Similar to my argument that natural borders do not exist, natural spheres of influence are not present in the world either. Rather, the pursuit of power and national interests leads to competition for various territories—to expand spheres of control. Geography plays a role in facilitating the control of certain areas and mandating which areas will be contested for strategic reasons, but that doesn’t compel territories to exist under the tutelage of another state due to geography. The history of different areas becoming strategic due to the expansion of interests and consolidation of power is important to remember, as it makes the geography of certain areas more and less important as interests in different territories waxes and wanes. Keeping the focus on how geography, interests and power interact together to create political ambitions and actions is important for understanding international political behavior.
Too much analysis today fails to think critically about what geopolitics implies and what role geography can play in systematically understanding Russian goals and actions. Claiming that Russian actions today are mandated by geography fails to grasp changes in the strategic landscape since 1945, and the role power and ambition play in facilitating actions that geography can make easier. Focusing on how political interests interact with geography is important when thinking about geopolitics. Narrowly defining national interests to geography, and mandating that geography pushes states to replicate past actions throughout history, only fosters inaccurate thinking and forgives Russian land-grabs as natural. Instead, a focus on how Russian interests and pursuits for power have led to today’s status quo in Ukraine is needed. Only then will our discourse on geopolitics reach a satisfying flavor.
Benjamin Denison is a Ph.D. Candidate in Political Science at the University of Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter: @DenisonBe.
Image: Flickr/ Clay Gilliland