The American Interest

Eastern Approaches

In April 1904, Scottish geographer Halford Mackinder gave a lecture at the Royal Geographical Society.  His paper, “The Geographical Pivot of History,” caused a sensation and marked the birth of geopolitics as an autonomous discipline.  According to Mackinder, control over the Eurasian “World-Island” is the key to global hegemony.  At its core is the “pivot area,” the Heartland, which extends from the Volga to the Yangtze and from the Himalayas to the Arctic.  “My concern is with the general physical control, rather than the causes of universal history,” Mackinder declared.

At the end of the Great War, profoundly concerned with what he saw as the need for an effective barrier of nations between Germany and Russia, Mackinder summarized his theory as follows:

Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland;

Who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island;

Who rules the World-Island controls the world.

This dictum helps explain the essence of the Ukrainian crisis, as well as the motivation behind the continuing ambition of some U.S. policymakers to expand NATO eastward.

The model has undergone several modifications since Mackinder.  In his 1942 book America’s Strategy in World Politics, Nicholas Spykman sought to “develop a grand...

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