Geopolitics: Definition, Foundations & Example

Geopolitics: Definition, Foundations & Example
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  • 0:00 Definition of Geopolitics
  • 0:27 How Geopolitics Works
  • 2:16 When Did Geopolitics Begin?
  • 3:16 Modern Origins of Geopolitics
  • 4:05 Examples of Geopolitics
  • 4:57 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Anthony Jordan

Anthony has taught Political Science at the university level and is working on his Ph.D. in Political Science.

This lesson will examine what geopolitics is in greater detail as well as provide causes and examples. After you learn about all this, you can then test your newfound knowledge with a quiz.

Definition of Geopolitics

Geopolitics are at play when actors such as political leaders, countries, organizations, and corporations assess how their actions would affect other political leaders, countries, organizations, and corporations. Geopolitics isn't a new phenomenon in politics by any means. Attempting to anticipate the reaction of others in different parts of the world has been part of politics for thousands of years, but it's expanded since the beginning of the 20th century.

How Geopolitics Works

So what exactly is geopolitics? It's kind of complicated in its simplicity, actually. A good way to explain this is by detailing what's needed for geopolitics. Geopolitics requires at least two actors to be separated geographically (usually in different countries or continents). Both (or more) actors must be aware of each other. Geopolitics is reliant upon this kind of knowledge and geographical location.

Knowledge of each other is important because that assumes that both actors will act strategically. For instance, if two people owned parts of a forest, it can be assumed that both people would be interested in how the other approaches fire safety, because a fire could harm everyone's land. Someone would be accountable. If no one knew of other owners, a fire could be treated as a force of nature.

But here's the thing: both actors have to have the ability to interact. If both actors keep to themselves and don't disturb the world around them, then geopolitics isn't present. So how can actors interact? There are too many to name, but some examples of interaction you may be familiar with are trade, pollution, travel, and immigration.

The first two are easier to comprehend. If your country buys most of the goods my country makes, then my country has a reason to be interested in politics in your country. On top of that, my country may pass laws to ensure that our countries can get along. Consider this example question about pollution: what would happen if your country polluted a river that flowed downstream through three other countries? It could quickly become a serious political issue. Hence, the reason geopolitics is simple in its complexity: there is no easy answer to this question.

When Did Geopolitics Begin?

Geopolitics doesn't have a clear birthday. If you want to use Western holy texts, geopolitics began almost immediately after human beings first appeared on Earth. Geopolitics was likely in place in ancient times among many tribes of people, though we lack any record of it. Trying to pick an exact time isn't possible, so let's focus on notable instances in history.

A good place to understand geopolitics could be with the constant warring of Italian city-states thousands of years ago. While not spread across the entire globe, political differences and aspirations of certain leaders led to political agreements, but also war. Oddly enough, as city-states conquered one another and the Roman Empire emerged and expanded, geopolitics was less apparent. The leaders of the empire weren't always concerned with geopolitics. Even distant lands conquered by the empire were usually trusted to governors and did not affect day-to-day life in Rome.

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