What Are the Fundamentals of Geopolitics?

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Multi-Dimensional Element Integration

The fundamentals of geopolitics begin with the unique imperatives and constraints of nation-states. They involve looking at all of the attributes that affect a country or a region, dissecting each piece in order to better understand its implications, then putting them back together and painting a picture clear enough for others to understand. Easier said than done, to be sure. However, a good starting place is understanding what these elements are, how they interact and how they affect the whole of a country. In order, these elements concern geography, politics, economics, military, technology and culture. We will discuss each element briefly and what it brings to the overall geopolitical “picture” of a country.

Geography

Geography affects every element of a country’s geopolitical context. In many ways, the geography of a place defines it. It determines what economic sectors will prosper. It can influence how centralized power may be, as well as a country’s susceptibility to invasion or need for alliances. For example, nation-states like Russia may find themselves expanding their borders in order to defend their political center. The larger this buffer zone is, the more secure Russia is from invading European forces. This fear of invasion is a big part of Russia’s obsession with Ukraine. The more Ukraine leans into Western Europe for trade and political alliances, the more at risk Russia feels.

Geography also affects the military needs of a country. Long coastal areas often require a navy; terrain dictates the equipment and skill set required for an army, and a country’s general expansiveness determines the size/need for an air force. For example, the U.S., which has territory along both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, has spent a great deal of its history defending itself against actual and potential naval threats. Countries that struggle to meet their basic needs – for example, if they have a lack of natural resources or cannot produce enough food with the available arable land – may find themselves vulnerable to outside powers and influence. In this situation, then, limits on food production and farmable land would be a constraint – something that the nation cannot directly overcome with its own power. No region is without geographical challenges, and so each country has to develop strategies to ensure that all the necessary imperatives are met while acknowledging and addressing its unique constraints.

Politics

Politics are, quite simply, the ways in which a country is governed. The political dynamic of a country directly affects its institutional effectiveness, social stability and international engagement strategy. While we at Geopolitical Futures don’t predict a nation’s domestic election outcomes, the changes in political systems can have an impact on other arenas of geopolitics such as military and economics. Rather than the decisions made by a single leader, however, we look at politics from the perspective of imperatives vs. constraints. This basic dynamic forms the foundation of our analytical strategy, and has proved to be an excellent characteristic to define and determine how a government may act next. This means that we can generally define how a nation-state is going to behave and what it is going to prioritize no matter who is in charge of it.

Economics

The economy of a region or nation-state plays a major role in determining its overall stability and power. A strong economy is often necessary for a strong military, social stability as well as a number of other things. A country’s economic stability, versatility and resource availability have a direct impact on its geopolitical behavior. For example, countries with excess oil reserves but a deficit of arable land may use economic ties with other countries to secure food and supplies for their populace in exchange for oil and natural gas. Exchanges like this can allow countries to use their strengths to circumvent constraints and better meet their imperatives.

Military

The military can protect a country’s borders, project power overseas and defend against threats. A strong military can be a major factor in a country’s geopolitical power projection and can affect how it interacts with neighboring countries. Countries under direct threat of foreign military forces must find ways to secure their defense and interests, such as through international alliances or building up their own military in order to balance the power dynamics.

Technology

A country’s technological capabilities can be a major contributing factor to cultural, economic and military power. Tech for private use, like personal computers and cellphones, as well as major public services, such as public transportation, all contribute to the connectivity of a country and its capabilities to care for itself and for its people. On the global stage, a country or region that establishes itself as a major technological hub can accumulate geopolitical power by controlling intellectual property, creating dependencies and being the cornerstone of critical networks.

Culture

Geopolitics explains and predicts how different groups of people interact, and how nation-states at large will interact with each other. In that context, the culture of a place may not be immediately relevant. The nation-state, however, is in many ways the basis upon which modern human communities are organized. People define themselves in part based upon the nation and area that they originate from, and often the values and goals of a state are influenced by what they see as culturally important. From a geopolitical viewpoint, the dynamics of a culture often emerge from the constraints and goals of a nation, meaning that the geopolitical forces and cultural forces can affect and drive one another as time goes on.

Balancing Goals and Limitations

How The Fundamentals of Geopolitics Influence Strategy

A key question we ask ourselves is: “How do changes in the political, economic and social landscapes of a region impact the global balance of power? Do these changes affect our understanding of a nation-state’s major goals and initiatives?” Geopolitics examines how global shifts in power will change country behavior such that the ramifications are felt across the global economy and politics .
These fundamentals of geopolitics, along with relevant outside factors such as an external country’s desire to increase its power and influence in the region – and the conflict this can generate – form the basis for geopolitical analysis and forecasting. For Geopolitical Futures, it is about looking at these interconnecting factors and evaluating it from a global perspective. It’s important to realize that every country and region on earth has to pursue these imperatives constantly. The measure of power is not done within a vacuum, nor is it stagnant. Like everything, with time geopolitical forces shift and change.

Evaluating Fluctuations in Power

When fluctuations do occur along the scale of power, there are a few ways to evaluate them. The first step is always to identify the source of power and direction of the change. Some changes are due to domestic factors within a country or region. Shifts in the regime, economic advancements or decline, or even social uprisings can alter the relative power of a nation from a geopolitical perspective. Other factors may come from the outside, such as external economic forces, military conflict and even major migration events.

Cohesive Geopolitical Analysis

Dynamic Information Collection

An integral step of our forecasting process is collecting information from dynamic, often native language and region-specific news sources. This is important to our process for a few reasons.
First, it allows us to get local perspectives on information that might be missed by other media organizations. Most news sources focus on the individual stories and events, but don’t explain why they happen and whether they impact a larger sphere. News focuses on the “who, what, where and when” whereas geopolitics focuses on the “why and what next?” What needs to be understood are the global and geopolitical trends. Local perspectives allow us to get a fuller understanding of the situation at hand and identify potential areas that may grow into larger trends later on.
Second, we can identify potential flashpoints and areas of instability before they happen . A major part of our work involves forecasting potential events based on studying the history of a country or region and seeing the patterns of a country’s needs, constraints and the potential for conflict in their pursuit. Forecasting is built on an understanding of both the current circumstance and the ways it could develop and change in the future. For example, George Friedman used such reasoning to predict the Ukraine-Russia conflict years before it happened . The ability to forecast came from a deep knowledge of the region’s history and seeing how the patterns played out between nation-states.
Finally, it helps us understand the underlying drivers of geopolitical change. Combined, this information allows us to provide a more comprehensive picture of the geopolitical landscape. Each region is unique, and even though there is a short list of factors that affect and define the geopolitical sphere, there are an infinite number of ways that these elements can combine. That is why it is important for us to get information from diverse, often foreign language sources that offer unique perspectives and insights.

Informed Prediction Making

Once the source of change is identified and adequate information is gathered, the next step is to determine fluctuations in relative power and potential for conflict. This is where geopolitical analysis comes into play. Geopolitical analysts make informed predictions about the future of international relations by examining past patterns and trends. Our professionals have spent years understanding the forces that affect their specific region of expertise as well as global forces. Several of our team have published books specifically on their region, and all are deeply informed about the dynamics of power. Our deep knowledge combined with diverse information sources help us formulate insights, analyses and forecasts that are accurate, substantial and meaningful. This process is not an exact science, but it provides readers with a helpful framework for understanding the complex geopolitical landscape.

Conclusion

At Geopolitical Futures, we believe that a cohesive and comprehensive approach to geopolitics is the key to understanding the complex global system in which we operate. Our aim is to always provide insightful and actionable analysis on the major trends and events shaping the world today. Every day we utilize these elements of geopolitics to guide our analysis and forecasting. Our global insights are built off of these key concepts. If you would like to learn more about us, our offerings and our methodology, become a subscriber here

Geopolitical Futures
Geopolitical Futures (GPF) was founded in 2015 by George Friedman, international strategist and author of The Storm Before the Calm and The Next 100 Years. GPF is non-ideological, analyzes the world and forecasts the future using geopolitics: political, economic, military and geographic dimensions at the foundation of a nation.