1Parce qu’il est inconcevable de passer ici en revue, étant donné l’objet précis du numéro, tout ce qui a pu s’écrire au titre de la géopolitique, les recensions effectuées dans cet article par David Criekemans et dans l’article précédent par Pascal Venier ont pour but de présenter les éléments épars susceptibles de contribuer à une approche plus formelle que celle qui a habituellement cours. Il ne s’agit donc pas de faire, avec ces deux articles, un panorama exhaustif des auteurs ou des courants de la géopolitique, mais d’en extraire un certain nombre de points de vue dans ce qu’ils ont de plus théorisant. Tout en rappelant, très brièvement, l’histoire de cette pensée.
2The vast majority of overviews of the geopolitical literature jump directly from ‘Classical Geopolitics’ to the current ‘Critical Geopolitics’. This way of representing the literature is incomplete. During the 1950s and ’60s another reaction to ‘Classical Geopolitics’ was developed. In 1956, American IR-scholars Harold and Margaret Sprout developed a new, revolutionary epistemological approach; ‘cognitive behavioralism’. It was the result of a fundamental reflection which the Sprouts started about the relation between ‘territoriality’ and ‘politics’. The Sprouts’ conceptual work and their particular philosophy of science formed the real starting point of the cognitive-behavioralist approaches within IR and the foundation of the IR-subfield of ‘comparative foreign policy’. These aspects constitute strong indicators that (the debate on) ‘geopolitics’ which the Sprouts initiated can be considered a ‘missing link’ which helps us to better understand the development of IR during the 1950s and’60s.
3The Sprouts stated in their central hypothesis that environmental variables can only influence human activities in two ways. First, such factors can be perceived by individuals, who take these into account in their ‘foreign policy decisions’ and responses. Only in such cases can one speak of a form of ‘influence’ of human preferences & decisions by the environment, ‘mediated’ by perception. Second, environmental variables can be approached as a kind of ‘matrix’ which possibly limits the results of foreign policy decisions (‘foreign policy outcomes’), even if these environmental variables are not perceived. According to the Sprouts there existed therefore two usable explanatory frameworks; the ‘psychological milieu’ or ‘psycho-milieu’ (‘the environment as perceived by the decision maker & upon which he/she bases his/her reaction’) on the one hand, and the ‘operational environment’ (‘the true environment in which the chosen policy is executed’) on the other hand. The conceptual distinction between ‘psycho-milieu’ and the ‘operational environment’ in fact means a fundamental break with the realist school, which (still) believed that foreign policy-decision makers can perceive their environment in a ‘correct’ way. This ‘amendment’ of the Sprouts had important consequences for the IR-scholar. In case a researcher is trying to explain why certain decisions are taken in foreign policy, then one should try to analyze the ‘psychological environment’ of the decision maker. However, in case the analyst is more interested in the ‘operational results’ of a specific decision, then the ‘operational (or geographical) environment’ should be used as an explanatory framework. The explanatory power which analysts attribute to the ‘milieu’ largely depends on the way in which their proposed nmilieu-hypotheses are embedded in a certain epistemology about the feasibility of scientific knowledge about the relationship territoriality–politics. Each geopolitical formulation of a theory rests on such initial assumptions.
Figure 1: The conceptual revolution of Harold and Margaret Sprout: cognitive behavioralism and foreign policy analysis
4In ‘The Ecological Perspective on Human Relations with Special Reference to International Politics’ (1965, 1971), the Sprouts stated that in essence a researcher can choose between five possible epistemological ways of appreciating the relationship between environmental variables & (foreign) policy: ‘geographical determinism’ (cf. Haushofer), ‘free will environmentalism’ (cf. Spykman), ‘environmental possibilism’ (cf. Vidal de la Blache), ‘environmental probabilism’ and the approach developed by the Sprouts themselves: ‘cognitive behavioralism’. The latter one, cognitive behavioralism, starts from the following assumption: a central political decision maker (who conducts a foreign policy on behalf of a political entity) consciously responds to his/her milieu (environment) as he/she apperceives & interprets it in light of past experiences (Sprout, 1971 , p. 117-118).
5The Sprouts made an important distinction between analyzing ‘power’ (or better: ‘political potential’) ‘in terms of foreign policy-analyses’ versus ‘in terms of capacity analyses’. Foreign policy-analyses are aimed at explaining or predicting policy decisions. Conversely, capacity analyses are aimed at explaining or predicting the operational results of decisions; the calculation of the opportunities and limitations which are implicitly embodied in the environment of a certain state. It are exactly these elements which will affect the ‘operational results’ of that which is undertaken, irrespective whether such factors are known by the decision makers. In both types of analyses, environmental variables play a role, but the relevant frames of reference and the applied explanatory hypotheses or theories are always different. Only foreign policy-analyses have attention for the way in which environmental variables are ‘perceived’. In capacity analyses, ‘perception’ as such does not play a real role; as an analyst one rather develops an independent evaluation of the question what opportunities and limitations are implicitly embedded in the environment of the concerned state, and how these may affect the ‘political potential’ of a nation (in comparison to other countries & in function of certain previously postulated long or short term-policy objectives). Researchers such as Strausz-Hupé and Morgenthau focused upon measuring ‘power’ in terms of capacity analyses; they tried to fill in ‘power’ in a non-normative fashion in which they still believed that ‘geography’ and other ‘territorially embedded’ power factors were guiding the content of foreign policy. Strausz-Hupé (1945) did not analyze foreign policy as such, but rather made an ‘inventory’ of the material power sources (geographical location, size of the state, available resources, developed industries, demography, etc.) of states (sometimes even without explicitly drawing attention to the necessary framework of reference of ‘national policy objectives’). In fact, what really was studied was the virtual ‘capacity’ of states to influence international politics, instead of examining whether and to what extent such environmental variables effectively generate an impact upon daily foreign policy. The latter was a step which the Sprouts clearly did make.
6The research tradition of ‘Cognitive Geopolitics’ can be reconstructed on the basis of its ontological, epistemological and methodological components; ontologically, the following assumptions are at work within ‘Cognitive Geopolitics’: (1) The idea that states are the most important political entities, which do not function as organisms – ‘state action’ ‘entails “those deeds performed by those who act on behalf of the state”; (2) The idea that ‘Erdgebundenheit’ does not exist – the relationship between ‘territoriality’ and ‘politics’ is active from an ‘ecological triad’ (environment, environed entities and their mutual relationship). There exists an ‘operational’ & ‘psycho’-environment. Epistemologically, ‘Cognitive Geopolitics’ refuses to subscribe to the implicit ‘classical’ assumption that it would be possible to explain or predict the (power relations within) international politics as a system based upon “objective laws of nature”. ‘Cognitive Geopolitics’ looks at a lower level of analysis: that of the decision maker. There where the ‘classics’ departed from the assumption that the environment had a mere objective nature, ‘Cognitive Geopolitics’ states that the decision-making is influenced by the environment as a subjective given. Perception of central (foreign policy) decision maker’s stands central herein.
7A clear methodology was never really developed. However, one can discover within the cognitive-behavioralist literature of the 1960s and ‘70s some approaches which could be potentially useful; ‘belief systems’ (Holsti), ‘operational belief code system’ (George), ‘mental maps’ (Gould, White, Henrikson), ‘sketch maps’ (Saarinen), etc. Since ‘Cognitive Geopolitics’ was ‘encapsulated’ within the IR-subfield of Comparative Foreign Policy, its methodology was not ‘crystallized out’.
8The rise of the research tradition of ‘Critical Geopolitics’ constituted a joint intellectual enterprise of a number of political geographers in the Anglo-American scientific world. Special mention is deserved for Gearóid Ó Tuathail, author of ‘Critical Geopolitics’ (1996), based upon this doctoral dissertation from 1988. Together with John Agnew, he wrote a foundational article on ‘practical geopolitical reasoning’ (Ó Tuathail & Agnew, 1992). Simon Dalby articulated some theoretical foundations of the new research tradition of ‘Critical Geopolitics’ (1990, 1991). Klaus Dodds explicitly linked ‘Critical Geopolitics’ to the study of foreign policy (1993, 1994). There are also other relevant authors which we here omit.
9‘Critical Geopolitics’ starts from the assumption that ‘geography’ does not constitute an innocent product of nature. On the contrary, it is the result of the history of the battle between competing authorities about the power to organise, occupy and manage space. For Ó Tuathail, ‘geographical knowledge’ can be associated with the Foucauldian concept ‘governmentality’ the ways in which the government tries to normalise the activity and practice of ‘knowing’, both as the system for the organisation and conceptualisation of the management of the ‘population’, the ‘economy’, ‘security’, the ‘environment’, etcetera. It is precisely this mutual inter-wovenness between ‘governmentality’ and geographical knowledge which creates a ‘geo-power’, the central object of study of Ó Tuathail’s ‘Critical Geopolitics’. In their battle for ‘power’, politicians will apply aspects of geography and transform them in order to promote their own domestic and foreign agenda. Or to go even one step further, geographical elements are considered by ‘critical geopolitical scholars’ as crucial means in this process for the development of a ‘governmentality’. According to Ó Tuathail, ‘Geopolitics’ constitutes a historically grown form of ‘geo-power’, which was crucial in the development of ‘governmentality’ in the 20th century (Ó Tuathail, 1996, p. 10-20; Antonsich, 2000, p. 202).
10The scientific mission of ‘Critical Geopolitics’ can thus be described as follows: “to ‘document and deconstruct’ the ‘forms of these new congealments of geo-power’ and to ‘problematize’ how global space is incessantly reimagined and rewritten by centers of power and authority”(O’Tuathail, 1996, p. 249; Smith, 2000, p. 365-366). Especially via discourse analysis, ‘Critical Geopolitics’ tries to achieve insight into the way in which foreign policy-elites of territorial entities think about the relation of this entity vis-à-vis the “external environment”. These elites try to spread such self created visions in the broader society. As in the work of Michel Foucault and Edward W. Said ‘discourse’ is approached by Ó Tuathail as a “matrix of argumentation”, an “ensemble of ideas and concepts” or a “truth regime” which functions as a knowledge/power-system which composes, presents and interprets the external world. The ‘geopolitical discourse’ constitutes thus much more than mere rhetoric regarding international relations (Ó Tuathail, 2000, p.126). In ‘Critical Geopolitics’, a ‘discourse’ is approached as a ‘power structure’, a rhetorical strategy and representational techniques sponsored by certain institutions and political forces which compete amongst one another in the public arena. Their final goal is to achieve ‘rhetorical dominance’, the ‘only truth’ to perceive certain processes, crises and actors in global politics.
11On the topic of the relation between ‘Critical Geopolitics’ and the study of ‘foreign policy’, Agnew and Ó Tuathail developed four important theses (Ó Tuathail, 1998 , p. 81-82):
1. Geopolitics is re-conceptualised as a discursive process not limited to a small group of “wise” men and women. Geopolitical reasoning starts at a simple level and pervades the daily practice of international politics;
2. The study of geopolitical reasoning refers to both the elaborated study of 'statemanship' as to a 'set of social practices';
3. The study of the “geopolitical reasoning” requires studying the 'production' of geographical knowledge with a certain state and through the modern world system;
4. The focus lies with analyzing the foreign policy-elites of certain hegemonic states.
12One can formulate some objections with regard to the fourth thesis. Agnew and Ó Tuathail state that the focus of ‘Critical Geopolitics’ is aimed at analyzing the foreign policy-elites of certain ‘hegemonic states’. Nevertheless, the study of the contribution of smaller political entities could also constitute an interesting critical-geopolitical study. Also, small states can develop a ‘practical-geopolitical reasoning’ which can gradually try to gain support within the international community without requiring that its ‘messenger’ should have to be a ‘hegemonic state’.
13The research tradition of ‘Critical Geopolitics’ can be reconstructed on the basis of its ontological, epistemological and methodological components. Ontologically, ‘Critical Geopolitics’ approaches the world not as a manifest and relatively easy decipherable (material) reality (as ‘Classical Geopolitics’ did), nor as a reality which can be perceived by individual decision makers (‘Cognitive Geopolitics’). Conversely, ‘Critical Geopolitics’ has attention for the role which social, cultural & political processes play in the ‘giving of meaning’ and ‘construction’ of the international-political reality. The external world is seen as a reality which is difficult to “grasp” as a result of complex “processes of de and re-territorialisation”. ‘Critical Geopolitics’ underlines the plurality of ‘space’ and the multi-formity of possible political constructions of space. Central in its approach stands the idea that the image about the "external world" in first instance is being constructed within the broader society" (Ó Tuathail). ‘Critical Geopolitics’ can be described as “a problematising theoretical enterprise which questions the existing power- and knowledge structures”. Epistemologically, critical approaches to world politics state that academic analyses risk legitimating existing power practices when the vested structures and power relations are not ‘challenged’ and ‘questioned’. In contrast to ‘Cognitive Geopolitics’, each perception is embedded in and influenced by a complex process of inter-subjective ‘giving of meaning’.
14One of the most important sources of ‘Critical Geopolitics’ which we did not mention up till now is (social-)constructivism. This approach states that the researcher must realize that the world is a social construction. Constructivism states that this ‘social reality’ is constructed when individuals get into contact with one another and interact. Constructivists state that the social world can be understood if one departs from ‘shared’ knowledge and understanding among people. In ‘Critical Geopolitics’, the environment is approached as an inter-subjective reality, which gets its decisive form via ‘discursive interventions’. According to Forsberg, one should be interested in the way in which normative and symbolic elements suppress the direct material effects of geography (Forsberg, 2003). Scientifically, such a position is more useful than the all too often recurring conclusion “told you so; you thought this was a ‘natural’ phenomenon, but in reality it was constructed”. In other words, the question which ‘Critical Geopolitics’ poses, is not so much how or to what extent territoriality influences human agency, but rather: how does human agency “construct” territoriality?
15Methodologically, ‘critical geopolitics’ often utilises variants of discourse analysis since it is interested in the question of how the meaning of ‘places’ and ‘geopolitical space’ is constructed in (foreign) policy. Ó Tuathail developed a framework to analyze ‘practical geopolitical reasoning’. The ‘geopolitical discourse’ is a problem solving discourse with regulating aspirations, of which policy-makers make use. The ‘grammar of geopolitics’ does not just construct ‘visions of the world’. It forms a practically-oriented and problem-solving discourse which stands in dialogue with other positions, but which tries to safeguard and push through a certain ‘normative order’ (Ó Tuathail, 2002, p. 621-622). Politicians determine the content of a ‘geopolitical script’, and use these as an instrument in four consecutive phases of the foreign policy process; (1) definition of a foreign policy-problem (what relevance for the nation?); (2) determination of a ‘geopolitical strategy’; (3) further focusing and ‘refinement’ of this strategy (‘geopolitical accommodation’); (4) ‘closure’ of the problem; identification, development and advancement of an alleged solution for the formulated problem.
16With regard to the study of foreign policy, the first task of the ‘critical geopolitical’ scholar, is to subject the utilised foreign policy-discourse to a critical reflection; how do policy-makers make use of ‘territoriality’ to legitimate or ‘push through’ their opinion to the rest of the world? In this process, policy-makers make use of (geopolitical) ‘scripts’ as a silent whole of standard-ways on the basis of which they can respond in speeches, but also how they can articulate certain foreign policy-challenges or problems. ‘Scripts’ are defined as “a set of representational practices, a collection of descriptions, attributions and scenarios which are deemed necessary in order to define a place’ (Dodds, 1993, p. 72). The representations of places and people as “foreign” constitutes a crucial element in the carrying out of a foreign policy. Dodds considers experts, foreign policy elites and the mass media as “privileged storytellers” which develop and re-write ‘scripts’ which simplify the world in more manageable forms. They try to legitimate the foreign policy; their perceptions of ‘we’ (‘self’) versus ‘others’ (‘otherness’ or ‘foreignness’) will influence both policy and attitudes.
17This article tried to offer a concise yet comprehensive overview of the most important ‘geopolitical schools of thought’. We focused our synopsis on those schools which according to our analysis have contributed important insights from an epistemological point of view with regard to the relation between ‘territoriality’ and ‘politics’. If one takes a “long view”, it becomes striking that many different schools approach ‘territoriality’ quite differently.
Figure 2: The very diverse interpretation of ‘geo’ or ‘territoriality’ by different Geopolitical Schools of Thought
19For those engaged in geopolitical analysis, it is important to take into account that many geopolitical schools of thought focus on other aspects of the relation between ‘territoriality’ and ‘politics’. There are nevertheless possibilities to integrate a number of these schools of thought into a more integrated, holistic framework of analysis (Criekemans, 2007; Criekemans, 2008). When one compares ‘Classical’, ‘Cognitive’ and ‘Critical Geopolitics’, one comes to the conclusion that each of these three ‘geopolitical schools of thought’ merely examine some partial aspects of the relationship between ‘territoriality’ and ‘politics’. Or, to put it more strongly; no one geopolitical research tradition seems to be able to really study the complex, vice versa interaction between ‘geo’ and ‘politics’. Inspired by the Sprouts, but taking into account some advances developed by Critical Geopolitics, one could develop a dynamic overview of the potential relations of influence between ‘geo’ & ‘politics’, and vice versa:
Figure 3: The components of a more holistic and dynamic framework of analysis?
21According to science philosopher Larry Laudan, there exist two ways in which different research traditions can be integrated. First, in some cases a research tradition can be grafted upon another, without it being necessary to strongly re-adjust the basic assumptions. Second, it is possible that the fusion of two or more research traditions necessitate the rejection of a number of basic assumptions within each of the original research traditions. Most ‘scientific revolutions’ take place, not so much by the articulation of a research tradition whose ‘ingredients’ are new and revolutionary, but rather by the development of a new research tradition whose old ‘ingredients’ are combined in a new way (Laudan, 1978, p. 103-104). According to Laudan, one can talk about ‘scientific progress’ in the event a research tradition succeeds in realizing a better ‘problem solution’, while at the same time limiting the number of anomalies and conceptual problems (Laudan, 1978, p. 124-125). However, the formulation of a new geopolitical research tradition constitutes a highly ambitious undertaking, beyond the scope of this article. What does become clear from our analysis, is how much a number of geopolitical research traditions are complementary to one another. The road towards a ‘more comprehensive’ geopolitical model or framework of analysis could therefore be one which entails several aspects of the interaction between ‘territoriality’ and ‘politics’. A ‘more comprehensive’ geopolitical model (or framework) of analysis for foreign policy, could therefore consist of several phases:
22The analyst first has to develop an inventory of the territorial, material power basis of a political entity. It involves a classical-geopolitical analysis like in the work of Strausz-Hupé and Morgenthau, in other words one which is based upon a possibilistic epistemology. One develops a so-called virtual ‘capacity analysis’ of the (future) relative power position of a region in relation to the predetermined objectives in the foreign policy. In short, one develops an initial inventory of the territorially embedded, material (power)factors which offer the foreign policy of an “actor of geopolitics” –a country, region, city or macro-region– certain opportunities and/or restrictions. In many ways, such a possibilistic analysis is similar to ‘Classical Geopolitics’, though it has much less “to suffer” under the “heavy” ontological and epistemological assumptions of this last tradition. Who develops such a ‘geopolitical inventory’, can build up a sound and advanced insight into the material basis in which central political decision makers operate. This approach forms one of the most ‘tried and tested’ geopolitical methods of analysis. For example, one can find a guide for such descriptive geopolitical analyses of regions in the book ‘Introduction à l’analyse géopolitique’ of the French scientist Chauprade (1999). The next question which then announces itself is this one; how do central foreign policy-decision makers deal with this ‘given’ material world in their ‘foreign policy’? Or to put it differently; what relationship between the different manifestations of ‘geo’ and the dimensions of ‘foreign policy’, and vice versa?
23Although classical-possibilistic geopolitical analyses generate interesting insights, they offer in our opinion insufficient possibilities to obtain an insight into the conducted foreign policy.
24Methodologically, such analyses do not succeed in linking (geopolitical) environmental variables and the actual foreign policy (decisions/implementation of these decisions/rhetoric), and vice versa. In order to achieve this from an analytical point of view, the deployment of other approaches is necessary. ‘Cognitive’ and ‘Critical Geopolitics’ are to a large extent complementary to one another (to be sure, only if one makes abstraction of those of their respective ontological & epistemological assumptions which ‘conflict’ with one another). First, both study a fundamentally different level of analysis, in which their insights do not necessarily have to exclude one another, but can also work to reinforce each other mutually. ‘Cognitive Geopolitics’ conducts an analysis of foreign policy at the micro-level of the decision maker, whereas ‘Critical Geopolitics’ tries to analyze the meso-level of the (territorial and environmental assumptions) within the foreign policy discourse. Second, between both there exists a difference in the way in which they have attention for the relation between ‘geo’ on the one hand and ‘politics’ on the other hand. ‘Cognitive Geopolitics’ especially has attention for the way in which ‘geo-factors’ influence (the ideas of) the decision maker. ‘Critical Geopolitics’ rather has attention for the way in which ‘politics’, via a discourse, tries to ascribe a certain meaning to ‘geo-variables’; the ‘construction’ of a ‘meaning’ to the territorial environment, and this with certain political objectives in mind.
25From a purely meta-theoretical perspective, one should recognize that the perception of individual decision makers cannot do without the ‘giving of meaning’ within the broader society, and vice versa. Possibly, the geopolitical ‘giving of meaning’ about certain ‘far away’ territories via the mass media, influences the perception of decision makers (as ‘Critical Geopolitics asserts). In our opinion, both the ‘environmental perception’ of individual (or homogeneous groups of) decision maker(s) and the attention to the ‘geopolitical’ giving of meaning, can have a place within a geopolitical analysis. In view of our plea for a definition of Geopolitics which devotes attention to the interaction between ‘geo’ and ‘politics’, it seems useful to combine elements of ‘Cognitive’ and ‘Critical Geopolitics’. Legrand made in 1999 a similar, yet by the literature undetected plea for a kind of ‘Reflexive-Cognitive Geopolitics’ (which he called ‘reflexive cognitive behavioralism’) (Legrand, 1999). Nevertheless, there is a need for more research to further explore this idea. Irrespective of whether a real “fusion” of these approaches would be desirable or possible, the researcher can always keep in mind that both approaches are complementary; they each study different dynamics between the dimensions of territoriality and politics, and vice versa.
26One should not forget that there also exists a material, ‘operational’ reality. Fundamental changes within it irrevocably generate (in the medium to long term) certain consequences for both the ‘individual perception of policy-makers’ as for ‘the geopolitical giving of meaning of certain distant areas within the broader society, via the mass media’. One can find ample examples of such processes in today’s international relations. Based upon our analysis, we can draw two conclusions: (1) in geopolitical analyses, one should never lose sight of the material territoriality; after all, this forms the ‘basis’ from which each practical-geopolitical analysis should start; (2) combining ‘Cognitive’ and ‘Critical Geopolitics’ could potentially contribute to a more comprehensive assessment of the interaction between (the components of) ‘geo’ & ‘politics’. The ‘more comprehensive’ geopolitical model or framework of analysis which we here suggest, thus argues for a more pragmatic & sequential combination of the most important ‘geopolitical research traditions’:
Figure 4: ‘Rosetta Stone’? Combining Classical, Cognitive & Critical Geopolitics
27A geopolitical analysis should not always have to comprise each of these approaches. In first instance, the approach of a practical-geopolitical analysis will be influenced by the phrasing of the research question of the researcher involved. An analysis can thus also perfectly be ‘geopolitical’ if/when it only examines parts of the full relation between ‘geo’ and ‘politics’. Yet, if one aims to develop the most complete overview of the interaction between ‘geo’ and ‘politics’, then the framework suggested above can offer a potential route.