IT IS virtually a generation since Sir Halford J. Mackinder first averred that "Who Rules the Heartland commands the World-Island," yet, despite the apparent mutability of international affairs, this proposition raises the most momentous question of our times. Since the Soviet Union now controls almost all of the Heartland of Mackinder's conception, his proposition, translated into contemporary terms, invites, as a matter of no mere academic importance, the inquiry: How strong is the Soviet Union? The successive or concurrent phases of the now ironically named "cold war"--in Greece, Berlin, Malaya, Indo-China and Korea--are significantly located, in Mackinder's terminology, beyond the Heartland, and beyond its bordering transitional zones, in the outer coastlands themselves. But it is both fitting and necessary, as Isaiah Bowman emphasized,[i] that in a world of rapid technological progress the geography of territory, since it is ever changing, should be continually revalued. It is important, too, to be ready to discard old geopolitical concepts if, with the passage of time, they can be shown to have lost their validity. While it must be admitted that Mackinder's geopolitical philosophy has not become irrelevant to the international world of today, it is nevertheless clear that it contains generalizations and assumptions which scarcely withstand close analysis. And if, as must be assumed, one of the possibilities of the near future is the renewal of war on a grand scale, it is well to reëxamine his sweeping prognostications to determine their present worth.

Prediction, a normal function of the experimental sciences, is more difficult and more unusual in the social sciences. A prediction of a political geographer, originally foreshadowed in 1904, developed in a book in 1919, restated in this journal in 1943[ii] and reiterated in 1945, has attracted and must continue to attract wide and serious attention. This is due not merely to the rarity of such oracular utterances but to Mackinder's position as elder statesman among British geographers, and to the worldwide importance of his prophecy. This he expressed in his "Democratic Ideals and Reality" in 1919, and repeated during the war of 1939-1945, in the following dramatic propositions:

Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland:

Who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island:

Who rules the World-Island commands the World.

What is most remarkable about these affirmations is the extent to which they have been accepted--the geopoliticians of Nazi Germany and Japan certainly tried to apply them--and the fact that they appear largely to have escaped critical examination. This daring and unnerving pronouncement of a single mind, albeit one maturely philosophic, steeped in the study of history and geography and sharpened in the world of affairs, still appears challengingly to define the inescapable destiny of the deeply-riven world political structure. The Delphic Oracle, it may be recalled, was often successful in its prophecies, for it had behind it what we should now call a good intelligence organization. Sir Halford Mackinder had a sound knowledge of the world in its spatial and historical aspects upon which to base his prediction. But this was essentially a long-term forecast and, although it was subjected under his eyes to the partial test of an era which included two world wars, it belonged of course to that kind of prediction not easy to gainsay, since the chance of its being literally and exactly tested was small.

The world which Mackinder studied, as he was quick to see, was, and so it remains, a single "Going Concern," a delicate interlocking mechanism, susceptible to jarring by actions at any point. But this world, finite though it is in its areal contours of land and sea, is for its human occupants rapidly and ever changing. Indeed, "geography changes as rapidly as ideas and technologies change;" we have continually to make new maps and newly evaluate the geography of land and sea areas. Notably our whole conception of mobility and accessibility, considerations to which Mackinder attached prime importance, have been revolutionized by the internal combustion engine and the airplane. No less, too, have science and technology in their applications to industry and to the art of war wrought changes to which no end can be seen. The advent of a new offensive weapon, the atom bomb, in itself makes it ever more necessary to reëxamine time-honored assumptions of geopolitical thinking. In the world of international relations, rooted although these are to a physically unchanging planet and conditioned as they are by a rich and perhaps too well remembered history, it is surely both unwise and dangerous to accept, as a predetermined end, the prediction that world hegemony must, on certain assumptions, inevitably pass to the rulers of one specified portion of the earth. It is unwise, because neither history nor geography, either singly or in combination, given the indeterminate character of social behavior, warrants predictions of this precise kind. Dangerous, because the acceptance of his prophecy as valid, unless it can be demonstrated beyond doubt, would stultify all our efforts toward the creation of a freely organized international society.

Let us look more closely at Mackinder's theses and the assumptions upon which they rest before considering their relation to the Soviet Union and their validity in the world of today.


Mackinder's concept of the "World Island" raises no problems: by this effective shorthand he embraced the land-linked continents of Europe, Asia and Africa and emphasized their relation to the oceans. "East Europe," which he distinguished from "West Europe," also raises little difficulty: it was that broadening zone of Europe, dominated numerically by Slav-speaking peoples and continually a zone of political instability, which extended eastward of the peninsulas of Jutland and Istria as far as the Azov Sea, the Don and the Volga above Stalingrad. Northward it included Sweden and southeastward Asia Minor. Berlin and Vienna lay within its western confines. The Heartland is a somewhat more complicated geographical concept although a remarkable achievement in generalization.

Mackinder conceived the Heartland in two ways: in terms of the area of internal drainage in Eurasia and also in terms of that area of Eurasia which was (under the ruling conditions of the time) inaccessible to sea power. He regarded the Arctic Ocean east of the White Sea as virtually a physical barrier to human movement, as comparable with the Caspian Sea and lakes Aral and Baikal, that is as basins of internal drainage affording no outlets to the routeways of the world oceans. On either basis the Heartland amounted territorially to much the same area. A colossal sub-continental entity, it was separated and almost barred off by transitional zones from the peripheral seaward lands of Europe and monsoon Asia. The seclusion and natural security of the Heartland, it will be recalled, were attributed to facts of physical geography: to the north, the Arctic Ocean, frozen almost everywhere the whole year through, and to the south and east, mountain chains and vast desert plateaus. In contrast, on its western flank the Heartland had easy contact with the well-settled lands of European Russia--with "Russia" in the strict sense. The components of the Heartland, itemized in terms of regional geography, were the Volga basin, Kazakhstan, Siberia, Central Asia, the Iranian and Tibetan plateaus. Politically the Heartland was largely Russian or Chinese, together with the semi-independent buffer states of Afghanistan and Persia.

Now it may well seem paradoxical, in view of its remoteness, its climatic rigors, its vastness and its relative emptiness of human beings, that the Heartland should possess marked geopolitical significance. Vast it certainly is--the equivalent of no less than five-ninths of Asia's area or of nearly one-fifth of the whole habitable earth. Virtually empty it was, and to a lesser extent, still is. Its total population may be estimated today at 100,000,000--less than one-twentieth of the world's population, although probably three times what it was when Mackinder first, and so emphatically, directed attention to it. Clearly his appreciation of the Heartland did not spring from demographic considerations, although he was the first to publicize the concept of "manpower" as an index of productivity and military power. The Heartland derived importance from its sheer extent. What mattered no less was its natural security and its median position in Eurasia. Nature, he argued, had endowed it not only with remarkable defensive strength, but also with command of interior lines of overland communication. So, curiously to us, with memories fresh of the fundamental rôle of economic potential in modern war, Mackinder was little concerned here with either manpower or wealth, actual and potential. Geographical position, physical remoteness from the world oceans, natural security from attack afforded by the frozen Arctic seas and by the mountain-desert-steppe expanses of Central Asia, and space--so much space as virtually to defy the logistics of an enemy approaching from without: all these considerations seem to have entered into Mackinder's evaluation of the Heartland as a citadel for defense and as a secure base for offensive warfare.

That certain important and inescapable geographical realities entered into Mackinder's conception of the geopolitical rôle of the Heartland is abundantly clear. Whether so much can be deduced from the inert facts of physical geography is no less clearly a matter of doubt. It is true that Mackinder found in history, in the recurrent theme of the movements of nomad horsemen from the steppes of Asia into the adjoining lands of Europe, Asia Minor, India, Manchuria and China, evidence of the pressure extended outward from the Heartland into the settled agricultural periphery. Within the southern areas of the Heartland, the horse caravan did indeed provide much mobility along the almost endless road of the steppe. So far as it went, the historical record served to support Mackinder's theses in that the Heartland played an active and positive part in the history of the settled peninsular lands of Asia and Europe. Yet the theme of nomadic migrations from Central Asia has been perhaps overemphasized: there were forceful movements into the Heartland which show at least its penetrability. Witness the expansion of China under the Han dynasty (202 B.C.-226 A.D.) to Sinkiang and beyond the Pamirs to the shores of the Caspian Sea, and the penetration of the Russian boatmen, seeking furs, which started the Russification of Siberia. Some of the native peoples of northwest Siberia may have reached there from northern Russia or Finland rather than the Ural-Altai region; and in more recent times Japanese expansion into Manchuria and Inner Mongolia marked a successful approach at least to the threshold of the Heartland.

Let us return to the three assertions which summarize Mackinder's views. With the third dictum that "Who rules the World-Island commands the World," there might appear little ground for critical comment. Given this hypothetical situation, the Americas and Australasia, even if assumed to be wholly united in an all-out military effort, might well hesitate before continuing so unequal a struggle, seeing their only chances of success in their margin of scientific, technological and aeronaval superiority, in the possible retention of bordering islands of the Old World, and in the inevitably large chinks in the armor of the World-Island empire at those points where the writ of its rulers failed to run. But at the most this eighth of the world's population could not hope to stage more than a defensive war.

Similarly Mackinder's first assertion--"Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland"--appears valid. The events of this century indeed have increasingly confirmed it, although it has been challenged--when (in 1918-20) Allied forces, supporting White Russians, invaded Russia in Asia and in Europe, but failed to wipe out Bolshevism; and by the expansion of the Japanese empire into Korea, Manchuria and China. For this assertion Mackinder had good geographical and historical warrant. Had the coastlands of the Siberian Arctic been accessible to the seamanship of the great age of geographical discovery, as were those of the White Sea and Hudson Bay, the British or other West Europeans might well have sailed up the Ob or Yenisei rivers, sought Siberian sables direct, set up trading companies there, and made good political claims to Siberian territory. But navigation of the Arctic is a delicate and highly seasonal art, which only the technological achievements of this century have made possible. Control over the Heartland could practically be sought and established only from its marginal lands. It might conceivably have come, as partially it did come at certain periods of history, from Southwest Asia--witness the conquests of Alexander the Great and of the Arab Empire. It was much more likely to be achieved from the populous bases of either Eastern Europe or China proper. The main base of the Mongol Empire, which was created in the thirteenth century, was China proper, although its original nucleus of power was the Mongolian steppes: this is an interesting historical instance of a Heartland Power, based not on East Europe but on part of monsoon Asia, which penetrated but failed to hold much of East Europe, still less the European coastlands or the World-Island, despite its advantages of mobility, firepower, good intelligence, and a wave of terror which spread before its advancing armies.

The control of the Heartland by the principal state of East Europe, Russia, had at the time of Mackinder's book been long established. With the emergence of medieval Muscovy in north and central Russia, the eclipse of Mongol ascendancy, and the organization of the Russian state in the sixteenth century, Russians began to penetrate Siberia in search of furs and to make good their control of this vast northern land. The Russian boatmen, using the river ways and equipped with firearms which the scattered semi-nomadic population could not withstand, made their way through the coniferous forests and later pressed southward to control the wooded and treeless steppes of Siberia and the steppes and semi-deserts of Kazakhstan which they called, with ethnographical inexactitude, the Kirghiz steppe. In this way Russia won a new pioneer land for colonization, so successfully that today Russians make up all but a tiny fraction of the population of Siberia and fully half of that of Kazakhstan. In the Caucasus and in those deserts and oases east of the Caspian and south of Kazakhstan, now known as Soviet Central Asia, Russia intervened in search of, not so much new lands for colonization, as new fields of economic opportunity. This intervention in the second half of the nineteenth century took the form of military expeditions, difficult to execute because of great stretches of arid country. In Siberia the building of the Trans-Siberian railway (1891-1903) bound Siberia and its Pacific coast in no uncertain way to the Russian homeland in Europe; at the same time it permitted immigration into, and settlement of, Siberia at a new and faster pace, and projected Russia into the theatre of Far Eastern politics.

In Central Asia, too, as necessary instruments of conquest and consolidation, railways were built, notably the Central Asian line from Orenburg (now Chkalov) to Tashkent, and the Trans-Caspian line from Krasnovodsk (on the Caspian) to Merv, Bukhara and Tashkent with an off-line to Kushka on the Afghan frontier. Quite apart from their internal value for government and trade, these railways had their international aspect. British "Mervousness" at the possible threat to India, a threat not so much of direct invasion as of internal disorders such as the Indian Mutiny of 1857, was attributable to the new railways and their possible strategical implications. There can be no doubt that at the time Mackinder was developing his geopolitical ideas the Heartland had become very much a field of Russian control. Not quite completely, because China still held, though loosely, Mongolia, Sinkiang and Tibet. But China's power was declining, and her hold on these borderlands, beyond the limits of a slender railway system, was weakening, the more so as her attention, too, was engaged on her maritime margins by the rising sun of Japanese imperialism.


At the present time the political control of East Europe and the political control of the Heartland by the rulers of East Europe are more exactly established than they have been at any other time. In the first place, the Soviet Union, whose western boundaries were withdrawn eastward by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (1917), has expanded westward in Europe as a result of the Russo-German war of 1941-45, by the incorporation of the Baltic States, part of East Prussia, eastern Poland, Ruthenia, Bessarabia and parts of eastern and southern Finland. Not only that, but her power and influence range farther west over a tier of states--Finland, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Rumania, Bulgaria and Albania--beyond which she holds her zones of military occupation in Germany and Austria. With only a few exceptions--Sweden, Asia Minor and Jugoslavia with her independent Communism of Marshal Tito--East Europe in Mackinder's sense falls effectively under one rule. Moreover, if we turn to the Heartland as it now appears politically, it is evident that Soviet control has overflowed the U.S.S.R.'s borderlands into the greater part of what remains of the Heartland. The former Chinese-controlled territory of Tannu Tuva, which contains the headwaters of the Yenisei, was quietly incorporated into the Soviet Union a few years ago. China's titular rights in Outer Mongolia were renounced in 1945, and the nominally independent Mongolian People's Republic is now, less nominally, a Soviet preserve. In Sinkiang, too, Russian influence is preponderant: the Turkestan-Siberian railway, built in the 1930's, opens up a new approach to the historic road through the "dry strait" of Dzungaria to central China. Further, Soviet prestige stands high among the medley of backward peoples of Central Asia, largely as a result of what the U.S.S.R. has achieved in its own Central Asian republics by irrigation works, hydroelectric undertakings, mining operations, factory building and the operation of air services. All that remains of the Heartland which is not clearly under Soviet control are Tibet, Persia and Afghanistan.

The first statement of Mackinder's triplet thus describes a situation which at the present time very nearly obtains. The U.S.S.R., as ruler of East Europe, commands nearly all of the Heartland. The word "commands" has of course its shades of meaning. If it is interpreted as "controls," it might well be argued that the Soviet command falls short in some important areas of the Heartland, markedly in Persia, and also in Afghanistan and Tibet. If "command" means only "has at disposal" or "has within reach," the Soviet command does not appear so limited, for, as Mackinder foresaw in 1943, the destruction of German and Japanese armed forces leaves the U.S.S.R. the greatest military power in the world. Two of the Heartland areas outside the U.S.S.R., although within her field of special political interest, are, and have long been, geopolitically significant. British foreign policy has always sought the maintenance of the independence of Afghanistan and Persia as buffers essential to the defense of the Indian sub-continent, for the one provides the difficult but main highways toward the Indo-Gangetic plain, while the other conveniently holds the U.S.S.R. back from the Indian Ocean and guards one of the thresholds of Southwest Asia. But it may well be argued that the weakening of the U.S.S.R.'s command of the Heartland due to the survival of the states of Persia and Afghanistan is more than counterbalanced by other extraneous sources of Soviet strength. For the Soviet Union, thanks to the Yalta Agreement, enjoys a specially privileged position in Manchuria, and cannot fail to find satisfaction in the emergence of a Communist régime in China.

The crux of Mackinder's prediction--that part of it which is of greatest immediate moment in international affairs and is most susceptible to criticism--is his proposition that "Who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island."

Now it must be clearly realized that the events of the last 25 years have greatly increased the internal strength of the Heartland as a citadel of power. No less than an economic and social revolution has been effected in that part of the Heartland which falls strictly within the Soviet Union--namely the Volga-Ural region and Soviet Asia beyond it, which together the Russians conveniently refer to as "the eastern regions." In pursuit of an objective set by Lenin, the U.S.S.R. has sought, by means of successive five-year plans, not only to achieve economic self-sufficiency but also to effect a geographical redistribution of the Union's resources by developing its Heartland area. Alike in agriculture, mineral exploitation, industry, and railway and airfield construction, substantial progress had already been effected there before the Germans fell upon Russia in 1941. One effect of enemy occupation of wide areas of European Russia was only to hasten the pace of economic development in the Urals and beyond. And, although one main purpose of the five-year plan now ending (1946-50) was the restoration of the economy of war-devastated areas, there is no suggestion that the development of the Ural and Asiatic regions has been discontinued. In short, these areas, as they have received settlers from Russia, extended food production, fostered urban development, and built up heavy metallurgical and armament industries, have acquired manpower and economic potential at a rate and to an extent unforeseen when Mackinder wrote his book. The industrial region of the southern Urals is the outstandingly major component; Kuzbas, on the basis of its great coal resources, forms another, but smaller, industrial base; while others in Kazakhstan, Central Asia, Eastern Siberia and the Far East will continue to be developed. The Trans-Siberian railway has been double-tracked, and its duplication by the South Siberian Trunk line and the Baikal-Amur line partially accomplished. The Soviet bloc of the Heartland is no longer an inert appendage of European Russia, although it is directed from Moscow; it now contains surplus food resources (in western Siberia and Kazakhstan), sources of power (oil, coal and hydroelectricity), steel, aluminum and nitrate plants, and factories for motor and aircraft assembly and for locomotives and wagons. The mining of uranium among other rare metals, mainly in Kirghiz S.S.R., should provide in due course atomic energy for largescale use in irrigation and mining undertakings. Indeed, the vast field for economic development in Siberia, Kazakhstan and Central Asia could well occupy the major energies of the Soviet Union for at least a generation. Given, however, the ideology and policy of Soviet Communism, such a diversion of energy to solely internal projects can hardly be assumed.

It is important to grasp the fact that the geographical distribution of the Soviet economic potential has strikingly changed. Before the Russo-German war began in mid-1941, it would still have been true to emphasize that the main sources of Soviet power, whether measured in terms of manpower or of industrial output, lay preponderantly in European Russia west of the Volga. This area accounted for about two-thirds of each. With the destruction and removal of much of the economic capital of western and southern Russia in the war, the Heartland sprang into a position of preëminence, the more so when 1,300 large industrial plants, evacuated from the west, were reëstablished there while the war still raged. The U.S.S.R. has claimed that "the eastern regions" became then "a powerful base of supply of ammunition, weapons, tanks and aircraft for the Red Army," so that, between mid-1941 and mid-1945, their industrial output doubled while that of war industries increased five to sixfold. The nature, tempo and scale of industrial growth in the Soviet Heartland are clear enough: without its mounting production the Red Army's successful advance from the winter of 1942-43 onward could not have been achieved, even when full allowance is made for the substantial and well selected supplies shipped from the United States and the United Kingdom. But whereas in 1940 "the eastern regions" (i.e. the Heartland) had only 34 percent of total Soviet industrial production, the proportion will rise to 51 percent if the 1946-50 plan is fulfilled.[iii] It should not, however, be inferred that the economies of the Heartland and of Russia west of the Volga are not in many ways interdependent: witness the inter-regional shipments of Baku oil, of central Asian cotton, of west Siberian wheat, of east Siberian tin and ore, and of nickel from Petsamo and the Taimyr peninsula. Nor should it be inferred that population east of the Volga has so increased as to account for as much as half of the all-Union total.

The fourth five-year plan for the "rehabilitation and development of the national economy of the U.S.S.R." aims not only to repair major war damage inflicted on the railway system, mines and power and industrial installations of western Russia, but also to effect by 1950 an over-all 48 percent increase in industrial output above the 1940 level. Although hopes to realize "the 1950 levels by 1949"--as a Soviet slogan put it--were not fulfilled all along the line, gross industrial production reached 53 percent above that of 1940 in the fourth quarter of 1949, when the 1950 target for rolled metal, coal, oil and electric power was exceeded. Owing in part to new accessions of territory and population, the U.S.S.R. now commands a labor force of 34,000,000, 15 percent greater than that of 1940. Malenkov has stated that by the end of 1949 the war-damaged areas, including the Donetz coalfield, attained their prewar levels of industrial output. The 1940 figures for the production of pig iron, steel and most of the non-ferrous metals were exceeded last year, and agriculture, if exception be made of livestock, is reaching its production targets. The plan calls for a production in 1950 of 35,400,000 metric tons of oil, 250,000,000 tons of coal, 19,500,000 tons of pig iron, 25400,000 tons of steel and 82 billion kwh. of electric power. While any great over-fulfilment of the plan this year appears unlikely, for many important items in the economy the goals set have been already, or will soon be, reached. Over-all fulfilment of the plan does not, of course, imply that there may not be some failures to record, and such weak spots are the more serious in a planned economy which seeks to attain a high degree of self-sufficiency.


Emphasis has been put on the changing scale and distribution of Soviet economy, for it is clear, in retrospect, that, owing to prejudice and ignorance, its strength was underestimated before the outbreak of World War II. Yet it would be equally wrong to exaggerate the U.S.S.R.'s present might and wrong to conclude that, should another major war ensue, the dice are as heavily weighted in favor of a combined East Europe and Heartland as Mackinder asserted. Soviet industrial output, viewed comparatively or expressed in terms of output per head of population, appears modest enough. And economic potential apart, there are a number of considerations which challenge Mackinder's belief in the great offensive and defensive strength of the vast area which now falls under Soviet control.

The conquest of polar air by modern long-range aircraft introduces a new factor since Mackinder first made his ominous pronouncements. During the honeymoon period of American-Soviet relations late in World War II, as Henry A. Wallace has told, useful air routes were established in high latitudes between Alaska and Soviet Asia. Indeed the ferrying of American aircraft by this route stimulated the development of ground facilities on both sides of the Bering Strait, while the activities of Dalstroi, seeking gold, tin and other metals in the Kolyma basin, also focused Soviet attention on northeast Siberia where it draws close to Alaska, which the Soviet press described recently as "Soviet territory in the hands of an alien Power." Just what the possibilities of the Arctic regions are as a theatre of war--cold desert, in contrast to the hot deserts in which valuable experience has already been gained--is not yet clear. Trans-polar flights to worthwhile objectives in Eurasia and North America, since the return flight must normally be assumed, would strain the present range of non-stop flight and involve serious navigation difficulties. Air strikes and airborne and seaborne landings, using the shorter distances across the Bering Strait, certainly appear practicable, for example in operations designed to achieve limited objectives or to divert and divide the military energies of adversaries. In any case, the U.S.S.R. can no longer militarily ignore her extended northern seaboard, leaving it safely secured by nature as Mackinder originally assumed; nor, given the vast distances and deficient means of surface transport, could she hope easily to protect all her scattered airfields, populated centers and ports. Indeed, the general point emerges that, whatever value may attach to vast spaces in military strategy, in air defense they raise very serious difficulties. The task of defending from hostile aircraft the great length of the land and sea frontiers of the U.S.S.R. appears truly formidable, in striking contrast to that presented in a small state such as the United Kingdom.

Further, there arises the problem to what extent the use, in a major war, of the newest weapons--notably the atomic bomb--injects a wholly revolutionary factor into geopolitical assessments. It is abundantly clear that dictatorial régimes and aggressor states enjoy the great military advantages of swift action and surprise: they are on the spot because they alone know beyond doubt where it lies. Yet it must be assumed that the Western Powers are well aware that in certain vitally important areas--Western Europe, the Mediterranean, Southwest Asia and the Far East--military force must be ready to resist sudden aggression. It is in this context that the existence of atomic bombs challenges Mackinder's views, for he assumed that expansion outward from the Heartland and East Europe would leave the victor able to enjoy the fruits of victory and thus to increase his war potential. Armed with a superiority in atom bombs and in long-range aircraft, the Western Powers now possess a means of depriving an enemy of economic and military assets on a greatly enlarged scale. There are objectives in and around the Heartland, accessible from peripheral bases in Britain, the Middle East and the Far East, which it would appear necessary, on strictly military ground, to deny to a Heartland enemy. To enumerate some of the most obvious of such objectives, there are the Baku oilfields, which account for one-half of the U.S.S.R.'s oil production, on which depends not only her military and civil motor transport but also her industries and the food supplies derived from a highly mechanized agriculture; the Ruhr industrial region, untroubled development of which would add greatly to the military strength of its possessor; the Rumanian oilfield; the heavy industry of the Ukraine and of upper Silesia; and so on in descending order.

There are other considerations, too, which the Mackinder thesis does not take fully into account. The industrial potential of the Soviet Union and of her East European satellites, despite its growth in recent decades, is less than that of the Marshall Aid states of Europe, behind which lies the towering industrial strength of the United States. The possibilities of direct invasion of coastlands under aero-naval cover, in the light of World War II, are now more seriously to be reckoned with by a continental enemy. Is it also to be believed that the advantages of the U.S.S.R.'s territorial extent and geographical location--now somewhat impaired by the new skyways and by the increasing range of aircraft--can more than offset the primacy of the United States in technology and industrial capacity? And in a geopolitical power equation surely some increase in military effectiveness must be allowed to the West European states for the measures which they have already taken toward the integration of their military and economic resources--measures very difficult to effect yet practicable, thanks to the external danger which underlines their community of interest.

Expansion from an East European and Heartland base would involve a war not on one but on many fronts and create a situation for the U.S.S.R. unlike that which obtained in World War II, when Russia turned against Japan only after the war in Europe had ended. Such widespread belligerency, despite the U.S.S.R.'s much vaunted advantage of interior lines of transportation, would impose a severe strain on her railway system, on which the movement of men and matériel so largely depends. Although the mileage of the Russian railways is about double that of 1913 and the Soviets have sought to reduce the strain upon them by creating regional bases of population and industry, the fact remains that the railroads are heavily burdened even in peacetime and would become in wartime, if subjected to air attacks, a highly vulnerable part of the war machine. The railway system would appear most vulnerable at Moscow itself, since it is at once its chief node and the mainspring of a highly-centralized economy. In Soviet Asia beyond the Urals, where roads are underdeveloped and often useless during the spring thaw, great importance attaches to the skeletal railway system. There is no real network, in particular for the double-tracked Trans-Siberian and the remaining single-track lines. It is true that the Red Army is distributed regionally and organized from bases toward the frontiers--from Tbilisi for South Caucasus, Alma Ata for Central Asia, Irkutsk and Chita for Eastern Siberia, and Khabarovsk for the Far East--but the supply of these widely-spaced theatres in wartime would involve long hauls of men and equipment from the major sources of supply. The Soviet Union's interest in the aggression of North Korea, whatever else it may include, cannot be unrelated to the vulnerability from air attack of the Trans-Siberian life lines which diverge from Manchouli toward its Pacific ports of Vladivostok and Port Arthur.

Mackinder paid no attention to the question of morale. In a defensive war, it would seem, Soviet morale can be relied on, for Russian nationalism is a powerful auxiliary to Soviet sentiment: that at least is the lesson of the Russo-German war of 1941-45. But in a war of world conquest, far from the Soviet borders? It is perhaps significant that the start of the U.S.S.R.'s short war against Japan--a war of offense--evoked little popular support in Russia. An aggressive war might at least strain the ideological solidarity of the numerous peoples of the Union, by revealing (what they are never told) the actual conditions of life in other countries. The solidarity, too, of Moscow's East European satellites might not prove too reliable: after all, the task of insulating the Soviet Union might prove very unenviable in time of war. Further, Mackinder did not envisage what is involved in an attempt to command or control that diversified half of humanity which occupies "Asiatic" or monsoon Asia. Certainly this is a formidable task from which even ardent political planners might shy--unless, by methods of ideological propaganda and long-range infiltration, they had already imposed their will on these peoples by first conquering their minds. It is surely a gross oversimplification to conceive of monsoon Asia, as Mackinder did, as a merely littoral fringe of Eurasia, automatically subject to the command of either the Heartland or the sea. And lastly, did Mackinder sufficiently appreciate that Africa, though part of the World-Island (since it is insular and almost wholly dependent politically on Western Europe), might well prove defensible even against continental power in Europe and Southwest Asia?

German authorities on the art of war have continually emphasized the "invulnerable hugeness of Russia" in the belief that space strengthens defensive as it weakens offensive warfare. But this is a traditional belief that does not reckon with the mobility of modern mechanized warfare. It has already been suggested that space can be a major difficulty in air defense, and in military campaigns long lines of communication from bases of supply can prove an embarrassment to either side. Certainly the interior lines of the East Europe-Heartland bloc would be greatly stretched in a war of expansion and expose themselves to possible flank attack by air, land or sea forces developed from the periphery. Such vantage points are easily seen on a globe: the Baltic and Black Sea entries, the head of the Adriatic (hence Soviet interest in Albania which commands the seaward approach), Greece, Turkey, Iraq, Persia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Japan.

Even though Mackinder's assertion that "Who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island" can no longer be sustained, it is scarcely necessary to insist that his geopolitical thinking is still relevant to the task of winning the peace. A strong believer in the British Empire and distrustful of Russian designs in Asia, he called attention to the danger of overweening continental power, noting in particular the defensive strength and strategical possibilities of a linked East Europe and Heartland. It is refreshing and perhaps even surprising to recall that the weight of Russian power has been thrown with effect against attempts at world domination in the three major wars of the last 140 years: against Napoleon, against the German Empire and against Nazi Germany and Japan. In the last-named struggle, the foodstuffs, oil, coal, steel and armaments of the Heartland were indispensable to victory. If the pessimists are proved right, however, and another world war breaks out, Sir Halford Mackinder's predictions will be more severely tested than ever before. What have been called here his "predictions," he would have urged rather as "warnings." That the Western Powers have heeded these warnings seems clear enough when the geographical aspect of their recent foreign policies is studied. There remain areas--great and small--outside and even within the Heartland, the retention of which is vital to the containment of the U.S.S.R. and loss of which might well upset the existing uneasy balance. These areas, accessible to sea power, may be grouped under three heads: the Marshall Aid states on the western and southern flanks of Europe; Southwest Asia, with its rich oilfields and world crossways; and Japan, her rôle now recast as an advanced base from which to resist aggression. But though consideration of the Heartland concept in relation to the Soviet Union and to the geopolitical realities of the present time reveals certain geographical advantages of the U.S.S.R. in warfare, it does not justify Mackinder's implied prediction about the future mastery of the world.

[i] Isaiah Bowman, "The Strategy of Territorial Decisions," Foreign Affairs, January 1946.

[ii] Sir Halford J. Mackinder, "The Round World and the Winning of the Peace," Foreign Affairs, July 1943.

[iii] Cited by A. Bergson, J. A. Blackman and A. Erlich in "Postwar Economic Reconstruction and Development in the U.S.S.R.," The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, May 1949, p. 53.

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  • W. GORDON EAST, Professor of Geography in Birkbeck College, University of London; author of "Historical Geography of Europe"
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