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Alfred Thayer Mahan, The Interest of America in Sea Power, Present and Future (1897)

A prolific writer, Mahan became one of the most famous naval and sea power prophets of the late nineteenth century.  Concerned with the United States’ place in the world, Mahan wrote to influence both policymakers and common Americans.  Although some of his articles and books are less resonant today, they still provide a fascinating glimpse into the state of the world of in the 1890s, shortly before the Spanish-American War, and how it was perceived by many Americans. 

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Polk, War Message to Congress (1846)

Although he was not the first to put his eyes on the territory west of the Louisiana Purchase, it was the presidency of James K. Polk (1845-1849) that put the finishing touches on the last major acquisition of new territory before the Civil War. A member of the Jacksonian-nationalist wing of the Democratic Party, Polk’s intentions were clear from the start—his famous campaign slogan, “54-40 or Fight!” indicated his intention to settle the status of the Oregon Territory with Great Britain on American terms. But even more famously associated with Polk is the Mexican-American War, and with it the acquisition of New Mexico and Upper California.

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Not your Father’s Geopolitics

Those of us of a Classical bent are occasionally jarred by references to “geopolitics” that do not seem to square with the understanding we gained from reading authorities such as Mahan, Mackinder, and Spykman.  Although we felt that we were properly critical of particular aspects of these geopolitical teachings, were are reminded that in recent years, something formally called “critical geopolitics” has emerged – a postmodern understanding of space, “identity,” and politics. 

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A Russian Academic’s Perspective on China and the Heartland Hypothesis

Lukin notes that Beijing is seeking to (re)create the Silk Road that is envisioned as Eurasia’s superhighway – running through the Heartland and reliably linking China with other parts of the continent, such as Europe, the Middle East, Southeast and South Asia. In this respect, we may see if Mackinder is finally proven right in his argument that railways would be the decisive revolution in transportation that would overcome the advantages once held by seaborne means of transportation. China, Lukin observes, is rapidly expanding its own railway network and has become the world’s leader in building high-speed lines, while expanding standard rail lines (and pipelines and other associated infrastructure) into neighboring countries, especially in Central Asia.

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Christopher Fettweis’ Critique of Classical Geopolitics

Christopher Fettweis of Tulane University offers a frontal assault on the utility of classical notions of geopolitics, such as those advocated by Mahan, Mackinder and Spykman (and on those who employ those notions today, including Robert Kaplan and Colin Gray). He argues that geopolitics fails, often spectacularly, along three key dimensions of theory: description (explaining the way in which the world works); prediction (extending this explanation into the future); and prescription (providing policymakers with advice regarding how to proceed). 

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In Defense of Classical Geopolitics

CSD Editorial Note: This essay was originally published in the Naval War College Review, Autumn 199, pp. 59-76.   The formulation of national strategy is influenced by a wide variety of factors, including the past history of the nation; the nature of the regime; the ideology, religion, and culture; economic factors, to include technology;

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Of Geography and Politics

If statesmanship or the political art is synonymous with the art of war or the art of acquisition on the grandest scale, then mastery of geography becomes "the first part" of the statesman's arsenal. "[H]e should learn the nature of sites, and recognize how mountains rise, how valleys open up, how plains lie, and understand the nature of rivers and marshes—and in this invest the greatest care.… And the prince who lacks this skill lacks the first part of what a captain must have." If the "desire to acquire" or the "lust for power" is inherently unlimited and is the governing principle of politics, then the primary concern of politics with geography, the concern with acquisition of territory, in principle knows no bounds. The concern of politics with geography, at a certain point in history, expanded its scope, not just in principle but in fact, to encompass the world.

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Richard Rush, Memoranda of a Residence at the Court of London (1833)

While serving as Minister to England from 1817-1825, Rush kept a journal that became the basis for his diplomatic memoirs, Memoranda of a Residence at the Court of London (covering the years 1818-9; originally published in 1833); and the less comprehensive second volume, A Residence at the Court of London, Comprising Incidents, Official and Personal, from 1819 to 1825, published in 1845. A third edition, edited by his son, Benjamin, which included an account of his time as Minister to France during the Revolutions of 1848, was issued in 1872. In part to avoid diplomatic complications that might result from his unvarnished views, Rush edited the journals to smooth out the rough edges and added explanatory material to bring the narrative context up to date. Rush and his son made it clear that one of the principal purposes in publishing these memoirs was to improve Anglo-American relations.

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William H. Stiles, Austria in 1848-49 (1852)

When the European revolutions of 1848 spread to Austria and the Habsburg lands, William H. Stiles, the American chargé d'affaires in Vienna, became both a participant and a chronicler of these watershed events. Stiles, an attorney from Savannah, Georgia, had been a one-term Democratic Congressman before being appointed to his diplomatic position

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Robert Kaplan on the Geopolitical Classics and Contemporary China

Kaplan points out that Halford J. Mackinder ended his famous 1904 article, "The Geographical Pivot of History," with a reference to China. After explaining why Eurasia was the geostrategic fulcrum of world power, Mackinder posited that the Chinese, should they expand their power well beyond their borders, "might constitute the yellow peril to the world's freedom just because they would add an oceanic frontage to the resources of the great continent, an advantage as yet denied to the Russian tenant of the pivot region." Kaplan argues that Mackinder, then-fashionable racism aside, had a point:  whereas Russia, that other Eurasian giant, basically was, and is still, a land power with an oceanic front blocked by ice, China, owing to a 9,000-mile temperate coastline with many good natural harbors, is both a land power and a sea power.

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