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Author : Brigadier (Dr) Rajeev Bhutani

Historical Retrospect

Geopolitics has a very peculiar history. As a concept, it was born in the late Nineteenth Century in Germany and disappeared from the academic radar after the Second World War, possibly for not giving credit to Germany for its origin, as everything related to Germany during the Nazi period was being castigated. The word “geopolitics” was rarely ever used during the Cold War, till it resurfaced in the 1970s, with Henry Kissinger, the United States Secretary of State bringing it back.

German Geopolitics

Geopolitics encompasses two disciplines—geography and politics. Most early theories and concepts of geopolitics grew out of geographical thought. Geography is the precursor to political geography. Geography as a discipline has many branches and political geography is one of these, which was prevalent until the formal introduction of the term “geopolitics” in 1899. The German geographer Friedrich Ratzel in his seminal works “Politische Geographie” (Political Geography) (1897) and “Laws on the Spatial Growth of States” (1896) laid the solid foundation for “geopolitik”. Ratzel equated the state as a biological organism – territory being its body and propounded that states behaved and lived in accordance with biological laws. According to him, the state has its “roots” in the land and therefore grows in accordance with the nature of its territory and location. Regarding every state as a living organism, growth is the inherent nature of every state and a growing state would tend to absorb less successful and smaller states. Ratzel measured the 2 Brigadier (Dr) Rajeev Bhutani growth of the state by its expansion and considered that expansion and political growth is healthy for a state since it enhances its strength1 .

Since the total amount of space in the world is limited, the size of the earth’s surface places limits on political expansion, the “zenith” could be reached by only a few states at the same time.2 Ratzel’s second important legacy is the concept of Lebensraum. Literally translated, Lebensraum means “living space”,(‘Leben’ means living and ‘Raum’ means open space) but when interpreted by anyone in Germany it involves everything necessary for guaranteeing the life and development of the German people – physically, politically, and economically. It encompasses all kinds of issues based upon prestige, historical, and geographical considerations.3