Mackinder’s “Heartland Theory”
According to the New York Times, the U.S. has earmarked $54 billion to Ukraine, of which $21 billion is military aid. Last week, the new British Prime Minister promised $3 billion more. And, of course, all the West European countries donated their surplus military equipment for the Ukrainian effort. Is something going on to warrant all this military aid to Ukraine to fight for four under-developed Russian-speaking provinces with no national security interests to the U.S.? Perhaps they do have a vital security link, but it’s not apparent to the casual bystander.
If that’s what you want to call it, the Ukrainian war is eerily reminiscent of a Russian attempt to achieve Mackinder’s “Heartland Theory.” In 1904, Sir H.J. Mackinder presented an article to the Royal Geographical Society entitled “The Geographical Pivot of History.” In this article, Mackinder submitted a geographical analysis theorizing that whoever controlled the Eurasian heartland would maintain the lion’s share of natural resources, be able to distribute them at nominal cost and reap enormous profits, which would lead to them eventually controlling the world. Later in 1919, Mackinder was more specific. He summarized his theory:
1. Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland. The Heartland is identified as stretching from the Volga to the Yangtze and from the Himalayas to the Arctic. While most of the Heartland already belongs to Russia, much acreage belongs to China and Russian satellites like Kazakhstan. The west side of the Volga is considered East Europe. While Russia already controls a great deal of East Europe, two countries, Belarus and Ukraine, control significant portions. Belarus is a Russian satellite. Ukraine is the splinter in Russia’s backside.
2. Who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island. If you pick up a globe and look at the continents with an unbiased eye, you will notice the Australian and North and South American land masses are oceans away from all other land masses. The European, Asian, and African continents are all together and connected; thus, they are considered the World-Island.
3. Who rules the World-Island commands the world. The world-island generates well over 50 percent of the world’s resources. The Heartland is 21 million square acres versus North/Central America’s 9 million square acres or Western Europe’s 4 million square acres. The Heartland’s size and central position make it key to controlling the world-island.
In Mackinder’s time, powerful nations like Britain or Germany had sea-faring navies or strong land armies. Mackinder was looking at the source of commodities and natural resources. He believed in the long run, whichever nation could produce and deliver resources the cheapest would become the most prosperous and, consequently, the most powerful. His theory was based on global trade, and his opinion was that the logistics of sea-faring trade were more expensive than railroads and pipelines.
Several events worth noting make Mackinder’s “Heartland Theory” more attractive. First, earlier this year, the U.S. was expelled from Afghanistan, which is on the periphery of the Heartland. Besides the war in Ukraine, the U.S. cannot stop Russia from following through with the heartland achievement. Second, the climate is changing, the Arctic is thawing, and Siberia is not so cold. The heartland is becoming more livable and adaptable to resource harvesting. Russia is trying to set up defensive positions in the Arctic. Previously, the frigid environment was considered an insurmountable barrier, much like the Ural mountain ranges.
A recent analysis of countries and their respective populations has estimated that 54 percent of the world’s population lives in countries that support Russia’s war with Ukraine. In comparison, the U.S./NATO split is only 19 percent. Unless the combatants use nuclear or chemical weapons, the gravity of victory appears to fall on Russia. If that happens, China’s belt and road initiative will provide the logistics to distribute the resources. All Russia must do is mine the minerals and harvest the crops letting China distribute them. Russia will become the low-cost producer, and China will become the middleman.
Who will benefit?
The U.S will not benefit, nor will the U.S. satellites in Western Europe. Even now, Russia has cut off its oil supply and other resources to Western aligned countries. Several countries, like the BRICS, are non-aligned and want to do business that benefits their countries. Several Muslim countries have no affinity for the West and are considering partnerships with the Russians. Turkey’s Erdogan is hedging his bets. For the U.S., Erdogan is an unreliable NATO partner. Allegedly, the U.S. tried to remove him with a failed coup attempt in 2016, when he was tipped off by Russian intelligence. During his reign, Erdogan changed Turkey from being secular to a highly religious state. While he sits on the fence between Russia and NATO, his real goal is to be the head of a resurgence of Islamic influence like the old Ottoman Empire used to be.
U.S. climate change policy has also played into Russia’s hands. It is plain to see that the U.S. is trying to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. However, that plan will also leave Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the UAE without a product to sell in a decade or two. It doesn’t take much effort to guess which side the oil-producing states will take. Their future is to stick with Mackinder’s World-Island. Even now, Saudi Arabia and China buy Russian oil and resell it to the Europeans at an exaggerated profit. Even with their advanced technology, the West is quickly losing the ability to produce resources or products at a low cost compared to other nations.
The Muslim state that will benefit the most is the Russian province of Chechnya. Most people have heard of the Chechen Wars from the 1990s when Chechnya tried to gain independence from Russia. Their leader since 2007, Ramzan Kadyrov, has supported Putin’s special war in Ukraine, sending thousands of Muslim troops to fight. Chechnya is in the East European theater north of Georgia. Chechen blood will go a long way towards paying their price into the heartland.
Another beneficiary will be the Orthodox Church, sometimes called the Russian Orthodox Church or the Eastern Orthodox Church. The Catholic church has grown as the West expanded using free-market capitalism. Those days are in decline. However, as the heartland grows by being a low-cost producer, the Orthodox Church will slowly rise by being the beneficiary of a prosperous society.
Credit to Wikipedia Commons for the accompanying portrait of Sir H.J. Mackinder and for the diagram from his 1904 article on the "Heartland."