The Geographical Pivot of History by Halford J. Mackinder (1904/1919)
In 1904, British geographer Halford J. Mackinder presented a landmark paper, "The Geographical Pivot of History," to the Royal Geographic Society of London. In this and subsequent writings, Mackinder argued that changes in technology—especially the revolution in land transportation brought about by the railroad, the internal combustion engine, and the construction of a modern highway and road network—had altered the relationship between sea and land power, bringing the Columbian age of dominant sea power to a close. In this new, tightly connected global system, land power would hold the advantage. The center of emerging land power was the Eurasian core area—the geographical pivot, roughly coincident with the tsarist Russian empire—that Mackinder would come to call the Heartland. This core area was inaccessible to sea power and therefore was capable of being exploited by a land power seeking to dominate the Eurasian "World-Island" from its continental fortress. Surrounding the Heartland were two crescents: first, a wholly maritime outer crescent consisting of the Americas, the British Isles, Australia, and sub-Saharan Africa; and second, an inner crescent (partly maritime, partly continental) that extended along the Eurasian littoral, including most of continental Europe west of Russia, the Maghreb, the Middle East, and continental South, Southeast, and East Asia. Most of the world’s population, and its great civilizations, inhabited this crescent.
Because of its location, Mackinder believed that the inner crescent would be a permanent zone of conflict. If a land power expanded over these marginal areas of Europe and Asia, it would obtain vast resources for building a naval fleet capable of overwhelming the outer crescent, the ring of islands and outer continents that surrounded the World Island. World empire would then be in sight. They key to world politics in the early 20th century, as Mackinder saw it, was the struggle between Russia and Germany for control of the Heartland and adjacent areas, especially Eastern Europe. For Mackinder, Eastern Europe was the gateway to and from the Heartland, which later led him to offer his famous formulation.
Who rules Eastern Europe commands the Heartland
Who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island
Who rules the World-Island commands the world
An American Classic (New)
Common Sense by Thomas Paine (1776)
Thomas Paine’s pamphlet, Common Sense, published in Philadelphia in January 1776, is properly recognized as a major turning point in the American Revolution. Paine effectively publicized the basic argument that Patriots like John Adams and Richard Henry Lee had been making privately in the Continental Congress – that the cause of the British North American colonies could be achieved only by declaring their independence from Great Britain, and not through continued attempts at reconciliation with the home country. Paine’s case for independence included, inter alia, the argument that the united colonies would be able to maintain their security in a hostile world – and also what proved to be enduring, and controversial, assertions about America’s place in that world.
Heretofore, for reasons of security and economics, the colonists of British North America assumed that their security, prosperity, and liberties had to be achieved within the British Empire. France, Spain, and their native allies in the New World constantly threatened the colonies’ physical existence. The colonies were also deeply integrated into the trans-Atlantic economic system of the Empire; there seemed no other choice in a world dominated by mercantilist policies. The struggle for survival had ideological as well as economic and geopolitical dimensions: the colonists saw themselves as part of an Anglo-American Protestant bulwark of liberty against the aggressive designs of continental tyranny and Popery, which aimed to create a Universal Monarchy. Despite their historic differences with their royal governors and Parliament in London, the colonists nevertheless believed that they were part of the world’s freest political regime. The French and Indian War (1754-1763) was seen in British North America as a great victory not just for imperial security but also for the global forces of liberty, and the colonists believed they had played the decisive role in winning that war. They assumed that the subsequent growth of power and territory by Anglo-America would serve to spread liberty in the future.
Notable Books and Documents (New)
The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire from the First Century A.D. to the Third by Edward N. Luttwak
Placing Edward Luttwak's Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire in the category of a classic is bound to generate controversy, as did Luttwak's book when it was first published in 1976 (it was his doctoral dissertation at Johns Hopkins University SAIS). Some prominent scholars of Rome and the classical period dismissed the book as the product of an index-flipping amateur. They brought up particular inaccuracies and challenged many of its generalizations and interpretations. In the broader public policy arena, in the aftermath of Vietnam and the period of detente with the Soviet Union, those who wanted to pare down America's global role did not take well to sympathetic studies of imperial strategy, grand or otherwise. On the other hand, for those who took strategy seriously and who fretted over the decline of American power and will, Luttwak's emphasis on suasion and the economy of force too often seemed to offer a solution set that was too good to be true.
That said, Luttwak was clearly on to something. He put forward a challenging perspective on grand strategy, harkening in some ways to the realist perspective of men like Walter Lippmann, but also full of fresh insight. He raised the right sort of questions – new questions – even if he did not necessarily reach the right or only answer. He did so by outlining what he perceived to be the patterns of continuity and change in the strategic policies of the Roman Empire from Augustus to Diocletian. He concluded that the ancient Romans had an instinctive grasp of strategic logic embedded in their culture, which allowed not only continuity across changing regimes, but also for strategic evolution in response to a changing security environment. Read More...