Greetings and salutations! I’m Michael Noonan the editor of, and contributor to, Geopoliticus the new blog of the Foreign Policy Research Institute. This space, the name of which is taken from Salvador Dali’s painting “Geopoliticus Child Watching the Birth of the New Man,” will offer irregular analyses (both in terms of having no set posting rhythm and hopefully in terms of not parroting the conventional wisdom as it applies to matters of world affairs whether they be from an historical, contemporary, or future-gazing orientation) from various FPRI voices—and perhaps guest voices from time to time. I hope that you will like the offerings. While you are here feel free to look around at our extensive collection of written and multimedia content.
Why Geopoliticus? Since our founding in 1955 by the late-Ambassador Robert Strausz-Hupé, FPRI’s touchstone has been its tradition of an historical-, cultural-, and geographically-grounded approach to the study and analysis of world affairs. This geopolitical perspective, we feel, has held us in good stead over the years. (Strausz-Hupé, incidentally, is sometimes credited with introducing the word “geopolitics” into the English language and largely helped—as Robert D. Kaplan points out in his latest book The Revenge of Geography—to save its reputation from the grasp of the Nazis who thought of geopolitik only in terms of domination and subjugation.)
Strausz-Hupé’s coming of age during the dying days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and his formal training in land surveying before he immigrated to the United States in 1923 provided him an acute awareness of the broader connections between physical space and history, politics, and culture. He knew that geography, as FPRI Senior Fellow James Kurth has so eloquently put it, “…is essential in understanding the realities and mentalities of the localities.” (For more on Strausz-Hupé see, for instance, this, this, and this.)
When the late—and great—Harvey Sicherman returned to FPRI in 1992 he reinvigorated its focus on the interplay between geography, history, and culture. In a brilliant essay, “The Revenge of Geopolitics,” from 1997 he eviscerated the happy talk of the post-Cold War era when he wrote:
…the post-cold war era may be distinguished by the absence of a cold war, but it hardly qualifies as “peace.” Rather, an overarching geopolitical struggle has merely given way to numerous “underarching” struggles. The Kremlin may be emptied of ideologues plotting campaigns against America, her allies, and strategic points around the globe, but the world as a whole teems with as many geopoliticians as ever. One might call them the “meat-eaters,” those to whom power, territorial possession, military action, and pirated wealth matter far more than do the environmental issues, diplomatic niceties, human rights, and other hobbies of the social transformers who comprise the current U.S. foreign policy establishment.
The persistence of geopolitics, or realpolitik, has come as a rude and distressing shock to the neo-Wilsonians who took office under Clinton. Many were veterans of the only administration that genuinely attempted to transcend the geopolitical approach to world affairs—Jimmy Carter’s. They believed that the collapse of Soviet power had made the “enlargement” of democracy and free markets possible and, indeed, inevitable. In their view, the era of the meat-eaters was over and that of the plant-eaters at hand. American power should therefore be harnessed to various projects the cold war had precluded, such as the enforcement of human rights, economic cooperation, arms control, and reinvigoration of the United Nations—with nation building a sideline to hurry along any Third Worlders too dim to recognize the dawning of the new day. This ambitious agenda swept over all of the historic cold war battlegrounds, from Moscow and Beijing to the killing fields of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. What is more, the neo-Wilsonians proclaimed this enthusiastic, if not always coherent, agenda at the very time that their nominal leader, Clinton, declared himself a domestic president and thereby discounted U.S. foreign policy’s chief asset, the leadership of the presidency itself.
The last 15 years proved him right, in spades, that the world “teems with as many geopoliticians as ever.” The intervening 15 years, however, have not converted everyone. As Mac Owens recently wrote for FPRI, some are still ingrained in notions of “strategic happy talk” that rose as geopolitical thought atrophied. This space will try, in part, to help the reinvigoration of such geopolitical thinking—and if such things interest you should definitely read this essay from 2000 by Walter McDougall.
Now in case anything from above frightened anyone, please note that this blog will not be strictly limited to geopolitical analyses. Furthermore, as the editor I have provided the following four blog rules of engagement to potential contributors:
(1) don’t blog angry,
(2) don’t write partisan posts,
(3) don’t write diatribes, and
(4) in the words of Talleyrand “above all, no zeal.”