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Since the term geopolitics was coined in 1899 it has had many different meanings. They all evolve around its two parts, “geo” and “politics.” Dealing with the possible meanings requires a thorough understanding of what distinguishes them from one another.
First, “geo” can denote various geographic aspects, such as space, soil, or territory. More specifically, it can denote geographic conditions, such as the presence of natural resources in a bounded area. Whether geography should be considered a static or a dynamic factor has also been subject to debate.
Furthermore, “politics” generally concerns factors that are related to power, such as foreign policy, international relations, and military strategy. Here the discussion has been fueled by different views on the relative importance of states vis-à-vis nonstate actors.
Causality and its intensity is another cause of disagreement, with some arguing that geography is decisive for political outcomes (geographic determinism). An alternative view is that geographic and political processes mutually influence each other.
Finally, intellectual discord has originated in the descriptive, prescriptive, and predictive possibilities of geopolitical research. Are experts in the field capable of analyzing the interaction between geography and politics objectively? Is it desirable that these experts are involved in formulating policy advice? And is a geopolitical specialist able to produce reliable forecasts?
All these different perspectives explain why one widely accepted definition of “geopolitics” does not exist.
This article was earlier published as introduction to my Oxford Bibliographies contribution “Geopolitics” and -in a slightly different form- on this website. For more information about geopolitics, please visit ExploringGeopolitics. This website contains contributions of more than 125 experts in Critical, French and Neo-Classical Geopolitics.
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