19 October, 2018

Course introduction 7

Geopolitics and International Strategy 

Geopolitics studies, according to a traditional definition, is the impact of geography on the relations between states and between major economic interests and, conversely, that of politics on geography, especially as regards the determination of borders and the settlement of populations. However, at a time of interdisciplinary studies it is somewhat limiting to consider geopolitics as a stand-alone discipline. in the same way as history, geography or political science, or especially in the same manner as chemistry or biology. It is actually a new discipline that combines several approaches, those of the three humanities aforementioned, but also increasingly more and more those of other sciences which will be introduced later in this study.

Every citizen willing to contribute to the history of his time is doing geopolitics, either unknowingly or on a practical basis. It is therefore important, given the potential consequences in geopolitical terms of the choices available in political programmes, to clearly identify the stakeholders and the forces intervening in the geopolitical field. They in fact affect our daily life. But to realize that it is necessary to analyse current events and how the media – and politicians – report them. They often cover up the essential with the incidental.

Let us also recall that geopolitics should not be confused with geostrategy. The latter strives to implement the lessons of geopolitics in defining diplomatic, military and economic strategies involving territories and the populations living there. Strategy is generally understood as an approach seeking to keep the longer term in mind and factoring in the causes acting in depth, whereas tactics  aim to take advantage of more immediate events. It is easy to see how [the] strategies of large organizations [such as] governments, companies and associations, insofar as they are thoughtful, must take into account geographical and human factors which are studied by geopolitics. Hence the interest of developing geostrategies. Geostrategies inspire most major international decisions affecting contemporary history. This is one more reason to understand the essential elements in geopolitics whom they seek to emulate.Geopolitics should help us to more fully understand political life, and for some of us to even act on it, while taking into account those limitations imposed by geography. (Geography is conventionally divided into three branches, physical geography, human geography and within this last branch political geography.)  

The first goal of political science is to identify the stakeholders and power issues. It just so happens that geography offers tools to bring up the “underside of the maps”. Stakeholders of political life, the most visible or the most important of whom are the countries or states, are deployed across geographic territories, modeled by maps and statistics. Likewise stakes have always taken a geographic dimension. Most of them are related to the possession of territories and resources which go with them. We will see in this respect that globalization and digitization have not changed the importance of the geographical factor. They merely give them a new dimension. Geography in many of its fields must now be attentive to what happens across the globe. Overlooking the geographical dimension of political issues leads to self-deception,a lack of international awareness which many political analysts are not immune to.

Geopolitics,in this manner supported by geography,commands a vital attention to complements legal, psychological and purely political analyses. In other words, it sheds light on the major events of political life at the international as well as the national and local level. Why are there conflicts, competitions, and alliances? Why are there successions of expansions or crises? How to judge the relevance of the major political programmes? What types of reforms should be considered? Geopolitics thereby obliges to project into the future, converging in that process with geostrategy.

Thus,conflicts stemming from , for example,  the desire to access oil and gas reserves, must necessarily be explained by geopolitics: where on the planet are these reserves located, who are the people owning the subsoil containing them, what are the states that want to get hold of them and why? While conversely, it can be acknowledged, at least in a first approach that recent degrowth policies aimed at reducing the environmental footprint of the uncontrolled growth of consumption do not intrinsically fall within a geopolitical analysis, although they do pertain to the future of the terrestrial environment. They are covered by climatological, biological, political, economic and technological analyses. /Nonetheless, geopolitics must be quickly be reintroduced to them. It is the case that programmes of, for example, degrowth as well the process of converting to green energies are differently dealt with by Northern and Southern countries due to the different geographical constraints placed on them and their own histories.


Taking politics and geopolitics as autonomous subjects, the course examines international activity since 1815, taking into account other economic, ideological and social aspects.
It takes a chronological look at key periods to examine in particular the question of international stability and how it has been maintained.
Students are then taught how to use the instruments of geopolitical analysis, so that they can approach international issues in a different way from that usually adopted within traditional approaches. This involves finding answers to the following questions:
What precisely is geopolitics? Where, when and how did it enter into the field of politico-academic reflection? How did it develop?
Why was it not used for a long time after 1945? Why and how did geopolitical thinking undergo something of a renaissance in the last quarter of the twentieth century? How can it be used to understand international conflicts?
This course first introduces the study of international relations. .
The course will equip students with the instruments they need for the geopolitical analysis of the international scene, which involves in particular being able to:

1. define geopolitics as a “discipline”;
2. explain how space is a factor in international relations;
3. locate geopolitics in the historical development of the international system;
4. establish geological influences on border formation between states;
5. carry out a geopolitical analysis of an international situation;
6. use geopolitical analysis to decipher international crises and conflicts.


CARROUE L., Géopolitique et géopolitique de la mondialisation, Paris, Hatier, 2011
Géopolitique Africaine, n°48, 2013
LACOSTE Y., Atlas géopolitique, Paris, Larousse, 2013
VICTOR J.C., Le dessous des cartes, Itinérairesgéopolitiques, Paris, Tallandier, 2012
WALLERSTEIN I., Geopolitics and Geoculture, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1991
WALLERSTEIN I., The Capitalist World Economy, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1979