Kimberly Daniels, a member of our Emerging Fellows program initiates publishing a series of blog posts aimed at envisioning the world power pivot towards the Heartland by 2050. This is her first post in our EF blog. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Will world power pivot from the West towards Eurasia’s Heartland in 2050? Given recent events, it is the question many are presently pondering. The question of a world power pivot to the Heartland dates back to a theory by British geographer, academic, and politician, Halford John Mackinder in 1904. Mackinder theorized a shift in world power to, and world domination by, the international power that controls the continental “pivot area” — Eurasia, and to some extent, Africa.
Mackinder’s theory of a world power shift is known widely as the “Heartland Theory”. It reflects the intricate dynamics of and relationships between geography, political power, and military strategy, interwoven with demography and economics. It is these dynamics and relationships, which Mackinder viewed as strengths, that characterize the Heartland and speak to its importance.
Geographically, the connected landmass of Europe, Asia, and Africa, what Mackinder called the “World Island”, is centrally positioned in the world. To Mackinder, this geographic positioning means that as a united force, the World Island could both project power in a way that demonstrates her global supremacy and protect herself against external powers. He viewed the external powers in relation to the World Island as the offshore islands (mainly China, India, Turkey, Germany, and Austria) and the outlying islands (the rest of Europe, Australia, North America, South America, and South Africa). Thus, Mackinder saw three world power systems as competing international forces, with the World Island at the forefront in geopolitical importance.
Mackinder maintained that the balance of global power favored the World Island, owing to her vast resources, including social capital, her distribution channels for exploiting or leveraging those resources to her advantage, and her land mobility. He surmised that her land mobility, 21 million square miles of continuous land stretching across Eurasia, technological changes, such as the continental dispersion of railway and communication networks, and also her social capital, a population size equal to two-thirds of the world’s total population, gave her a strategic military advantage. Countries of the two other world power systems can only advance their global military strategy, and thus, global political power, by sea. The World Island’s resources, demography, and military advantages were important then and now in that it could give her an unmatched competitive advantage in these areas. Mackinder also deemed that her land mobility better supports commerce than does sea power, conceivably giving her a competitive advantage economically.
Mackinder believed that the World Island's combined strengths fortified the Heartland as the pivot region of world politics. He also viewed Russia as the pivot state, because of her central position to assert power throughout the World Island, despite her weaknesses. He felt that historical events leading to Russia’s demographic evolution and widespread expansion engendered her as the logical Heartland pivot power.
Mackinder speculated that control over Eastern Europe would ensure control over the Heartland; control over the Heartland would ensure control over the World Island; and control over the World Island would solidify power over the world. Many have criticized Mackinder’s Heartland Theory for various reasons. However, others are reconsidering its plausibility and ongoing importance today.
The Heartland’s perceived importance often has been reflected in the geopolitics of countries such as the United States, Russia, and China, to name several. These countries have either maintained, expanded, or adapted their foreign policies and geopolitics, depending on their resolve for affirming, reclaiming, or capturing global superpower status. As if playing a game of chess, they are advancing their geostrategies and positioning for a struggle to control, influence, or constrain power over the Heartland.
Globalization, as a growing geostrategy, is closing the gap between international economies. Likewise, the World Island economies could leverage their combined strengths to demonstrate a potentially unmatched power assertion. Hence, the Heartland’s importance also seems connected to superpower positioning and possibly, a power pivot towards Eurasia.
Should we care if world power pivots to the Heartland in 2050? What characterizes the Heartland today? What past and current events might shape Heartland power? Who will influence this power shift? How might it play out? What might be some implications of a power shift? What might signal how the future unfolds? Geostrategic moves over the Heartland are in play today.
© Kimberly “Kay” Daniels 2020