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The geographical pivot of history and early twentieth century geopolitical culture

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This article offers a re-interpretation of the geographical pivot of history by setting it in the context of the international relations and strategic debates of the early twentieth century, and by engaging with the historiography of British foreign policy during the Edwardian period. The overall argument is that the prospective effort of Mackinder does not appear as merely speculative but is in fact rather well grounded in the fundamentals of British foreign policy and more directly relevant than hitherto assumed. Identifying a trend towards a shift in the equilibrium between land power and sea power, Mackinder emphasized – and perhaps over-emphasized – a Russian threat to British interests but considered that Germany alone only posed a minor threat. Such analysis seems to be remarkably in tune with British geopolitical culture around 1904, and with the ideas of the British Prime Minister Arthur Balfour. The way in which Mackinder further stressed that a combination of the two main continental powers would represent a major peril for Britain has hitherto been treated rather dismissively. This article however shows how twice during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–5 Wilhelm II attempted to bring such an alliance about. This article attempts to reassess the actual impact of the geographical pivot of history and more broadly of Mackinder's thought, usually considered minimal, on British foreign policy before 1914. Finally, a number of issues that seem to deserve further attention are suggested, in particular that of the influence exerted by Mackinder before 1914, and that of the genesis of Mackinder's conception of the ‘pivot zone’ or ‘heartland’.

Keywords: 1904; Mackinder; geopolitics; geostrategy; history

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: European Studies Research Institute, University of Salford, Manchester M5 4WT, Email:

Publication date: December 1, 2004

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