- Global Geostrategy: Mackinder and the Defence of the West
A century ago, on 25 January 1904, Halford J. Mackinder delivered a paper entitled "The Geographical Pivot of History" to an audience of the Royal Geographic Society. The distinguished English geographer contended that the age of sea power was ending and land power was about to become the key element of global strategic dominance. The new pivot in Mackinder's system of geographical determinism consisted of "the closed heartland of Euro-Asia" (p. 8), that is, Russia, Central Asia, and the Middle East. He believed that if Russia were to ally with Germany they would form the strongest empire in the world. Britain, the United States, and Japan—the world's most powerful sea powers—would be at a fatal strategic disadvantage and powerless to contest with the heartland powers for control over the economic, military, and political future of the world.
Mackinder had the bad fortune to deliver his prescient paper at precisely the moment when each of the three major sea powers was making its [End Page 521] distinctive bid to demonstrate the controlling power of navies. Japan was challenging Russia in the Russo-Japanese War (1904–5) and demonstrating that a relatively small nation with a major navy and shrewd naval strategy could resoundingly defeat Mackinder's potentially all-powerful land power. The United States, under the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, was building almost two battleships per year and had just commenced construction of the Panama Canal. This combination would enable the U.S. Navy to exert Mahanian command of the seas in both the western Atlantic and throughout much of the Pacific Ocean. England was about to launch the super battleship Dreadnought, which would render all other major naval combatants hopelessly inferior and obsolescent—much as would be the case with the American super carriers of the Cold War era.
The great influence of these three sea powers on the outcome of World War I seemingly destroyed the validity of Mackinder's thesis. However, as this valuable small book points out, in two important respects World War I demonstrated the limits of sea power. First, the failure of Admiral Jellicoe to win a victory of annihilation at the battle of Jutland in May-June 1916 meant that England could not carry the war into the Baltic and North Sea. The survival of the German High Seas Fleet, in other words, meant at least the temporary regional survival of Germany, which since 1871 had been the greatest land power in the purely European heartland. Second, the disaster in Britain's littoral warfare at Gallipoli in 1915 showed the potential difficulty of projecting sea power directly against Russia, which was Mackinder's principal heartland power.
Mackinder in 1943 realized that the U.S.S.R. would emerge from World War II "as the greatest landpower on the globe" with the "strategically strongest defensive position" and in control of the Heartland, "the greatest natural fortress on earth" (p. 6). He advocated a policy that George Kennan would articulate as "Containment" in 1946 and 1947. This book points out that the Mackinder-Kennan concepts became fixed and resolute American political-military policy with the formation of N.A.T.O. in 1949. Buttressed by massive sea power and even more potent air power, the policy of Containment achieved its goal of helping to induce the implosion of the U.S.S.R. in 1991.
As the European component of Mackinder's "heartland" again fell into disarray, the United States applied its massive sea power—with its associated arsenals of awesome air power—to assert its domination over the Middle Eastern component of Mackinder's heartland. The brief and overwhelming victory in the Gulf War of 1991 seemed at first definitively to answer whether land power or sea power was the greater strategic force. Then came 9/11 and after it the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, leaving the resolution of...