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date: 06 May 2021

Geopolitics, Geography, and Warlocked

  • Christopher J. FettweisChristopher J. FettweisDepartment of Political Science, Tulane University

Summary

The study of international relations has always been multidisciplinary. Over the course of the last century, political scientists have borrowed concepts, methods, and logic from a wide range of fields—from history, psychology, economics, law, sociology, anthropology, and others—in their effort to understand why states act as they do. Few of those disciplines contributed more to the course of 20th-century international relations scholarship than geography. As the layout of the chessboard shapes the game, so do the features of the Earth provide the most basic influence upon states. That geography affects international relations is uncontroversial; what is not yet clear, however, is exactly how, under what conditions, and to what extent. After all, a board can teach only a limited amount about the nature of a game.

Many theories of state behavior involve several ceteris-paribus assumptions about the setting for international interaction, even if the substantial variation in geographical endowments assures that all things will never be equal. Some states are blessed (or cursed) with a rich supply of natural resources, good ports, arable land, and temperate climate; others struggle with too little (or too much) rainfall, temperature extremes, mountain ranges or deserts, powerful neighbors, or lack of access to the sea. While the number of studies examining the effects of the constants of geography on state behavior may pale in comparison to those that focus on the variables of human interaction, international relations has not been silent about geography. What insights have come from the many investigations into the relationship between the game of international politics and the board it is played on, the surface of the Earth?

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