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Human Factor in Geopolitics

Geopolitics includes the science of Geography and Politics. Although Geography mostly related with nature and ecology; politics contains human in itself because without human emergence, politics would be impossible. Geography is not likely to change in normal circumstances and distribution of the resources too. But, if we are talking about geopolitics, conditions can change greatly. The technology which is a human product, can alter economic, political, and strategic importance of a country. However, especially in classical geopolitics we see a shortage of human factor in both analyzes, and theories.
Geopolitics has so many subtitles in itself, so explaining human factor in geopolitics in general is impossible. If we analyze human factor in imperial geopolitics, cold-war geopolitics, and contemporary geopolitics we see different results. As Mackinder explained, “every century has its own geographical perspective” (Halford John Mackinder, 1942, p39). In these perspectives, all factors understand distinctly and sometimes different factors excluded. If Mackinder taken into account as the representative of the imperial geopoliticians for instance, we will see a geography-oriented approach.
His ideas are mostly based on physical actors and lack human related subjects, such as culture, demand of population or structural differences that come with climate. He was precisely influenced by the trend of environmental determinism. We understand this in his famous “Heartland” thesis. According to this thesis, the boundaries of strategic territories are presented as a more important determinant of power than nation-state boundaries. According to him, the struggle for power between states is not over political boundaries, which are objects that limit the jurisdiction of states, but over the world power centers whose boundaries are formalized at the macro level. (Aytekin, 2017, p.45) The concept of territory in the imperial geopolitics has been assessed without considering sociological and historical dimensions. This situation is an important theoretical weakness of it (Aytekin, 2017, p.76). However, territory incarnates experiences and aspirations of people.
However, it is arguable. Though not a direct form, human elements involved in the boundary/frontier debate. While the frontier has geography in the foreground, the essential element is the “human factor” (Aytekin, 2017, p.76). The reason behind this lack is, not only seen in Mackinder’s works, but also other classical geopoliticians see the human factor as a changeable thing. Geography ,on contrary, is stabil and can not change easily. You can play only with borders as a human, you can not move mountains, or you can not change the current direction of a river. We cannot blame this narrow understanding. Without technology, their understanding is was limited with the conditions of the time. Today, although we can not move the mountains we can fly over it with our private jet, or we can make an artificial island on the sea.
When we continue to look at those theories of 19th century, we see another problem of realism. They see the mountains, lakes, rivers, and every geographical entity with the realist glasses. They are measuring the territories and want to expand their shares. These territories are just the fields that can be measured by kilometre calculation. But there is an issue; physical knowledge can be found easily. We can grab a meter and measure everything we want. However, we can not measure the experience
A territory can mean more than a living space or mean more than just kilometres. A small area in the Middle East in where natural gas is found, may be more important than the whole Arctics for some people and vice versa. In learning, understanding, or teaching geopolitics we should consider all of these factors. Human psychology, his background, history of its nationality, his family ties, the all matter. That’s why we can not talk about any science that is not interrelated with other one.
The science that called Geography once, becomes related with politics and now there is a subtitle exist as Geopolitics. Moreover, since politics is related with the human and human psychology, Geopolitics become also related with psychology indirectly. Not only psychology of the political leaders, but also the psychology of the public, or residents of the specific territory is important for geopolitics, here we are presenting the Sociology to the scene.
In case of any lackness of these factors, we can not understand geopolitics correctly. Even an imperial leader should know the demand of the people of the territory that he wants to colonized. So knowing geography is not enough if you can not interpret it. Solely numbers and facts do not give you the right information. That’s why are not talking about imperialist geopolitics as an approach that continues today. The failure of that understanding bear us away to end of the World War II. in a period that invasion of territories become illegal except a few exemptions.
When we examine Cold War geopolitics, we will see that geography was understand in ideological way, it was politicised, and used regarding leaders’ political ambitions. In here, we see the opposite view of environmental determinism. Rather than physical features, identity and ideology becomes the coercive actor. Complex geographies become simplistic: either they are capitalist, or communist. The geographical specificity and complexity of particular conflicts, such as that in Greece and Turkey, were not important (Gearoid. O. Tuathail, Simon Dalby, Paul Routledge, 1998, p.47).
Leaders now, tried to invade territories in an ideological manner rather than physically. In that situation, they use coup d’etat as a tool to bring the groups to the government which have a closer policy to their ideology which is called as the roll-back strategy. When it comes to identity, it gain importance at that time because it defines who you are are, and who your enemies are.
In geopolitics it means, which are your boundaries, and which are your enemies’ boundaries. The implications of that ideological geography still continues today. When we look at the Japan for instance, it is located in East Asia. However can we say that this country belongs Asia? It is mostly mentioned with Western countries. Or Israel, we know that it is one of the most important partners of the United States, although US has not a good history with other Middle Eastern countries.
These two eras, divided by two between environmental determinism of Ratzel, and Possibilism of Paul Vidal de La Blache. We can not say that it is a clear cut division and all thinkers of that times think like this, but we can say that this was the general idea of the terms. Environmental determinism, like we mentioned before, claim that human growth, development, and activities are controlled by the physical environment. For instance, they generalized that people who lives under the tropical climate are lazy.
Aristotle’s argument on the three types of climatic zones and characteristics of people was also related with that subject. Not only ancient theorists, but also modern ones believes environmental determinism. The most important ones can be Huntington, and Griffith Taylor. Although there were plenty of examples supporting environmental determinism, there were also examples of its harmful results. Because the idea classify people with their environment.
People that come from other environments creates identity conflicts, and lead xenophobia. Also, people from other environments do not seen only as different, but also as inferior to them. In that situation some so called advanced nations, found right to invade these places like we see in the imperialist term.
Environmental possibilism, is the view that believes environment sets limitations for cultural development, but it does not solely define culture. Culture is rather, defined by the opportunities and decisions that humans make. ( Puc Geography, 2017). Technology, capital, and efficiency may change the environment, and the level of development of the country.
In the late 20th century, we face with the environmental probabilism. It is a moderate view that supposes environmental influences are mediated by cognitive variables. For example, a warm and welcoming entrance to a cafe, or restaurant will increase the probability of being entered more. The welcoming entrance does not cause entry, but probability of entry can be increased by it. Maybe because of being related with the buildings, and artificial structures environmental probabilism is also known as the “Architectural Probabilism”.
In summary, geopolitical views differ time to time and thinker to thinker. The role of the human factor changes accordingly too. When we go back to the history, people was seeing the nature as superior to themselves and shape their ideas, believes, theories according to that idea. However, as time passes people learn to use the environment as tool to use. It was only a mean for achieving their goals. In geopolitics, we also see this kind of change. Environment was seen as an unchangeable phenomena, they accept the world as it is and act accordingly. When people met with cold weather, they migrate to summerlike places. With time, they learn to make thicker clothes, and learn to stock food to eat later. Innovations make humans to master of the geography. Although, human factor is not emphasized in earlier centuries, from my point of view the time is come to see the reality.


Aytekin, C.Emre. (2017). The Human Factor ın Geopolitics. Hacettepe University the Graduate School of Social Sciences, Master’s Thesis 

Mackinder, H. J. (1942). Democratic ideals and reality: A study in the politics of reconstruction (Vol. 46399). London: Constable Publishers 

Ó Tuathail, G., Dalby, S., & Routledge, P. (1998). The geopolitics reader. London: Routledge. 

Puc Geography (Blog Name), Determinism and Possibilism , 2017 July 15

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