Dale Walton: World order, Heartland, European sea powers, post-Columbian Epoch

Introducing Dale Walton

Dale WaltonDr. C. Dale Walton is an Associate Professor of International Relations at Lindenwood University in St. Charles (Missouri, US). A US citizen, his previous career experience includes teaching International Relations at the University of Reading (UK) from 2007-12, serving on the faculty of the Defense and Strategic Studies Department at Missouri State University from 2001-07, and working as a Senior Analyst with the National Institute for Public Policy. As a PhD student at the University of Hull (UK), he was an H.B. Earhart Fellow.

Dr. Walton is the author of three books:

  • “Grand Strategy and the Presidency: Foreign Policy, War, and the American Role in the World” (Routledge, 2012);
  • “Geopolitics and the Great Powers in the Twenty-first Century: Multipolarity and Revolution in Strategic Perspective” (Routledge, 2007);
  • “The Myth of Inevitable U.S. Defeat in Vietnam” (Frank Cass/Routledge, 2002); and is a co-author of “Understanding Modern Warfare” (Cambridge University Press, 2008).

In addition, he has published more than seventy chapters, scholarly articles, and book reviews.

Dr. Walton’s research interests include strategic relationships and security problems in Asia, geopolitics and the changing geostrategic environment, U.S. military and strategic history, and the influence of religious and ideological beliefs on strategic behavior.

More information about his work can be found on the website of Dale Walton

This is part 1 of the interview with Dale Walton. The other parts are:

Interview

Halford Mackinder, Nicholas Spykman and Critical Geopolitics

What are the key concepts and ideas of Halford Mackinder?

Sir Halford Mackinder was a key—arguably the key—figure in the development of classical geopolitics, and his ideas continue to influence geopolitical discussion today. It is impossible to give full justice to his worldview in a short discussion, but I would say that his most important contribution was in developing what is commonly known as the ‘Heartland theory.’

Mackinder first put forward a variation of the Heartland theory forward in 1904—at that time, however, he referred to the Heartland as the ‘Pivot Area.’ His conception of the geographical boundaries of the Pivot Area/Heartland changed somewhat over time, but the region always consisted of a vast territory comprising much of Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and Siberia.

He saw the political history of Eurasia as being driven largely by landpower forces surging out of the Heartland—the most famous example of this being the Mongols in the thirteenth century—and attempting to conquer European, East Asian, and South Asian polities.

How can they help to understand contemporary world politics?

Mackinder did not believe that geopolitics was static—physical geography might only change with excruciating slowness, but technology and social organization can change rapidly. Therefore, I would say that, influential as the Heartland theory has been, that it becoming less salient in describing current geopolitical problems.

Indeed, Nicholas J. Spykman’s work, which builds on, but also critiques, Mackinder’s ideas, is, in my view, probably is more directly useful in describing the geopolitical conditions prevailing today.

Mackinder, however, offers great and enduring insights into the intimate relationship between geography and politics. It is not possible to have a rich understanding of strategy in any period of human history without grasping the web connecting people, physical geography, and technology.

To what extent do critical geopolitical concepts and ideas inform your work?

Critical geopolitics, to be frank, has not had a large influence on my work. One of the themes that I address briefly in Geopolitics and the Great Powers in the Twenty-First Century is the vast gulf between classical and critical geopolitics.

These two strains of thought simply are based on such different underlying assumptions—classical geopolitics being broadly Realist in its outlook, and critical geopolitics essentially
having its origins in the Frankfurt School — that there is little common ground.

The worldviews of classical and critical geopoliticians simply are too radically different to allow for an academically fruitful dialogue — they cannot agree on the shape of the game board, much less the rules of the game.

The world order I – definition and history

How would you define the concept ‘world order’?

With ‘big definitions’, I favor simplicity!

So I would describe a ‘world order’ as the way in which political power is distributed globally and expectations in the international community of how that power will be used.

What is the difference between the Columbian Epoch and the post-Columbian Epoch and why is it relevant?

In Mackinder’s view, the seafaring polities of Western Europe made a critical ‘breakout’ through the use of seapower for exploration, trade, and overseas empire-building — he called this the Columbian Epoch. During this age, the seapowers (very much including England/the United Kingdom) enjoyed a critical advantage.

However, Mackinder believed that the Columbian Epoch was coming to an end during his own lifetime — he argued this in his 1904 paper that I mentioned above.

I think that Mackinder’s vision of the Columbian Epoch was a major historical insight, but in Geopolitics and the Great Powers in the Twenty-First Century, I argue that Mackinder was not quite right in his assumptions about it end.

The European seapowers proved more resilient than he thought likely, and, with the aid of the United States, defeated challenges to their political independence. Thus, the twentieth century was the Columbian Epoch’s ‘old age’ — it slowly wound down, with Europe remaining the center of geopolitical struggle and the main battlefield for a NATO-Warsaw Pact war, if such an event were to occur.

The collapse of the Soviet satellite governments in Central Europe and the fall of the Soviet Union then allowed the opening of a new, Post-Columbian Epoch.

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