This essay examines the influence of geopolitical and imperial thought on theories of international relations in the United States. The paper assesses the thought of Owen Lattimore, a leading American sinologist and political adviser to F. D. Roosevelt and Chiang Kai-shek, and Nicholas John Spykman, an influential international-relations scholar at Yale. In the framework of the Second World War and the “air age”, they envisaged a tripolar world order that entailed a new conception of political space and international relations. Lattimore's global geopolitical order sought to replace imperialism with democracy, while Spykman employed geopolitical concepts to envisage a tripolar order of “balanced powers” which built upon—rather than rejected—existing imperial structures. This paper examines their international theories and the policy implications of their thought to claim that 1940s theoretical interdisciplinarity made an important contribution to the development of the discipline of international relations in the United States.
1 Starr, Harvey, “On Geopolitics: Spaces and Places”, International Studies Quarterly, 57/3 (2013), 433–9.
2 Ibid., 433.
3 The marginalization of geopolitics within international-relations scholarship is evident in Starr's call for its reintegration in the discipline's conceptual toolbox: “It is important to stress that despite living in the interdependent, transnational, and globalized world of the twenty-first century, geographic factors such as territory and borders are still integral and meaningful elements of world politics.” Ibid., 439.
4 Galli, Carlo, Political Spaces and Global War (Minneapolis, 2010), 5.
5 Koskenniemi, Martti, The Gentle Civilizer of Nations (Cambridge, 2002); Koskenniemi, , From Apology to Utopia: The Structure of International Legal Argument (Helsinki, 1989). For an alternative account of the League of Nations and legal internationalism see Wertheim, Stephen, “The League That Wasn’t: American Designs for a Legalist–Sanctionist League of Nations and the Intellectual Origins of International Organization, 1914–1920”, Diplomatic History, 35 (2011), 797–836.
6 One version of the history of the birth of international relations as a discipline, and the hegemonic position of “realism” within it, is told in Guilhot, Nicolas, The Invention of International Relations Theory (New York, 2011). See also Craig, Campbell, Glimmer of a New Leviathan: Total War in the Realism of Niebuhr, Morgenthau, and Waltz (New York, 2003).
7 Newman, Robert P., Owen Lattimore and the “Loss” of China (Berkeley, CA, 1992), 6; Lattimore, Owen, “Preface”, in Lattimore, Studies in Frontier History (London, 1962), 11–35, 16.
8 On Bowman see Smith, Neil, American Empire: Roosevelt's Geographer and the Prelude to Globalization (Berkeley, CA, 2003).
9 The latter title was given by no other than German geopolitician Karl Haushofer, cited in Wohl, Paul, “An American ‘Geopolitical Masterhand’”, Asia, 41 (1941), 601.
10 Thompson, Kenneth W., Masters of International Thought: Major Twentieth-Century Theorists and the World Crisis (Baton Rouge, 1980), 92; Spykman, Nicholas J., The Social Theory of Georg Simmel (New York, 1964).
11 The YIIS's contribution to the development of IR in the United States has been well shown in Paulo Jorge Batista Ramos, “The Role of the Yale Institute of International Studies in the Construction of the United States Security Ideology, 1935–1951”, unpublished PhD thesis, University of Manchester, 2003.
12 Spykman, Nicholas J., The Geography of the Peace (Hamden, CT, 1944); Spykman, , America's Strategy in World Politics: The United States and the Balance of Power (New York, 1942); Bowman, Isaiah, “Review: Political Geography of Power”, Geographical Review, 32 (1942), 349–52.
13 Wilkinson, David, “Spykman and Geopolitics”, in Zoppo, Ciro E. and Zorgbibe, Charles, eds., On Geopolitics (Dordrecht, 1985), 77–117; Guilhot, The Invention of International Relations Theory, 84, 193.
14 A recent account of the search for order after the war underplays the importance of pluralism and dynamism to contemporary writers. See Ikenberry, G. John, After Victory: Institutions, Strategic Restraint, and the Rebuilding of Order after Major Wars (Princeton, NJ, 2001).
15 Smith, American Empire, 274; Weigert, Hans Werner, Generals and Geographers: The Twilight of Geopolitics (New York, 1942).
16 Mahan, A. T., Sea Power in Its Relations to the War of 1812 (London, 1905); Turner, Frederick Jackson, The Frontier in American History (New York, 1947).
17 Ratzel, Friedrich, Anthropo-geographie (Stuttgart, 1882).
18 Ashworth, Lucian M., “Mapping a New World: Geography and the Interwar Study of International Relations”, International Studies Quarterly, 57 (2013), 138–49.
19 Mackinder, H. J., “The Geographical Pivot of History”, Geographical Journal, 23 (1904), 421–37.
20 Ibid., 422.
21 Kearns, Gerry, Geopolitics and Empire: The Legacy of Halford Mackinder (New York, 2009), 17.
22 Haushofer, Karl, Geopolitik Der Pan-Ideen (Berlin, 1931); Kearns, Geopolitics and Empire, chap. 1.
23 Bowman, Isaiah, The New World: Problems in Political Geography, 4th edn (Yonkers-on-Hudson, NY, 1928).
24 Smith, Neil, “Bowman's New World and the Council on Foreign Relations”, Geographical Review, 76 (1986), 438–60.
25 Smith, American Empire, 441.
26 Smith, “Bowman's New World and the Council on Foreign Relations”.
27 Smith, American Empire, 287.
28 Hallowell, John H., “Review Article”, Journal of Politics, 5 (1943), 187–9. See also Vitalis, Robert, “Review of David Ekbladh, ‘Present at the Creation: Edward Mead Earle and the Depression-Era Origins of Security Studies’, International Security, 36 (2012)”, H-Diplo, 2012.
29 Strausz-Hupé, Robert, Geopolitics: The Struggle for Space and Power (New York, 1942).
30 Hagan, Charles B., “Geopolitics”, Journal of Politics, 4 (1942), 478–90, 478.
31 Weigert, Hans W. and Stefansson, Vilhjalmur, Compass of the World: A Symposium on Political Geography (London, 1946); Weigert, Hans Werner, Stefánsson, Vilhjálmur, and Harrison, Richard Edes, eds., New Compass of the World: A Symposium on Political Geography (London, 1949).
32 Ashworth, “Mapping a New World”, 140–42.
33 Isaiah Bowman, “Geography vs. Geopolitics”, in Weigert and Stefansson, Compass of the World, 40–52, 40.
34 Hans W. Weigert, “Review of The Geography of the Peace by Nicholas John Spykman”, Saturday Review, 22 April 1944, 10.
35 Lattimore, Owen, Solution in Asia (London, 1945), 58.
36 Spykman, The Geography of the Peace, 6.
37 Spykman, America's Strategy, 41.
38 Ó Tuathail, Gearóid, Critical Geopolitics: The Politics of Writing Global Space (London, 1996), 51.
39 Schmitt, Carl, Land and Sea (Washington, DC, 1997), 12. Despite similarities in their interpretation of land/sea dichotomy, there is no evidence that Lattimore or Spykman were familiar with Schmitt's geopolitical writings.
40 Lattimore, Solution in Asia, 12.
41 Ibid., 10–15.
42 Rowe, William T., “Owen Lattimore, Asia, and Comparative History”, Journal of Asian Studies, 66 (2007), 759–86, 759.
43 Mackinder, “The Geographical Pivot of History”.
44 Lattimore, Owen, “American Responsibilities in the Far East,” Virginia Quarterly Review, 16 (1940), 161–74, 162.
45 Kearns, Gerry, “Imperial Geopolitics: Geopolitical Visions at the Dawn of the American Century”, in Agnew, John, Mitchell, Katharyne and Toal, Gerard, eds., A Companion to Political Geography (Oxford, 2007), 173–86, 174.
46 Spykman, The Geography of the Peace, 40; Gerace, Michael P., “Between Mackinder and Spykman: Geopolitics, Containment and After”, Comparative Strategy, 10 (1991), 347–64.
47 Spykman, The Geography of the Peace, 41.
48 Gregory, Derek, Geographical Imaginations (Cambridge, MA, 1994).
49 Spykman, America's Strategy, 46.
50 Ibid., 88.
51 Van Vleck, Jenifer L., “The ‘Logic of the Air’: Aviation and the Globalism of the ‘American Century’”, New Global Studies, 1 (2007).
52 One of the most salient examples of this claim is Schmitt, Carl, Land and Sea (Washington, DC, 1997; first published 1942).
53 Cosgrove, Denis E., Apollo's Eye: A Cartographic Genealogy of the Earth in the Western Imagination (Baltimore, 2001), 245.
54 Ibid., 248.
55 Willkie, Wendell L., One World (New York, 1944).
56 See an example of this view in R. E. Harrison and H. W. Weigert, “World View and Strategy”, in Weigert and Stefansson, Compass of the World, 74–88; Lattimore, Owen, The Situation in Asia (Boston, 1949).
57 Owen Lattimore, “The Inland Crossroads of Asia”, in Weigert and Stefansson, Compass of the World, 374–94.
58 Ibid., 382.
59 Van Vleck, “The ‘Logic of the Air’”, 23.
60 Spykman, The Geography of the Peace, 16.
61 Vilhjalmur Stefansson, “The North American Arctic”, in Weigert and Stefansson, Compass of the World, 215–65; Lattimore, “The Inland Crossroads of Asia”.
62 Spykman, The Geography of the Peace.
63 Lattimore, Owen, America and Asia: Problems of Today's War and the Peace (Claremont, CA, 1943), 35.
64 Ibid., 37.
65 Varouxakis, Georgios, “‘Great’ versus ‘Small’ Nations: Scale and National Greatness in Victorian Political Thought”, in Bell, Duncan, ed., Victorian Visions of Global Order: Empire and International Relations in Nineteenth-Century Political Thought (Cambridge, 2007), 136–58.
66 Spykman, America's Strategy in World Politics, 11–18, 7.
67 Lattimore, “The Inland Crossroads of Asia”, 387; Spykman, America's Strategy, 19.
68 Lattimore, “The Inland Crossroads of Asia”, 382.
69 Mazower, Mark, Governing the World: The History of an Idea (London, 2012), chap. 8.
70 Spykman, Nicholas John, “Frontiers, Security, and International Organizations”, Geographical Review, 32 (1942), 436–47, 438.
71 Ibid., 441.
72 Ibid., 437.
73 Spykman, America's Strategy, 15.
74 Spykman, “Frontiers, Security, and International Organization”, 440.
75 Ibid., 444.
76 Mazower, Governing the World, 204.
77 Cramer, Gisela and Prutsch, Ursula, “Nelson A. Rockefeller's Office of Inter-American Affairs and the Quest for Pan-American Unity: An Introductory Essay”, in Cramer, and Prutch, , eds., ¡Américas Unidas! Nelson A. Rockefeller's Office of Inter-American Affairs (1940–46) (Madrid, 2012).
78 Spykman, “Frontiers, Security, and International Organization”, 447.
79 The historical interpretation of the League of Nations as a legalistic project has recently been challenged by Wertheim, who argued that the League was conceived as a political—rather than juristic—international organization. This, however, was not necessarily the way the League of Nations was understood in the 1940s, when it was often criticized for prioritizing legal over political solutions. See Wertheim, Stephen, “The League of Nations: A Retreat from International Law?”, Journal of Global History, 7 (2012), 210–32.
80 Little, Richard, The Balance of Power in International Relations: Metaphors, Myths, and Models (Cambridge, 2007), 10–18.
81 Lattimore's frontier theory was applied by historians and anthropologists to various geopolitical realities. For example, Shahrani, M. Nazif Mohib, The Kirghiz and Wakhi of Afghanistan: Adaptation to Closed Frontiers and War (Washington, DC, 2002); Whittaker, C. R., Rome and Its Frontiers: The Dynamics of Empire (London, 2004); Scott, James C., The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia (New Haven, CT, 2009).
82 Owen Lattimore, “Inner Asian Frontiers: Chinese and Russian Margins of Expansion” (1947), in Lattimore, Studies in Frontier History, 134–60, 134–6, Lattimore, “The Frontier in History” (1955), in ibid., 469–90, 470.
83 Weigert and Stefansson, Compass of the World, 393.
84 Fredrick J. Turner, “The Significance of the Frontier in American History” (1893) in Turner, The Frontier in American History, 1–38. For a historical account of the concept of “frontier” in American history see Klein, Kerwin Lee, Frontiers of Historical Imagination: Narrating the European Conquest of Native America, 1890–1990 (Berkeley, CA, 1999). Klein briefly mentions Lattimore's contribution to frontier theory, but provides no discussion of his writings, at 193.
85 Wallace, H. A., New Frontiers (New York, 1934).
86 Lattimore, “The Frontier in History”, 489.
87 Scott, The Art of Not Being Governed, 172–3, 210.
88 Spykman, “Frontiers, Security, and International Organizations”, 437.
90 Perkins, Dexter, A History of the Monroe Doctrine (London, 1941); Sexton, Jay, The Monroe Doctrine: Empire and Nation in Nineteenth-Century America (New York, 2011).
91 Thompson, John, “The Geopolitical Vision: The Myth of an Outmatched U.S.A.”, in Isaac, Joel and Bell, Duncan, eds., Uncertain Empire: American History and the Idea of the Cold War (Oxford, 2012), 1–38.
92 Hobson, John M., The Eurocentric Conception of World Politics: Western International Theory, 1760–2010 (Cambridge, 2012), 154–60.
93 Schulten, Susan, “Richard Edes Harrison and the Challenge to American Cartography”, Imago Mundi, 50 (1998), 174–88; Schulten, , The Geographical Imagination in America, 1880–1950 (Chicago, 2002).
94 Cosgrove, Apollo's Eye, 244–51.
95 Orwell, George, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Longman Study Texts (Harlow, 1983); Aron, Raymond, L’homme contre les tyrans (Paris, 1946).
96 Nogee, Joseph L. and Spanier, John W., “The Politics of Tripolarity”, World Affairs, 139 (1977), 319–33.
97 Spykman, America's Strategy, 461.
98 Lattimore, America and Asia, 34.
99 Henry Luce, “The American Century”, Life, 17 Feb. 1941; Smith, American Empire, xvii.
100 White, Donald W., “The ‘American Century’ in World History”, Journal of World History, 3 (1992), 105–27.
101 Lattimore, Owen, “International Chess Game”, New Republic, 112 (28 May 1945), 731–3.
102 Lattimore, The Situation in Asia, 223.
103 Mattusch, Kurt, “Geopolitics: ‘Science’ of Power Politics”, Amerasia, 6 (1942), 236–43, 236.
104 Nicolas Guilhot, “Introduction: One Discipline, Many Histories”, in Guilhot, The Invention of International Relations Theory, 27. Jonathan Haslam, No Virtue Like Necessity: Realist Thought in International Relations since Machiavelli (New Haven, 2002), 179–81. See also Vitalis, “Review of David Ekbladh”.
105 Lattimore's full acquittal did not restore his political and scholarly reputation in the United States.
106 Farish, Matthew, The Contours of America's Cold War (Minneapolis, 2010), chap. 1; Katznelson, Ira, Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time (New York, 2013), chap. 11.
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