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The New Geopolitics: Russia, North Korea and the Implications for European Security

The British geographer, Halford Mackinder, once claimed that anyone who controlled the Eurasian landmass would control the world. This single idea, of competition between great powers for the control of territory and global resources, became a popular mode of thinking in the 20th century, and drove much of the imperialism which followed. It found favour with both President Roosevelt’s administration as he embarked upon the Spanish-American Wars and later with the fascists in Germany, Italy and Japan to justify their strategies of military expansionism. As a direct result of its association with fascism, however, geopolitical thinking fell into disfavour during the Cold War, replaced by notions of an ideological competition between the superpowers.

But with the collapse of the old Cold War structures, geopolitical thinking has made a return to the foreign ministries of the world. This new geopolitics can be seen in the actions of the Russian Federation in Ukraine or China’s reclamation of the islands in the South China Sea. Beijing’s Belt/Road Initiative – a string of land and sea connections stretching from Shanghai to Moscow – has clear geopolitical undertones.   

It was within this context, of increasing geopolitical competition and its implications for Europe, which was the basis of a GCSP briefing for Ambassadors and senior staff at NATO Headquarters in Brussels on 6 November. Lord Des Browne, former UK Defence Secretary, spoke of the declining state of political leadership, the pace of technological change and the shifting patterns of war, to warn against the complacency of discarding diplomatic methods to solve difficult geopolitical problems. Such advice has not yet reached Pyongyang, however, and so in response, GCSP's Dr Carl Ungerer noted that the pattern of nuclear and missile provocation may soon run into American geopolitical interests in Asia.  

The briefing was organised by the Swiss Ambassador to NATO, Christian Meuwly, and GCSP Fellows, Alain Deletroz and Guido Maene. It was attended by around 45 senior staff, including Ambassadors from several NATO alliance members and partner countries.