New Geopolitics and the Cold War

  • Created by: sikemi__
  • Created on: 31-05-21 15:01

Origins of critical geopolitics

  • Post WW2 political and intellectual context
    • Cold War divided the world into two ideological blocs - US/NATO vs USSR/Warsaw Pact (complicated as many countries didn't align themselves with either blocs)
    • Geopolitics as an intellectual practice within geography fell from favour but ideas and slogan endured - classical geopolitical theories endured into 20th and 21st century
  • Emergence of critical geopolitics - part of a wider shift in human geography towards questions of power (how are particular agendas reproduced and normalised a being the appropriate course of action), agency (what are people's capacity to act and challenge some of these dominant structures and frameworks of power) and representation (thinking about how the world is labelled, how particular norms are reproduced through certain cultural practices and how the world is not just unmediated to us but always narrated, particularly by political elites) after the cultural turn of 1970s
    • How particular representations of the world normalise hierarchies, divisions, borders, boundaries and shaape the world around us
    • Representation within government speeches, policy and doctrine - how are ideas of danger mapped and projected onto space?
  • Tuathail spoke on US/El Salvador relations in 1980s - moment of increasing military intervention by the US in El Salvador. Identified three geopolitical ideas that are present in US strategy towards El Salvador
    • Soviet expansionsim - persistent account of inevitable expansion of Soviet Union
    • Domino Theory - if El Salvador was to fall to communist groups, this would lead to similar transformations in neighbouring countries due to proximity
    • Geographical proximity and strategic interests - conflict in El Salvador was folded into wider economic and political affairs and seen as a broader narrative of the Cold War and the risk of US influence in Cold War diminishing
    • First two especially present certain characteristics of global politics as inevitable (following on from Ratzel's idea of state as an organism suggesting that conflict and expansionist theory and domino theory is inevitable)
  • Important because it argues that classical geopolitical accounts erase geography and politics - Geography is erased, El Salvador is reduced to its role in wider geopolitical dramas - its history and culture is erased and replaced with an El Salvador that serves the purposes of this geopolitical interest/strategy
    • Also erases politics because the geopolitical gaze emphasizes the inevitability of certain outcomes
  • Just as classical geopolitics reflected particular attributes of the geographical discipline, critical geopolitics highlights the emergence of critical geography, using varied theoretical techniques to challenge established landscapes of power
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Conceptual basis of critical geopolitics

  • Key influencer - Foucault - examined the operation of power in society and how power functions
  • Disciplinary society - argued that society has moved from early middle ages where punishment and the disciplining of society was publicised e.g. floggings/executions
    • From physical, public punishment to the regulation of conduct in the 18th and 19th centuries - birth of disciplinary society through disciplinary spaces rather than public
    • Disciplinary spaces - schools, factories, workhouses, prisons, asylums
    • Social understandings of norms of behaviour were forged through these institutions
        • Idea of discourse - reflects how particular ideas are made meaningful and are consequently assumed to be common sense
        • Idea of repetition - certain ideas are repeated, normalised and then become common sense. Foucault was interested in disrupting this and wanted to investigate how certain ideas came to function and what their histories/implications are
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Discourse as a tool of critique

  • Key figure - Said - Orientalism (1978)
    • Explores production of discourse of the Orient as backwards, deviant and submissive in European art, literature and travel writing over the past two centuries
    • Contended that 'without examining Orientalism as a discourse, one cannot possibly understand the enormously systematic discipline by which European culture was able to manage - even produce - the Orient politically, sociologically, militarily, ideologcally, scientifically and imaginatively during the post-Enlightenment period'
    • The Orient is imagined to be backwards, deviant and submissive through its discourse, in contrast to a progressive, civilised West (creating a binary and hierarchy)
    • This might have facilitated processes of European expansion, exploitation, colonialism and violence
  • Arturo Escobar's book 'Encountering Development' (1995) explores international development as a discourse, produced after WW2 by the US to legitimise new forms of intervention in 'underdeveloped states'
    • Draws of both Foucault and Said to explore the production of the distinction between developed and underdeveloped in the operation of the international development industry
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Geopolitical discourse

  • 'Language and reasoning processes of geopolitics and how they function politically' (Tuathail, 1986) - the ideas about the world and the political significance that stems from them
  • 'Discourses are best conceptualised as sets of capabilities people have, as sets of socio-economic resources used by people in the construction of meaning about their world and their activities. It is not simply speech or written statements but the rules by which verbal speech and written statements are made meaningful' (Tuathail & Agnew, 1992)
  • Certain ideas facilitate and create opportunities to act in the world - idea of development/Cold War create possibilities to act and normalise certain forms of behaviour
  • Repetition of certain ideas and their materialisation in certain institutions, the events that support them contribute to the establishment of discourse
  • 'Whereas classical geopolitics saw geography as the 'reality' that needed to be analysed in order to guide foreign policy, critical geopolitics saw language as the building blocks frrom which reality emerged' (Dittmer & Sharp, 2014)
  • The ways in which the world around us is mediated through language (not just spoken)
    • E.g. Mike Pence speech - highlights the discourse of animosity between the US and China and the imminent threat of the rise of China
    • China is represented as undertaking 'reckless harrassment' whereas the US is working within international law
    • Orientalist imagination where China is presented as deviant and backward whilst the US is a civilising influence that is put under threat
    • Gives reason to the surveillance of China and the use of monitoring by the US
    • Doesn't mention the role of Russia but tries to convey the urgency and imminence of threat from China to the US
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Analysis of geopolitical discourse through sites

  • Formal geopolitics
    • Produced by academics, intellectuals and think tanks
    • The classical works of geopolitics such as Mackinder's Geographical Pivot of History in 1904 are often considered by scholars of critical geopolitics as key examples of formal geopolitical discourse
  • Practical geopolitics
    • Produced by politicians
    • The study of political speeches has been a fertile ground for scholars of critical geopolitics, particularly those made by the Bush administration during the War on Terror
  • Popular geopolitics
    • Produced by film makers, cartoonists, artisst and musicians
    • Popular geopolitics is the label given to geopolitical images, expressions and texts found in popular culture such as films, music, literature, artwork and cartoons

There is a blurring of lines between the different sites - it is the connection between them that is interesting

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Practising critical geopolitics - war on terror

  • Geopolitics after 9/11 - prompted a series of reactions
  • US created the imagination of a binary between an uncivilised and unspeakable 'other' and themselves
  • Key aspect of discourse sought to present the event not derived from concrete geographical or historical processes but something that was a product of a seemingly irrational hatred that stemmed from forms of radical Islam
  • Idea that a specific target for the War on Teror was problematic as there wasn't an exact territory responsible for the terror
    • Afghanistan was a key site as it was seen as the location of terrorist training camps
    • Iraq was also a target due to the leadership of Hussein and the fear that he had access to weapons of mass distruction and could emulate the destruction of 9/11
  • 9/11 showed the binary logic of the Bush administration
    • 'They hate our freedoms - our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other' (Bush, 2001)
    • Led critical scholars e.g. Dalby 2003 to think about discourses that surround this response
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Alternative interpretations of 9/11

  • 'Crime' by Dalby, 2003
    • Asks why 9/11 wasn't understood as a crime.
    • States that the events should be treated as a crime and linked to international law to seek an international judicial response (perhaps through International Criminal Court)
  • 'Blowback' by Johnson, 2004
    • Presents the events as a response to a militaristic foreign policy
  • 'Colonial/Imperial Legacies', Gregory, 2004
    • Presents it as a product of the 'colonial present' where histories of colonial conquest shape uneven global landscapes of power
  • Tony Blair (2002) presented Iraq as a 'rogue state' in 9/11
    • Somehow drawn into the War on Teror and connected to 9/11 even though there was no evidence of connection
    • Idea of imminent, reckless threat was created
    • Clear spatialisation of fanger - threat was to the world but the responsibility for that was in Iraq and the corrupted mindset of Hussein
    • Erased the long and complex history of allegiance between the US and Iraq during the 1980s and the supplying or arms and weapons to them during the Iran-Iraq war
  • Gershkoff & Kushner, 2005, suggested that 'the principal reason that three-quarters of the American public supported the war was that the Bush administration successfully convinved them that a link existed between Saddam Hussein and terrorism generally, and between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda specifically
  • Song 'Have you forgotten' by Darryl Worley in 2003 denigrated the anti-war protests by saying 'have you forgotten' about 9/11 - link between practical and popular geopoliticS
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