the problem and the solution to politics resides.

What do you consider your most important contribution to geopolitics?

I have only just finished my PhD so I think it would be dishonest to argue that I have made any noteworthy contribution thus far to the discipline. Moreover, I think that such a question is really for others to judge.

I would be happy if my work, inside or outside of the classroom, changes people’s attitudes and perceptions of everyday places and practises. At the start of every academic year I tell my students to cultivate a ‘spatial sensitivity’ through which the world can be imagined differently.

Your geopolitical preferences

What is your favourite definition of geopolitics?

I think I have not come across one that I am fully happy with. In my lectures on critical geopolitics, I sometime cite Gearóid Ó. Tuathail’s definition:

“[Critical geopolitics] is not an “is” but a question… As an approach that seeks to assert the irreducible textuality of ‘geography,’ critical geopolitics does not lend itself to the constative form; it is not an “is” but, in the manner of deconstruction, it takes place. It is parasitical on that which is addresses, working within the con-textuality it explores to displace the infrastructures of geopolitics… [I]t’s mode of operation is a mobile, guerrilla one that uses what is at hand within a terrain governed by hegemonic political understandings in order to advance critical positions in a permanent state of war.”
(Critical Geopolitics, 1996)

I like the militant open-endedness of that definition. For me it provides a window of opportunity to work against the terrestrial fixity of many conventional geopolitical imaginations. I like to think that this freedom will maybe one day provide also opportunities to work altogether outside of the con-textuality of geopolitics.

Which geopolitical scientist do you admire the most?

I do not think I am a very confined or organised reader. The meaning of geopolitics is for me really first and foremost a question worthy to be asked. I read in between, beyond and around themes that could be said to be related to the ‘geopolitical’.

Of course, I like the work of established names such John Agnew, Derek Gregory, Klaus Dodds, Stuart Elden and many others. I find their work theoretically grounded and speaking to real existing political questions. Elden’s Birth of Territory (2013) is especially a meticulously researched piece of scholarship.

I am personally very keen on work which is committed to a particular politics. I grew up as a student and as a researcher with the dedicated work of geographers such as David Harvey, Neil Smith and Doreen Massey. I think that such work is and will remain important and inspirational for decades to come. I hope that most of my existing and future work will similarly follow in the footsteps of Henri Lefebvre and maybe of Marx himself.

A third and final branch of research I admire, for lack of a better word, is the kind of work which is more philosophical and speculative in nature. I like engaging with the ideas of thinkers such as Peter Sloterdijk, Bernard Stiegler, Luce Irigaray, Edward Casey but I also like the more non-conventional though experiments of people like Graham Harman and Quentin Meillassoux.

What is your favourite geopolitical book?

I don’t think I have one favourite book, but I guess that there could be a whole range of books that I again and again will return to. I am not really sure which one to mention to be honest.

I guess Agnew’s Critical Geopolitics (1996) probably needs mentioning for its relevance to contemporary geopolitical research. Other milestones that come to my mind now are Derek Gregory’s Geographical Imaginations (1994), David Livingstone’s The Geographical Tradition (1992), Yves Lacoste’s La géographie, ça sert, d’abord, à faire la guerre, David Harvey’s The Condition of Postmodernity (1989) and other such pivotal texts.

What is your favourite geopolitical website (and why)?

I actually follow a couple: the websites of Antipode, Society and Space, Stuart Elden’s progressive geographies and the blogs of Phil Steinberg, Jeremy Crampton among some others

The geopolitical future

In what direction(s) will geopolitical science be heading the coming decades?

I feel a little uncomfortable about the idea of geopolitics as a “science”.

Having said that however, I can well imagine that there will be an increasing emphasis on the importance of the relationship between law and geopolitics. Some time ago I attended a talk by Alex Jeffrey on legal geopolitics which opened-up a whole new range of questions.

I also like David Delaney’s work on nomospheres which I think should receive more attention. I also hope that we will soon see a final bridging between IR and political geography. The divide is not as large as it used to be, but I think a lot more remains to be done.

Which geopolitical subject has been too little in the spotlight and needs further research?

I hope to see a further and deeper problematisation of the terrestrial bias in the discipline. I think that the work of Peter Adey, Phil Steinberg and others have cleared the way for a more radical, perhaps even elemental understanding of the geo-as-politics. I think this embryonic shift needs to be contextualised also in relation to developments elsewhere.

David Macauley’s beautiful book Elemental Philosophy needs probably mentioning here, but also Steven Connor’s The Matter of Air and, of course, the original works of people like Tim Ingold and many others.

Marijn Nieuwenhuis

Marijn Nieuwenhuis

What will be the largest geopolitical challenge for the world in the 21st century?

Without a doubt, I’d say global warming and the changing climate and weather conditions.
I think that political geographers are for the most part still only at the start of engaging with the geopolitical consequences of what I think is, for reasons of historicisation, problematically called the ‘Anthropocene’.

The work of Simon Dalby has started to uncover some of the geopolitical challenges that practices such as geoengineering might pose to borders, migration, ethics and international law. Such research is however still in its infancy.

I would like to see such discussions also confront complicated questions over the relationship between technology, geography and ontology. I think that the work of Bernard Stiegler could perhaps be of relevance for political geographers in such future research.

by Leonhardt van Efferink

Stephen Saideman: NATO in Afghanistan – Fighting Together, Fighting Alone

Dr Stephen Saideman

Dr Stephen Saideman

Stephen M. Saideman is the Paterson Chair in International Affairs at Carleton University. His research interests focus on the causes and consequences of intervention into intra-state conflicts. His current work focuses on Canadian and NATO’s efforts in Afghanistan and also on the mobilization of diaspora groups. He teaches courses on Civil-Military Relations and American Foreign and Defence Policy.

He received from PhD in Political Science from the University of California, San Diego in 1993. Since then, he has taught at the University of Vermont, Texas Tech University, and McGill University. Dr Saideman spent 2001-2002 on a Council on Foreign Relations Fellowship that put him on the US Joint Staff’s Strategic Planning and Policy Directorate.

The interview below is about the book “NATO in Afghanistan: Fighting Together, Fighting Alone”, that he wrote together with David Auerswald.

The “My New Book” Blog seeks to provide a multidisciplinary angle on the countries and the world we live in. The interviews address the book’s key themes, questions and findings. Moreover, the book is put in perspective by linking it to the author’s background and existing literature. Overall, the underlying question is: why should we consider reading this new book? Below each interview, you find a form that enables you to ask the author more questions, or share your views on the topics that the book covers.
Dear Sir, Madam, for an overview of my Summer courses on geopolitics, country risk and media framing/discourses, please go to GeoMeans Courses at Maastricht Summer School 2018. Kind regards, Leonhardt, editor of ExploringGeopolitics

1. What are the main themes of the book?

The book seeks to understand how countries fight wars as part of alliances. We use the cases of Afghanistan and Libya to understand how domestic political structures shape how countries manage their troops on distant battlefields.

2. What are the central questions of the book?

Why did countries behave differently? Some fought with few restrictions, some had many constraints, known as caveats, that limited what they could and could not do.

"NATO in Afghanistan: Fighting Together, Fighting Alone"

“NATO in Afghanistan: Fighting Together, Fighting Alone”

3. How have you sought to answer these questions?

We interviewed over 250 military officers, politicians, officials, journalists, and experts to understand how countries behaved on the ground in Afghanistan and in the air over Libya.

4. What are the main findings of your book?

We found that coalition governments are more likely to have restrictions placed on their deployments due to the bargaining that goes on within a coalition. In countries where individual leaders—Presidents, Prime Ministers, Chiefs of Defence—have discretion about how to manage their troops in the field, their prior experiences and tolerance of risk determines how they manage the mission.

5. What does the book contribute to existing literature in the field?

There are several key contributions:

  • It provides a clearer understanding of how NATO operates.
  • It emphasises the role of domestic institutions in shaping the conduct of civilian control of the military.
  • It provides key comparisons among the world’s advanced democracies.
  • It helps to explain why things did not go so well in Afghanistan.

Much of the work on these matters focuses on oversight—our book covers that but also focuses much attention on three other ways in which civilians manage their militaries—selection of leading officers, varied delegation of discretion, and via rewards/sanctions.

6. How does the book relate to your own (personal/professional) background?

During my year in the Pentagon, I worked on the Bosnia desk of the US Joint Staff. Which meant I was working on NATO issues almost all the time. I developed a variety of questions, such as what happens when someone wears two hats—has two jobs—with two distinct chains of command?

In terms of how this fits with my academic career, I have always been interested in intervention and I have always been interested in comparing how domestic politics and institutions shape how countries respond to similar pressures in different ways.

7. What further research into the book’s themes would you suggest?

The on-going conflicts in Syria and Iraq have some of the same dynamics that we discuss in the book. It would be interesting to see how the alliance stuff we consider plays out in a less institutionalized, non-NATO environment.

Also, our book focuses almost exclusively on what the militaries in Afghanistan were doing and not on the civilian side of the effort—the whole of government/comprehensive approach. Much of our approach should also be applicable to these efforts.

by Leonhardt van Efferink

Pádraig Carmody: A Spectre is Haunting Europe – Ghost Geopolitics in Russia and Ukraine

ExploringGeopolitics_TheWayISeeIt_LogoDr Pádraig Carmody, Trinity College Dublin:

“The way I see it…
is that either the current model of global economic integration for Russia
or Putin’s expansionist/reactive foreign policy will have to give.”

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels famously wrote that a spectre was haunting Europe. That spectre they said was communism. A new spectre haunts Europe currently – communism’s ghost or more precisely a type of ghost geopolitics, with the former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev warning about a new cold war between Russia and the West. On assuming office President Obama declared that he wanted press the reset button on relations with Russia. However this has not been possible, perhaps because of perceived Western expansionist ambitions in Eastern Europe, through the growth of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and most recently support for the overthrow of the pro-Russian government in Ukraine. Continue Reading →

by Leonhardt van Efferink
1 Comment

Sovereignty: two Competing Theories of State Recognition – William Worster

Dear Sir, Madam, for an overview of my Summer courses on geopolitics, country risk and media framing/discourses, please go to GeoMeans Courses at Maastricht Summer School 2018. Kind regards, Leonhardt, editor of ExploringGeopolitics
Article by: William Worster, Universities of The Hague and Missouri-Kansas City (February 2010)
Tags: Sovereignty Theories Constitutive Declatory State Recognition Legal View Statehood International Law Court Justice Montevideo Genocide Convention

William Worster

William Worster

William Worster (1972, Boston, USA) currently serves as a lecturer at the Hague University, in the Hague, Netherlands; Research Director International Law of the Bynkershoek Institute at the Hague University; and Adjunct Professor of Law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

His courses include Introduction to Public International Law, International Criminal Law, International Environmental Law, Sources of International Law, Subjects of International Law, Law of International Organizations, International Criminal Law Theory, and Alternatives to International Criminal Law.

Previously, he has served at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and in private practice. He has studied in the US, the UK, the Netherlands, and the Czech Republic; and holds Juris Doctor and Master of Laws degrees, both concentrating on international law. He also has a Bachelor degree in Modern European History.

International law is dominated by two competing theories of state recognition, with the “declaratory” view currently in prominence but possibly just beginning its decline in favor of the “constitutive” view. However, if indeed the constitutive view is gaining ground, then its slow and partial re-emergence is forcing us to rethink the nature of the state in international law.

The constitutive theory states that recognition of an entity as a state is not automatic. A state is only a state when it is recognized as such and other states have a considerable discretion to recognize or not. Moreover, only upon recognition by those other states does the new state exist, at least in a legal sense.

Some practice in contemporary situations may evidence the application of the constitutive theory rather than the declaratory. Numerous classical scholars have weighed in support of the constitutive theory, and many modern scholars are beginning to reexamine the constitutive theory, considering whether it provides a firmer foundation for the determination of statehood status.[1]

The declaratory theory looks to the purported state’s assertion of its sovereignty within the territory it exclusively controls to determine if it can access the international plane. It is the opposite of the constitutive theory in that it holds that recognition is almost irrelevant because states have little to no discretion in determining whether an entity constitutes a state. The status of statehood is based on fact, not on individual state discretion. The majority of contemporary scholars and commentators favor this theory.[2]

There is considerable support for the argument that recognition is irrelevant for whether a state exists as such or not. The Montevideo Convention of 1933 states: “The political existence of the state is independent of recognition by the other states.”[3] The International Court of Justice has held in the Genocide Convention case that it adheres to the declaratory view, in the sense that the failure to maintain effective control over territory does not extinguish the legal entity in the eyes of the United Nations.[4]

It has also held in the South West Africa cases that the state as an entity with rights and obligations does not cease to exist. This opinion on the declaratory theory was also supported by the Arbitration Commission of the European Communities Conference on Yugoslavia, chaired by Robert Badinter, discussing the independence and status of states of the successor to the S.F.R. Yugoslavia.[5]

Furthermore, many national courts have recognized international rights in states that accrued before international recognition of the entity as a new state, suggesting a rejection of the notion that the state did not exist before recognition.[6] Many commentators have held that state practice clearly favors the declaratory model, that is, that the entity exists as a state before recognition.[7]

On the other hand, we have the alternate view which is that states only exist upon recognition and there is support for this perspective, although we may need to read between the lines to see it. Some authorities who claim to support the declaratory view appear to also endorse the constitutive theory in practice. The Badinter Commission initially adopted declaratory language but seems to have applied a constitutive approach to balance major tensions between the various European states.[8]

Milenko Kreća, the ad hoc Judge in the Genocide Convention case implied in his critical dissent that the Court was applying the constitutive theory.[9] The Permanent Court of International Justice, the predecessor to the International Court of Justice, appeared to endorse the constitutive theory in two opinions: the Lighthouses case, where effectiveness was disregarded for the fiction of continued sovereignty of the Turkish Sultan,[10] and the Rights of Nationals of the United States of America in Morocco case, regarding the continued sovereignty of Morocco although under the French Protectorate.[11] Also the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the International Court of Justice’s neighbor in The Hague is also supportive of the constitutive theory.

In the Čelebići case, the I.C.T.Y. held that the conflict within the former Yugoslavia was only of an international nature after international recognition of the independent statehood of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.[12] In the Tadić case also at the I.C.T.Y., Judge Li, in a separate opinion, criticized the majority for applying the constitutive theory. Judge Li argued that the conflict should have been seen as international from the moment of Slovenia’s and Croatia’s declarations of independence, not because of recognition by others.[13]

In addition to these decisions of international tribunals or commissions, the act of recognition seems to increasingly be attributed with constitutive effect within the international legal system. States such as Croatia, Eritrea, and Central and Eastern European states arising from Woodrow Wilson’s dismemberment of the Habsburg and Ottoman Empires, have survived extinction or been revived from extinction by the international community.[14]

Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia arguably did not fully satisfy the criteria for declaratory recognition, so the recognition of those entities as new states may have had constitutive effect despite the supposed intended application of the declaratory theory.[15] For some microstates, their relatively recent admission to the U.N., as well as recognition by other states, may have clarified their position in international law, crystallized their rights, and assisted in their constitution, regardless of the intended effect of their recognition.[16]

We can also see situations where the existence of emerging states was blocked by other, more powerful states, which would only be possible if statehood was in the control of existing states.[17] Also, we can see situations where states, that had lost all factual qualification as such, were maintained as essentially legal fictions by the international community. This suggests that recognition both constitutes and maintains the legal personality of other states whose reality would suggest that they no longer existed, or existed in a fictitious state.[18]

Although this finding is usually argued because of the illegality of the occupation of the state, if statehood was truly declaratory, then the ending of effective control and independence would necessarily mean the extinction of the state.

These cases are significant because they evidence that entities only receive international rights and obligations when they are recognized by other states as states. It is commonly observed that “only states sit on the United Nations Security Council, only states petition the International Court of Justice and only states participate in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty regime.”[19] Recognition of statehood changes the range of actions available to an entity and also changes the expectations of the international community regarding the behavior of the new state.

It would appear that the support for the declaratory theory is partly legal and partly the more politically correct position. The constitutive theory does still attract some legitimacy, possibly partly due to the way it appears to be applied surreptitiously by tribunals. The difficulty with the either/or approach is that there is an interrelation of the two sides of the question. The declaratory theory concentrates on the internal factual situation and the constitutive theory concentrates on the external legal rights and duties. They both miss a portion of the analysis. 

Furthermore, the two sides of the issue interact between themselves. By having rights a collective group may become more cohesive and may begin to have an internal political dialogue. Recognition alone does not create the internal factual situation of statehood, but may help to inspire such coalescence. Nationalism is not unknown in many apparently highly artificial states. However, recognition of the factual situation merely acknowledges facts and does not mean there are necessarily international rights, although it can lead to it.

Every act of recognition must necessarily contemplate both aspects, but generally one will be the predominant legitimizing force (though it could conceivably change retrospectively). When we choose between the recognition theories proposing the existence of the state prior to or only following recognition, we are choosing to concentrate our definition of the state on one of these two aspects of the state and, from that source, derive the other. It is to this conclusion that the re-emergence of the constitutive theory leads us.


[1] Lassa Oppenheim, International Law §§ 71, at 125 (Hersch Lauterpacht ed., 8th ed., 1955) (“A State is, and becomes an International Person through recognition only and exclusively.”); Hersch Lauterpacht, Recognition of States in International Law, 53 Yale L.J. 385, 419 (1944) (describing “The orthodox constitutive view which deduces the legal existence of new States from the will of those already established.”).

[2] James L. Brierly, The Law of Nations: An Introduction to the International Law of Peace (Humphrey Waldock ed., 6th ed. 1963); Ti-Chiang Chen, The International Law of Recognition: With Special Reference to Practice in the United States (L. C. Green ed., 1951); Ian Brownlie, Principles of Public International Law (1990); D. J. Harris, Cases and Materials on International Law (1983).

[3] Convention on Rights and Duties of States art. 3, art. 6, Dec. 26, 1933.

[4] Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Bosn. & Herz. v. Serb. & Mont.) Prelim. Objs., 1996 I.C.J. Reps. 595 (July 11).

[5] Conference on Yugoslavia Arbitration Commission, Opinion Nos. 1, 8, 10 31 I.L.M. 1488, 1494, 1521-1523, 1525-1526 (1992) [hereinafter Badinter Commission] (“[T]he effects of recognition by other States are purely declaratory; Alain Pellet, The Opinions of the Badinter Arbitration Committee: A Second Breath for the Self-Determination of Peoples, 3 Eur. J. Int’l L. 178, 181 (1992) (wherein Pellet, who drafted most of the opinions of the Badinter Commission and championed them as a source of law for recognition, acknowledges that the Commission mixed politics into its legal analyses).

[6] See Robert D. Sloane, The Changing Face of Recognition in International Law: A Case Study of Tibet, 16 Emory Int’l L. Rev. 107, 117 (2002).

[7] Brierly, The Law of Nations, supra note 2.

[8] Cf. Badinter Commission Opinion No. 1 (“recognition is ‘purely declaratory’”) with Opinion No. 8 (although it does “confer certain rights and obligations under international law”).

[9] Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Bosn. & Herz. v. Serb. & Mont.) Prelim. Objs., 1996 I.C.J. Reps. 595, 661 (July 11) (dissenting opinion Judge ad hoc Kreća).

[10] Light House (Fr. v. Greece), 1934 P.C.I.J. (ser. A/B) No. 62, at 4 (Mar. 17)

[11] Rights of Nationals of the United States of America in Morocco (Fr. v. U.S.), 1952 I.C.J. 175, 188 (Aug. 27)

[12] Prosecutor v. Delalić, Case No. IT-96-21-T, Judgment (Nov. 16, 1998)

[13] Prosecutor v. Tadić, Case No. IT-94-1-I, Decision on the Defence Motion for Interlocutory Appeal on Jurisdiction (Oct. 2, 1995) (separate opinion of Judge Li)

[14] See Socony Vacuum Oil Co. Claim, (U.S. Int’l Claims Comm’n, 1954) reprinted at 21Int’l L. Reps. 55, 58-62 (holding that “Croatia was … during its entire 4-year life … subject to the will of Germany or Italy or both” prior being absorbed into Yugoslavia); U.N.S.C. Res. 753 (May 18, 1992), U.N.G.A. Res. 46/238 (May 22, 1992) (admitting a ‘revived’ Croatia to the U.N. upon its independence from Yugoslavia); UNSC Res. 828 (May 26, 1993), UNGA Res. 47/230 (May 28, 1993) (admitting a ‘revived’ Eritrea, the former Italian colony administered by the U.K. and integrated into Ethiopia, to the U.N. upon its independence from Ethiopia); Act of the Congress of Vienna, June 9, 1815, arts. 1-5, 2 B.F.S.P. 7 (approving of the third, fatal partition of Poland, extinguishing the state); 1 Harold W.V. Temperley, ed. History of the Peace Conference at Paris 181-199 (1920) (describing Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points, including the reestablishment of Poland as a state).

[15] See Matthew C.R. Craven, The European Community Arbitration Commission on Yugoslavia, 1995 Brit. Y.B. Int’l L. 333, 375; Recognition of States, 41 Int’l & Comp. L.Q. 473, 480 (A. V. Lowe & Colin Warbrick eds., 1992); Thomas D. Grant, An Institution Restored?, 39 Va. J. Int’l L. 191, 193-95 (1998) (reviewing M.J. Peterson, Recognition of Governments: Legal Doctrine and State Practice, 1815-1995 (1997).

[16] Jorri Duursma, Fragmentation and the International Relations of Micro-States: Self-Determination and Statehood 142 (1996) (arguing that the widespread recognition and recent admission into the U.N. of several European micro-states may have had some constitutive effect, compensating for the absence in some of those states of certain criteria traditionally viewed as prerequisite to statehood).

[17] See Crawford, Report on Unilateral Secession by Quebec, supra note, at paras. c, 8 available at http://www.tamilnation.org/selfdetermination/97crawford.htm (“Outside the colonial context, the United Nations is extremely reluctant to admit a seceding entity to membership against the wishes of the government of the state from which it has purported to secede. There is no case since 1945 where it has done so.”).

[18] Tax Legis. (Aus.) Case (Aus., Admin. Ct., 1949), reprinted in 16 Ann. Dig. 66; S.C. Res. 661, U.N. Doc. S/RES/661 (Aug. 6, 1990) (implementing measures to restore Kuwaiti government); Mohammed Bedjaoui, Law and the Algerian Revolution 18 (1961); Antonio Cassese, International Law in a Divided World 78-9 (1986) (“[T]he ‘survival’ of the international subjects rests on a legal fiction–politically motivated–and is warranted by the hope of recovering control over a particular territory. Once this prospect vanishes, the legal fiction is discarded by the other states.” The author also argues that the constitutive theory is “fallacious.”).

[19] Richard Caplan, Europe and the Recognition of New States in Yugoslavia 212 (2005) (citing Ronald L. Jepperson, Alexander Wendt & Peter J. Katzenstein, Norms, Identity, and Culture in National Security, in The Culture of National Security: Norms and Identity in World Politics 33, 35-6 (Peter J. Katzenstein, ed., 1996).

by Leonhardt van Efferink

Territorial Integrity: Modern States and the International System

Dear Sir, Madam, for an overview of my Summer courses on geopolitics, country risk and media framing/discourses, please go to GeoMeans Courses at Maastricht Summer School 2018. Kind regards, Leonhardt, editor of ExploringGeopolitics

Article by: Jamie Scudder (King’s College London, December 2010)

Tags: Territorial integrity modern states international political system jurisdiction Peace of Westphalia Lebanon Somalia Jamie Scudder

Jamie Scudder

Jamie Scudder

Jamie Scudder is a Country Risk Analyst for Maplecroft. She obtained a Masters degree in Geopolitics from King’s College London where she secured a distinction.


Since the end of World War II the international political system has been organised around the notion of equal sovereignty of states, internal competence for domestic jurisdiction, and preservation of existing boundaries, and yet that these ideals have been violated frequently is incontestable (Elden 2006, 11). The concept of territory is traditionally understood to be a bounded space under the control of people, and in this context usually a state (Elden 2005).

What is known as the sovereign state model has established itself as the cornerstone of the international system. The relationship between territory and sovereignty has been seen to challenge not only the state itself however, but also regional and global security throughout history. The legal principle of territorial integrity then, is of fundamental importance when looking at the context of the ‘war on terror’. A number of states have been seen as potential ‘breeding ground[s]’ for lawlessness such as Somalia, Lebanon, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq (Elden 2009, 109).

The following, drawing primarily upon the work of Stuart Elden will provide an analysis into the concepts of state sovereignty and territorial integrity before discussing the notion of ‘contingent sovereignty’. This section will offer an overview of the arguments that the US has promoted in National Security Strategy documents, that states have a responsibility to maintain effective political control within their territories, or find that its sovereignty is more likely to be contingent. A background investigation into the concept of territory will build the argument that the idea of sovereignty as the cornerstone of international law in global politics may not be as absolute as previously imagined.

The case of post 2001 Afghanistan will be drawn upon as an example of a so-called ‘weak’ state, where the relationship between sovereignty and territory is exposed. The impact contingent sovereignty has had on territorial integrity has been two-fold. Crucially it has exposed the necessary paradox between the call for intervention by the international community and the branding of challenges to territorial boundaries as terrorism. Finally there will be a brief discussion into the moral arguments mentioned in the literature that emerged in the years following the September 11, 2001 attacks, focusing on the future of state sovereignty in international law.

Sovereignty and Territorial Integrity

The concept of sovereignty has received somewhat of a surge of attention in recent years. Debates over the prospects for modernity, the concept of sovereignty and its normative implications have come under mounting scrutiny. Part of this review of sovereignty has dealt with the position of the state as its highest social realisation (Onuf 1991, 425-426).

Indeed over the past few centuries more people have found themselves living in a world organised territorially in a system of sovereign states (Jackson 2007, 303). As Robert Jackson has observed, ‘the sovereign state system and globalisation emerged and evolved together’ (Jackson 2007, 303). The relationship connecting the notion of sovereignty to the modern state system has undoubtedly been one of mutual exclusivity and one that dates back to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

The Western state system enclosed weaker indigenous empires starting in the Americas and culminating in Africa in the nineteenth century before transferring sovereignty over to their previous colonial dependencies (Jackson 2007, 304). What is typically known as the Westphalian sovereign state model then, comprising the principles of autonomy, territory, mutual recognition and control has little in common with events surrounding the Peace of Westphalia and as John Agnew has noted ‘sovereignty in anything like its modern form is a relatively recent [development]’ (1994).

Similarly, the word model ascribed to the term sovereign state is a telling hint of the inaccuracy of the description assigned to entities regarded as states. The idea of a golden age of autonomous sovereign state actors is a widespread illusion and feeds the misconception that sovereignty is being eroded. Rather Jackson notes a fundamental shift in its status as an international norm (Eudaily and Smith 2008, 312, 319).

The rules of the sovereign state model rather have been constantly violated throughout history, and therefore as Stephen D. Krasner has eloquently argued, has emerged as a mere ‘cognitive script’ (2001, 17). In this sense, F. H. Hinsley was perceptive to argue in his 1966 book Sovereignty that the modern form of the concept developed in response to, and in support of the emergence of the state as a dominant feature of the modern world.

Sovereignty then, as established above has become characterized as a basic rule of coexistence within the modern state system (Biersteker and Weber 1996, 1). In contemporary usage four common types of sovereignty are put forward: interdependence sovereignty, domestic sovereignty, Vattelian sovereignty, and international legal sovereignty (Krasner 2001). It is evident that the above dimensions of sovereignty are interrelated. Whether concerning the states authority internally or externally, each of the dimensions is expressed in a spatially explicit manner.

This expression of the state in the form of territory spatialises power relations and therefore reconceptualises many aspects of international politics (Eudaily and Smith 2008). Such a model of sovereignty forms the basis which the United Nations sets out international law. Based on the concept of the state, and in turn upon the foundation of sovereignty, international law considers the nature of territory central to its functioning (Shaw 2003).

Emphasis on territory as a central aspect of international law has prompted a corresponding set of rules protecting its inviolability. The 1933 Montevideo Convention stated:

“The state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications: (a) a permanent population; (b) a defined territory; (c) government; and (d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states.”

Part (b) a defined territory is of particular concern here as it explicitly deals with the extent of a states sovereign power (Elden 2009). As previously mentioned, these aspects constitute the legal term ‘territorial integrity’. In this sense, international law recognises the rights of states to continue to exist and to exercise sovereignty over specific territories (Hendrix 2001).

The principle of the territorial integrity of states is well established and protected by a series of consequential rules prohibiting interference within the domestic jurisdiction of states and forbidding the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity and political independence of states. The principle has been particularly emphasised by Third World states in the past (Shaw 2003).

The basis of territorial integrity as a principle can be seen as a stabilising factor during periods of decolonisation. Utilising the idea of uti possidetis states would inherit the boundaries of colonies on independence to instil a degree of normalcy (Elden 2006). It has been suggested that the actions of the UN relating to decolonization helped to link sovereignty with territory and has thus informed the ‘norm of sovereignty-as territorial-integrity’ (Barnet and Finnemore 1999).

From this it can be concluded, that international law largely attempts to protect existing borders over recognizing their artificial nature (Elden 2006). As Stuart Elden notes, the ‘necessary myth of territorial integrity and absolute sovereignty’ elevates the principle above many others in international law including self-determination (2009). The legal principle of territorial integrity therefore is directly derived from the principle of state sovereignty and reinforces the opinion of most international scholars, that state sovereignty is the logical foundation for the international legal system (Brownlie 1998).

The events of September 11, 2001 brought into sharp relief the vital aspects of sovereignty states organize themselves around. The subsequent characterization of al-Qaeda as a diffuse and deterritorialized network by the US rather than operating within existing territorial frames has obscured its enduring territorial nature. This has led some scholars to argue that contemporary global security threats are emerging that are inherently transnational in nature extending beyond the rigid territorial framework of the modern Westphalian state system (Behr 2008, Vollaard 2009).

Contrasting traditional notions of security issues with transnational security issues, threats such as transnational terrorism emerge as particularly relevant. Here transnational actors no longer correspond to the territorial principles of traditional security and as a result pose an unprecedented challenge to the ‘inside’-‘outside’-logic of the state (Behr 2008, 359). Following on from this, the key principles of modern state security are bound up with assertions of territoriality. The guarantee of security by the state is held as one of its fundamental legitimising functions. The state is seen as both the provider and space of security. The diversification of the security threat deviating outside of the territorial bound spaces of the nation-state has implications for traditional definitions of sovereignty as the highest form of authority within a given territory.

In his 2008 work Hartmut Behr elaborates this argument by suggesting that ‘national security’ strategies that extend to territorial responses are inherently paradoxical in nature (2008, 359). The following will aim to highlight the link between sovereignty and territory, or as Elden has referred to it as territorial integrity as ‘the spatial extent of sovereignty’ (2009, 171). An examination of how sovereignty has been used in arguments surrounding the contemporary ‘war on terror’, it will show how the characterisation of sovereignty has been amended to further the geostrategic gains of some states, notably the United States. These arguments will be used to further discuss the recent targeting of states that are believed to ‘harbour’ terrorists and will concentrate on the example of Afghanistan in the immediate period following the September 11 attacks in 2001.

Redefining State Sovereignty

The question of whether international law permits the use of force in a pre-emptive manner to avert future attacks has taken on added significance in the aftermath of the events of September 11,, 2001 (Greenwood 2003, 8). As it stands Article 2(4) of the 1945 UN Charter introduces the most stringent limitation on the use of force by States against one another:

“All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”

The provision to prohibit all use of force against another State, unless that use of force is one of the limited exceptions provided in international law (military action in self-defence and military action taken or authorized by the U.N. Security Council) or has become part of customary international law binding all states. To some, those actions not consistent with the above demonstrate a disturbing willingness by certain governments to disregard international law and the key principles of territorial integrity and state sovereignty.

Indeed it could be argued that state sovereignty has come under increased pressure recently, notably through the notion of ‘contingent sovereignty’ (Elden 2006, 14). Contingent sovereignty describes the view that a state’s sovereign rights are not absolute, rather they depend on a series of obligations as well as privileges. Originating from an argument grounded in the ethics of humanitarian intervention, the limits of the territorial integrity rule are highlighted in cases such as Kosovo and Rwanda.

States are increasingly being held to have internal responsibilities, and a failure to uphold such responsibilities has led to external intervention on the grounds of the international community’s ‘responsibility to protect’ (Elden 2009, 153). Later, policies implemented in documents such as the 2002 US National Security Strategy put forward and extend the ways in which intervention becomes legitimate to combat the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction or the harbouring of terrorists (Elden 2009). In this case states that fail to control activities within their own territory relinquish aspects of their sovereignty and therefore permits worried nations to take any action deemed necessary for their self-defence (Carter et al. 1998). This argument maintains that in such exceptional circumstances norms of sovereignty do not apply (Elden 2006, 14).

The US occupation of Afghanistan and later Iraq are illustrations of the use of contingent sovereignty, and its implications for the relationship between territory and sovereignty (Figure 1). In the aftermath of September 11, 2001 the U.N. Security Council declared a number of resolutions as an international response. On September 12, Resolution 1368 stated that the Security Council was prepared ‘to take all necessary steps to respond to the terrorist attacks’ (UNSC 2001). This resolution and others in the days that followed, despite its general nature with regards to language became a landmark in international law. For the first time Article 51 was invoked and applied in response to attacks from non-state actors. In his article debating the pre-emptive use of force in international law, Christopher Greenwood argues that the international reaction to the events of September 11, 2001 ‘confirms the commonsense view that the concept of armed attack is not limited to State acts’ (2003, 17). The argument at this time centred on the condemnation of the Taliban, the de facto government at the time of the terrorist attacks in the United States. Greenwood, although recognising the Taliban was not responsible for the attacks, argued it ‘had undoubtedly violated international law in permitting al-Qaeda to operate from its territory’ and had therefore ‘violated the general duty of the state under international law not to allow its territory to be used as a base for attacks on other states’ (2003, 111-113). Elden rightly points out however that the language in the U.N. General Assembly Resolution 3314 (XXIX) gives rise to significant ambiguities as to whether al-Qaeda can be understood as ‘another State’ or if described as ‘armed bands, groups, irregulars, or mercenaries’ whether they can be viewed as sent ‘on behalf of a State’ (2009, 74).

The key aspect the international response aimed to highlight was how Afghanistan had broken international law by allowing certain activities to occur within its territory. In this sense Afghanistan had failed to exercise adequate sovereignty over its respective jurisdiction and thus had not fulfilled its obligations as a sovereign state. Afghanistan had failed to exercise one of the key definitions of sovereignty – effective political control or the ‘monopoly of legitimate physical violence’ within its territory by failing to prosecute criminals living within its borders, and as a result its sovereignty can be deemed as contingent (Elden 2006, 15).

Despite the proclamations of the above, Resolution 1378 subsequently reasserted the principle of territorial integrity and a strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence and national unity of Afghanistan. Additionally, the successive Bonn Agreement on the new Afghan government on December 5, 2001 also reinforces the territorial integrity of the state (BBC 2010). While foreign intervention was permitted as a result of the failure of the state to exercise effective political control within its territory- one of the standard definitions of sovereignty, this was contrasted by the call to bolster the territorial integrity of all states in order to ensure global stability.

Amitav Acharya applies Krasner’s idea to the Bush administration’s thesis of ‘selective sovereignty’ in which state intervention is paradoxically justified as a means of ensuring a ‘well- ordered world of sovereign states’ (2007, 274). The Bush administration put forward the ‘limits to sovereignty’ thesis in December 2001 ahead of its retaliation against the Taliban. As elaborated above, the thesis aimed to equate the war on terror with earlier discourse on humanitarian intervention.

This linking intended to widen the parameters for intervention to include terrorism. Additionally, this mode of intervention was broadened from reactive to preventative and was later the basis of what has been termed the Bush Doctrine. Some have argued through a reading of Article 51, that the conditions of self-defence is an inherent expression of all states under customary law, and is therefore not subject to prior authorization by the U.N. Security Council (Greenwood 2003, 11).

The United Kingdom and the US for example maintained that the right of self-defence extends to when a threat is imminent. In this sense the US endeavour to limit sovereignty has been justified in the name of protecting it and of upholding the system of sovereign states. Acharya uses Krasner’s argument of ‘organised hypocrisy’ in the international system to advance the case that US national security resembles more a ‘disorganised hypocrisy’ during the war on terror.

Acharya is alluding to the uneven distribution of responsibility of those involved in the war on terror and to the actions of the coalition that have not, breaking away from Krasner’s argument, gone unnoticed.

The war on terror has arguably posed the most comprehensive challenge to contemporary forms of sovereignty in the international system. The notion of contingent sovereignty in which states are required to act responsibly, questions the legitimacy of claims to territorial integrity as an absolute in international law. The argument to support intervention in Afghanistan and later Iraq, through the extension of the humanitarian discourse that states have a responsibility to protect (R2P), was hinged on this notion.

The humanitarian discourse, emerging as a result of various incidents during the 1990s argues in favour of the limits to state sovereignty through emphasising the rights of the individual. The use of force by the US and NATO in the past has been morally based on the need for humanitarian assistance (Chopra and Weiss 1992). Indeed Kofi Annan has stressed the need to rethink the principle of territorial integrity in terms of the exclusive internal sovereignty of states (1999).

The statement concerning the implications of catastrophes in Rwanda and Kosovo, did not however intend to, firstly permit the action as a pre-emptive form of self-defence or, secondly, authorize action outside of the mandate of the U.N. The attempt to bring together the war on terror and the prior justifications for humanitarian intervention, Acharya comments ‘is one of the most remarkable ironies of US foreign policy after 9/11’ (2007 288).

The implications the war on terror has on the concept of territorial integrity and in turn the sovereignty of states then, goes further than that proposed through humanitarian arguments and therefore marks a fundamental shift in the state of sovereignty in the international state system.

In reality the response on the ground in 2001 shows intervention to be anything but humane. The present crisis in Afghanistan is an outcome of decades of internal conflict and foreign intervention that has long compromised its territorial integrity. The Bush administration’s goals in Afghanistan since late 2001, were to focus on relations with individual power brokers with the aim to counter the al-Qaeda threat. This has managed to fuel the insurgency and confound any hopes of promoting democratic governance and the rule of law (ICG 2009).

Seven years on and the state is still at war against extremists and descending into an increasing state of weakness that has been exploited by al-Qaeda and the Taliban (Rubin 2007). Effective control and security throughout the country has declined deeming access difficult to external forces (Figure 2). Intervention is seen as the remedy for states that harbour terrorists or develop weapons of mass destruction, and al-Qaeda has been dealt with as it were a state.

The fact that al-Qaeda is an inherently deterritorialised opponent, and although it remains inherently geographical in nature, its strategies act to challenge the basis of the existing international system. As Daanish Mustafa elaborates, ‘the sovereign spaces of nation-states and the nodal networks of international terrorism offer a fundamental challenge to the modern state-centred global geopolitics’ (2005, 82).

Territorial preservation, as Agnew explains is merely one aspect of a states territorial integrity (2005). The lack of territorial sovereignty is often a key characteristic of so-called failed states where effective monopoly over the internal means of violence is lost. The US invasion therefore contributed to the long running history of intervention in Afghanistan and as a result the US forces underestimated the prominence of other actors within the vacuum of the failed state.

Conflicts over territory raise a range of legal and moral questions that encompass the appropriate means for pursuing political goals to fundamental questions about the legitimacy of the current international system. Burke Hendrix has argued that international law does not provide a credible moral account of state territory (2001).

As the principles of self-determination and territorial integrity are in tension, so too is the relation between territorial integrity and intervention under the guise of humanitarian assistance, and more so under the recent rationale for the promotion of democracy.

Without suggesting qualification of the above questions it may be of value to reassess the association of the concepts of sovereignty and territory, which is so often taken for granted. As Agnew contends, ‘sovereignty is neither inherently territorial nor is it exclusively organised on a state-by-state basis’ (2005, 437). The artificial nature of such an alliance becomes more apparent when reviewing the situation in Afghanistan and other targeted states in the war on terror.

As the terrorist threat was believed to be at large within these ‘failed’ or ‘weak’ states, the state itself was targeted. The destruction caused has therefore been representative of the myth that sovereignty exists in absolute form entirely within the international states system. In this sense the concept of territory in international law with regards to sovereignty falls short.


Territorial integrity as a core principle of international law and the sovereign state system has come under increased pressure. On the one hand territorial sovereignty is increasingly seen as contingent, and other theoretical arguments are being advanced in favour of territorial preservation. As both of the above aspects are constitutive of the territorial integrity principle, this tension demonstrates a particularly problematic intersection at the heart of the territory-sovereignty nexus (Elden 2009). The war on terror is perhaps the latest example of this, although it can be argued that there is a continuity with events before 2001 and thus is part of a wider trend to impact state sovereignty.

The invasion and occupation of Afghanistan is an example of how an absence of effective territorial control facilitated alternative concentrations of power and as a result necessitated intervention. The production of a new functioning state out the ruins of a destroyed one, where a territorial vacuum without authority has enabled non-state actors to move in, was an unrealistic prospect if one is to look at other ‘failed states’. A policy review by the Obama administration has renewed the debate on how to defeat terrorist organisations such as al-Qaeda and its protectors, the Taliban by facilitating the growth of institutions involved in assisting the rule of law and legitimate governance. A departure from the narrow focus of counter-terrorism measures of the previous administration must be reformed if current efforts are to succeed (ICG 2009).

An examination of the concept of ‘contingent sovereignty’ and its impact has shed light on the nature of intervention in so-called ‘weak states’. The argument can also be extended to the treatment of other states that fit into the category of ‘strong-states’ where considerable amounts of resources have been invested in the build-up of weapons arsenals. The 2003 Iraq war, it could be argued, was built on this premise but Iraq showed both strong and weak characteristics in this sense (Elden 2009). In conclusion it may be of use to mention the status of international law as imperfect in its reconciliation of territorial integrity with self-determination.

Given that sovereignty has been taken to apply to states rather than peoples the question of how to deal with states that fail to follow particular norms is of pressing concern. In this sense a reading of international law has led some to argue that political theory should be rethought.


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by Leonhardt van Efferink
Comments Off on The Afghanistan–Pakistan vortex – Taliban, Al Qaida and Swat Valley

The Afghanistan–Pakistan vortex – Taliban, Al Qaida and Swat Valley

Article by: Dr. Claude Rakisits (June 2009)

Tags: Afghanistan Pakistan Taliban

picture Rakisits

Claude Rakisits

Dr Claude Rakisits (1956) was born in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo and holds the Australian and Swiss nationality. He holds a PhD in Political Science and a B.A (Hons) in International Relations.

Mr. Rakisits is specialized in Pakistan and Africa and currently works as Adjunct Professor in International Relations at Webster University (Geneva).

He is also head of “Geopolitical Assessments”, an independent consultancy whose core business is to provide analysis and advice on international issues:

Geopolitical Assessments

Afghanistan and Pakistan: among the ‘hottest’ geo-political spots

The combined countries of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and in particular, their common border area, must be one of the ‘hottest’ geo-political spots in the world today. And this should come as no surprise, as it is in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of western Pakistan that the leaders of al-Qaida and the Afghan Taliban fled to following their ouster from Afghanistan in 2001 and continue to threaten the Coalition forces (International Security Assistance Force – ISAF) in Afghanistan and prepare attacks against Western interests in other parts of the world. It is also the home of the Pakistani Taliban who have caused much trouble in FATA and the bordering areas of Pakistan for the inhabitants and the government. It is precisely because this tribal area has become such a volatile region that the US administration and other Western countries have begun to refer to this area as “AfPak” and have appointed ambassadors to focus specifically on developments in that region.

The emergence of the Pakistani Taliban

What was already a difficult situation in “AfPak” has now become critical as a result of the recent and very worrying developments in the western part of Pakistan. In brief, what has happened is that the Afghan Taliban militants have ‘contaminated’ the local population with their jihadist extremism and this has in turn spawned an indigenous Taliban movement in Pakistan. Being of the same ethnic group – Pushtun – as the Pakistanis, it was not difficult for the Afghan Taliban to indoctrinate the locals. Moreover, many of these locals had themselves been involved in fighting the Soviets in the 1980s as Western-backed ‘Mujahideen’. These Pakistani Taliban – a mixed bag of religious extremists, thugs, petty criminals and fellow travellers – have not only effectively taken over control of the whole tribal areas (about the size of Switzerland), but they have now spilled into the ‘settled’ (non-tribal) areas of western Pakistan. And until recently, when they spilled into the beautiful Swat Valley and surrounding districts, these Taliban fighters were only about 100 kilometres from Islamabad, the nation’s capital.

The rising power of the Pakistani Taliban

The Pakistani Taliban’s fast expanding area of control has been facilitated by a number of factors.

First, the previous government under General Musharraf cut several deals with them hoping to stop their advance. But instead of disarming and expelling their allies, the foreign militants which include al-Qaida, as they were meant to, they consolidated their positions and evicted the army from the tribal areas.

Second, the army did not have the will or the counter-insurgency skills or materiel to fight back. Instead, the poorly-trained army lost over 1500 men, became very demoralised, and gave up.

Third, America’s use of drones to target high value Afghan Taliban militants and al-Qaida leaders hiding in Pakistan’s tribal areas has caused scores of civilian deaths among Pakistanis. This has reinforced already strong anti-American sentiments among Pakistanis, making it even easier for the Taliban to recruit among an already disaffected and economically deprived population. It is important to remember that in terms of socio-economic standards, FATA is not only by far the worst-off area of Pakistan but due to a number of historical reasons it is also not politically integrated with the rest of the country. Put differently, FATA has been for all intents and purpose forgotten by the central government in Islamabad since 1947.

Fourth, the Pakistan government’s February 2009 agreement – now dead – to allow the Pakistani Taliban to implement Sharia law in the Swat valley confirmed in the eyes of many that the political leaders in Islamabad only believed in appeasement and did not care about the well-being of the local inhabitants. For months already the Pakistani Taliban had been burning girls’ schools, forcing the closure of barber and video shops and hanging people by lamp posts if they disagreed with their version of Islam. Accordingly, as the people were given no protection from the authorities – the military not being anywhere to be seen and the police force resigning en masse out of fear – had no choice but to abide by the harsh rule of the Pakistani Taliban. Of course, it is important to remember that it was only after the army had failed to subdue the militants after one year of military operations and only cause civilian casualties and physical destruction that the government agreed to this February deal.

The limits of the Pakistani Taliban

However, the Pakistani Taliban’s fortunes have changed recently for a number of reasons.

First, the Pakistani Taliban broke their agreement with the government by not only failing to disarm as they were meant to do, but by continuing their advance eastward and spreading fear and destruction to neighbouring districts.

Second, this rapid and threatening advance eastward ever more closer to Islamabad caused all political parties and most importantly, the military, to realise that something had to be done to halt these militants whose objective was the overthrow of the government of Pakistan. However, even with this dire situation and notwithstanding a number of (unhelpful) alarmist assessments, the Pakistani state was not about to fall in the hands of the Taliban. The Pakistani Taliban, a disparate collection of jihadist groups without a unifying leader and little fire power, is no match for a 700,000 – strong Pakistani army.

Third, the US administration put enormous pressure on the Pakistani leaders, making clear that it expected the Pakistan army to roll these militants back and chase them all the way back into the tribal areas. Washington made clear that this would be a prerequisite for Pakistan to receive the economic and political aid it was seeking from the US.

The response of the Pakistani army

Accordingly, the Pakistani army decided in April to confront the Pakistani militants and to not only stop their advance eastward but to push them back into FATA. By mid-June it had secured the Swat Valley and the surrounding districts of Dire and Buner by ousting the 8,000 or so Pakistani Taliban fighters (which included hundreds of foreign and al-Qaida fighters), killing well over 1,000 of them and capturing the major city of Mingora. It took almost two months and some 40,000 troops to do the job, with well over 100 soldiers killed in the clashes. This was an important battle the Pakistani army had to win to demonstrate its resolve and capability.

But victory came at a very heavy cost to the civilian population. Because the army is primarily trained and equipped to conduct conventional warfare, it used a very heavy-handed and inappropriate approach to fighting the insurgents. By using heavy artillery, helicopter gunships and fighter bombers, it wrecked havoc on towns and villages, killing many civilians and destroying a lot of private property and the little infrastructure that existed.

The military operation in Swat caused some two and half million people to flee and seek refuge elsewhere. This massive and sudden movement of people was the biggest the world had witnessed since the 1994 Rwandan genocide. About 80 per cent of these internally displaced people (IDP) have been accommodated with friends, families and even total strangers because the government of Pakistan was unprepared for this humanitarian disaster. And while there has been a public mood change in support of the government’s military campaign, this could very quickly change if the government fails to help rebuild what it destroyed and resettle the millions of IDPs quickly. Analysts estimate that the reconstruction could cost up to US$3 billion.

Given that Pakistani President Zardari’s government is already inherently weak due a number of inter- and intra-party disputes, a failing economy and a lack of clear government direction or leadership on major policy issues, it cannot afford to fail in its military campaign against the Pakistani Taliban. The next step – the battle for Waziristan – will be crucial for Pakistan’s future and the direction of the war in Afghanistan.

South Waziristan

Even before ousting the Pakistani Taliban from Swat, the Pakistani army was under very heavy pressure from Washington to turn its attention to South Waziristan – the home base of the Pakistani Taliban as well as probably one of the most important safe havens for the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaida. Accordingly, on 14 June 2009 the Pakistani government announced that a “comprehensive and decisive operation” would be launched to eliminate the Pakistani Taliban. But the forthcoming military clash in Waziristan will not be as easy as in Swat. As a matter of fact, it will be long, very difficult and nasty and costly in men and materiel. Already the Americans are ‘softening’ up the area with an increasing number of drone attacks against high value Taliban and al-Qaida commanders.

South Waziristan is very mountainous and rugged, with deep gorges and steep slopes, making it ideal insurgency country. There are no big settlements and towns like in Swat. As this is the Pakistani Taliban’s heartland, its militants will fight hard, and they will be doing so on home ground as opposed to Swat, where they were outsiders. They can expect a certain degree of support from the local population which will not look kindly at the Punjabi-dominated Pakistani army – seen as foreigners – coming in uninvited and inevitably bombing innocent civilians. And, as in Swat, the military operation will inevitably cause hundreds of thousands to flee the war zone to seek refuge elsewhere in Pakistan. This will further complicate the already grave humanitarian situation in western Pakistan where it is estimated there are some 3 million IDPs.

The role of the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaida in Pakistan

Complicating the task of defeating the Pakistani Taliban is the presence of the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaida which will no doubt give military support to their ideological brothers-in-arm. Moreover, having moved into the area some eight years ago after having been ousted from Afghanistan, the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaida have had time to dig themselves in by building tunnels, hideouts and fortifications. They will be waiting for the Pakistani army.

They will all fight very hard: the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaida to protect this very important launching area for attacks against Coalition forces across the border in Afghanistan and the Pakistani Taliban because losing Waziristan would be a fatal blow to their campaign to overthrow the Pakistani government. We can expect many more suicide bombings – now an almost daily occurrence – against state institutions (army bases, police stations, politicians) and innocent civilians across Pakistan in retaliation for the army’s military campaign.

Future prospects of the Pakistani Taliban

The good news for the Pakistan government is that the Pakistani Taliban is divided. There are a number of Pushtun leaders (some of them on the Pakistani government’s payroll) who want to eliminate or replace Baitullah Mehsud, the current leader of the Pakistani Taliban. One of these opponents, Qari Zainuddin, was assassinated on 23 June 2009. No one claimed responsibility. But, even if Baitullah Mehsud (suspected of having organised the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in December 2008) were eliminated or replaced as leader, it would not mean the end of the Pakistani Taliban threat. The government may try to exploit traditional tribal rivalry by giving military support to leaders of the Ahmedzai Wazir tribe. Such an approach could, in the long term, be dangerous and backfire, as tribal loyalties vis-à-vis the central government tend to be fluid.

But, even more important is the change of attitude of the Pakistani army. There is now a national consensus to oppose the Taliban (as opposed to under President Musharraf). Accordingly, the army is now determined to do the job that is required of them.

The outcome of the battle for Waziristan will have a critical impact on the current war in Afghanistan, and this is why the member countries of ISAF will be following very closely the course of the forthcoming battle in this tribal area.

Deteriorating conditions in Afghanistan

The situation in Afghanistan remains precarious at best.

On 12 June 2009 General David Pretaeus, head of the US central Command, admitted during an address he gave in Washington that conditions were deteriorating in Afghanistan and had been doing so for the last two years. As of 22 June 2009, Coalition forces had already lost 149 men this year, making it the worst first six months since military operations began in Afghanistan in late 2001. He stressed that the only solution to winning would be an integrated ‘whole of government’ approach which combined military operations with civilian needs. He also warned that there would be difficult times ahead. Most analysts tend to agree that the eight year-old war in Afghanistan is probably not even at the half-way mark. Almost 1200 Coalition defence forces have been killed since 2001.

Policy response of US president

In an attempt to make progress on the battlefield, President Obama agreed to send an additional 21,000 troops to Afghanistan. When this new ‘surge’ of defence personnel is in theatre, it will mean that the US will have some 68,000 troops in Afghanistan. Over 28,000 of these will be part of the ISAF forces (International Security Assistance Force) and the other 40,000 will be part of the separate US anti-terrorism operation, Enduring Freedom.

There is a worry, however, especially among Pakistani officials, that the surge could have a negative spill over effect, causing the Afghan Taliban fighters to flee across the border into FATA which in turn could create more Pakistani IDPs (internally displaced people).

The position of the Taliban

Unfortunately, as a result of the continuing poor security situation in Afghanistan, especially in the east and the south, the reconstruction process has not progressed as well as planned. Moreover, the very high level of corruption in the 82,000-strong police force and in the judiciary means that the people do not trust the government of President Karzai.

Accordingly, many people have, out of desperation, turned to the Taliban for assistance or support in the delivery of justice, social services and protection from the police and corrupt officials. Moreover, the high number of civilian casualties and substantial property damage as a result of Coalition military operations has facilitated the recruitment of new Taliban fighters among an ever growing pool of disaffected civilians. And while the Afghan government, with the help of the Coalition forces, is trying to build up a new Afghan army which would eventually number 134,000, up from the 90,000 today, Taliban fighters continue to be better paid than are Afghan soldiers. And while the Afghan army is relatively free of corruption, the quality of its officers and troops remains mixed.

Relations between Karzai administration and Coalition governments

The Afghan government’s high level of corruption and incompetence has greatly annoyed the Coalition governments, as it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to justify to their electorates the casualties and fatalities suffered by their troops in Afghanistan. The US, Canada and the UK have absorbed the highest number of dead.

It is important to remember that when NATO returned to Afghanistan in large numbers in 2003, the military involvement began as a peacekeeping operation but it quickly developed into a combat one. And while the ISAF-contributing countries generally hold President Karzai responsible for the Afghan government’s rampant corruption and incompetence, they have decided to continue to support his re-election bid simply because there is no one else that would be, on the whole, acceptable to the majority of Afghans.

Call for regional approach

If the international community, and in particular, the ISAF countries are to make substantial progress in restoring durable peace in Afghanistan and in large parts of western Pakistan, it will have to pursue a genuine regional approach to a war that now has ramifications far beyond the borders of Afghanistan and Pakistan. As President Asif Ali Zardari succinctly stated in an article in The Washington Post on 22 June 2009, “if the Taliban and al-Qaeda are allowed to triumph in our region, their destabilizing alliance will spread across the continents”. President Obama has also recognized the need for a regional approach and has made several statements along those lines.

However, this regional approach – which should include an international conference at which countries like India, Russia, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the Central Asian countries, the European Union and the US would be present – must be genuine if it is to succeed. It must be a process in which decisions that are taken and implemented have the support of Afghanistan and Pakistan and are backed up financially and militarily by the countries involved in the process. By having a stake in the outcome, regional countries will be more inclined to ensure the process works.

Financial support is vital

It cannot be sufficiently stressed how important the financial aspect of this approach would be to its success. Over many years Pakistan has paid a very dear price for playing a key role in the West’s involvement in Afghanistan. First, following the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, Pakistan hosted some four million refugees and was the training ground for many US and Saudi-backed Mujahideen groups battling the Soviet troops. Many of these Mujahideen and their off springs eventually turned against the Pakistan state. And since 2001, when the Pakistan government agreed to join the “War on Terror”, the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaida fighters, embedded in western Pakistan following their ouster from Afghanistan, have been fighting the Pakistani army – a military clash that has tied down over 100,000 troops and has caused the death of well over 1,500 Pakistani soldiers. This is more than all the Coalition fatalities in Afghanistan.

Also, the international community must not forget that Pakistan still hosts some three million Afghan refugees, some of which are the ones caused by the Soviet invasion in 1979. And the present Afghan conflict has cost Pakistan’s economy – directly and indirectly – more than $35 billion. These are financial resources which could have been directed more productively to the socio-economic development of Pakistan.

But more importantly, the presence today of the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaida fighters and the earlier presence of the Mujahideen in the tribal areas have been critical factors in the growth of Pakistan’s own Taliban group in the last few years. And it is this group, which has thrived in the utterly economically neglected tribal area of Pakistan, which has caused such havoc lately in Pakistan, particularly in Swat.

The Pakistan army conducted the ruthless operation in Swat and neighbouring districts because it was under intense international community pressure, especially from Washington and London, to do so. And as we have seen, the operation against these extremist groups has caused some three million IDPs (internally displaced people). Unfortunately, already the world is forgetting about them and the financial burden they are on the Pakistani government.

Dire humanitarian conditions

This on-going humanitarian crisis – and the one that will inevitably follow once military operation in Waziristan get into full swing – is something Pakistan cannot and should not have to deal with on its own. Of course, the Pakistan government had no choice but to confront militarily the Pakistani Taliban and roll them back. However, this was also an operation which was in the vital interest of the international community. It is in no one’s interest to see the Pakistan state being progressively weakened by a cancerous Pakistani Taliban gnawing away at Pakistani society. Accordingly, the international community has a duty to share the financial burden of not only assisting with the immediate reconstruction of the Swat valley but also with the longer term development of FATA and other socio-economically deprived parts of Pakistan where extremism thrives.

Pledged international support so far

Even before this latest flow of IDPs, Ambassador Holbrooke estimated that Pakistan would need some $50 billion in assistance to be able to deal with its massive developmental needs in such areas as social services, education, hospitals and infrastructure. In the short term, Washington’s decision to give $7.5 billion over five years for schools, the judicial system, parliament and law enforcement agencies should certainly help. Pakistan will also be receiving $400 million in annual military aid for 2010-2013 from the US. At the recent inaugural summit meeting between Pakistan and the EU, the latter offered $100 million in humanitarian aid to try to ease the burden of the 3 million IDPs; Pakistan was seeking $2.5 billion. At an international donors’ meeting in Tokyo in April 2009 Western countries pledged $5 billion.

Although this international assistance will help Pakistan, much more, however, will be needed in the long term given Pakistan’s war on extremism, the need to take care of three million IDPs, its massive developmental needs and the poor state of its finances. According to the Junior Economics Minister, Pakistan’s budget deficit is estimated to widen to 4.9% of GDP in the year starting on 1 July 2009. That’s higher than last year’s 4.3% and more than the 4.6% target set by the IMF as part of the 7.6 billion bailout agreed in November 2008. But the fiscal shortfall could actually end up being as much as 6.4% of GDP unless the government makes deep cuts on development expenditures which are already significantly inadequate. The government has asked the IMF for a $4 billion stand-by loan as “insurance” in case the pledged assistance does not arrive. Meanwhile, it is expected that the economy will grow by 3.3% in the year starting on 1 July 2009, which is better than last year’s 2% growth but significantly lower than the annual 6.8% Pakistan had posted for the preceding five years.

Pakistan’s point of view

Seen from Islamabad’s perspective, Pakistanis feel that, while US assistance will help as will the other countries’ aid, they are not getting the financial assistance they believe they rightfully deserve. They will argue, correctly so, that if the war against al-Qaida is so important to the West, why not give Pakistan the very substantial funds and military materiel they need to fight al-Qaida. The international funds that are being earmarked for Pakistan are miserly small compared to what has been spent by the US alone in Iraq in the last 6 years: some $600 billion or about $8 billion per month.

Trade liberalisation also critical

However, more important than aid is trade. And it would appear that the US Congress may relatively soon pass a bill called the Reconstruction Opportunity Zones, which would remove trade barriers and provide economic incentives to build factories, start factories and employ workers in FATA and in the neighbouring border area of Afghanistan. Such a concrete economic step would be a very constructive and important counter-insurgency measure for both sides of the border; it would demonstrate Washington’s long-term commitment to the economic development of the region and not only to the pursuit of a military solution to the problem of Islamic extremism.

Contact details of Mr. Rakisits

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by Leonhardt van Efferink
Comments Off on The inevitable flaws in Russia’s great power project

The inevitable flaws in Russia’s great power project

Article by: Martin Müller, Assistant Professor at the University of St. Gallen, August 2009 Tags: Russia great power project inevitable flaws Discourse Analysis Social Construction Foreign Policy Threat Education

picture Müller

Martin Müller

Book cover

Martin Müller is Assistant Professor in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland.

He is a political geographer with an interest in critical geopolitics and Russia. His PhD examined geopolitical visions of Russia’s role in word politics at a Moscow elite university. For further information, please have a look at:

Personal website of Martin Müller

Looking behind the façade of Russian great power thinking

The war in South Ossetia in August 2008 once again fuelled discussions on Russia’s re-emergence as a great power in world politics – a great power that flexes its military muscle and asserts its influence not only in the post-Soviet space but also beyond. But what is behind Russian great power thinking?

In this contribution, Martin Müller argues that visions of a great power Russia have, in fact, inevitable flaws: they are shot through with intense doubts and misgivings about the very possibility of this strength.


Sailing close to the great power winds

In the aftermath of the South Ossetian conflict in August last year strangely familiar rhetoric flared up in the headlines of Western newspapers. The Australian announced that “The bear is back”, the German Zeit saw the West facing “The Russian threat” and Time Magazine, reminiscent of the epic Star Wars saga, exclaimed that “The empire strikes back”! Even broadsheets such as the leading German Süddeutsche Zeitung ran headlines like the following: “Russian foreign policy strategy still knows only one idea: the tank”. Russia seemed to announce its comeback on the stage of international politics with a flourish.

The oil price has plunged and Russia has taken a beating from the sharp recession since August last year, but this predicament seems to have altered little in Russia’s great power rhetoric one year after South Ossetia. The credo that Russia is – or will soon become – a great power continues to rule unabashed under the dual leadership of Medvedev and Putin. The crisis may have slowed down the great power project – but there is no reason to shelve it. This, at least, is the bottom line of the official position in Russia.

Listen closely

But let’s listen closely. Because if we do that, we begin to hear regular qualms about Russia’s status of a great power – not only since the crisis but also before. Simmering beneath the smooth great power surface are doubts, not voiced in the overblown rhetoric of high politics, saying that Russia may not be so strong after all.

But in order to hear those doubts we need to move away from the official rhetoric of political speeches and policy papers. We need to look, for example, at the opinion of students and lecturers at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. This institute has traditionally educated future foreign ministers, ambassadors and other high-ranking officials in the Russian state and can therefore serve as an indicator of opinion within future Russian elite circles. And there, surprisingly, Russia’s great power project does not seem so impregnable. In fact, there appears a gap between aspiration and reality: Russia wants to become a great power – but is not quite able to realise this.

The colour revolutions challenging Russian great power ambitions

But what keeps Russia from becoming the great power it aspires to be? In discussions at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations Western actions are frequently thought to block Russia’s re-emergence as a great power. The colour revolutions in several post-Soviet states are associated with Western agency, which aims to weaken Russia by snatching away its former brother states. Just as in Soviet times, the West is still working against Russia, as one professor, ridiculing the colour revolutions in florid language, holds:

“[L]ook at those botanic revolutions, or at the horticultural revolutions or at the flower revolutions as they call them. Lemon revolution, saffron revolution. All those revolutions cannot do without Western NGOs. The West, in fact, is at work. It is just that in the closed Soviet society we did not know how the West worked against us.”

If the West will be successful in seducing the post-Soviet states, the project of a strong Russia, so the story goes, is doomed to fail. By the same token, Tatjana, a student of International Relations at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, perceives the eastern expansion of the European Union and NATO as an effort to contain Russia:

“All ex-republics of the CIS are rushing to follow the West, joining NATO or joining the EU. There is a constant tendency of dissociation from Russia, of diminishing the Russian influence over these states.”

Lack of recognition

It is not only the perceived threat of losing the post-Soviet states that is seen to thwart the Russian great power ambitions. Among people at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations there is also the impression that Russia’s great power role does not find adequate recognition among other states. Alexander, a student of International Relations claims:

“We can do what we want: we stay unreliable partners. Here, again, it is tried to create such a negative image of Russia.”

This lack of recognition is a persistent and recurring pattern in descriptions of Russia’s relations with Western states. Natalija, another student, provides an example:

“One other thing that I feel sad about is that Russia very often plays the role of a whipping boy in international relations, because Russia’s prestige, its image in the eyes of other countries is not improving or is only improving very slowly. All of my friends who were in Europe say that Russia is perceived as a monster there. Such negative dispositions! And at all conferences which were especially organised for Russians and Europeans, to jointly study and research certain problems, Russia serves as an example of all the anti-democratic vices you can possibly think of in this world.”

Is this the thundering bold confidence of a great power? Hardly. Quite on the contrary, the Russian great power project is perceived to be under siege from many sides.

Russia’s great power project is necessarily always flawed

Some observers might say that the doubts about Russia’s great power role represent the gap between wishful thinking and reality: the official ideology in Russia pretends that the country is stronger than it really is. But this would mean that Russia could become a great power if it was just able to close this gap, to do away with those obstacles blocking its path. In order to do so, Russia must become stronger still.

This argument is based on a fallacy. Why? Because it is only due to the obstacles blocking its emergence that the need for a strong Russia exists. They are the point of reference against which a strong Russia is defined. Russia must be a strong country to stand up against and do away with them: Russia must face the West, demonstrate its power in the post-Soviet states and fight for its recognition. Even if Russia were to overcome all those obstacles, it would not become a great power. Quite on the contrary: the Russian great power project would be doomed to collapse, since there would be nothing left for a strong Russia to stand up against.

This, then, is what classic foreign policy analysis tends to overlook: the perceived obstacles to Russia’s emergence as a great power are not flaws to be done away with – they are essential to being able to think of Russia as a great power in the first place. The Russian great power project is necessarily always flawed, always incomplete. It cannot exist otherwise. This leads to one important conclusion: if we want to better understand the Russian great power project, we need to focus on the perceptions of what prevents the realisation of this project.

“To understand social reality, then, is not to understand what society is, but what prevents it from being ” (Laclau 1990: 44)

Key Readings

  • Hopf, T. 2002. Social construction of international politics: identities and foreign policies, Moscow, 1955 and 1999. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
  • Laclau, E. 1990. New reflections on the revolution of our time. London: Verso.
  • Müller, M. 2009. Making great power identities in Russia. An ethnographic discourse analysis of education at a Russian elite university. Zürich: LIT.
  • Neumann, I. B. 2008. Russia as a great power, 1815-2007. Journal of International Relations and Development 11 (2):128-151.

picture Moscow

by Leonhardt van Efferink

Geopolitics in the 2000s

Dear Sir, Madam, for an overview of my Summer courses on geopolitics, country risk and media framing/discourses, please go to GeoMeans Courses at Maastricht Summer School 2018. Kind regards, Leonhardt, editor of ExploringGeopolitics
Article by: Virginie Mamadouh, Associate Professor, University of Amsterdam, September 2009 Tags: Geopolitics in the 2000s Geostrategy Geoeconomics Post Structuralistic Subversive Feminist Neo Marxist Political Geography

Virginie Mamadouh

Virginie Mamadouh

Book cover

Dr Virginie Mamadouh is Associate Professor in Political and Cultural Geography at the University of Amsterdam. Ms Mamadouh is further involved with a number of journals such as Geopolitics and Political Geography.

Her research interests include geopolitics and globalisation; transnationalism and ‘new media’; (transnational) migration and territorial identities; electoral geography and urban social movements.

Dr Mamadouh co-edited “Politics – Critical Essays in Human Geography” with John Agnew, published in 2008.

For further information about Ms Mamadouh, please have a look at:

Personal page of Virginie Mamadouh

Author about the article

About ten years ago I got fascinated by the growing amount and diversity of the literature on geopolitics. I started browsing and reading through an exponentially growing subfield of geography (and IR scholarship). In a review article published in 1998 in GeoJournal under the title Geopolitics in the nineties: one flag, many meanings I offered a typology of geopolitical “schools”. The typology has proven to be a useful device for many students, so I have gathered many reactions over the years.

This article is a shortened and slightly amended version of Geopolitics in the 1990s. Is the typology still useful in the 2000s? Have new schools emerged?

Author’s note

The article includes (slightly edited) excerpts from an earlier article of mine, “Geopolitics in the nineties: one flag, many meanings” [GeoJournal 46(4): 237-253, 1998]. For details and references, you can buy the full text at:

Springerlink website

Revisiting “Geopolitics in the 1990s”

An overview of the contemporary literature on geopolitics can not avoid some problems of definition. This compulsory exercise, the definition of a key concept, is in this case extremely laborious. The concept is not only contaminated by the historical legacy of the (mis)use of the ideas of the German school of Geopolitik by the Nazi regime.

It also suffers from profound confusion. There are plenty of meanings and connotations in the contemporary uses of the word ‘geopolitics’ which remain often implicit and are often contradictory. In most cases – but not always – it is about states, relations between them and their geographical context.

This article is an attempt to present recent publications by classifying them into four ‘approaches’. The names and the delimitation of these ‘geopolitical schools’ are somewhat arbitrary but they effectively reduce the great diversity encountered in the publications related to geopolitics.

These four schools are distinguished on two dimensions. The first is the distance to the object under study: on the one hand schools that recommend practical pieces of advice to political actors, on the other hand academic reflections that refrain from ties with geopolitical policies. The second refers to the position towards the state system: on the one hand states are conceived as the principal geopolitical actors, on the other hand attention is paid to other political actors and to the internal diversity and the conflict of interests inside the states. The four approaches are indicated in Table 1.

Table 1: Four geopolitical approaches (Mamadouh 1998)

Policy oriented Purely Academic
States neo-classical geopolitics geopolitics, géostratégie, geoeconomics non-geopolitics political geography
Other political actors Other subversive geopolitics géopolitique interne et externe post-structuralistic geopolitics critical geopolitics

Neo-classical geopolitics: geopolitics en geostrategy

[During the Cold War] the revival of geopolitics [among military and strategic circles] is connected to the decolonization of Asia and Africa, where many states declare themselves non-aligned to one of the two blocs. The revival is also related to the emergence of conflicts between states belonging to the same bloc, such as the estrangement between Chine and the Soviet Union and later on the territorial disputes between China and Vietnam, Vietnam and Cambodia, Iran and Iraq.

The term ‘geopolitics’ itself has been popularised by the American diplomat Henry Kissinger in the 1970s. In neoclassical geopolitics, the strategic value of specific attributes of territories plays the leading role. Next to ‘geopolitics’, the core concept is ‘geostrategy’.

Neoclassical geopolitics correspond to what the general public expects geopolitics to be: it is about the effects of geographical position and other geographical features on the foreign policy of a state and its relations with other states. It is concerned with the strategic value of geographical factors (resources, access to the sea, etc.).

This also corresponds to the definitions provided in general dictionaries. In this context, Napoléon Bonaparte is often quoted: ‘La politique d’un état est dans sa géographie’.

Subversive geopolitics: everything is geopolitical!

At the end of the 1970s, the term ‘geopolitics’ acquires a subversive meaning in France with the help of Maoist geographers. Geographical knowledge is important for those waging war, hence the observation of the French geographer Yves Lacoste who entitles his radical analysis about geography “La géographie ça sert d’abord à faire la guerre (1976).” (…)

He pleads for an active (political) geography, as opposed to applied geography, and seeks to connect to the work of the nineteenth century anarchist and geographer Elysée Reclus. From 1976 on, Lacoste and his associates publish their own journal: Hérodote. As from number 27 in 1982, the subtitle changed into Revue de géographie et de géopolitique (…)

In the course of time, a specific school matures, a geographical analysis of situations in which different groups put contradictory claims on a particular territory (…)

The analyses focus naturally on the nature of the claims of the political actors in a particular area. Lacoste speaks of ‘représentations géopolitiques’, a reference to theatre and tragedy. Maps play a special role in the development and the diffusion of such representations. Finally, the territorial conflict (rather than the state or the state system) is the unit of analysis.

Non-geopolitics: the political geography of international relations

Outside France, geographers rediscovered geopolitics too. I have called this school non-geopolitics because it is about the ‘neutralisation’ of geopolitics. These geographers oppose the abuse of geographical knowledge and plead for a scientific, neutral, geography of international relations. This school originates in the revival of political geography at the end of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s. (…)

In this perspective, geopolitics and political geography are almost synonymous, but the second term has scientific connotations, while the first has political connotations. For Anglo-Saxon political-geographers such as Peter J. Taylor and John O’Loughlin, geopolitics points at two types of ‘theories’. They distinguish between the ‘practical geopolitics’ of those who conduct the foreign policy of states and the ‘formal geopolitics’ of academics and other observers who reflect upon international relations. (…)

Formal geopolitics’ mission is to analyse practical geopolitics critically but also to provide new insights for a ‘more humane’ geopolitics. The reclamation of the term ‘geopolitics’ is an attempt by (political) geographers to denounce the use of geographical knowledge by the state and especially by its military machine. (…)

Non-geopolitics is the study of the spatial distribution of power between states, especially between the major powers and supranational actors such as such as the United Nations and the NATO. This school comprises, besides political geographers, the political scientists involved in the so called ‘peace studies’ (as opposed to strategic studies). For that reason, this approach could also be called peace-geopolitics.

Post-structuralistic geopolitics: critical geopolitics

Critical geopolitics is a new and self-designated label, in contrast with the other ‘labels’ presented here. The term was introduced in the United States during the 1980s: it points originally to studies of foreign policies by means of discourse analysis.

This approach is embedded in the post-structuralism of French philosophers such as Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault in which discourses are deconstructed. Geopolitical perceptions are problematised, while knowledge and discourses about the geographical features of international relations are the very research object.

This approach belongs to a broad school of post-modern social sciences involved in discourse analysis. Gearóid Ó Tuathail, one of the authoritative authors in this subfield, distinguishes three dimensions to critical geopolitics: the deconstruction of geopolitical traditions, the deconstruction of contemporary discourses and the exploration of the meaning of spatial concept such as ‘place’ and ‘politics’.

Gearóid Ó Tuathail and Simon Dalby identify three kinds of geopolitics: popular geopolitics (in mass media, cinema, novels or cartoons), practical geopolitics (foreign policy, bureaucracy, political institutions) and formal geopolitics (strategic institutes, think tanks, academia), all three contributing to the spatialising of boundaries and dangers (the geopolitical map of the world) and the geopolitical representations of self and other (the geopolitical imagination).

My conclusions in 1998

In the different approaches, all core elements of classical geopolitics are knocked into pieces. Even the very existence of the state as a territorial construct is challenged: some authors think that state borders do not amount to anything much in the global economy, or that states are undermined by the rise of supranational and subnational authorities, whereas others consider that the feature of the state as identity construct is much more important than its territorial component.

And the views regarding the actual geopolitical (dis)order diverge too, although there is a common and growing attention for the economic competition between states. Correspondingly geoeconomics supersedes more and more often geostrategy as the twin sister of geopolitics.

Ten years on

Ten years later, it is striking that economic issues are not that predominant as expected. Oil, water and other resources, trade, financial and development issues are key, but identity conflicts seem to predominate global politics, both on a local regional and global scale. National identity, religion, civilization, democracy were alleged to be the drivers of main conflicts, especially in the wake of the 9/11 attacks on the United States. In addition, environmental issues (with their economic ramifications) are high on the agenda of world politics.

Despite, or rather thanks to, its diversity, geopolitics has remained a powerful tool to study territorial conflicts and other spatial politics, more in particular international relations and global governance. Since 1998, more textbooks have been published, among them the introductory texts by John Agnew (1998, 2003), Klaus Dodds (2000, 2005, 2007), and Colin Flint (2006), and key readers were updated (Ó Tuathail et al 2006).

The core journal Political Geography continued to publish widely on geopolitics. In addition, the academic journal Geopolitics, (between 1996 and 1998 published as Geopolitics and International Boundaries) became an important outlet for both political geographers and IR scholars. In both cases, they include articles from the different quadrants of the typology.

This is not true of the French school that has become more isolated than before, both in terms of language and in terms of academic institutions. A new generation of French political geographers has gained visibility with a new journal L’espace politique. In the Anglo-American arena, subversive geopolitics was represented by more activist geographers.

Even more importantly, feminist geopolitics emerged since the mid-1990s as a new approach and established itself among other subfields of feminist political geography (Staeheli et al 2004). In the typology, feminist geopolitics would fit in the lower left quadrant of subversive geopolitics as it firmly opts for multiscalar perspectives. However, feminist geopolitics takes a more active stance than critical geopolitics, aiming at changing the world and promoting the emancipation of weaker social groups.

In addition, new agendas for critical geopolitics are discussed in a forthcoming special issue of GeoJournal guest edited by Laura Jones and Daniel Sage, under the title “New directions in critical geopolitics: an introduction”.

Research directions identified by the contributors (Gearóid Ó Thuatail, Jennifer Hyndman, Fraser MacDonald, Emily Gilbert, Virginie Mamadouh) were:

  • engaging with pressing impasses and dilemmas or our time (in other words producing policy relevant analyses)
  • engaging with feminist geopolitics
  • engaging with the critique of neoclassical geopolitics in the public debate
  • tackling issues pertaining to race, money and risk
  • engaging with radical geographies (feminist geographies and Marxist and neo-Marxist geographies), providing alternative representations, avoiding US centrism

In other words: moving towards the left column of Table 1 (i.e. more policy oriented)!


  • Agnew, J. A. 1998. Geopolitics: re-visioning world politics. London/New York: Routledge.
  • Agnew, J. 2003. Geopolitics: re-visioning world politics, Second edition. London/New York: Routledge.
  • Flint, C. 2006. Introduction to geopolitics. London: Routledge.
  • Dodds, K. 2000. Geopolitics in a Changing World. Harlow: Prentice Hall (Pearson Education).
  • Dodds, K. 2005. Global geopolitics, A critical introduction. Harlow: Pearson Education.
  • Dodds, K. 2007. Geopolitics: A very short introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Jones, L., and D. Sage 2009. New directions in critical geopolitics: an introduction Geojournal.
  • Ó Tuathail, G., S. Dalby, and P. Routledge, eds. 2006. The Geopolitics Reader. London: Routledge.
  • Staeheli, L. A., E. Kofman, and L. J. Peake, eds. 2004. Mapping women, making politics; Feminist perspectives on political geography. New York: Routledge.

Based on this journal article

Jones, L., and D. Sage 2009. New directions in critical geopolitics: an introduction Geojournal

by Leonhardt van Efferink

Five minutes for critical geopolitics: A slightly provocative introduction

Dear Sir, Madam, for an overview of my Summer courses on geopolitics, country risk and media framing/discourses, please go to GeoMeans Courses at Maastricht Summer School 2018. Kind regards, Leonhardt, editor of ExploringGeopolitics
Article by: Ian Klinke, PhD candidate, University College London, January 2009 Tags: critical geopolitics introduction definition

Ian Klinke

Ian Klinke

Ian Klinke is a PhD candidate at University College London. His research at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies investigates the spatiotemporal narratives that structure the relationship between the European Union and its East. Key research areas include International Relations theory, German energy security and the geopolitics of Belarus.

Geopolitics: critical vs. classical

Although not exactly hip and trendy, geopolitics is very much on the agenda these days. Often sloppily defined, geopolitics tends to be employed as a tag that lends authority to politicians, journalists and academics. It is in geopolitics that these enlightened geopoliticians claim to have found a sober and apolitical view that allows them to perceive a deeper layer of reality – to see the world as it really is. Global politics as the eternal power struggles of states under the influence of geography. ‘Dangerous nonsense!’ a critical geopolitical perspective will respond. But what exactly are the contours of such a critical perspective, where does it come from, what does it want and what does it have to add?


A conceptual matrix

“Classical geopolitics, closely related to the tradition of political realism in International Relations, is seen by critical geopolitics as an ideology (or ‘discourse’ to speak the lingo) that has legitimised some of the bloodiest military campaigns of the 20th and early 21st century.”

Critical geopolitics is a loose platform that emerged in the 1990s at the interface between Political Geography and International Relations. Despite the wide array of conflicting ‘postmodernisms’ that underlie its perspective, critical geopolitics is also unified – by its rejection of classical geopolitical reasoning. Classical geopolitics, closely related to the tradition of political realism in International Relations, is seen by critical geopolitics as an ideology (or ‘discourse’ to speak the lingo) that has legitimised some of the bloodiest military campaigns of the 20th and early 21st century. Critical geopolitics’ aim is to disenchant classical geopolitics by denaturalising it. Therefore, instead of arguing from a fixed normative position (universal liberalism or utopian socialism), it tries to de-legitimise geopolitics by placing it in its historical context and highlighting the contradictions already at work in geopolitics.

It is difficult to sketch critical geopolitics without delving into the wider philosophical debates that underpin its approach. It is however possible to approach critical geopolitics via its relationship with classical geopolitics. Hereby we could claim that critical geopolitics centres around four key issues (space, identity, vision and statecraft), which it identifies at the core of (classical) geopolitics itself. Crucially, these concepts reveal what the sweet venom of geopolitics is and does as well as the critical distance at which critical geopolitics operates when dealing with it. Let us briefly discuss these in turn.


“[Critical geopolitics] investigates the social construction of space – the way in which space is made meaningful by a wide array of geopolitical actors and their ideas. “

Space is essential to critical geopolitics. However, unlike classical geopolitics and its often implicit materialism, it questions any simple causal relationship between geographical space and global politics. Instead, it investigates the social construction of space – the way in which space is made meaningful by a wide array of geopolitical actors and their ideas. In other words, it is not so relevant to our understanding of post-World War II British geopolitics that Great Britain is an island, but that it thinks of itself as one. Similarly, it is not primarily the material features (geographical position, military infrastructure) that construct the Republic of Belarus as a Russian buffer zone, but the ideological framework of geopolitics itself (power struggle between Russia and NATO etc.). Therefore, instead of understanding humans and states as victims of geography and geopolitics, they are its source. The supposed laws classical geopolitics claims to have unearthed (Land vs. Sea Power, eternal power struggles) are part of both this active writing of geographical space and the violence that is inflicted in the name of spatial categories (East/West, Middle East, Lebensraum etc.).


“Again, just like space, identity is not seen as being pre-given (something that states already ‘have’) but as constantly (re-)negotiated.”

Closely related to this conception of space (not as a causal factor but as something that is constructed through geopolitics) is critical geopolitics’ understanding of identity. Again, just like space, identity is not seen as being pre-given (something that states already ‘have’) but as constantly (re-)negotiated. What critical geopolitics adds to the existing literature on identity in International Relations is its focus on this spatial construction of social identity. What matters here is the ways in which spatial communities such as nations, ethnic groups or other forms of spatial organisation (the European Union) construct group identity via references to a spatial ‘We’ (the ‘West’, Europe) and an often threatening and aggressive ‘Them’, located in a fundamentally different territory (the Soviet Union, ‘the Islamic world’ etc.).


Having established that geopolitics functions to shape spatial identity by distinguishing an (unfamiliar) Other from a (familiar) Self, we can now understand the second way in which (classical) geopolitics charms us: as a detached and simplifying vision. It is this geopolitical gaze that puts the geopolitician in a God-like position above the geopolitical map, faking both objectivity and apolitical neutrality. Hereby geopolitics disguises the fact that it is shot through with positivist, nationalist and colonialist ideology. The geopolitical map (both cartographic and mental) also enables viewers to perceive the world as a structured whole. It lures us into its simplicity by carving up the globe into more or less homogenous spaces (spheres of influence, heartland/rimland etc.), a practice that evades the complexities of the actual places it is meant to discuss.


Critical geopolitics also points out that geopolitics has historically served as a tool of statecraft, as a form of knowledge that is bound up with the emergence of the modern state. Geopolitical thought has served as a guide to statesmanship and therefore as legitimisation for exclusivist foreign policy agendas and invasions throughout the world. It is through geopolitical institutes (think tanks, universities and government bodies) that the state has produced knowledge of (distant) Others. In order to understand this creation of geopolitical knowledge and legitimacy for the state, critical geopolitics has diverted our attention from classical geopolitical themes to the role of so-called ‘intellectuals of statecraft’, which, embedded in the wider structures of the modern state, continue to write the scripts of global politics (the Cold War, the War on Terror etc.).

The claimant has the last word

“Although the opposition between critical and classical is perhaps a provocative overstatement (after all, the dimensions of space, identity and statecraft are not absent from critical geopolitics), it should be remembered that the former does offer a number of significant departures from the latter”

To summarise, critical geopolitics is not an add-on to classical geopolitics (although it certainly is a much needed addition to the debate on geopolitical thought) but an alternative to it. Although the opposition between critical and classical is perhaps a provocative overstatement (after all, the dimensions of space, identity and statecraft are not absent from critical geopolitics), it should be remembered that the former does offer a number of significant departures from the latter:

  • it rejects the causal relationship classical geopolitics detects between geographic space and global politics,
  • it questions the rigid boundaries the latter draws between essentialised territorial identities,
  • it problematises the supposedly objective yet thoroughly political perspective classical geopolitics offers and
  • exhibits the connections between geopolitical thought, the structures of the modern state and the waging of war.

Finally, we may add, critical geopolitics is not so much a perspective on global politics (although it can legitimately be used as such) as on classical geopolitics itself. It talks back.

Key readings

  • Agnew, J. (1998) Geopolitics: Re-visioning World Politics (London: Routledge)
  • Agnew, J. & Corbridge, S. (1995) Mastering Space: Hegemony, Territory and International Political Economy (London: Routledge)
  • Campbell, D. (1992) Writing Security: United States Foreign Policy and the Politics of Identity (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press)
  • Dalby, S. (1990) Creating the Second Cold War: The Discourse of Politics (London: Pinter)
  • Dodds, K. (2005) Global Geopolitics: A Critical Introduction (Harlow: Pearson Education)
  • Dodds, K. & Sidaway, J. D. (1994) ‘Locating critical geopolitics’ Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 12: 515-524
  • Ó Tuathail, G. (1996) Critical Geopolitics: The Politics of Writing Global Space (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press)
  • Ó Tuathail, G. & Agnew, J. (1992) ‘Geopolitics and discourse: Practical geopolitical reasoning in American foreign policy’ Political Geography 11(2): 190-204
  • Ó Tuathail, G. & Dalby, S. (1998) Rethinking geopolitics (London: Routledge)
  • Ó Tuathail, G. et al. (2006) The Geopolitics Reader (London: Routledge)

by Leonhardt van Efferink
Comments Off on External problems for Europe’s energy policy – A brief geopolitical analysis

External problems for Europe’s energy policy – A brief geopolitical analysis

Article by: Elmar Hellendoorn, Postgraduate student at College of Europe, March 2009 Tags: External problems Europe Energy Policy brief geopolitical analysis

Elmar Hellendoorn

Bio of Elmar Hellendoorn

Elmar Hellendoorn is Postgraduate student at College of Europe. Before, he studied History (BA) and International Relations (MA) at the University of Utrecht.

Energy security is still at the forefront of international and European politics. In its attempts to create an ‘Energy Policy for Europe’ the European Commission listed three objectives: promoting environmental sustainability, limiting external vulnerability and increasing economic competiveness.

In November 2008 the Commission underlined its ‘desire to guarantee secure and sustainable energy supplies’. In the contemporary highly interdependent world, external issues may complicate the obtaining of internal objectives. Concerning its ‘Energy Policy’, which external problems does the EU face in its attempts to develop this? This paper will use a classical geopolitical approach, analysing the issues at stake through a geographical lens.


In the period 2001 to 2006 the imports of gas and oil combined increased by 17%, but natural gas imports rose with 34.5%. In 2006 the EU-27 imported 54% of its energy supply, which was dominated by oil and gas. Russia was the main supplier, accounting for 33% of oil imports and 40% of gas imports. Eastern Europe even has a relatively higher dependence on Russian gas imports. This clearly makes the EU vulnerable to Russian decisions on its supply of hydrocarbons to Europe.

The strong Russian state control over production and supply to Europe is problematic. It became very clear that Moscow intends to strengthen its grip on its national energy resources during the struggle between the Russian state and the Royal/Shell-Mitsui Consortium in the Sakhalin-II dispute in 2006. The control over the Sakhalin-II-project was finally put in the hands of Gazprom, Russia’s national oil corporation (NOC).

NOCs are, unlike private firms, often driven by ‘governmentally mandated objectives’ (instead of the pursuit of profit) and they can be used by their governments as an instrument of foreign policy. Consequently, NOCs are less concerned about the commercial viability of projects than (European) privately owned international oil corporations (IOCs). This is not to say that Gazprom does not look for profits, but it can start projects that lead more to political than economic gains. The fact that Europe is confronted by these NOCs forms thus another problem.

Apart from control over its domestic energy resources, Russia also pursues stronger control over (future) energy transit networks, including those delivering energy from Central Asia. Control over these networks is essential in regulating the supply of energy. The threat of the energy weapon being used against the EU became apparent when Russia’s national oil corporation, Gazprom, briefly cut off gas supplies to Ukraine, Belarus and Georgia during 2006-’07. Nevertheless, Gazprom was able to enter into separate contracts with individual member states’ energy corporations in the same period, thereby frustrating a combined Euro-pean approach and thus weakening internal European efforts to establish a common energy policy.

The development of the Nabucco pipeline, bringing gas to the EU from Central Asia and circumventing Russian territory and financial control, became less commercially viable after Gazprom initiated a parallel project in cooperation with some member states. This di-vide-and-rule strategy by Russia is a major problem for the EU energy policy in ensuring a constant supply.


Turning to the South, here the EU is confronted by a less ‘coherent’ provider, Africa. In 2006, around 17% of the EU’s oil imports came from Africa. This remained more or less stable since 2001, both relatively and absolutely. According to British Petrol, Africa holds 9.5% of the world’s proved reserves of oil. Furthermore, in the supply of natural gas, Africa became of greater importance. The gas imports from Africa’s main gas producers rose with 51% between 2001 and 2006, constituting 21.5% of the overall EU’s natural gas imports in 2006. The African natural gas production is expected to triple by 2030.

Oil and gas exploration in Africa has historically been dominated by European IOCs. But because of rising demand worldwide, the USA and China have also set their eyes on Af-rica’s energy resources. In 2002, the US administration called ‘African oil […] of national strategic interest’. Consequently, it considers military intervention in Africa if instability (which is not unlikely to occur there) threatens the production of oil or gas. The first steps for a long term US military presence in the region have already been taken, by the establish-ment of the AFRICOM in September 2008.

On the other hand, European states are with-drawing their forces from Africa. Possible ESDP (European Security and Defence Policy) missions to Africa are short-term and place an emphasis on ‘African ownership’, out of fear of colonialist connotations. At the same time, China is successfully pursuing an aggressive strategy to gain control over African resources. This strategy does not pay attention to con-cepts such as ‘good governance’ or ‘human rights’, and least of all ‘African ownership’ – it aims at Chinese ownership. This situation poses an external problem to the EU’s energy policy, to the extent that the USA and China are less scrupulous in applying military force or in dealing with local African elites.

However, this European external ‘problem’, is an advantage for the other powers. If Europe needs a more secure access to the African resources, it might start to reconsider its own approach, instead of waiting for the other powers to adopt more morally guided external energy policies.

Middle East

The Middle Eastern region seems to become less important as a source of oil for Europe, but this appears to be balanced by the strengthening of the region’s role as a provider of natural gas. Between 2001 and 2006 the absolute amount of oil imported from the Middle East de-creased with 17.5%, constituting 17.5% of the overall oil imports of the EU in 2006. Gas im-ports from the region, increasing eightfold in this period, remain however relatively marginal to the EU, with only 1.5% of Europe’s total gas imports. This margin is expected to increase rapidly, thereby reassuring the strategic importance of the Persian Gulf for Europe’s energy policy.

Dependence on oil and gas supplies from the Middle East creates several problems for Europe’s energy policy. First, the continuity of production in this highly unstable region is unsure. Against the background of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the future developments concerning Iran’s nuclear weapons programme and the prospects in Iraq, the Middle East is clearly a very volatile region. The production of oil and gas can be threatened by interstate conflict or terrorism. The transportation of oil and gas destined for the European energy market faces more risks than the production. Tankers on their way to Europe have to pass three Middle Eastern naval chokepoints, the Strait of Hormuz, to get out of the Persian Gulf, then the Bab El-Mandab, linking the Gulf of Aden with the Red Sea, and, lastly, the Suez Canal between then Red Sea and the Mediterranean.

These chokepoints form the weak links in the network of maritime energy transporta-tion. During and after the Suez Crisis in 1956 and the Six Day War in 1967 the Suez Canal was blocked. The Gulf of Aden is currently plagued by Somali pirates, whom also hijack oil tankers. The alternative to the Suez Canal or Bab El-Mandab is to travel around the Cape, which increases the transports costs and time considerably.

During the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, the Strait of Hormuz was mined and in the event of a future escalation in the confron-tation with Iran, such a blockade might occur again. In case of such a denial of access to the Persian Gulf, still 20% of the world’s oil supply would be disrupted, even if all trans-Arabian pipelines would be put to maximum use. Since these narrow sea lanes are congested by heavily laden tankers, they are high risk zones, where terrorist attacks or shipping accidents might occur, resulting in environmental disasters through oil spills and consequently blocking further traffic.

These strategic locations should be firmly controlled by allied, or at least trustworthy, governments. This is not the case and the EU does not seem to be in the position to change this situation. Thus, interstate conflict, piracy, terrorism and shipping accidents will keep posing a threat specific to energy transports from the Middle East. Because of the expected growth of gas imports from Qatar, this is also an external problem for Europe’s energy policy.


A way to become less dependent on external developments is the push for higher energy efficiency at home. This, however, leads to the question of maintaining international industrial competitiveness. Phrases about stimulating the EU’s industrial competitiveness through increased energy efficiency may sound very nice, but they do implicate energy-taxes and costly technologies on the short term.

In October 2008, Business Europe, the European employer’s organization, voiced its concern that Europe’s measures to promote sustainable industrial growth would not be followed by parallel measures in non-European economies. The introduction of CO2-caps and the imposition to introduce of environmental technologies brings high costs and diverts economic resources for investments in other areas. In some sectors, which are exposed to international competition and/or are energy-intensive, this may lead to a decrease in competitiveness. Consequently, this may result in an outflow of investments and lower employment levels. Therefore, a truly global agreement on emission levels is required to promote an international level playing field and protect the European jobs and competitiveness.


The EU faces a range of complex external problems in its attempts to develop an energy poli-cy. The future security of supply is of primary concern, since it is threatened by political ma-nipulations, instability in production and transportation zones, and the increasing assertiveness of third states to control energy resources. It appears that these other powers are more pragmatic and consequently more successful in obtaining more secure access and future influence over the world’s energy supply.

The EU should adapt to this situation. Its internal poli-cies to improve efficiency and sustainability could hurt the competitiveness of certain eco-nomic sectors vis-à-vis external competitors, which are less inclined to follow environmental friendly production techniques. The bottom line is that Europe is less in a position to change external players when it concerns the energy question, which is closely related to national security issues. If Europe cannot adapt itself to these external problems, it might fall victim to them in the future.


  • Assembly of Western European Union, ‘Peacekeeping in Sub-Saharan Africa: A practical approach’, Brussels, 20-21 September 2005.
  • BP, BP statistical review of world energy, June 2008.
  • Chalk, Peter, ‘The maritime dimension of international security. Terrorism, piracy and challenges for the United States’, RAND Corporation, 2008.
  • Chauprade, Aymeric, Géopolitique. Constantes et changements dans l’histoire, Paris, Ellipses, 2007.
  • Clingendael International Energy Programme (CIEP), ‘The gas supply outlook for Europe. The roles of pipeline gas and LNG’, August 2008.
  • Cohen, Ariel, ‘Europe’s strategic dependence on Russian energy’, Backgrounder, no.2083, May 2007.
  • Council of the European Union, ‘A Secure Europe in a Better World – The European Security Strategy’, Brussels, 12 December 2003.
  • Energy Information Administration, ‘World oil transit chokepoints’, January 2008.
  • England, Andrew, ‘Navies ‘must cooperate’ to fight piracy’, Financial Times, 26 November 2008.
  • European Commission, ‘An energy policy for Europe. Communication from the Commission to the European Council and the European Parliament’, Brussels, 10 January 2007.
  • European Commission, ‘Securing your energy future: Commission presents energy security, solidarity and efficiency proposals’, Brussels, 13 November 2008.
  • Eurostat, ‘EU27 energy dependence rate at 54% in 2006’, 10 July 2008.
  • Eurostat, Energy. Yearly statistics 2006, Luxemburg, 2008.
  • Global Security, ‘OPLAN 1019 Arabian Gauntlet’, 12 January 2008.
  • International Energy Agency (IEA), World Energy Outlook 2008, Paris, OECD/IAE, 2008.
  • Kantsteiner, Walter, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, ‘African Oil: A Priority for U.S. National Security and African Development’, The University Club, Washington, D.C., 25 January 2002.
  • Klare, Michael, Rising powers, shrinking planet. The new geopolitics of energy, New York, Metropolitan Books, 2008.
  • Kramer, Andrew, ‘Gazprom warns of gas supply disruptions’, International Herald Tribune, 27 December 2006. OPEC introduced the ‘oil weapon’ in 1973 in response to the Yom Kippur War. See: Lacey, Robert, The Kingdom. Arabia & The House of Sa’ud, New York, Avon Books, 1981.
  • Krepinevich, Andrew, ‘Navy strike operations in the 21st century’, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment, November 1997.
  • National Intelligence Council, ‘Global trends 2025. A world transformed’, November 2008.
  • Osler, David, ‘The long way around’, Lloyd’s List, 26 November 2008.
  • Ostrovsky, Arkadi, ‘Shell offers to cut Sakhalin-2 stake by 30%’, Financial Times, 11 December 2006.
  • Shanker, Thom, ‘U.S. Command for Africa established’, International Herald Tribune, 4 October 2008.
  • Yergin, Daniel, The prize. The epic quest for oil, money, and power New York, Free Press, 1991.
  • Zakaria, Tabassum, ‘US says Russia aiming to corner energy market’, International Herald Tribune, 8 September 2008.

by Leonhardt van Efferink
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The Definition of Geopolitics – The Classical, French and Critical Traditions

Dear Sir, Madam, for an overview of my Summer courses on geopolitics, country risk and media framing/discourses, please go to GeoMeans Courses at Maastricht Summer School 2018. Kind regards, Leonhardt, editor of ExploringGeopolitics
Article by: Leonhardt van Efferink (January 2009) Tags: classical French Critical Geopolitics definitions traditions

Leonhardt van Efferink

Leonhardt van Efferink

Leonhardt van Efferink is Editor of ExploringGeopolitics, Founding Director of GeoMeans Analytical Skills Development and PhD student at Royal Holloway, University of London.

He holds Master’s degrees in Geopolitics, Territory and Security (King’s College London) and Financial Economics (Erasmus University Rotterdam).

In this article, I will briefly interpret ten definitions of geopolitics from respected sources, looking for similarities and differences between the discussed definitions. Those longing for “the only right definition” of geopolitics will be disappointed.

The deeper I get involved in Geopolitics, the harder I find it to give an appropriate definition. On the one hand, popular media love to use the word without defining it. A French geopolitical encyclopedia (Cordellier, 2005) observed that “La fréquence de [l’usage public du terme géopolitique] est souvent proportionelle à l’absence de précision de sa définition.” On the other hand, academic literature provides (too) many definitions of geopolitics, reflecting a broad and never ending intellectual debate.

To those looking for an academic publication about the many faces of geopolitics, I highly recommend “Geopolitics in the nineties: one flag, many meanings” by Virginie Mamadouh.

Rudolph Kjellen

Cohen (2003) notes that intellectuals such as Aristoteles, Montesquieu, Kant, Hegel and Humboldt already had an understanding of Geopolitics. Nonetheless, Geopolitics as a concept emerged much later (Dodds and Atkinson, 2000):

“Geopolitical thought emerged at the close of the nineteenth century as geographers and other thinkers sought to analyse, explain and understand the transformations and finite spaces of the fin de siècle world.”

Kjellen (Swedish citizen, 1864-1922) was the first who coined the concept of Geopolitics in 1899 (Cohen, 2003), defining it as:

“the theory of the state as a geographical organism or phenomenon in space”

This definition contains two elements that are crucial within the concept of geopolitics: power (influence, politics) and space (territory, soil). The central role for the state as only powerful entity is very typical for the definition of Kjellen.

Karl Haushofer

Haushofer (1869-1946), whose ideas inspired the Nazi-regime, added political processes to the definition of Geopolitics (Cohen, 2003):

“Geopolitics is the new national science of the state, … a doctrine on the spatial determinism of all political processes, based on the broad foundations of geography, especially of political geography.”

Haushofer considered Political Geography as an essential part of Geopolitics.

Peter Taylor

In 1993, Taylor wrote that the revival of Geopolitics had taken shape in three ways:

“…geopolitics has become a popular term for describing global rivalries in world politics.”
“…the second form…is an academic one, a new more critical geopolitics. Critical historiographical studies of past geopolitics have been a necessary component of this ‘geographer’s geopolitics’.”
“…the third form…is associated with the neo-conservative, pro-military lobby which have added geopolitical arguments to their ‘Cold War rhetoric’. Such studies talk of ‘geopolitical imperatives’ and treat geography as ‘the permanent factor’ that all strategic thinking must revolve around.”

Taylor further stated that geopolitical analyses always had a national bias: “In the case of geopolitics, it has always been very easy to identify the nationality of an author from the content of his or her writings.”. Taylor related Geopolitics to International Relations: “Geopolitics has generally been part of the realist tradition of International Relations.”

Aymeric Chauprade

Chauprade (1999) has developed a well-structured geopolitical methodology. He defined geopolitics as:

La science géopolitique est la recherche de la compréhension des réalités géopolitiques et de leur devenir, à travers l’étude des profiles, figures et dispositifs géopolitiques”

This definition left open what Chauprade meant by Geopolitics, but subsequently he clarified his position:

“La géopolitique n’est pas seulement une science de la réalité identitaire, elle est aussi une science marquée par la continuité du temps:
il y a d’une part, dans l’histoire des sociétés humaines, une permances de la recherche de l’États, comme un atteste, en plein contexte de mondialisation, le phenomène de prolifération des États.
il y a d’autre part, pour nombre d’États constitués et historiquement anciens, une continuité, une permanence de la politique étrangère et du comportement étatique sur la scène internationale.”

Although Chauprade appreciated the role of the state, he deviated from the definition of the classical geopoliticians:

“…dire que ces États sont les centres et les enjeux des ambitions géopolitiques, ne signifie pas que les États sont les seuls acteurs mondiaux; à la différence des relations internationales, (…) la science géopolitique admet d’autres acteurs et d’autres réalités géopolitiques.”

Chauprade distinguished sharply between Geopolitics and International Relations.

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Saul Bernard Cohen

Cohen used this definition in his 2003 book:

“Geopolitics is the analysis of the interaction between, on the one hand, geographical settings and perspectives and, on the other hand, political processes. (…) Both geographical settings and political processes are dynamic, and each influences and is influenced by the other. Geopolitics addresses the consequences of this interaction.”

The definition focuses on the dynamic interaction between power and space.

Le dictionnaire historique et géopolitique du 20e siècle

This encyclopedia (Cordellier, 2005) also focuses on power (politics) and space:

“La démarche géopolitique vise essentiellement à élucider les interactions entre les configurations spatiales et ce qui relève du politique.”

It stressed that a geopolitical analysis should be an objective reflection of the world:

“C’est pourtant dans l’explication de la complexité, de la diversité du monde réel que la démarche d’analyse géopolitique trouve sa raison d’être. (…) [L’analyse géopolitique] doit être de présenter les élements objectifs du débat démocratique sur les grands enjeux planétaires qui ont des impacts sur les sociétés nationales et les modes de gestion de leurs territoires.”

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Yves Lacoste

Yves Lacoste has contributed substantially to the revival of Geopolitics in France since the 1970s. In a recent book (2006), he stated that:

“Le terme de géopolitique, dont on fait de nos jours de multiples usages, désigne en fait tout ce qui concerne les rivalités de pouvoirs ou d’influence sur des territoires et les populations qui y vivent: rivalités entre des pouvoirs politiques de toutes sortes – et pas seulement entre des États, mais aussi entre des mouvements politiques ou des groupes armés plus ou moins clandestins – rivalités pour le contrôle ou la domination de territoires de grande ou petite taille.”

This definition stresses the importance of the scale of both power (states versus organisations) and space (large versus small territories).

Colin Flint

Flint (2006) extensively discussed the historical development of the concept of Geopolitics. He noted that power has always had a central role in the definition, although its meaning has been subject to several changes:

“Geopolitics, the struggle over the control of spaces and places, focuses upon power. (…) In nineteenth and early twentieth century geopolitical practises, power was seen simply as the relative power of countries in foreign affairs. In the late twentieth century, (…) [d]efinitions of power were dominated by a focus on a country’s ability to wage war with other countries. However, recent discussions of power have become more sophisticated.”

Flint further stressed the need to define Geopolitics in various ways::

“So how should we define geopolitics, in the contemporary world and with the intent of offering a critical analysis? Our goals of understanding, analyzing, and being able to critique world politics require us to work with more than one definition.”

He notes that “…geopolitics is a way of ‘seeing’ the world” and disagrees with those geopolitical analysts that pretend that one individual can fully understand the world. He further remarked that feminists disapproved the partial, coloured world views of male, white and rich theorists.

Finally, Flint mentioned a relatively new school within Geopolitics: “Critical Geopolitics”. This school focuses on the underlying assumptions of geopolitical analyses: “…the practise of identifying the power relationships within geopolitical statements…”

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Gerard Toal (Gearóid Ó Tuathail)

Toal, a key figure of the school of “Critical Geopolitics”, stated in a reader (Ó Tuathail, Dalby and Routledge, 2006) that:

“…geopolitics is discourse about world politics, with a particular emphasis on state competition and the geographical dimensions of power.”

Toal stressed the importance of the concept of discourse:

“…to study geopolitics we must study discourse, which can be defined as the representational practises by which cultures creatively constitute meaningful worlds. (…) Most cultures do this by means of stories (narratives) and images. (…) Since geopolitics is a discourse with distinctive ‘world’ constitutive ambitions (…) we must be attentive to the ways in which global space is labelled, metaphors are deployed, and visual images are used in this process of making stories and constructing images of world politics.”

Toal further notes that some journalists, politicians and strategic advisors have various reasons to highly appreciate the geopolitical discourse:

“First, geopolitical discourse deals with compelling questions of power and danger in world affairs. (…) The critical point to grasp at the outset is that geopolitics is already involved in world politics; it is not separate neutral commentary on it.”
“Second, geopolitics is attractive because it purports to explain a great deal in simple terms. (…) It provides a framework within which local events in one place can be related to a larger global picture. (…) Many geopolitical narratives are enframed by essentialized oppositions between ‘us’ and ‘them’. (…) Whole regions of the world are divided into oppositional zones, a frameworking we can call ‘earth labelling’.”
“Finally, geopolitics is popular because it promises insight into the future direction of world affairs. (…) Geopolitics has a certain magical appeal because it aspires to be prophetic discourse. (…) Because those most interested in international affairs live in a globalizing world characterized by information saturation, the desire for simplified nostrums packaged as ‘strategic insight’ is strong.”

The views of “Critical Geopolitics” are a challenging and fascinating contribution to the geopolitical debate. This school states that a neutral, objective geopolitical analysis is very hard to materialise as every individual is part of a certain geopolitical “truth”. The main focus of Critical Geopolitics is the artificiality of constructed spaces.

David Criekemans

Criekemans published the first Dutch book on Geopolitics since the Second World War in 2007. Based on a “critical genealogical study”, Criekemans defined Geopolitics as:

“[Geopolitiek is] het wetenschappelijk studieveld behorende tot zowel de Politieke Geografie als de Internationale Betrekkingen, die de wisselwerking wil onderzoeken tussen de politiek handelende mens en zijn omgevende territorialiteit (…). Voor wat betreft de studie van de ‘praktische geopolitiek’ betreft (…), betekent dit dat men aandacht heeft voor de vraag in welke mate de eerder genoemde wisselwerking een invloed genereert op het (buitenlandse) beleid of op de relevante ‘machtspositie’ van de politieke entiteit welke mens wenst te analyseren.”

This definition states that Geopolitics is part of both Political Geography and International Relations. Interestingly, Haushofer’s definition focused on the former and Taylor’s on the latter. Like Cohen, Criekemans focuses on the interaction (dynamics) between politics and territory.

For those still looking for more: the book of Criekemans offers dozens of other definitions, including hard-to-find ones!

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Our brief view at the geopolitical literature yielded some interesting results:

  • Since the coining of the concept of geopolitics by the end of the nineteenth century, power (influence, politics) and space (territory, soil) have played a crucial role in the definitions of geopolitics.
  • Initially, the definitions of geopolitics included only the state as powerful entity. Current definitions also appreciate the power of other entities (Flint: “geopolitical agents”).
  • While some geopolitical theorists desire or pretend to be capable of analytical objectivity, one school (Critical Geopolitics) considers this as virtually impossible.
  • Whether Geopolitics is part of International Relations is subject to discussion.
  • The definition of geopolitics depends on time and location. Moreau Defarges (2005) said this in a beautiful way:
“À chaque époque, à chaque civilisation, sa géographie, sa vision et sa représentation de l’espace”


  • Chauprade, Aymeric, “Introduction à l’analyse géopolitique”, Ellipses, 1999.
  • Cohen, Saul Bernard, “Geopolitics of the World System”, Rowman and Littlefield, 2003.
  • Cordellier, Serge (direction), “Le dictionnaire historique et géopolitique du 20e siècle”, La Découverte, 2005.
  • Criekemans, David, “Geopolitiek – ‘Geografisch geweten van de buitenlandse politiek?”, Garant, 2007.
  • Dodds, Klaus en David Atkinson, “Geopolitical Traditions”, Routledge, 2000.
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  • Lacoste, Yves, “Géopolitique: la longue histoire d’aujourd’hui”, Larousse, 2006.
  • Mamadouh, Virginie, “Geopolitics in the nineties: one flag, many meanings”, GeoJournal 46, 1998, 237-253
  • Moreau Defarges, Philippe , “Introduction à la Géopolitique”, Seuil, 2005.
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by Leonhardt van Efferink
Comments Off on EU-Russian Gas Trade: Nord Stream, South Stream and Nabucco Pipelines

EU-Russian Gas Trade: Nord Stream, South Stream and Nabucco Pipelines

Dear Sir, Madam, for an overview of my Summer courses on geopolitics, country risk and media framing/discourses, please go to GeoMeans Courses at Maastricht Summer School 2018. Kind regards, Leonhardt, editor of ExploringGeopolitics

Article by: Leonhardt van Efferink (October 2010)

Tags: Russian gas Nord South Stream Nabucco pipelines ENI EDF EON Ruhrgas Wintershall Gasunie Azerbaijan Kazakhstan Turkmenistan Uzbekistan

Leonhardt van Efferink

Leonhardt van Efferink

Leonhardt van Efferink is Editor of ExploringGeopolitics, Founding Director of GeoMeans Analytical Skills Development and PhD student at Royal Holloway, University of London.

He holds Master’s degrees in Geopolitics, Territory and Security (King’s College London) and Financial Economics (Erasmus University Rotterdam).

Russia is the largest supplier of gas to the European Union (EU). Its decision to cut off gas deliveries to Ukraine temporarily reduced Russian gas inflows in several EU countries in 2006 and 2009. The inflows had become smaller because Ukraine tapped Russian gas that was supposed to be re-exported to EU countries. The Russian-Ukrainian gas dispute added fresh impetus to the debate on the dependence of the EU on Russia’s gas.

The article attempts to shed light on Russia’s position on the EU gas market. The first part gives a brief overview of gas demand in the EU, followed by a discussion of Russia’s gas production. The next part continues with Russia’s gas strategy and the role of Gazprom in that respect. The third part focuses on the two pipeline projects Nord Stream and South Stream. The last part summarises the first three parts and wraps up the article.

The EU gas market

In the past 20 years, the energy markets of EU countries were subject to privatisation and deregulation. Governments were focused on neither the political and strategic importance of energy nor the creation of a common EU energy market. Furthermore, the difficulty of transporting and storing gas and, more importantly, lack of political support impeded the creation of an internal EU gas market. Currently, the European Commission is responsible for energy guidelines regarding intra-EU and inter-EU trade, the environment and market competition, while EU countries manage their national energy imports and investments. As a result, the EU gas market has remained fragmented along national borders, with most national markets being dominated by a few companies.

The EU heavily relies on foreign gas, reflected by its position as a net gas importer. A majority of its member states depend on foreign supplies for more than 90% of their national gas needs, partially explaining why energy security is a key concern of the EU. Two factors largely explain this strategic weakness. First, the cumulative gas reserves of the EU states are relatively small. Second, gas plays an essential part in the EU economies and accounts for nearly one-quarter of its energy consumption.

Not surprisingly given the difference between their gas reserves, Russia (in the form of The Soviet Union) started to deliver gas to Western Europe through a pipeline to Austria in 1968. Despite the ‘Cold War’ and its significant share in EU gas imports, the Soviet Union was a reliable source of gas for Western Europe and never gave the impression to link gas deliveries to political issues. During the past three decades, Russia’s dominance of the EU gas market has diminished substantially from a statistical point of view. Its share in EU gas imports came down from 80% in 1980 (including non-Russian Soviet republics) to 40% in 2007.

The share of Russia’s gas in total gas imports differs widely among EU countries, from 0% for countries such as Spain and the UK to 100% for countries such as Bulgaria and Lithuania. The fragmented EU gas market means that particularly smaller EU countries with a strong dependence on Russian gas, such as the latter two, lack any real bargaining power vis-à-vis Russia. The downward trend of Russia’s share in EU gas imports and the fact that Russian gas accounts for a mere 7% of the EU energy supply incorrectly suggest, as this analysis will show, that Russia’s dominance of the EU gas market is diminishing and limited.

Looking ahead, EU demand for Russian gas will become increasingly dependent on gas consumption due to the declining EU gas production. The EU expects that Russia will account for around half of its gas imports by 2020. Some analysts expect that the EU gas consumption will rise due to EU efforts to reduce carbon emissions. Sherr (2009) however suggests that a decrease in gas consumption and imports will be possible when the EU countries improve the energy efficiency of their economies, expand their storage capacity and connect more gas transmission systems of different countries with one another. Umbach (2010) notes that EU policies will be critical in structurally reducing gas demand in its member states.

Russian gas exports

The performance of the oil and gas industry has a significant effect on Russia’s economy and government finances due to Russia’s failed attempts to diversify its economy. Four factors explain why Russia is the world´s largest exporter of gas (share of almost 20% in global gas exports). First, the country has the world’s largest proven gas reserves, equal to nearly one-quarter of global reserves (see Appendix 1 for map of oil and gas reserves and pipelines). Second, Russia has the world’s highest gas production, accounting for one-fifth of global production. Third, domestic demand leaves room for gas exports, with Russia’s home market absorbing around 70% of the national gas production . Fourth, Russia’s pipeline network enables it to re-export imported gas from Central Asia.

Two features of Russia’s gas exports stand out: they have used one means of transport (pipeline) and have been destined to one region, Europe (including countries that used to belong to Soviet Union), since the 1940s . During the previous decade, Russia’s gas production was more or less stable as the increased production of one major gas field and some smaller ones compensated for the declining production of three major, but old fields . The central question for this decade is when new major gas fields on the Yamal Peninsula (see Appendix 1) can be brought into production. In 2009, it became clear that the expected production start of the large Bovanenko gas field had been postponed by one year until 2012. Stern (2009) notes the global economic crisis that started in 2008 reduced the likelihood of gas shortages in Russia in the short-term due to its dampening effect on Russian and European gas demand.

In the longer run, the investment prospects for the gas sector are bleak, making it uncertain whether Russia will be able to honour its gas commitments. Gazprom’s recent track record is disappointing in terms of both level and composition (less than half of investment concerned gas production related activities). The company’s announcement in 2009 to reduce its investment by 22% does not bode well for the future. Another factor that structurally weighs down on the investment level is Gazprom’s effective monopoly on gas exports. This position forms a major disincentive for other Russian companies to invest in new exploration. Finally, Russia’s ambiguous stance towards foreign participation in energy related projects, to be discussed in the next section, further depresses the gas investment potential.

Russian gas strategy

Russia’s current political elite considers the abundant national oil and gas reserves a powerful tool to exercise power abroad, with an impact comparable to the nuclear weapons of the Soviet Union. Supported by high world market prices for gas, the state took a firm grip on the natural resources industries during the 2000-2008 presidency of Vladimir Putin. Foreign companies are still considered to be instrumental in the development of new gas fields because of their expertise and capital.

Nevertheless, the new energy strategy severely restricts their room to operate in Russia. Consequently, Shell and BP were forced to give up their controlling stakes in two gas fields in respectively 2006 and 2007. According to Finon and Locatelli (2008, p. 425), these events show that in Russia “[n]either market rules nor international law will guarantee foreign investment.” Another priority concerns the exploitation of the gas fields in east Russia to gain market access in East Asia and North America.

Russia’s refusal to ratify the Energy Charter Treaty, signed by Russia and all EU countries in 1994, is in line with the government’s gas strategy. The treaty aims to improve energy security by making energy markets more competitive and transparent, without eroding the sovereignty of countries over their resources. Russia’s refusal to ratify stems from its reluctance to apply the market rules that the EU prefers in its foreign investment policies and gas export contracts.

Regarding the latter, Gazprom concluded contracts with a duration of up to 30 years with major EU gas companies in 2006. The company prefers long-term contracts as they provide security of demand. Nonetheless, the EU has pressed for a shortening of contract durations to foster competition on the EU gas market. The treaty further imposes restrictions on Russian acquisitions in the EU energy sector, which Russia opposes. In addition, the multilateral character of the treaty runs counter to Russia’s preference for doing business with the governments of larger EU countries and the leading companies in national gas sectors.

The strategy further focuses on increasing Russia’s control of gas flows to Europe, including those from Central Asia. Another aim is the reduction of Russia’s dependence on two crucial transition countries, Ukraine (its pipelines transport around 80% of Russian gas flows to Europe) and Belarus (accounting for 20% of aforementioned flows) . Russia recently had gas disputes with both countries because of its intention to gradually increase gas export prices to world market levels for countries that were once part of the Soviet Union.


The implementation of Russia’s gas strategy in the EU is largely the responsibility of Gazprom, the country’s major gas company. The state acquired a controlling 51% stake in Gazprom in 2000 and installed a new board comprising allies of Putin in 2001. On its home market, Gazprom dominates gas exploitation and sales, while it manages the gas transmission networks. The company is further active in the oil and electricity sectors, as well as in non-energy related industries and services. Regulated domestic prices below world market prices mean the company has few profitable business opportunities on its home market.

The government does however facilitate Gazprom’s foreign activities that bring the company the lion’s share of its profits. In fact, Pirani et al. (2009) argue that the Russian-Ukrainian gas dispute in January 2009 made clear that the government has considerable influence on Gazprom’s strategy. Fernandez (2009) adds that the strategic interests of Gazprom and the government regarding international affairs largely coincide. Gazprom’s effective monopoly on Russian gas exports is instrumental in its aspiration to dominate the global gas market.

In this regard, the company aims to broaden its scope in terms of both countries and activities. Gazprom’s new initiatives in other gas producing countries such as Libya and Venezuela could make it harder for the EU to find new gas suppliers that are not subject to Russian influence. For the time being, however, these initiatives will likely have a small impact on the EU as they lack substance. A telling example is the 2007 agreement between Gazprom and the Algerian state oil company Sonatrach that concerned cooperation on relatively small projects.

Next to its dominant position in gas production (‘upstream activities’), the company aims to create controlling stakes in the distribution and sales of gas (‘downstream activities’). Gazprom became active in downstream activities in the EU during the 1990s, when it created the joint venture WINGAS with the German company BASF-Wintershall to distribute and sell gas to final consumers. Gazprom is further active in downstream activities in countries such as Austria (gas transmission) and Italy (gas sales) and the Baltic States (energy companies).

A possible threat to Russia’s position in the EU is Gazprom’s considerable debt. The recent experiences of the American bank Lehman Brothers and the construction company Dubai World are a case in point. Both companies made enormous profits, while borrowing heavily, with activities that were not completely scrutinized by financial markets and independent monitoring agencies. Eventually, both companies could not completely re-finance their outstanding debt, resulting in bankruptcy in the case of Lehman Brothers and a liquidity crisis in the case of Dubai World (ended by substantial capital injections of the government). If financial problems were to occur and the government response were inadequate, Gazprom could be compelled to sell some of its foreign assets.

Nord Stream pipeline

The Nord Stream project fits neatly within Russia’s strategy to consolidate its position in the EU. In 2005, Gazprom signed an ‘in-principle’ agreement to develop the Nord Stream pipeline. The other signatories were the two German companies Wintershall and EON Ruhrgas, later joined by the Dutch gas company Gasunie.

The Nord Stream pipeline will be built on the seabed between Vyborg (Russia) and Greifswald (Germany), enabling the transport of Russian gas directly to its largest EU market. Accordingly, the Nord Stream pipeline will end the transit monopoly of Ukraine and Belarus on Russian gas flows to the EU. The realisation of Nord Stream pipeline has become very likely, as nearly all required conditions have been fulfilled. The pipeline is expected to become operational in 2011 . The costs of building the Nord Stream pipeline are considerable. Initially estimated at USD 5bn by the project management, analysts currently expect an amount of around USD 12bn.

Claims of EU officials that Nord Stream will improve EU energy security by precluding the possibility of interruptions in transit countries miss this point. Nord Stream would after all not make a difference for the EU in terms of supplier diversification.

A completely different claim was made by the Polish minister of Foreign Affairs Radek Sikorski in 2009. He argued that the Nord Stream pipeline deal was comparable to the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. With this agreement, Germany and Russia intended among other things to create two spheres of influence in Central Europe and Eastern Europe.

At first sight, this comparison seems far-fetched. Nowadays, most countries are members of the European Union and NATO, while countries in this region lacked strong institutional ties with Western Europe or the US in the 1930s. However, bearing in mind that Eastern European countries form relatively small markets for Gazprom compared to countries such as Germany and France, the economic costs for Russia of a gas delivery cut-off to these countries is relatively small. Moreover, the de-linking of gas deliveries to Western and Eastern Europe also reduces the political costs of such a move. Combined with the relatively heavy dependence of the Eastern European countries on Russian gas, the Nord Stream gas pipeline would make gas flows a more effective tool for Russia to influence the political process in EU countries in Eastern Europe. Particularly since the perceived threat of interrupting gas deliveries already provides Russia with political leverage in the countries concerned, even before Gazprom would actually stop the gas flows.

South Stream pipeline

The South Stream pipeline is another result of Russia’s gas strategy towards the EU. In 2008, Gazprom signed an agreement with Italian energy company ENI for the development of second new pipeline to EU, coined South Stream. This pipeline would transport gas from Russia through the seabed of the Black Sea to Bulgaria. From there, the gas would continue in two directions: to Austria, crossing Serbia and Hungary, and to Italy, crossing Greece and the seabed of the Adriatic Sea. In May 2009, Russia signed an agreement to conduct South Stream feasibility studies with the governments of four involved countries, Italy, Bulgaria, Greece and Serbia. The pipeline is expected to cost USD 25bn and to be completed by 2015.

A brief analysis of both pipeline projects makes clear that Russia likely has political and strategic reasons for building the new pipelines. To start, Russia effectively controls the Nord Stream and South Stream projects thanks to Gazprom’s 51% share. This position is in stark contrast with the pipelines that cross Ukraine, which Russia has sought to acquire to no avail for years. Gazprom has stated that it would welcome the expected participation of the French utility company EDF in the South Stream project, but insists on keeping its decisive vote and majority ownership. Another telling observation is that the estimated transportation costs for gas of the new pipelines will substantially exceed the transit fees that Russia currently pays to Ukraine and Belarus. Furthermore, Russia never expressed any doubt about the projects after the global economic crisis began (2008) and the gas prices declined sharply (2009) . Finally, recent gas market forecasts imply that existing pipelines between Russia and the EU have sufficient capacity to facilitate Russia’s gas exports to the EU until 2030.

Many analysts, including Paszyk (2010), claim that South Stream is a deliberate attempt of Russia to prevent the building of the Nabucco pipeline. This pipeline would run from Turkey across Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary to Austria. Its estimated development costs are less than half of those of the South Stream pipeline and the planned completion year is 2013. The project has been troubled by financial problems and a lack of consensus among the involved countries. The Nabucco project is part of EU efforts to find opportunities to import gas without Russian interference.

The South Stream project seems poised to have a negative impact on the Nabucco project as it aggravates the latter’s most serious problem: the supply of sufficient gas to transport through the pipeline. Suggested options to secure gas flows include connections between pipelines in eastern Turkey and those in either Azerbaijan or Iraq. While the second option is not possible for the time being due to political problems in Iraq, the first one is attractive as Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan have earlier expressed interest in delivering gas to the EU without interference of Russia. So far, the countries concerned have however only guaranteed 20% of the required gas flows, making it highly unlikely that eventually sufficient gas will be available for the Nabucco pipeline. The ability of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to deliver gas to the EU through the Nabucco pipeline is compromised by committed gas sales to Russia, export opportunities to China and strong domestic demand.

The long-term prospects of the Nabucco project, and thus of the EU’s ambition to become less dependent on Russia for its gas imports, were further clouded by Gazprom’s acquisition in 2008 of a 50% share in the large gas transmission centre at Baumgarten in Austria. With this transaction, Gazprom created an influential position towards the Nabucco pipeline, as the EU had designated the centre as the final destination of the Nabucco pipeline. Officials of the Austrian government and the Nabucco project have recently suggested using the Nabucco pipeline to transport Russian gas as well or to merge its European (non-Turkish) route with that of the South Stream pipeline . These suggestions make clear that the initial rationale behind the Nabucco pipeline, excluding Russia from part of the gas flows to the EU, seems nothing but a ‘pipe dream’.


Although Russia’s share in EU gas imports has recently diminished considerably, the country has been actively engaged in consolidating its position on the EU gas market. First, Russia has recently been effectively countering the EU’s attempts to diversify its gas sources. The country has positioned itself well to purchase a large part of the future gas production of Central Asian countries. Contrary to this development, Gazprom’s activities in some other gas producing countries will likely have a small impact on Russia’s position vis-à-vis the EU for the time being. Second, Russia plans to build two new pipelines, Nord Stream and South Stream, to reduce its dependency on Belarus and Ukraine. Both countries currently function as transit route for all its exports to the EU. For the EU as a whole, this simply means continued dependence on Russian gas. Nevertheless, the projects have raised fears in Central and Eastern European (EU) countries that Russia would become more inclined to cut off gas flows to this region for political reasons. Third, Gazprom is gradually becoming more active in downstream activities in the EU such as gas storage, transmission and sales. Its majority share in the Nord Stream and South Stream pipelines and its acquisition of half of the shares in a large Austrian gas transmission centre underline Gazprom’s increasingly powerful position on the EU gas market. In this respect, the position of EU companies in Russia pales in comparison, as they are denied controlling stakes in upstream gas projects.


Looking ahead, an insufficient Russian gas production or a financial crisis at Gazprom, making the company sell some of its foreign assets, could (temporarily) weaken Russia’s position on the EU gas market. If these events do not occur, then Russia seems poised to consolidate this position the coming decade. This is the consequence of the EU’s inability to create one internal EU gas market. This inability stems from a lack of political willingness and constraints related to the difficulty of transporting and storing gas. National governments of the larger and powerful EU states still consider energy security a national interest, not be delegated to a supranational body. The EU gas market seems likely to remain fragmented, providing Gazprom the opportunity to continue implementing its strategy on national gas markets. Smaller EU countries with a strong dependence on Russian gas will especially lack any real bargaining power vis-à-vis Gazprom.


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by Leonhardt van Efferink
Comments Off on Nation, nationalism and state – Modernism, Ethno-Symbolism, Primordialism

Nation, nationalism and state – Modernism, Ethno-Symbolism, Primordialism

Dear Sir, Madam, for an overview of my Summer courses on geopolitics, country risk and media framing/discourses, please go to GeoMeans Courses at Maastricht Summer School 2018. Kind regards, Leonhardt, editor of ExploringGeopolitics

Article by: Leonhardt van Efferink (December 2011)

Tags: Nation Modernism Ethno-Symbolism Primordialism Perennialism Identity Ethnies Vernacular Languages Industrialisation

Leonhardt van Efferink

Leonhardt van Efferink

Leonhardt van Efferink is Editor of ExploringGeopolitics, Founding Director of GeoMeans Analytical Skills Development and PhD student at Royal Holloway, University of London.

He holds Master’s degrees in Geopolitics, Territory and Security (King’s College London) and Financial Economics (Erasmus University Rotterdam).

This article attempts to answer the question ‘Which came first: nations, nationalism or states?’ Each concept is explored by elaborating on several definitions, in line with the view of Armstrong (2004) that “any social science approach to a historical problem demands careful development of definitions.”[1]

I further address the actual manifestation of the state, nationalism and nation. In addition, the three dominant academic approaches to nations and nationalism are discussed: modernism, ethno-symbolism and primordialism. In the conclusion, I explain why putting the emergence of the state, nation and nationalism in a chronological order is such a difficult endeavour.

Defining the state

Many academic discussions of the state commence with the interpretation of Max Weber[2]. Gellner phrases Weber’s definition of the state as “that agency within society that possesses the monopoly of legitimate violence.” [3] The agency has a clear position in terms of identity, centralisation and discipline and should be principally engaged in maintaining order.

According to Elden (2009), four factors play a crucial role in Weber’s view on the state: “community; legitimacy; violence; and territory.”[4] Weber considered the state as a specific group of people that asserts its right to rule over a bounded territory. In this area, the state possesses full authority in an undivided and unlimited fashion. This means that the state is the only power on its territory and does not bear any responsibility for its actions towards any other entity.

The full authority of a state is a key factor in the notion of sovereignty. The meaning of this concept has been actively discussed among intellectuals for centuries[5]. The debate on sovereignty has predominantly focused on its legal foundations and the sort of activities it should actually apply to.

According to Krasner (2001), four concepts dominate the contemporary debate on sovereignty. First, ‘domestic sovereignty’ reflects the control of the state over activity on its territory. Second, ‘Vatellian’ sovereignty’[6] indicates to what extent the state’s territory is subject to influence from other states. Third, ‘interdependence sovereignty’ points to the state’s control over cross-border activities. Fourth, ’international legal sovereignty’ relates to the recognition of the state by other states.

The United Nations Charter broadly endorses the sovereignty concept[7]. The notion of the sovereign state has become commonplace on a global scale as states rule over virtually all territories[8]. Anderson (2006) offers a thought-provoking, historical insight into sovereignty:

“In the modern conception, state sovereignty is fully, flatly, and evenly operative over each square centimetre of a legally demarcated territory. But in the older imagining, where states were defined by centres, borders were porous and indistinct, and sovereignties faded imperceptibly into one another. Hence, paradoxically enough, the ease with which pre-modern empires and kingdoms were able to sustain their rule over immensely heterogeneous and often not even contiguous, populations for long periods of time.”[9]

To illustrate the difficulty in defining the notion of a state, I conclude this section with the most extensive definition that I have come across. O’Leary (2001) comments that a modern state is:

(1) a differentiated and impersonal institution that is
(2) politically centralized though not necessarily unitary;
(3) that generally exercises an effective monopoly of publicly organized physical force and of
(4) authoritatively binding rule-making (or sovereignty) over persons, groups and property; and that
(5) is sufficiently recognized by a sufficient number of its subjects,
(6) and of other stats, that it can
(7) maintain its organizational and policy-making powers
(8) within a potentially variable territory.[10]

This definition derives its strength from its relative approach towards the power of a state by taking into account that most states do not have absolute powers regarding the use of organised violence or enjoy support of all of its residents. However, this interpretation of a state painfully reveals that extending a definition does not automatically make a concept easier to grasp. What is meant by ‘generally’ in the third line, and how to interpret ‘sufficiently’ in the fifth and sixth line? These adverbs are hard to interpret while analysing contemporary states. More importantly for this paper, this definition makes it very hard to determine when the first state was founded.

Dating the state

Elden (2009) comments that in the eighth century BC, city-states started to play a crucial role in Greek areas. The states included both a metropolitan centre, where power was concentrated, and rural areas where crops were grown.

East and Prescott (1975) note that Europe comprised many feudal states in the Middle Ages. These states were very unstable in terms of territory, power division and centralisation. The feudal states were based on a hierarchy of political and social entities, with contracts stipulating how the land was divided.

East and Prescott (1975) further mention that the Tudors ruled over the first absolutist state in England. In this state, the royal family shared political power with the Church and the aristocracy. By the end of sixteenth century, Queen Elisabeth I had managed to form an effective government in England.

Elden (2009) notes that the Peace of Westphalia (1648) marks the beginning of the ascendance of the modern state. The two related treaties[11] introduced formal sovereignty to the state by permitting the participating states the right to independently implement policies in fields such as defence, legislation and taxes. The treaties further formalised the relation between political authority and territory. Accordingly, statehood as we know it nowadays came to fruition in the seventeenth century if we assume that the establishment of formal sovereignty was the critical development.

Elden further comments that the European idea of linking state to territory was gradually spread across the world when some European countries colonised many non-European areas from the fifteenth until the twentieth century. When non-European areas became independent countries, they gained sovereignty and became modern states.

Three approaches to the nation and nationalism

A brief introduction to the three dominant academic approaches is indispensable before turning to nations and nationalism. Özkirimli (2000) describes these very concisely:

“The common denominator of the modernists is their conviction in the modernity of nations and nationalism; that of the ethno-symbolists is the stress they lay in their explanations on ethnic pasts and cultures; finally that of the primordialists is their belief in the antiquity and naturalness of nations.”[12]

The general view among modernists is that nations and nationalism emerged in Europe for the first time between the sixteenth and eighteenth century. A key driver of this development was the development of an industrial society that resulted in an unequal distribution of wealth. Moreover, the advent of the modern state brought legislation, regulations and citizenship. In addition, the gradual expansion of common languages and education, raising literacy levels, substantially facilitated the emergence of a mass culture and a common national consciousness[13].

Ethno-symbolists emphasise the importance of the exchange of ideas between elites and the people. Furthermore, their research into nations and nationalism focuses on centuries of social and cultural trends. As a result, ethno-symbolists attach much value to the cultural identities of human groups from the past. Particularly ‘ethnies’, human groups with a common ethnic background, play a prominent role. In this respect, the analysis of why people attach to their nation or ethnic group is important to ethno-symbolists[14].

According to Storey (2001), primordialists claim that nations have historical roots that go back centuries, strictly taken to the beginning of human civilisation. Hearn (2006) notes that primordialist approaches point to the organic development of ethnic groups into nations. Representations of national identities focus on the role of shared ancestry, territorial roots and common language.

It is important to note that the exact meanings of the three approaches are disputed. For example, some scholars consider Anthony Smith a perennialist, although he considers himself an adherent of ethno-symbolism[15]. Armstrong (2004) defines ‘perennialism’ as the idea that a small number of contemporary nations has revived after an earlier existence in the distant past or during the Middle Ages.

Defining the nation

The concept of ‘nation’ is the focus of a fierce debate among academics. Smith (2001) manages to put the complexity surrounding the ´nation´ into perspective:

“Definitions of the nation range from those that stress ‘objective’ factors, such as language, religion and customs, territory and institutions, to those that emphasize purely ‘subjective’ factors, such as attitudes, perceptions and sentiments”[16]

Smith defines a nation as:

“”a named human community occupying a homeland, and having common myths and a shared history, a common public culture, a single economy and common rights and duties for all members.”[17]

In the introduction of his widely acclaimed book, Hobsbawm (1992) is very critical towards both objective and subjective definitions of a nation as he deems them both inadequate and deceptive. He argues that it is impossible “to distinguish a nation from other entities a priori”[18] and that “the real ‘nation’ can only be recognized a posteriori.”[19] Accordingly, he deliberately does not provide a definition of nation.

Anderson (2006), a modernist, defines a nation as “imagined political community”. He contends that a member of a nation will never know all but a limited number of other members of his or her nation. In fact, every community has an imagined nature, apart from tiny villages. The spread of the printing press provided a basis for the creation of ‘imagined communities’, as companies started printing publications in vernacular language.[20]

Connor (1994), a primordialist, defines a nation as ‘a group of people who believe they are ancestrally related.’[21] Nonetheless, he notes that disagreement persists on whether some groups form a separate nation or belong to a larger nation (e.g. the Macedonians). Connor further remarks that the categorisation of human groups as nations is complicated by ethnic factors. Are the Dutch a separate nation or part of the larger Germanic nation? And could the label ‘nation’ be applied to English people, which have Celtic, Angle, Saxon and Jute ancestors?

Storey (2001) points to another weakness of nations, the supposed reasons for their occurrence:

“All nations require a past to justify their current existence and to provide a rationale for territorial claims. Fact, folklore and fiction combine to produce and reproduce a sense of nationhood; myths and legends are an important part of nation-building.”[22]

Brubaker (1996) advises against defining the ‘nation’ and instead argues that:

“[w]e should not ask ‘what is a nation?’ but rather: how is nationhood as a political and cultural form institutionalized within and among states? How does nation work as practical category, as classificatory scheme, as cognitive frame? What makes the use of that category by or against states more of less resonant or effective? What makes the nation-evoking, nation-invoking efforts of political entrepreneurs more or less likely to succeed?”[23]

Brubaker further stresses that nations are products of a “contingent event”[24] and should not be treated as large, perennial groups.

This section confirms the claim of Mayall (1999) that a universally applicable definition of ‘nation’ does not exist. Accordingly, the United Nations have not been able to agree on a common definition.

Dating the nation

As the previous sections showed, nations are widely believed to emerge for the first time either many centuries ago or during the industrial revolution in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. The earliest specific example that I have come across was England. According to Adrian Hastings, an English writer considered this area a nation in the eighth century[25].

After studying some major publications of the vast literature on nations, I fully endorse Charles Tilly’s claim that the ‘nation’ is one of the most confusing concepts within political sciences[26]. In fact, I have become more convinced that the ‘nation’ is nothing but a social construct. Critical in light of this paper is the observation that key scholars have serious trouble or even advise against defining ‘nation’. Given the lack of a convincing definition of nation, I am unable to assert when the first nation manifested itself.

Defining nationalism

As with the nation, nationalism has been subject to an intense debate among academics on its definition and possible interpretations. Smith (2001) considers five usages essential in the modern academic debate:

(1) a process of formation, or growth, of nations;
(2) a sentiment of consciousness of belonging to the nation;
(3) a language and symbolism of the nation;
(4) a social and political movement on behalf of the nation;
(5) a doctrine and/or ideology of the nation, both general and particular.[27]

In line with Smith’s view, Hearn (2006) states that nationalism can take five forms: “feeling”, “identity”, “ideology;”, “social movement” and “historical process”[28]. He acknowledges that nationalism can take all these forms at once, but stresses that most approaches focus on some of these forms.

The definition of Connor (1994) for example revolves around the first two forms: “identification and loyalty to one’s nation”[29]

According to Gellner (2001), who was instrumental in the development of modernism, nationalism is first and foremost a doctrine that promotes the idea that the boundaries of the state should coincide with those of the nation[30]. He further argues that developments opposed to or in line with this doctrine evoke nationalist feelings. Gellner considers these feelings the key rationale behind nationalist movements.

Modernists and primordialists have different ideas about nationalism. The modernist version, ‘civic nationalism’, is “voluntaristic, rational and activist”[31]. ‘Ethnic nationalism’, on the other hand, means that people have no choice but belonging to the nation, as they share the same culture and past. Most cases of nationalism are a mixture of both versions[32].

Dating nationalism

Smith (2001) argues that the use of the term ‘nationalism’ with its current meanings became commonplace in the twentieth century. The concept was used for the first time in a socio-political context in France and Germany by the end of the eighteenth century. Essential for this paper is nevertheless that Smith asserts that nationalism (as ideology) manifested itself for the first time in the eighteenth century.

The following modernist views substantiate the uncertainty surrounding the moment when nationalism occurred for the first time. Breuilly (2008) claims that the general consensus is that nationalism became important around 1750. The war between Britain and France and the related emergence of a perception of an enemy fuelled the popularity of nationalism in both countries. However, Brubaker (1996) argues that nationalism saw the light by the end of the eighteenth century, while Kedouri (1985) claims that nationalism was created at the start of the nineteenth century.

These different viewpoints confirm findings of Connor (1991) on the widespread disagreement among historians about the time when nationalism took root in Europe. Connor mentions in this respect the viewpoints of Johan Huizinga, who claims that nationalism emerged in England and France by the 14th century, and Marc Bloch, who thinks that national consciousness was already present in England, France and Germany around 1100.

In this regard, it is important to recall Connor’s emphasis on identity and loyalty, explaining why he uses nationalism as synonym for national consciousness. He stresses that the promotion of national sentiments can only considered nationalism if the lion’s share of the population concerned develops a national consciousness.

This brief overview reveals the impossibility of -based on a literature review- claiming with a certain degree of certainty when nationalism emerged for the first-time. The broad variety in academic views not only stems from different interpretations of history, but also from the various meanings of nationalism.


This brief literature study has failed to find a crystal clear answer to its central question. A conclusive timeline for the first emergences of states, nations and nationalism turns out to be too ambitious.

Greek city-states in the eighth century BC and England by the end of the sixteenth century already had some of the features of the modern state. However, taking formal sovereignty as decisive factor, statehood came to fruition in the seventeenth century. The Peace of Westphalia in 1648 was instrumental in this regard, giving the states of Sweden and France the right to independently set policies.

Adherents of the three dominant schools of thought regarding nationalism claim that nations manifested themselves for the first time either many centuries ago or during the industrial revolution between the eighteenth and nineteenth century. However, lack of a convincing definition and my belief that the ‘nation’ is nothing but a social construct makes me conclude that I am unable to tell when the first nation emerged.

Different interpretations of history and the variety in definitions of nationalism leave me with no other choice than to refrain from claiming when nationalism emerged for the first-time.

Realising how the enormous amount of angles regarding nations and nationalism complicates the dating of both concepts, I now understand what Armstrong (2004) means when he argues that:

“definitions will, to a great extent, determine the response scholars will bring to the issues posed. The examination of the phenomenon defined as nations is no exception, although at the start of many research projects students do not recognize this.”[33]


  • Anderson, Benedict (2006), Imagined Communities (London: Verso Books)
  • Armstrong, John A. (2004), ‘Definitions, periodization, and prospects for the longue duree’, Nations and Nationalism, 10 (1/2), pp. 9-18.
  • Biersteker, T.J. and Weber, C. (1996), ‘The social Construction of State Sovereignty’, in T.J. Biersteker and C. Weber, eds., State Sovereignty as Social Construct, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), pp. 1-21.
  • Breuilly, John (2001), ‘The State and Nationalism’, in Montserrat Guibernau and John Hutchinson, eds., Understanding Nationalism (Cambridge: Polity), pp. 32-52.
  • Breuilly, John (2008), ‘Nationalism’, in John Baylis, Steve Smith and Patricia Owens, eds., The Globalization of World Politics, fourth edition, pp. 402-417.
  • Brubaker, Rogers (1996), Nationalism Reframed, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)
  • Connor, Walker (1991), ‘From Tribe to Nation?’, History of European Ideas, 13, no. 1/2, pp. 5-18.
  • Connor, Walker (1994), Ethnonationalism – The Quest for Understanding (Princeton: Princeton University Press)
  • Connor, Walker (2004), ‘The timelessness of nations’, Nations and Nationalism, 10 (1/2), pp. 35-47.
  • East, W. Gordon and Prescott, J.R.V., Our fragmented world: An Introduction to Political Geography (London: Macmillan)
  • Elden, Stuart (2009), ‘Why is the world divided territorially?’, in Jenny Edkins and Maja Zehfuss, eds., Global Politics: A new Introduction (London: Routledge), pp. 192-219.
  • Gellner, Ernest (2006), Nations and Nationalism, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing)
  • Hearn, Jonathan (2006) Rethinking Nationalism: A critical Introduction (Basingstoke: Palgrave)
  • Hobsbawm, E.J. (1992), Nations and Nationalism since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)
  • Jackson, R.H. (1990), Quasi-states: Sovereignty, International Relations and the Third World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)
  • Krasner, S.D. (2001), ‘Rethinking the Sovereign State Model’, Review of International Studies, 27, pp. 17-42.
  • Kedouri, Elie (1985), Nationalism, third edition reprinted with revisions (London: Hutchinson)
  • Mayall, James (1999), ‘Sovereignty, Nationalism, and Self-determination’, Political Studies, XLVII, pp. 474-502.
  • O’Leary, Brendan (2001), ‘Introduction’, in Brendan O’Leary, Ian S. Lustick and Thomas Callaghy, eds., Right-sizing the State: the politics of moving borders (Oxford: Oxford University Press), pp. 1-14.
  • Özkirimli, Umut (2000), Theories of Nationalism: A critical Introduction (Basingstoke: Palgrave)
  • Smith, Anthony D. (2001), Nationalism (Cambridge: Polity)
  • Smith, Anthony D. (2006), ‘Ethnicity and Nationalism’, in Gerard Delanty and Krishan Kumar, eds., The SAGE Handbook of Nations and Nationalism (London: SAGE publications), pp. 169-181.
  • Storey, David (2001), Territory: The Claiming of Space (Harlow: Pearson Education)


[1] Jackson (2004), p. 9.

[2] Max Weber (1864-1920) conducted both historical and economic research. He has been instrumental in the foundation of sociology (Elden, 2009).

[3] Gellner (2006), p. 3.

[4] Elden (2009), p. 197.

[5] Biersteker and Weber (1996)

[6] Emmerich de Vattel was among the first who elaborated on the principle that states should not engage in internal matters of other states.

[7] Elden (2009)

[8] Jackson (1990)

[9] Anderson (2006), p. 19.

[10] O’Leary (2001). p. 6.

[11] The Treaties both involved the Holy Roman Empire. The Osnabrück Treaty was concluded with Sweden, the Münster Treaty with France.

[12] Özkirimli (2000), p. 64.

[13] This paragraph is entirely based on Hearn (2006).

[14] This paragraph is entirely based on Smith (2001).

[15] Özkirimli (2001)

[16] Smith (2001), p. 11.

[17] Ibid, p. 13.

[18] Hobsbawm (1992), p. 5, emphasis in original text.

[19] Ibid, p. 9, emphasis in original text.

[20] Mayall (1999)

[21] Connor (1994), p. xi.

[22] Storey (2001), p. 77

[23] Brubaker (1996), p. 16.

[24] Ibid, p. 21.

[25] Breuilly (2001), p. 33

[26] Smith (2001), p. 10

[27] Ibid (2001), pp. 5-6.

[28] Hearn (2006), p. 6.

[29] Connor (1994), p. xi.

[30] The resulting entity is called a nation-state (Connor, 2004)

[31] Smith (2006), p. 170.

[32] Smith (2006)

[33] Armstrong (2004), p. 9

by Leonhardt van Efferink
Comments Off on Lebanon’s sovereignty – The military, social and political rise of Hezbollah

Lebanon’s sovereignty – The military, social and political rise of Hezbollah

Dear Sir, Madam, for an overview of my Summer courses on geopolitics, country risk and media framing/discourses, please go to GeoMeans Courses at Maastricht Summer School 2018. Kind regards, Leonhardt, editor of ExploringGeopolitics

Article by: Leonhardt van Efferink (December 2011)

Tags: Hezbollah military social political rise roles Shias Islamic Rule Iranian Revolution Syrian influence Israel AMAL Musa al Sadr Lebanon

Leonhardt van Efferink

Leonhardt van Efferink

Leonhardt van Efferink is Editor of ExploringGeopolitics, Founding Director of GeoMeans Analytical Skills Development and PhD student at Royal Holloway, University of London.

He holds Master’s degrees in Geopolitics, Territory and Security (King’s College London) and Financial Economics (Erasmus University Rotterdam).

Lebanon has known a history of weak governments, foreign interference and porous borders. Not surprisingly, many analysts have claimed that Lebanon’s sovereignty is structurally weak. This article discusses Hezbollah’s role in that regard by applying four sovereignty concepts of Stephen Krasner: domestic, interdependency, Vatellian and international legal sovereignty.

Part 1 briefly introduces a history of Lebanon’s territory, people and political system. Part 2 then addresses the emergence of Hezbollah, followed by an overview of its military, social and political roles in Lebanon. Finally, part 3 consists of the conclusion and the literature list.

This article is based on my conference paper “How Hezbollah affects Lebanon’s sovereignty”. A pdf file of the complete article will be available soon


Domestic, Vatellian (Westphalian), interdependence, international legal sovereignty

The sovereign state concept has gained a monopoly on virtually all of the world’s territories (Jackson 1990). Sovereignty has been subject to intellectual debate for centuries (Biersteker and Weber 1996). In this debate, sovereignty has experienced a transformation of its meaning in which two questions were critical. Where do we find the legal basis of sovereignty and what range of activities should it protect?

Although disagreements between and within sectarian groups have been commonplace in Lebanon for decades, virtually all Lebanese residents would agree with Salem (1998, p. 25) that “[Lebanon] is a country that is neither truly independent, nor sovereign.” This article seeks to provide a theoretically grounded analysis of Lebanon’s sovereignty. As a comprehensive, multi-actor analysis would be too ambitious for a paper of this length, the study looks into Hezbollah’s impact on sovereignty. This Shia organisation has gradually become more powerful in military, social and political terms since its creation in the 1980s.

This analysis applies the four sovereignty concepts that Krasner (2001) considers most popular nowadays. First, domestic sovereignty addresses the capability of the central government to control activities on national territory. Second, Vatellian sovereignty is based on the principle that foreign parties do not have any power whatsoever on the state’s territory. Third, interdependence sovereignty concerns the central government’s ability to monitor and influence cross-border activities. Fourth, international legal sovereignty is the mutual recognition of countries’ right to conclude agreements and means that each state is independent of and equal to other states.

These concepts offer an adequate framework to assess the sovereignty of Lebanon as they reflect traditional weaknesses of this country: weak governments, continued foreign interference, porous borders and the refusal of a neighbouring country to recognise Lebanon’s independence.

Roman-Byzantine rule, the Ottoman Empire and Mount Lebanon

Territory, population and authority (here we focus on political system) have an essential place in sovereignty concepts (Biersteker and Weber 1996). Starting with Lebanon’s territory, Muslim rulers took over control of the areas that constitute contemporary Lebanon in 636 AD, after centuries of Roman-Byzantine rule (Held 2006). Lebanon’s current territory belonged to the Ottoman Empire’s province of Syria between 1516 and 1861 (Pipes 1990). In 1861, six European powers forced the Ottoman Empire to create an autonomous region with a Christian governor in Mount Lebanon, creating the basis for Lebanon’s current territory (Bowman 1921).

Syria, including Mount Lebanon, became subject to French mandate area under the League of Nations in 1918 (Chauprade 2009). The French created the current borders of Lebanon in the 1920s to establish a special territory for Christian communities (Harris 2006). Next to Mount Lebanon, the French added surrounding, predominantly Muslim areas, including important coastal cities Beirut, Tripoli and Tyrus, the Bekaa Valley and the area between Mount Lebanon and the boundary with the British mandate area of Palestine (Harris 2006). After becoming independent in 1943, Lebanon has not experienced any territorial changes.

Population: Maronites, Greek Orthodox, Catholics, Druzes, Shias, Sunnis and others

A key feature of Lebanon’s population is the enormous sectarian diversity, which East and Moodie (1956, p. 714) attribute to its “[g]eographical position [that] makes the country pre-eminently a region of intercourse and contact.” According to a 1911 census, nearly 80% of the population comprised of Christians in the Sanjak of Mount Lebanon (‘Mutasarrifiyya’, Harris 2006). The Druze community, an offshoot of Islam, accounted for 11% of the population, while the Shias (6%) and Sunnis (4%) were rather insignificant minorities.

The extension of Lebanon’s territory in 1920 meant that the Christian communities only formed a small majority in Lebanon (Brogan 1998). Nevertheless, most Christian leaders welcomed the territorial adjustment for economic reasons (Harris 2006), while Muslim leaders generally disapproved Lebanon’s creation (Brogan 1998).

Lebanon has been a relatively wealthy country since independence thanks to its commercial and financial sectors (Alexander 1957 and IMF 2009). While the Christians and Sunnis have dominated the Lebanese economy since independence, the Shias have remained relatively poor (Brogan 1998). Main reasons for this position were a lack of fertile land (Owen 2004), bad education standards and poor access to clientele networks (Brogan 1998).

Reliable population data are unavailable as the last census took place in 1932 (Drysdale and Blake 1985). The Shias are probably the largest sectarian group, possibly accounting for one half of Lebanon’s population (Chauprade 2009). Structurally high birth rates and low emigration rates make it very likely that the Shia community eventually becomes a majority in Lebanon (Hamzeh 2004). With 18 recognised sects (Norton 2007), Lebanon is the most religiously diverse country in the region (Drysdale and Blake 1985).

A confessional political system, a strong President and the National Pact

The political system, used here as the third factor that is closely related to sovereignty (as a proxy for authority), has been critical to Hezbollah’s emergence. Between 1861 and its dissolution, Mount Lebanon had a confessional political system, where each major sectarian group (Maronites, Greek Orthodox, Catholics, Druzes, Shias and Sunnis) had two seats in the administrative council (Hamzeh 2001). When Mount Lebanon was integrated within Lebanon, the political system remained based upon sectarianism, meaning that “…religious communities must be represented as political communities” (Makdisi 2008, p. 24).

At independence, the Shia community lacked a well-educated and effective leadership (Harris 2006 and Mackey 2008). As a result, the Maronites and Sunnis concluded the National Pact in 1943 without consulting the Shias (Norton 2007). The Pact stated that a Maronite should be President, with a Sunni Prime-Minister and a Shia parliamentary chairperson. Furthermore, parliamentary seats were divided between Christians and Muslims according to a 6:5 ratio (Brogan 1998). The 1926 constitution remained in place, giving the President far-reaching powers (Salem 1998).

The Lebanese Civil War, Palestinian refugees and the Taif agreement

Frustration about the Christian dominance in politics was a main cause of the civil war that started in 1975 (Salem 1998). Many experts consider the influx of hundreds of thousands Palestinians between 1967 and 1973 –posing a threat to the Christians domination- as the decisive trigger. The Shia community was hardly involved in the outbreak of the civil war, being militarily unprepared and lacking external support (Zisser 1997). During the civil war, militias divided Lebanon in semi-autonomous regions with different political, social and economic systems (Hamzeh 2001).

The Taif agreement in 1989, which ended the civil war, hardly changed the political system. The ratio of Christians and Muslims in parliament was adjusted to 1-1 (Feki and De Ficquelmont 2008). Another change was the transfer of executive power from president to the council of ministers (Salem 1998). The rigid division of the three key political positions among the main sectarian groups remained in place (Glassner 1996).

The civil war had left the Shia the largest sectarian group and the most powerful in military terms (Zisser 1997). However, the agreement did not relate demographic changes to political power (Norton 2007). As a result, the Taif agreement did not change the general perception among the Shia population that the Shia population had disproportionally little power (Milton-Edwards 2006).

A structurally weak Lebanese State, community loyalty and clientelism

The Lebanese State has always been weak, which Owen (2004) relates to two factors. First, the economic elite have always been able to minimise state interference in the economy. Second, politicians have generally sought to serve interests of their constituencies instead of the national interest. According to Brogan (1998), the latter factor has its roots in the National Pact that limited the authority of the state to maximise the autonomy of sectarian groups. As a result, Lebanese citizens feel loyalty towards their community instead of towards the country (Hafez 2008).

Hamzeh (2001) argues that Lebanon’s political system erodes the authority of the state by fuelling clientelism. Hafez (2008) adds that foreign protection of or influence on each community further undermines this authority. Moreover, Hafez (2008, p. 193) argues that Lebanon’s political system “…makes the [state] vulnerable to any stifled sense of frustration or injustice or dispossession felt by any community…” Although the Taif agreement aimed at the introduction of a non-confessional democracy (Glassner 1996), the government refused to do so. Consequently, families that ruled over Lebanon before the civil war dominated the 1990 cabinet and patronage networks swiftly re-emerged (Mackey 2008).

In all, Lebanon’s political system is based upon the principle that the State should interfere in society as little as possible. The resulting weakness of state institutions has made Lebanon vulnerable to infringements of its domestic, interdependence and Vatellian sovereignty. The rise of Hezbollah has made this perfectly clear.

Emergence of Hezbollah and the role of Iran

Before putting the Hezbollah’s military, social and political roles into perspective, the foundation and aims of the organisation need explanation. Already before Hezbollah existed, the emancipation of the Shia community in Lebanon had been set in motion. In the 1960s, Musa al Sadr, an Iranian born Shia cleric, sought to develop religious autonomy and a political platform for the Shias (Mackey 2008). Subsequently, the outbreak of the civil war in 1975 led to the establishment of the Shia militia AMAL (Owen 2004).

Following the Iranian revolution (1979) and Israel’s occupation of South Lebanon, Islamist Shia clerics became increasingly influential in AMAL circles (Mackey 2008). This influence would eventually lead to the foundation of Hezbollah. Although officially founded in 1982, Hezbollah only became properly organised by the mid-1980s (Norton 2007).

Hezbollah’s primary aim is the establishment of Islamic rule in Lebanon (Saab 2008), as soon as the majority of the Lebanese citizens support this idea (Hamzeh 2004). Given Hezbollah’s past behaviour towards its opponents, Norton (1997) doubts whether the organisation will always abstain from using violence to reach its aims.

Another aim is the complete annihilation of Israel (Zisser 1997) as this country is deemed illegitimate. Furthermore, Hezbollah considers fighting against Israel a religious duty because Shias have been hardest hit by Israel’s aggression (Flanigan and Abdel-Samad 2009) and Israel’s presumed threat to an Islamic order (Saab 2008).

The Shia community in areas that currently form Lebanon had already established ties with the Safavid Empire in Iran in the sixteenth century (Harris 2006). This partially explains Iran’s leading role in the creation of Hezbollah (Norton 2007). Harik (2005) argues that Iran’s generous financial support has been instrumental in all of Hezbollah’s achievements. Furthermore, Iran has a strong religious influence as Hezbollah recognises Imam Ali Khamenei as official leader of the Shia faith (Saab 2008).

Hezbollah’s military role 1: hostile relationship with Israel

Four geopolitical agents are instrumental in Hezbollah’s military role: Israel, Iran, Syria and the Lebanese army. Starting with Israel, this country became militarily active in Southern Lebanon in 1968 in response to Palestinian guerrilla activity aimed at Israel. In 1978, Israel attempted to defeat the Palestinian troops in South Lebanon by using massive firepower (Mackey 2008).In 1982 followed a full military invasion where Israel’s army occupied a large area and eventually reached Beirut (Stoessinger 2008). The invasion aimed at defeating the Palestinian guerrillas and limiting Syria’s influence (Stoessinger 2008). Israel’s distrust of Shias (Mackey 2008) and its cooperation with the Maronites (Zisser 1997) swiftly made the Shias become hostile towards Israel’s presence. Israel withdrew its troops from most Lebanese territory in 1985, but created a self-declared security zone in South Lebanon (Norton 1998).

Hezbollah’s military actions in the 1980s involved a guerrilla war against Israel, participating in the civil war (including occasional clashes with AMAL) and terrorist activities aimed at Western targets (Mackey 2008). The 1989 Taif Accord recognised Hezbollah as the legitimate organisation to fight against the Israeli occupation and allowed Hezbollah to keep its arms (Salem 1998). Hezbollah continued its guerrilla activities against Israel (Owen 2004), despite Israeli bombing raids and ground offensives in 1993 and 1996 (Mackey 2008). Mackey (2008, p. 176) relates Hezbollah’s resilience to “…the same advantageous conditions shared by all guerrilla organizations: a geographic base, local support, a decentralized military structure, mobility and tactics that included ambushed and hit-and-run attacks.”

Israel ended its occupation of South Lebanon in 2000 under pressure from domestic public opinion. However, the Israeli army entered Lebanon’s territory again in 2006 to attack Hezbollah fighters and bomb Lebanese infrastructure and housing. Israel failed to stop the rocket attacks on Israel and defeat Hezbollah militarily. Its military activity in Lebanon in 2006 confirmed that Israel does not respect Lebanon’s sovereignty. If deemed necessary, Israel uses its military strength to control parts of Lebanon’s territory, air space and territorial waters, thereby eroding Lebanon’s Vatellian sovereignty. Israel’s continuous violations of Lebanon’s airspace in 2009, to gather intelligence (Daily Star 2009b), mean that Israel also limits Lebanon’s interdependence sovereignty.

Hezbollah’s military role 2: influence of Syria and Iran

The influence of Syria, whose army was present in Lebanon from 1976 until 2005 (Bennafla et al. 2007), has fluctuated over the years (Mansfield 2003). Syria has provided Hezbollah with arms and functioned as a conduit for Iran’s military equipment (Saab 2008), not being hindered by the porous border between Lebanon and Syria (United Nations Security Council 2009). Furthermore, Hezbollah’s control over Beirut’s international airport makes it very likely that Iranian planes have brought weapons to Lebanon (Saab 2008). Moreover, in November 2009, close to Cyprus, Israel seized a ship, travelling from Iran to Syria and carrying weapons for Hezbollah (Norell 2009). Iran also supports Hezbollah militarily through a small presence of its Revolutionary Guards in Lebanon (Stoessinger 2008). Iran’s and Syria’s military support to Hezbollah are an infringement of Lebanon’s interdependence sovereignty, because of illegal cross-border activities. Both countries also erode Vatellian sovereignty through their influence on Hezbollah’s military activity on Lebanon’s territory.

Hezbollah’s military role 3: Lebanese army, UNIFIL and Taif Agreement

Lebanon’s army has never been capable of protecting the country as it was unable to define an enemy. Moreover, the business elite have always been able to prevent a comprehensive tax system that would enable the purchase of sophisticated military equipment (Hafez 2008). These factors support Hezbollah’s claim that its military force essential to Lebanon’s defence strategy, particularly since the organisation’s military power is stronger than that of the national army (Saab 2008). Hezbollah’s supremacy over the national army also follows from the army’s approval of the its strategy towards Israel (Hafez 2008) and the recent statement of its leader Hassan Nasrallah that the Lebanese army should cooperate with Hezbollah in its battle against Israel (BBC News 2009b).

Events in 2008 made clear that Hezbollah is willing to use its military power against other Lebanese communities for political gains. Hezbollah fighters showed their strength by temporary occupying West Beirut and a couple of other areas (Saab 2008). The violence was a protest against government plans to close down the central part of Hezbollah’s communication network and to dismiss the security manager of Beirut’s international airport, presumably a Hezbollah supporter. The government plans were not carried out (Saab 2008).

In 2006, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) received a mandate to disarm Hezbollah. Nonetheless, Hezbollah has managed to rebuild its military power since then (Norell 2009). The UN (2009, p.2) recently noted that “…the existence and activities of Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias…challenge the need for the Government of Lebanon and the Lebanese Armed Forces to exercise the monopoly on the use of force throughout Lebanon.”

The decision to sanction the use of weapons by Hezbollah in the 1989 Taif Agreement makes it hard to assess the impact of Hezbollah’s army on domestic sovereignty. On the one hand, the State has used its authority to grant Hezbollah the right to maintain its military force, suggesting that sovereignty is not under threat. On the other hand, the national army has no authority whatsoever over Hezbollah’s military forces, pointing at an infringement by Hezbollah of domestic sovereignty. Hezbollah’s military showdown in 2008 that illegitimately interfered with democratic decision-making clearly eroded domestic sovereignty.

Hezbollah’s social role: public goods, health services and clientelism

A weak infrastructure, related to a combination of weak local administrations and high priority on Beirut’s development (Flanigan and Abdel-Samad 2009), provided Hezbollah with an opportunity to provide public goods in Shia areas (Harik 2005). Moreover, Hezbollah’s was not part of any clientelism network, forcing Hezbollah to supply social services to its supporters (Flanigan and Abdel-Samad 2009). The provision of public goods and charity work has always played a vital role in Hezbollah’s strategy to establish an Islamist state in Lebanon (Saab 2008).

Hezbollah’s provision of social and public services is extraordinary in both scope and efficiency (Harik 2005). Hezbollah services include hospitals, education, low-cost housing, education, social security and infrastructural works (Harik 2005 and Flanigan and Abdel-Samad 2009). Flanigan and Abdel-Samad (2009) argue that the health and social services capacity of Hezbollah is far larger than that of the Lebanese state. Access to these services is however largely restricted to Hezbollah supporters.

Hezbollah’s social activities raise questions about domestic sovereignty. Providing public goods and social services are activities that theoretically belong to a national state. Accordingly, Hezbollah seems to limit domestic sovereignty. Nevertheless, since the Lebanese State was actually absent in the concerned regions before Hezbollah became active, how could Hezbollah possibly have a negative effect on non-existing authority? In this case, it may be more appropriate to say that Hezbollah’s social role is a reflection of limited domestic sovereignty rather than its cause.

Hezbollah’s political role 1: establishment of political party

Hezbollah decided to found a political party in 1990 (Zisser 1997), showing that the organisation had adapted its strategy to Lebanon’s political culture (Norton 1998). Iran had a decisive share in this decision (Saab 2008).

On the national level, Hezbollah has occupied 10 seats in parliament, compared to 12 seats for AMAL since the June 2009 elections (Psephos – Adam Carr’s Election Archive 2009). Although the March 8 Alliance, comprising Hezbollah and its allies, held only 57 of the 128 parliamentary seats, it managed to obtain veto power over cabinet decisions. Moreover, the Alliance got hold of the Ministry of Telecommunications (Moubayed 2009) making it unlikely that the government will try to scale down Hezbollah’s immense communication network.

Hezbollah’s political role 2: influence of Syria and Iran

During its military presence in Lebanon (1976-2005), Syria had an enormous influence on Lebanese politics (Agnew 2005). The recent cabinet formation, where Syria supported the March 8 Alliance, illustrates Syria’s continued dominance in political affairs (BBC News 2009a). Syria and Saudi Arabia played a vital role in the eventual compromise between the March 8 Alliance and the March 14 Movement . These developments confirmed the view of Moubayed, (2009) who claims who claims that “[t]he complex world of Lebanese politics… has proven that regardless of parliamentary numbers, the country cannot be ruled without the consent of the Shias, who are overwhelmingly in favour of Hezbollah and its sister party, Amal.”

The political influence of Iran and Syria is a clear infringement of Lebanon’s Vatellian sovereignty. However, Hezbollah’s national political activities do not limit Lebanon’s domestic sovereignty as Hezbollah conducts these activities in line with national legislation. It is however important to acknowledge that Hezbollah’s political position benefits from its military and social roles that do affect Lebanon’s sovereignty.

Syria further limits Lebanon’s sovereignty by its refusal to formally recognise Lebanon’s independence. This position stems from Syria’s resentment against “…the separation of Transjordan, Palestine, and Lebanon from what had been the prewar Turkish province of Syria…” (Alexander, 1957, p. 296). Accordingly, Lebanon has formally never enjoyed full international legal sovereignty, although most UN members have recognised Lebanon’s independence (Daily Star, 2009a). The establishment of formal diplomatic relations between Lebanon and Syria in 2009 makes clear that Syria is softening its stance in this regard (United Nations Security Council, 2009). Relevant for this analysis is the observation that Hezbollah’s activities have neither had a significant impact on Lebanon’s international legal sovereignty, nor provoked other geopolitical agents to do so.

Hezbollah’s political role 3: local councils

On a local level, Hezbollah imposed Islamic rule in areas over which they ruled between 1982 and 1990 (Saab 2008). After becoming a political party, the results of municipal elections enabled Hezbollah to maintain an Islamic order in parts of Baalbek Valley, Beirut and South Lebanon. The 2004 local elections resulted in Hezbollah dominated local councils in 90% of all municipalities in the Bekaa Valley and 60% Southern Lebanon (Flanigan and Abdel-Samad 2009). Hamzeh (2004, p. 144) considers the municipalities with an Islamic order “autonomous enclaves”.

The impact of Hezbollah’s implementation of local legislation that conflicts with national legislation seems ambiguous. The basis of the decision, where the Hezbollah (dominated) administration bases its authority upon the outcome of a nation-wide democratic process, points at respect for the sovereignty of the Lebanese State. The outcome of the decision, however, does not.

Conclusion: domestic, Vatellian, interdependence, international legal sovereignty

One crucial finding of this analysis of the Lebanese State is that the historical preference among the ruling elite for little state interference has resulted in many ineffective national institutions. At least as important is the fact that the Shia still have disproportionally little political power, despite having become the largest sectarian group. Both factors account for Hezbollah’s gradual emergence since the 1980s.

The analysis also raises questions about sovereignty, in line with the observation of Biersteker and Weber (1996, p. 2) that “…sovereignty remains an ambiguous concept.” For example, casting light on the military, social and political roles of Hezbollah yields valuable insights into the question as to why the Shia organisation is instrumental in Iran, Syria and Israel’s infringements of Lebanon’s sovereignty.

Nonetheless, the ramifications of some activities of Hezbollah are hard to clarify. For example, how can its social programmes and military presence in certain areas have a negative effect on domestic sovereignty when the Lebanese State has never been present there? Would it in this respect not be more appropriate to view such activities as the reflection of limited domestic sovereignty rather than its cause? In addition, could we still argue that Hezbollah’s military branch erodes Lebanon’s domestic sovereignty when we know that the national government has officially approved the existence and strategy of this militia?

These findings can be translated in these key conclusions:

  • Hezbollah has skilfully used the limited authority of the state to perform tasks that traditionally belong to a state, such as providing social security and national security. However, its effect on domestic sovereignty is, as we just noted, hard to assess.
  • Hezbollah’s ties with Iran, Israel and Syria have had a negative effect on Lebanon’s Vatellian and interdependence sovereignty.
  • Hezbollah has not had an impact on Lebanon’s international legal sovereignty.

In all, the findings provide support for a rare angle on Hezbollah that perfectly illustrates the difficulty of assessing Hezbollah’s infringement of Lebanon’sovereignty. I am referring to the view of Hafez (2008) who does not consider Hezbollah “a state within a state” because Hezbollah has never attempted to replace the state in any capacity. Therefore, he (2008, p. 192) argues that “[i]t is in fact the absence of the state, dating back to several decades before the emergence of Hezbollah, that prompted the latter to fill the vacuum.”


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by Leonhardt van Efferink
Comments Off on De definitie van geopolitiek – de klassieke, Franse en kritische benaderingen

De definitie van geopolitiek – de klassieke, Franse en kritische benaderingen

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Article by: Leonhardt van Efferink (December 2008) Tags: definitie geopolitiek Klassieke Franse Kritische benaderingen

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by Leonhardt van Efferink

Arctic Geopolitics – Russia’s territorial claims, UNCLOS, the Lomonosov Ridge

Dear Sir, Madam, for an overview of my Summer courses on geopolitics, country risk and media framing/discourses, please go to GeoMeans Courses at Maastricht Summer School 2018. Kind regards, Leonhardt, editor of ExploringGeopolitics

Article by: Leonhardt van Efferink, December 2011

Tags: Arctic Geopolitics Russian territorial claims UNCLOS Lomonosov Ridge Exclusive Economic Zones Baselines Flag Planting Navy

Leonhardt van Efferink

Leonhardt van Efferink

Leonhardt van Efferink is Editor of ExploringGeopolitics, Founding Director of GeoMeans Analytical Skills Development and PhD student at Royal Holloway, University of London.

He holds Master’s degrees in Geopolitics, Territory and Security (King’s College London) and Financial Economics (Erasmus University Rotterdam).

Some circumpolar countries have recently put forward new territorial claims in the Arctic, or consider doing so in the short-run. What drives these new claims? This article attempts to answer the question by discussing the regional state actors, the effects of climate change and the importance of UNCLOS for the territorial claims.

It then focuses on Russia’s Arctic claims, by analysing the country’s relationship with the Arctic, its foreign policy and the way the claims have been put forward in the international political arena.

Readers of this article are advised to consult these maps:

Geology.com – Arctic Ocean Map

International Boundaries Research Unit – Arctic maritime jurisdiction map

Le Monde Diplomatique – Arctic map

The Arctic actors

The Arctic is generally understood to comprise all territory and water (ice) north of the Arctic Circle (Howard 2009). The region has a harsh climate and is therefore sparsely populated, but derives its appeal from its strategic location and natural resources (Roucek, 1983). Five countries border the Arctic Ocean: Russia, the US, Canada, Denmark (Greenland) and Norway (Svalbard). Besides these circumpolar countries, Finland, Iceland and Sweden are considered Arctic countries as well, because their territory lies partially north of the Arctic Circle.

During the Cold War, the Arctic was mainly seen as a strategic area. Consequently, countries defined it mostly in military terms: a strategic site for submarine voyages, bombing routes and early warning systems (Roucek, 1983). According to Heininen and Nicol (2007, p. 147), USSR president Mikhail Gorbachev’s call for Arctic cooperation set in motion a process in which the “emphasis shifted away from maritime definitions of the region to a broader political and environmental constituency.”

In 1996, the Arctic Council was established by the Arctic countries and organisations of indigenous people (Heininen and Nicol, 2007). The organisation aims to protect the regional environment and promote sustainable development and stresses the importance of multilateral agreements. The regional interests of the body´s members differ widely. The US has refused to discuss security issues with Arctic Council, explaining why the organisation is still largely focused on environmental issues. The US feels least involved in the Arctic as a region and is mainly interested in those issues that relate directly to Alaska’s territory, its strategic interests and resource exploitation (Heininen and Nicol, 2007).

Moreover, the US is the only member state of the Arctic Council that has not ratified UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, see part 2). President Clinton signed the convention in 1994 and President George W. Bush expressed his support for the requisite move by Congress in 2009 (Howard 2009, the White House 2009). Nonetheless, some influential politicians who refer to ‘American exceptionalism’ have managed to block ratification by Congress.

Circumpolar countries could use UNCLOS to claim a larger share of the Arctic seas, but a unique geography makes it hard to apply the established legal framework in the region (Borgerson 2008). All five circumpolar countries were involved in a territorial dispute in the Arctic until September 2010 (IBRU 2010). The US is involved in three of them. It is in conflict with Canada over the status of the Northwest Passage (US: an international strait, Canada: internal waters), has a border conflict with the same country in the Beaufort Sea and one with Russia in the Bering Strait.

Climate change

Climate change has had an enormous impact on the perceived economic potential of the Arctic as a whole and country’s territorial claims in particular. Climate change (or global warming) is the commonly used name for a process that concerns a significant rise in the global temperature since the 1980s (Henson 2008).

The Arctic was not seen until recently as a promising location for resource exploration and large-scale shipping transit (Borgerson 2008). Perceptions started to change in the 1990s when melting of the Arctic ice accelerated as a result of higher temperatures. In 2007, the sea ice cover was nearly 50% lower than in the 1950s and 1960s (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway 2010). A key driver behind recent and expected territorial claims in the region, the melting of the Arctic ice cap may potentially ease the exploration and exploitation of mineral resources in the region’s subsoil. Technological progress in recent decades has also helped in this respect (Howard 2009).

Awareness (both in the region and in countries such as China and Japan) of the resource potential of the Arctic rose enormously after the U.S. Geological Survey published its estimates of Arctic hydrocarbon reserves in 2008. These estimates suggested that the region holds 13% of the world’s undiscovered oil and 30% of the world’s undiscovered natural gas (USGS 2008).

Despite these positive estimates, massive new exploration and exploitation activity is very unlikely in off-shore areas in the coming decades. First, doubts have been raised about the reliability of these estimates (Howard 2009). Second, technology is still inadequate to build the necessary floating production structures, tools to drill for oil and pipelines that can deal with the tough conditions in many off-shore areas (Anderson 2009). Third, the costs of off-shore exploration and exploitation in some Arctic areas may be prohibitively high, requiring an unrealistic (although not wholly impossible) oil price to make production profitable (Howard 2009). These limitations do not alter the fact that perceptions of the Arctic resource potential have a large impact on territorial claims.

The melting ice has also increased the potential for navigation of two previously impassable shipping routes (Emerson 2010). The Northwest Passage runs through northern Canada (Anderson 2009) and was navigable for the first time in August 2007 (Dodds 2007). The Northern Sea Route is located north of the Russian mainland. The potential benefits of these routes are enormous, as traditional shipping routes that currently go through the Suez Canal or Panama Canal can be shortened by thousands of miles (Anderson 2009). The actual benefits will however remain limited in the coming decades as an all-year ice-free Arctic is very unlikely (Emerson 2010). Moreover, different types of moving ice, some potentially very dangerous, will remain a frequent impediment for many ships using these shipping lanes (Anderson 2009).

Readers of this article are advised to consult these maps:

Geology.com – Arctic Ocean Map International Boundaries Research Unit – Arctic maritime jurisdiction map Le Monde Diplomatique – Arctic map

United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)

Before discussing Russia’s territorial claims in the Arctic, we need to understand on the relevance of UNCLOS for the Arctic. UNCLOS stands for United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The treaty was signed in 1982 and implemented in 1994 (Emerson 2010), and had been ratified by 160 countries as of March 2010 (UN 2010).

UNCLOS is important for the Arctic because of the region’s large water areas. UNCLOS gives every coastal state the right to a territorial sea that provides them with more or less unqualified sovereignty over sea, seabed and subsoil. The sovereignty regime is virtually the same as for land territory and internal waters. The breadth of a territorial sea is at most 12nm, measured from baselines that normally coincide with the low-water coastline. For the Arctic with its possibly substantial off-shore hydrocarbons reserves, the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) is an important concept. UNCLOS stipulates that a coastal state is entitled to an EEZ that can usually not extend beyond 200nm from the same baselines. Its EEZ provides a state with “sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring and exploiting, conserving and managing the natural resources, whether living or non-living, of the waters superjacent to the seabed and of the seabed and its subsoil…” (UN 1982, p. 43). The coastal state has limited sovereignty over an EEZ as other countries have here the right of navigation, overflight and fishing.

UNCLOS (1982, p.53) notes that a coastal state has a continental shelf that “comprises the seabed and subsoil of the submarine areas that extend beyond its territorial sea throughout the natural prolongation of its land territory to the outer edge of the continental margin.” The continual shelf of each state extends to at least 200nm from the earlier mentioned baselines. If a country argues that its continental shelf extends beyond 200nm from the earlier mentioned baselines, it must submit evidence to substantiate such a claim to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS). This case should be done within 10 years of a country ratifying UNCLOS. The CLCS recommendations in this regard are final and binding. A country could have an interest in a continental shelf of more than 200nm stems because of the related exclusive right to explore and exploit the resources of the subsoil. The potential benefits are somewhat reduced by the (contentious) condition that the country concerned needs to share the revenues from resources found in the extended part of the continental shelf with other signatories of UNCLOS.

Russia’s territorial claims

So how can we best make sense of the importance of the Arctic for Russia, the country’s recent actions in the region and the claim that Russia submitted to the CLCS in 2001?

The Arctic was already high on the political agenda of the Soviet Union by 1930 due to its large share in the country’s landmass, its strategic location and its large resources reserves (Dodds 2007). Russia’s new national security strategy, implemented in 2009, centres on energy security. The related report argues that Russia will defend its access to oil and gas reserves in particular regions including the Arctic, and does not exclude military means in that respect (McDermott 2009). The presence of natural resources explains why the Russian government considers the Arctic a top priority. This perception is partially based on the fact that Russia’s ruling elite considers oil and gas the country’s most effective foreign policy tool (Trenin 2009). Furthermore, revenues from the energy sector are required to compensate for the lack of growth and reforms in other sectors, making the Russian economy increasingly energy dependent (Trenin 2009).

In recent years, Russia’s navy and air forces have become more active in the Arctic beyond the country’s EEZ (exclusive economic zone). In 2007, Russia re-introduced a Cold War practice where its strategic bombers fly over the Arctic Ocean (Borgerson 2008) and warplanes move along or just over the borders with other Arctic countries (Howard 2009). In 2008 the Russian navy resumed its patrol missions in the Arctic Ocean after a gap of 20 years (Borgerson 2009). An action that did not involve the military but nevertheless made global headlines took place in August 2007, when a Russian scientific expedition managed to plant a titanium flag on the seabed under the North Pole at a depth of 4,000m (BBC 2007; Dodds 2007). The official aim of the expedition was to search for geologic evidence to support Russia’s territorial claim. The flag planting ritual has been a practice for claiming territory for centuries and has already been conducted several times in the Arctic (Dodds 2007). A multilateral military action took place in the Arctic in June 2010, when Russia and Norway held their first joint military exercise since 1994 (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway 2010).

In his ‘Munich speech’ in February 2007, Russian President Putin rejected the US tendency for unilateralism and its claim to world dominance. He further stressed the importance of international law and political (as opposed to violent) solutions to conflicts (Washington Post 2007). Although some of Russia’s recent actions defy Putin’s remarks (e.g. Russian-Georgian war in 2008, see Ó Tuathail 2008), Russia’s Arctic strategy has embraced multilateral initiatives (Arctic Council) and international law (UNCLOS).

Russia submitted a case to the CLCS to claim Arctic territory in 2001, based on UNCLOS. The commission nonetheless refused to make a decision and requested additional geological evidence to support the claim (Howard 2009). The claim states that Russia has a continental shelf in the Arctic that extends beyond 200nm from the relevant baselines. It is assumed that the submerged mountain ranges known as the Lomonosov Ridge and the Mendelev Ridge are natural extensions of the country’s landmass (Howard 2009). The related territorial claim includes the location where the North Pole is assumed to be located (Dodds 2007).

International lawyers have stated that it is very difficult to prove that the two ridges are part of any continental shelf (Dodds 2007). Canada and Denmark consider basing a territorial claim on the Lomonosov Ridge as well, possibly leading to a new border dispute. On the other hand, Russia and Norway signed an agreement in September 2010 to settle their border dispute in the Barents Sea (BBC 2010).

In all, Russia’s recent actions regarding the Arctic reflect its appreciation of international law and a willingness to negotiate to settle border disputes while concurrently revealing a tendency to use military activity and strong language to bolster its territorial claims.


This brief analysis of Arctic geopolitics does not pretend to do fully justice to the many complexities that characterise this region. However, I hope it has clarified a couple of key regional issues:

  • All circumpolar countries were involved in border disputes over the past few decades.
  • Climate change and the related melting of the polar ice cap will not swiftly result in easily navigable, all-year open shipping routes and abundant opportunities for new oil and gas exploration in the region.
  • UNCLOS, an international legal framework to set maritime boundaries, does not offer tailor-made, widely accepted solutions to the remaining Arctic border disputes.
  • Russia’s policies towards the Arctic apply both international law and military means.


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  • Henson R. (20008) The rough Guide to Climate Change. 2nd ed. London: Penguin Books
  • Howard, R. (2009) The Arctic Gold Rush: The New Race for Tomorrow’s Natural Resources. London: Continuum Publishing.
  • IBRU (2010) Maritime jurisdiction in the Arctic. [Online]. Available from: http://www.dur.ac.uk/resources/ibru/arctic.pdf [Accessed 1 September 2010].
  • McDermott, R. (2009) Russia’s National Security Strategy. [Online]. Available from: http://www.jamestown.org/single/?no_cache=1&tx_ttnews[tt_news]=35010 [Accessed 4 September 2010].
  • Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway (2010) Norwegian Arctic and High North Policy. Opportunities and Challenges. [Online]. Available from: http://www.regjeringen.no/en/dep/ud/aktuelt/taler_artikler/utenriksministeren/2010/wissenschaft_arctic.html?id=609500 [Accessed 4 September 2010].
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  • Ó Tuathail, G. (2008) Russia’s Kosovo: A Critical Geopolitics of the August 2008 War over South Ossetia. Eurasian Geography and Economics, 49, No. 6, 670-705.
  • Roucek, J.S. (1983) The Geopolitics of the Arctic. American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Vol. 42, No. 4 (October), 463-471.
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by Leonhardt van Efferink
Comments Off on Geopolitical Knowledge 1 – the Netherlands, Bosnia and the language of power

Geopolitical Knowledge 1 – the Netherlands, Bosnia and the language of power

Article by: Gertjan Dijkink (December 2011) Tags: Geopolitical Knowledge The Netherlands, Bosnia language of terrain strategy and power UNPROFOR Dutch UN mission Bosnia Srebrenica Massacre Genocide 1995

Gertjan Dijkink

Gertjan Dijkink


Until his retirement in early 2011, Dr Gertjan Dijkink worked as Associate professor of political and cultural geography at the University of Amsterdam.

He is also author of the frequently quoted book “National Identity and Geopolitical Visions: Maps of Pride and Pain”.

This is part 1 of “Are There National Differences In Geopolitical Knowledge?”, the farewell speech he gave at the University of Amsterdam on 26 January 2011.

You can go to part 2 by clicking on this link:

Gertjan Dijkink: Geopolitical Knowledge 2 – Dutch, French and American newspapers on Afghanistan

Furthermore, a pdf file of the complete speech is available on Dr Dijkink’s website:

“Are There National Differences In Geopolitical Knowledge?” (537 kB)

Salvador Dali’s ‘Geopoliticus Child Watching the Birth of the New Man’

Geopoliticus Child Watching the Birth of the New Man

Note: photo provided by author

In 1943 Salvador Dali painted the birth of ‘the new man’ as an event observed by ‘a new man’, the latter represented in the forefront and aptly named ‘Geopoliticus child’. Obviously I am not going to dwell on the esthetic qualities of paintings. Moreover Dali considered his own artistic capabilities mediocre: he attached more value to being recognized as a visionary genius!

My interest is of course in his vision, but let me nevertheless linger an instant over the esthetic aspects. Dali seems to revert to artistic conventions from the 18th century. According to these conventions the onlooker had to be guided into a painted landscape by something in the forefront: a human figure, a walker or a path. Here, in this painting, we see an adult person and a child in the forefront. Later on, artists like Caspar David Friedrich (see his Shipwreck from 1823) shocked the public by omitting such details, by slinging the onlooker smack down into the wilderness.

For them nature had to be experienced as an awe-inspiring reality, opposed to the human world. In Dali’s painting the shock is produced by something different: human nature, in this case the birth of a new geopolitical world order. It expresses the shift from European (mainly British) world power to American hegemony. We are faced here with relations between states but particularly with our misplaced idea that the world will always remain as it is now. Accordingly, it is not a bad idea to involve the onlooker by means of a human step as the old-fashioned pictorial rule recommended but now in the shape of (two) generations.

American world power and geopolitical knowledge

Today it is difficult to recognize the visionary quality of the 1943 claim that world power was disappearing from Europe because we tend to describe the advance of American hegemony as something that started even earlier. Nothing is easier than the wisdom of hindsight but I am rather thinking about geopolitical theories (or views) conceiving of world hegemony as a generational phenomenon that coincides with entire centuries.

George Modelski and other writers described the sequence of world powers in history from Portugal in the 16th century, the Netherlands in the 17th century, Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries to the US in the 20th century. The idea of countries that leave their mark on a century became a hot topic of course at the close of the 20th century. Americans to whom the end of their hegemony was foretold, optimistically referred to the British who also could boast of two centuries.

Around the turn of the century many conferences raised the question of America’s hegemony in the near future. One of them, organized in Loughborough in 1999 by David Slater and Peter Taylor, was devoted to possible challenges to American world power. The conference didn’t particularly produce forecasts (although one speaker promised the US a Chinese-American 21st century at most) but rather attempts to identify the principles that had enabled the US to attain world power with the consequent question if such principles had become less powerful in the current global system.

Few participants in that conference were probably aware of the fact that neo-conservative intellectuals in the US already engaged in a Project for a New American Century aiming at realizing the second American century by means of a new worldwide military strategy. Their thoughts underlay the reckless American invasions after September 11 in Afghanistan and particularly in Iraq. Today’s evaluation is often that these strategies have helped to hasten the end of American hegemony rather than securing the start of a new American century.

What lessons can we learn about geopolitical knowledge? The important message is not that once in a century the world arrives at a turning point and that we cannot resist it. The message is rather that we should always start looking afresh at the way power is realized in a terrain. Being the biggest or military starkest does not mean much if you are blind to the terrain, the pattern of human and natural resources.

As the German father of political geography, Friedrich Ratzel, established in 1897: “one can only transcend the natural advantage of an adversary by entering his terrain with the tools with which he himself survives.” Applied to the rockets fired from drones at supposed Al Qaeda leaders at the frontier between Pakistan and Afghanistan this would imply a complete rejection of American (or NATO) military tactics.

The language of terrain, strategy and power, and the Dutch in Bosnia (UNPROFOR)

The language of terrain, strategy and power doesn’t come easily for the Dutch. That is not a very daring proposition. Dutch international politics has always stressed human rights, justice, development or ethic principles. I don’t have difficulties with that but rather with the fact that ethical ideals ultimately become frustrated when they are accompanied with poor geopolitical analysis. This may reduce such ethical principles to hypocrisy or, worse, produce the reverse of what has been aimed at.

Let me immediately give a dramatic example from the ethnic war in Bosnia where an explicit ethic principle (“chosing for life”) was pronounced in the context of the Dutch UN (UNPROFOR) operations. It is taken from an interview in the daily de Volkskrant from January 21, 1995:

[General] Couzy has returned [from Bosnia] extremely satisfied. “The men are still motivated and professionally engaged. This is the new Royal Army as I have in view. Over there we belong to the top of the premier league. UNPROFOR commander Rose has confirmed that it consists of the UK, France and the Netherlands.” […]
Up to now three soldiers have been killed on the Dutch side. Two soldiers have been seriously injured. Those are strikingly low numbers. According to Couzy, this is not merely a matter of good luck, training, equipment and discipline of Dutchbat have certainly contributed. […]
Dutchbat has a hard time in Srebrenica. The enclave, closed off from the outside world by Bosnian Serbs, is encircled by Serbian artillery and mortars. “They are trapped like rats. Therefore it makes no sense, to shoot firmly back during incidents like the freely moving British do. We have to do that well-balanced and deliberate” […]
The commander of the Bosnian Serbs, general Ratko Mladic, drives around in a Mercedes-jeep stolen from Dutchbat. Couzy:”That just sticks in your throat. Yet, it is one of the many harassments that one has to endure. Even if you were able to liquidate some robber captains then it would cost too many human lives. I choose for life.”

The sentence “I choose for life”, as ethically as it sounds in January 1995, would get a horrifying implication when these tactics permitted the murder on 8000 Bosniaks half a year later. In view of the genocidal impulses that already had manifested in the decomposing Yugoslavia, it was naïve to think that the symbolic presence of the much-harassed UNPROFOR troops would cast some weight in the balance with the ‘robber captains’.

Even if we establish that the Dutch (military commanders and policy makers) were not to blame (which is disputed) than the mere presence on the spot casts a slur on anyone’s reputation. Could it have ended otherwise?

A sharper awareness of the realities in the terrain might have induced the Dutch government to negotiate more heavy military guarantees from other NATO members when considering UNPROFOR participation. If the result had been negative, the absence of the Dutch on the scene or a more traditional conception of UN peacekeeping might at least have prevented the false sense of security that safe havens now induced in the Bosnian refugees.

Wrapping up part 1: the Dutch police training mission in Kunduz

Such a way of thinking that weighs capabilities against chances of success in a ‘battlefield’ is not the international approach of Dutch politicians who will never reconcile themselves to lack of power. The Dutch have replaced geopolitical analysis of success and failure with the primary goal to act in such a way that other members of the international community take account of them.

Even the most senseless contribution to the Western engagement with Afghanistan (the training of police officers that according to the agreement with the Afghan authorities have to abstain from military action in their further career) is accepted if it just helps the Netherlands to be recognized as a player on the international scene.

To continue with part 2, please click on this link:

Gertjan Dijkink: Geopolitical Knowledge 2 – Dutch, French and American newspapers on Afghanistan

by Leonhardt van Efferink
Comments Off on Geopolitical Knowledge 2 – Dutch, French and American newspapers on Afghanistan

Geopolitical Knowledge 2 – Dutch, French and American newspapers on Afghanistan

Article by: Gertjan Dijkink (December 2011) Tags: Geopolitical Knowledge Dutch French American newspapers Afghanistan Durand Line Federally Administered Tribal Areas FATA Pakistan ISI Gertjan Dijkink

Gertjan Dijkink

Gertjan Dijkink


Until his retirement in early 2011, Dr Gertjan Dijkink worked as Associate professor of political and cultural geography at the University of Amsterdam.

He is also author of the frequently quoted book “National Identity and Geopolitical Visions: Maps of Pride and Pain”.

This is part 2 of “Are There National Differences In Geopolitical Knowledge?”, the farewell speech he gave at the University of Amsterdam on 26 January 2011.

You can go to part 1 by clicking on this link:

Gertjan Dijkink: Geopolitical Knowledge 1 – the Netherlands, Bosnia and the language of power

Furthermore, a pdf file of the complete speech is available on Dr Dijkink’s website:

“Are There National Differences In Geopolitical Knowledge?” (537 kB)

Geopolitical traditions of The Netherlands, France and the United States

The interesting question behind the observations in the first part of this article is to what extent a certain geopolitical myopia has settled in the Dutch genes or in those of whatever nation. There are nations or countries like France where geopolitics can traditionally account on some reverence.

My own experience in a French village of 200 souls is that you can actually stumble upon someone who is engaged in writing a geopolitical thesis, even the lady next door. The presence of geopolitical journals (Hérodote, Le Monde diplomatique) and the emphatic self-presentation of experts as geopoliticians is telling, certainly compared with the Netherlands.

Strangely enough the US also has been reproached of missing a geopolitical tradition: by none other than Henry Kissinger. The US would know a legalistic, pragmatic and idealistic but no geopolitical tradition. One may indeed say that the tenacious American tradition of dividing the world in good and evil is not the hallmark of sound geopolitical analysis.

Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA)

This discussion may easily fall back into small talk if we do not move over to empirical facts, in this case media research. For that purpose I want to take you to a battlefield that I have already mentioned briefly: Afghanistan. A true geopolitical analyst will never look at the struggle in Afghanistan as isolated, as something that is relevant within its border and for the rest perhaps only in terms of countries that may help or obstruct certain war aims.

From the early beginning the struggle with the Taliban could not be detached from the geopolitical nature of the region: Iran, Central-Asia, India and particularly Pakistan. These are not merely unitary players but states that have local groups of citizens with loyalties that overstep state boundaries and their international policies are multidimensional in such a degree that they easily appear paradoxical to the one that sees the struggle against the Taliban simply as a matter of liberating the Afghan people.

Pakistan was from the beginning (in 2001) on the screen because its support was essential in the logistics of war but when the Taliban was not defeated and Osama bin Laden not caught, attention automatically shifted to a new dimension: the wild frontier area between Pakistan and Afghanistan inhabited by equally wild tribes. These tribes would offer hospitality to the Taliban and Osama bin Laden because they have a tradition of autonomy and do not accept interference from outside, a situation even characterized as lawlessness.

At that time the word ‘tribal’ had acquired a special connotation in the Dutch public opinion because in domestic politics the ‘multicultural society’ was under attack evoking the specter of a society in which each group could make its own laws and rules. Here tribal clearly means dysfunctional.

The autonomy of the tribal regions, officially Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), was not that deeply desired by the local people. Federally Administered indicates that they are under direct supervision of the central government and do not have the right to choose their own (provincial) government which itself is represented in central government (this is the North-Western Frontier province or Khyber Pakhtunkwa as it is recently renamed). Authority in the FATA areas, that means administration of justice, is exercised by a political agent appointed by Islamabad who acts according to a colonial rule book, the Frontier Crimes Regulation.

In the FATA no elementary freedoms apply like freedom of speech and association, no laws to which one can appeal and consequently no access to justice and no protection of life and property. These are all results of a historic situation in which this region, and particularly Afghanistan, was a frontier, a buffer zone, between the British colonial empire and the Russian empire.

Pakistan’s frontiers, the Durand Line and the Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI)

The description of FATA is prototypical of imperial frontiers. It is an instable situation that characterized the historical frontiers of America (the Wild West), the region that separated the Austrian Empire and the Turks in the Balkans, and the back and forth between the Chinese Han dynasty and the Mongolian ‘barbarians’. After a period of British military pressure the then ruler of Afghanistan, Amir Yaqub Khan, concluded a treaty with the British (1879) in which important parts of Afghanistan like the FATA were ceded to British India.

The new borderline was officially demarcated in 1893 by the British-Indian Representative in Kabul, Sir Mortimer Durand. The treaty was concluded with British India and not with Pakistan that only burst on the scene in 1947. That is why Afghan governments have never recognized the ‘Durand-line’ after the secession of Pakistan. The use of the word Durand-line in our times indicates with a high degree of certainty that someone is referring to a contested border.

In view of the fact that Afghans claim Pakistan territory, one could imagine that it would be helpful to Pakistan if the border was endorsed in a multilateral agreement. Yet, and this the heart of the matter, Pakistan has never pressed toward such an agreement, not even at the time that such a thing would have been a logical extension of an international conference like the one held after the termination of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in 1988-’89. The deeper cause was that Pakistan, or in any case groupings around the power elite, deemed it useful to control an area to which international organizations or media did not have access. In this way they could exert influence across the border through the Pashtun ethnic group that lives in Afghanistan but also in large areas of Pakistan.

The organization that played a key role was the Pakistan intelligence agency ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence agency) that also had been an important tool in organizing terror against India in Kashmir. Some commentators have described these machinations as expressions of a country fighting to survive because Pakistan is threatened internally by a lack of national unity and externally on one side by arch-enemy India and on the other side by a very instable Central- and South-Asian region. Anyhow, Pakistan has always engaged in creating strategical depth in the direction of Afghanistan. You need to take account of these facts to understand why American attempts to put pressure on Pakistan – inciting them to take action in the FATA – were in vain.

Newspaper analysis: Dutch, French and US reporting on Afghanistan-Pakistan

Let us now consider these facts as frame of a geopolitical outlook and see what we can recognize of it in the newspapers of three countries: Netherlands, France and the US. The content analysis was based on four (quality) dailies in each country over the years 2002-2010.

Four quality dailies
  • The Netherlands: Nederlands Dagblad, NRC-Handelsblad, Trouw, de Volkskrant
  • France: Figaro, La Croix, Le Monde, Liberation
  • US: Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post

The four Dutch newspapers published more than 1700 articles on the subject of Afghanistan (or the military operation in Uruzgan). These are all articles that mention the subject in their headlines. Many of these articles deal merely with political decision-making about participation in the war. Only less than 1000 articles pay attention to the terrain were the action is, that means experiences of the soldiers, the struggle against the Taliban and the attitude of the Afghan population. Among this category the number of articles that deal with the regional context, the role of Pakistan and the FATA is negligible, 43. The question is whether the other two countries show a keener geopolitical gaze in the news.

Looking at the entries for autonomous tribal areas (Figure 1), France does not cut a much better figure. In the first period (2002-7) French dailies even produced less news items than the Dutch newspapers. This may be caused by the fact that military operations on foreign soil are much more common in France. After 2007 French interest in the events in the border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan surpasses the Dutch production of news.

However, the US media are by far the most productive on this theme. This is not surprising since the issue of the autonomous tribal areas is closely related with the hunt for Osama bin Laden. As remarked above, the existence of this frontier zone is only a part of the geopolitical story. The significance of the Afghan struggle for Pakistan is more clearly elaborated upon when the role of the Pakistan secret service (ISI) is included in the story. Here the US cuts a rather poor figure compared to the other countries (green column).

Figure 1 Number of articles that mention Pakistan, Afghanistan and autonomous tribal / federally (centrally) administered / FATA areas: Blue: 2002-7, Red: 2008-10, Green: number of this selection that also mention ISI.

France is superior, also when we look at attention for the historical dimension indicated by the number of references to the Durand line, the contested border (Figure 2). In the course of time the French media seem to focus more strongly on the geopolitical conditions of the war in Afghanistan whereas this theme gets less emphasized in the other two countries notwithstanding the penetrating analyses of the Pakistan journalist Ahmed Rashid whose book “Descent into Chaos” had just been published in 2008.

Figure 2 Number of articles that mention Pakistan, Afghanistan and Durand-line. Blue: 2002-7, Red: 2008-10

Conclusion: comparison of Dutch, French and American newspapers

The French emerge from this analysis as a nation with a geopolitical gaze while the Dutch gaze is perhaps not completely blind for geopolitical detail but somewhat myopic. However, a computer analysis based on key words may itself be myopic particularly when we are judging the ability to tell a coherent geopolitical story.

Such a thing can only be tested by a qualitative analysis: reading the entire article printed in a newspaper. This procedure yielded 5 articles in the Dutch press, 10 in the French press and 5 or 6 (depending on criteria) in the American press that could count as true geopolitical stories. This judgment is of course liable to criteria of this author but it is at least confirmed by the quantitative analysis.

It is further striking that the articles in the Dutch press that satisfied the criteria were not written by well-known prolific writers on international relations. They were from journalists in the field, a professor of South-Asian studies, and a former general-major teaching at an academy for International Relations studies. This shows how much a geopolitical perspective is promoted by (intimate) knowledge of the terrain rather than by a general knowledge of international relations and conflicts.

by Leonhardt van Efferink
Comments Off on The work of Harold and Margaret Sprout and its continued relevance today

The work of Harold and Margaret Sprout and its continued relevance today

Article by: David Criekemans (May 2009) Tags: Harold Margaret Sprout Geopolitics Foreign Policy Analysis

David Criekemans

David Criekemans

Dr. David Criekemans recently presented a paper at the Annual Convention of the International Studies Association in New York, titled: “Where ‘geopolitics’ and ‘foreign policy analysis’ once met: the work of Harold and Margaret Sprout and its continued relevance today”.

You can download this publication though this link:

“Where ‘geopolitics’ and ‘foreign policy analysis’ once met: the work of Harold and Margaret Sprout and its continued relevance today” (833 kB)


Related external links

Onderzoeksgroep Diplomatie en Geopolitiek Personal page of David Criekemans

Voorkant van David Criekemans-boek

“Geopolitiek, ‘geografisch geweten’ van de buitenlandse politiek?”, Garant / Maklu (Antwerpen / Apeldoorn), 2007

The relation between ‘territoriality’ and foreign/international politics has always interested students of both Geopolitics and Foreign Policy Analysis (FPA). These fields of study are much more interrelated than traditionally is acknowledged.

This paper studies the important work of Harold and Margaret Sprout, who played a key role in introducing their insights on ‘geopolitics’ into what later would become known as ‘foreign policy analysis’.

First, a better insight is offered into the ideas of the Sprouts. What did their suggested ‘ecological triad’ entail? What are the consequences of the distinction between the ‘operational’ and the ‘psychological’ milieu for the study of foreign policy? How is ‘cognitive behavioralism’ related to other possible epistemological appreciations regarding the relationship between ‘territoriality’ and ‘foreign policy’? What does the distinction between ‘foreign policy analyses’ and ‘capacity analyses’ mean?

Second, three ways are identified in which Harold and Margaret Sprout influenced IR and FPA.

Third, a reconstruct is made of the ontological, epistemological and methodological assumptions and traits of ‘Cognitive Geopolitics’.

Finally, some critiques are formulated on ‘Cognitive Geopolitics’, while at the same time developing some ideas on the continued relevance today of the work of Harold and Margaret Sprout.

Comments and suggestions on the paper are very much welcomed indeed, and can be send to the editor of ExploringGeopolitics:


by Leonhardt van Efferink
Comments Off on David Criekemans: Georgia-Russia – Model UN Simulation Exercise (2008)

David Criekemans: Georgia-Russia – Model UN Simulation Exercise (2008)

Article by: David Criekemans, Louis-Alfons Nobels and Karen Van Laethem (March 2009) Tags: Georgia Russia Model United Nations Simulation Exercise Security Council

David Criekemans

David Criekemans

Associate Professor in ‘Belgian and Comparative Foreign Policy’ at the University of Antwerp (Belgium) and in ‘Geopolitics’ at both the Royal Military Academy in Brussels (Belgium) and the International Centre for Geopolitical Studies (ICGS) in Geneva (Switzerland). He also works at the Flemish Centre for International Policy (FCIP) in Antwerp (Belgium).

Related external links

Onderzoeksgroep Diplomatie en Geopolitiek Vlaams Steunpunt Buitenlands Beleid Personal page of David Criekemans

Voorkant van David Criekemans-boek

“Geopolitiek, ‘geografisch geweten’ van de buitenlandse politiek?”, Garant / Maklu (Antwerpen / Apeldoorn), 2007

Louis-Alfons Nobels

Graduate of the Catholic University of Leuven Law faculty and currently studying International Relations and Diplomacy. He works at the United Nations Association Flanders Belgium.

Karen Van Laethem

Researcher for the Fund for Scientific Research, Flanders, at the Faculty of Law of the Free University of Brussels.

Between August 7th and August 12th 2008, hostilities broke out between the Republic of Georgia and the Russian Federation. On August 26th, Russia officially recognised the secessionist territories Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. This recognition was severely condemned by Georgia, NATO, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the OSCE, the United States (U.S.) and the European Union (EU).

Georgian-Russian relations have been seriously worsening since 2004, when Georgian President Saakashvili adopted a liberal reformist course, a Euro-Atlantic foreign policy orientation and an assertive approach to the protracted Abkhaz and South Ossetian conflicts. Viewing Georgia’s deepening ties with NATO, the EU and the U.S. as a threat to its security, Russia has employed a range of political and economic levers against Georgia, including economic sanctions, visa restrictions and closure of transport links. Georgia argues that Russia directly intervenes in its internal affairs by nurturing trouble with Abkhazia and South Ossetia. It has criticised Moscow’s economic, budgetary and military support to the breakaway regions and has convinced many in the U.S. and the EU that neither Russia’s mediation efforts in the conflicts nor its peacekeeping troops are neutral. Moscow’s heavyhanded policies have in turn reinforced Georgia’s desire to join NATO (International Crisis Group, 2008).

Russian and Georgian relations go far beyond the bilateral problems between two countries. The two countries have competing political projects and geopolitical visions of the Southern Caucasus. The Southern Caucasus with its post-Soviet legacies of authoritarian rule, endemic corruption, military stockpiles, overlapping ethnic and religious fault lines, economic growth inequities, mineral wealth, and geo-strategic positioning, stand at a tipping point in their history. Without proper monitoring and support, they could become epicentres of international instability (Tim Radjy, 2006).

The Georgian-Russian conflict is divided over a number of issues including trade, espionage and energy (Ivars Indans, 2007). Most dangerously of all is the conflict on the status of the two pro-Russian breakaway regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia: although so often described as frozen conflicts, the situation in both regions, which seek independence from Georgia, has deteriorated quickly. The precedent of Kosovo heartened the leaders of the breakaway regions and spurred Georgia to take action to reintegrate its lands. In reaction to the West’s recognition of Kosovo’s independence, Russia began to institutionalize its support for South Ossetia and Abkhazia and formally lifted trade sanctions against them (Sergei Markedonov, 2008). Since the early years of independence, Georgia has been negotiating terms of political status with these breakaway regions, although the process has often reached a deadlock. The existing formats of political negotiation and peacekeeping have proved ineffective and the Georgian side has requested a comprehensive review of the entire peace process. Many factors hinder the process of conflict settlement. Topping the list are images of the other as the ‘enemy’ and a deep mistrust among the sides. A comprehensive strategy to break the deadlock needs to be devised (Archil Gegeshidze, 2008).

As conflict resolution has proven impracticable, it is now time to consider altering existing arrangements in order to prevent a further escalation of violence (Stacy Closson, 2008). This setting forms the core of the negotiation exercise which you are about to embark upon.

Download publication

You can download the simulation exercise:

PDF-file of Simulation Exercise (903 kB)