How to Rule the World: Part 1 (The Old Way)

Halford Mackinder's geopolitical strategy helped the Anglosphere nations dominate Eurasia. Now that era is coming to an end

How to Rule the World: Part 1 (The Old Way)
Illustration: Halford Mackinder's globe showing the Heart Lands

George Orwell saw the future. Nineteen Eighty-Four split the world into three dominant mega-states: Oceania, Eastasia and Eurasia.

Map of the Orwell's world
Map #1: The world in George Orwell's 1984

The three states have similar regimes, and pursue permanent warfare against each other in ever shifting alliances. And the reasons for these wars are not clear to the public.  

Orwell's vision resembles the emerging tri-polar world order … With the EU, China and the Five-Eyes nations forming three competing political and economic units.

The Five-Eyes alliance was formed during World War 2 by the major Anglosphere nations: USA, UK, AUS, NZ, and CAN. And as the idea of a cohesive west falls apart, their economic, military and cultural ties come to the fore.

Map of a tri=polar world. And Russia
Map #2: A tri-polar world.

Meet Mackinder

The similarities between Orwell's map and present-day geopolitics are not coincidence.

His predictions were heavily influenced by reading Sir Halford Mackinder’s Heartland Theory. Mackinder was a geographer, avowed imperialist, and is known as the 'father of geopolitics'. His work provided the strategy for more than a century of British and then American war across the Eurasian landmass.

In January 1904 Mackinder presented a paper to the Royal Geographical Society called 'The Geographical Pivot of History'.

Naval supremacy was key to Britain's empire, but Mackinder predicted that global power could only be maintained by controlling the Eurasian landmass.  This was just before the British Empire peaked in 1913 (at around a quarter of the wold's population and land mass).

By redrawing the world map 'from above' Mackinder put central Asia at the geographical centre of the world.

Map of the world projected from above
Map #3: World map with the Russian Heartland centred.

He argued that the world could most be usefully divided into:

  1. The World-Island: Europe, Asia and Africa. The regions with the most  land, natural resources and people.
  2. The Offshore Islands: most notably Japan and the British-Irish Isles.
  3. The Outlying Islands: North America, South America, and Oceania.

At the centre of the World-Island is what Mackinder called the 'Heartland' –
between the Volga and Yangtze rivers, and from the Himalayas to the Arctic.

Mackinder’s aim was to alert Britain's elite to a serious threat to the empire. He predicted:  

  • 400 years of European naval dominance was coming to an end, and
  • any power controlling the Russian heartland, and its industrial, agricultural and natural resources, could control the world.

This core area of Asia, and Europe, and Africa has inherent power, because land routes could securely connect most of the world’s natural resources and human labour.

So if the World-Island ever united as a single political entity, it would possess overwhelming economic and military advantages.

Mackinder’s recommendation was for UK maritime powers to encourage the creation of geopolitical buffer zones, for example in Eastern Europe. And the best buffers are controlled, chaotic or failed states forming chokepoints across Eurasia.

In Democratic Ideals and Reality (1919) Mackinder summarised his theory:

Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland;
who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island;
who rules the World-Island commands the world.

This odd little ditty has shaped geopolitics, and driven war and conquest for more than a century.

Although not influential through the 1920s and 30s, Heartland Theory was taken very seriously in Germany, where geographer Karl Haushofer feared that Britain would make Mackinder's vision real. So Haushofer began to persuade the German establishment against what the saw as the British strategy to control Eurasia.

In 1942, Democratic Ideals and Reality was launched in the United States, with an intent to help shape US foreign policy. And from then on Mackinder's ideas drove US strategy across Eurasia.

Protected by seas and oceans the Anglo nations were relatively unscathed domestically by the two world wars. After that Heartland Theory was promoted and perfected in the US and UK.

When NATO was formed in 1952. General Lord Ismay, its first Secretary General, famously said the organisation was created to:

Keep the Soviets out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.

Later, US National Security advisors Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski elaborated Mackinder's vision across Eurasia.

Russia and Germany

Heartland Theory fueled fears in London and Washington that an alliance between Russia and Germany could negate their overwhelming sea power. And that combining the vast natural resources of Russia with western European industry would create an unassailable world power.

So it became a tenet of US and UK policy to keep Germany and Russia apart at all costs. According to George Friedman of Stratfor:

The primordial interest of the United States (for which over a century we fought wars: the First, the Second, the Cold War) has been the relationship between Germany and Russia, because united they are the only force that could threaten us … And to make sure that doesn't happen.

Later, I will look at 'Mackinder's Nightmare', the looming collapse of the project, and how that will revolutionize trade and politics across Eurasia … Maybe even leading to a new era of peace and prosperity.

Fingers crossed.

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