Courtesy Reuters

How Strong Is the Heartland?

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

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