At Play in Mackinder’s World: A Cartographic Essay

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“As we consider this rapid review of the broader currents of history, does not a certain persistence of geographical relationship become evident? Is not the pivot region of the world’s politics that vast area of Euro-Asia which is inaccessible to ships, but in antiquity lay open to the horse-riding nomads, and is to-day about to be covered with a network of railways?”

The Natural Seats of Power (Mackinder 1904)

Halford J. Mackinder, 1904, “The Geographical Pivot of History” and the figure “The Natural Seats of Power.”

PART I: MACKINDER’S MAP OF THE WORLD

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE YEAR 1900: A NEW EPOCH IN HUMAN HISTORY?

For Halford J. Mackinder, the year 1900 was a moment to reflect not just about the turn of the century, but the last 400 years.

At the turn of an historical century one is apt to reflect on the past or have apprehensions about the future. For example, some may recall celebrating the last few seconds of New Year’s Eve 1999 thinking about whether a century full of world wars both hot and cold was finally behind us, and at the same time, whether in the next few seconds of the year 2000 the date “/00” would crash the world’s financial computers causing worldwide chaos and ATM machines to start spitting cash out into the streets. For Halford J. Mackinder, the year 1900 was a moment to reflect not just about the turn of the century, but the last 400 years. In a well-known paper entitled “The Geographical Pivot of History,” presented to the Royal Geographical Society and later published by The Geographical Journal in April 1904, Halford John Mackinder made a prediction. He said that historians hundreds of years from now looking back on centuries of history would mark the end of the long ‘Columbian epoch’ of human history as of the year 1900. So what exactly did Mackinder think would be happening to make future historians hundreds of years from now say that 1900 was a great turning point in human history and a “post-Columbian” epoch? In terms of the quote that began this essay, what exactly what was it about the pre-industrial history of Central Asia that made Mackinder regard the prospect of a Trans-Siberian railway system with such apprehension?

The pre-Columbian epoch ends and the Columbian epoch begins around 1500 as a result of European oceanic expansion.

Though the term “pre-Columbian” is commonly used for dating indigenous societies of the Americas before substantial contact with Europe, historians today do not often engage in sweeping periodization. Nonetheless, let us say that the pre-Columbian epoch ends and the Columbian epoch begins around 1500 as a result of European oceanic expansion. The Columbian epoch does not neatly begin in 1500 but represents a long period of expansion of the capitalist world economy first within the Mediterranean, then across the Atlantic, and finally to the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The spread of Europeans around the world was possible because European societies had mastered the organizational resources and technology to sustain long-distance transoceanic communications. The Columbian epoch was also a period of European discovery and imperial expansion inland from the oceanic littorals. History suggests European expansion inland at the expense of other societies was possible not simply due to superior numbers or resources but because European people also carried highly epidemic diseases to which people living outside of Europe and the Mediterranean had never been exposed; yet another persistent aspect of human population concentration and dispersion over long periods of time.

Just as Frederick Jackson Turner was apprehensive about the impacts of the “closing” of the frontier on American political life, Mackinder reflected globally about the political impacts of the closing of the world’s territorial frontiers.

Just as Frederick Jackson Turner was apprehensive about the impacts of the “closing” of the frontier on American political life during his famous address to historians at the 1893 Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition marking the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage, Mackinder reflected globally about the political impacts of the closing of the world’s territorial frontiers. Would the closing of the world’s last territorial frontiers result in unavoidable conflicts between powerful states looking to enlarge their domains but with nowhere else to expand? Since practically every inch of land area on the planet had been staked out by 1900, it was reasonable to think that as the world’s territorial-administrative entities continued to consolidate their domains and as their populations grew, the more powerful among them would try to expand or impose their territorial interests in any other sovereign states within their reach – ushering in a new and significantly more crowded post-Colombian ‘crabs in a bucket-like’ world filled with confrontation and adjustment.

What makes Mackinder’s take on this idea of the future unique is that he seems to have been the first one to have actually tried to map it out in detail.

The idea seems simple enough. One could probably find dozens of famous historians who foretold of something like this in terms of internal or global frontiers not to mention geographers having developed an organic conception of the state. What makes Mackinder’s take on this idea of the future unique is that he seems to have been the first one to have actually tried to map it out in detail. He synthesized an impressive scope of historical evidence in short order and then suggested that if his reading of persistent patterns about the past was correct then there were certain areas of world that would tend to be consolidated more densely and more thoroughly than others becoming in essence more powerful, more expansionist, and more interventionist in other territories. It was largely a question of extrapolating from the past how powerful societies had adapted to geographic circumstances over long periods of time in terms of mobility, in order to suggest how powerful societies would continue to expand.

MACKINDER’S MAP OF THE “POST-COLOMBIAN” EPOCH OF HUMAN HISTORY

Mackinder centered his map on a vast complex of interior drainage basins in Central Asia he called the “pivot area.”

Mackinder sketched areas, based on drainage basins, where he felt more densely consolidated and more powerful states would naturally tend to develop. He called these areas the “natural seats of power.” Mackinder centered his map on a vast complex of interior drainage basins in Central Asia he called the “pivot area.” Surrounding the inland Central Asian pivot area was an “inner crescent” and “outer crescent” of peninsulas and major watersheds that either a) drained directly to the ocean, or b) drained to rivers accessible for much of their length from the ocean. Thus a central area of “wholly” inland territorial consolidation (pivot area) was surrounded by an outer area of “wholly” oceanic territorial consolidation (outer or insular crescent), with a transitional area in between the two expected to be dominated by neither inland nor oceanic consolidation (inner or marginal crescent).

Map1

Map 1: Georectified version of Mackinder’s original pivot area map published in April 1904 in a Mercator projection.

“Mobility upon the ocean [was] the natural rival of horse and camel mobility in the heart of the continent.”

Mackinder’s map was a sketch of both precedents belonging to the ancient past and likely projections about the future, a pivot both in space and in time, with particular focus on the Trans-Siberian railway in terms of what the area had been in the past and what it might become in the near future. Speaking as a geographer, not an historian, Mackinder had recognized a persistent geographic pattern in European and Asian history. He said, “Mobility upon the ocean [was] the natural rival of horse and camel mobility in the heart of the continent.” In other words, throughout pre-industrial history territory tended to be consolidated by either one of just two different forms of mobility. The great horse and camel societies of Central Asia like the Hun consolidated territory with their inland mobility, while the powerful maritime societies of Europe like the Norse and Greek consolidated territory with their skills of oceanic mobility. Even though his essay focuses first and foremost on identifying and explaining persistent patterns belonging to the ancient and pre-industrial world, Mackinder takes several opportunities to pause and note that this dual geographic pattern of mobility had persisted into contemporary times, in particular noting that the development of the Trans-Siberian railway system could reinforce and transform the inland pattern of mobility.

Mackinder referred to inland and oceanic forms of mobility as “rivals.”

Mackinder referred to inland and oceanic forms of mobility as “rivals.” Mackinder never seems to claim outright that inland and oceanic societies were natural political enemies of one another nor does he say that all societies sustained by the same forms of mobility were natural allies. In fact, if the history of European empires during the Columbian epoch is any indication, powerful European oceanic societies were as likely to be at war with each other at the far reaches of the oceans as they might be with adjacent land powers. Mackinder merely seemed to say that when one looks at the great game of territorial consolidation in Europe and Asia between powerful expansionist societies that relied on “rival,” meaning different, forms of mobility it was clear that this game was rigged by unavoidable features of the environment. There was no grand flat and uniform chessboard. The world was filled with non-uniform terrain that like the house rules in gambling would tend to impose themselves on the outcomes of thousands of tactical and strategic human maneuvers if played out over and over again, over very long periods of time. The only possible exception was in the transitional inner crescent where neither wholly inland nor wholly oceanic forms of territorial consolidation would tend to be dominant; in other words, it was anybody’s game there, which seems to have intrigued many readers of Mackinder’s ideas.

In short, Mackinder saw two basic forms of mobility adapted from massive facts about the world’s physical environment.

In short, Mackinder saw two basic forms of mobility adapted from massive facts about the world’s physical environment leading to a more inland or a more oceanic orientation depending on where you were. The boundaries of Mackinder’s map were proxy areas representing where wholly inland, wholly oceanic, or a mixture of both inland and oceanic forms of territorial consolidation would tend to be more successful leading to the most powerful political organization. Over a very long period of time, historical processes of confrontation and adjustment based on capabilities in either inland or oceanic mobility would naturally determine the balance of power and the course of international relations in the post-Columbian world – favoring the more densely-consolidated and powerful oceanic states in one zone of the world, and the more densely-consolidated and powerful inland states in another zone of the world. The environmental features most of interest to Mackinder in defining the oceanic and inland worlds were not barriers to mobility like the Himalayan Mountains, the Sahara Desert, or the Arctic Ocean – but great facilitators of human mobility. Instead of investigating the historical impact of oceanic mobility and the seas like Alfred Thayer Mahan, Mackinder sought evidence of the historical impact of inland mobility as facilitated by the steppes of Central Asia. Mackinder simply replaced in his imagination the horse with the railroad, and then made several suggestive remarks about a potential transformation of power occurring between the maritime-commercial states abutting the pivot area and the territorial-administrative state controlling the pivot area.

THE STEPPES OF CENTRAL ASIA: THE GREAT COUNTER-MEDITERRANEAN

The persistent geographic fact about Central Asia is that it possesses a natural unbroken highway of open steppes and grasslands running in a straight East-West direction across its temperate middle.

The persistent geographic fact about Central Asia is that it possesses a natural unbroken highway of open steppes and grasslands running in a straight East-West direction across its temperate middle about latitude 55° N. Over the last two thousand years of Central Asian history, the steppes sustained powerful horse societies with grains to feed mobile armies and provided an economically straight, long-distance overland route of open terrain on which they could move very effectively – a route that though crossing literally one-quarter the world never dramatically changed in elevation, temperature, or land cover. The steppes and grasslands of Central Asia spanned nearly 70 degrees of longitude – from as far as the Greater Khingan Range and the Manchurian Basin in China all the way to the foothills of the Alps and the Hungarian Basin in Europe give or take some mountainous breaks. The steppes proper conveniently passed south of the Urals and were unobstructed by any major mountains or continental divide with the only important exception being the Altai Mountains in Mongolia. The Altai Mountains happen to represent a boundary between three Asian tectonic plates and the equivalent of a great diagonally-oriented Central Asian continental divide between Russia to the northwest and both India and China to the south and southeast.

Map2

Map 2: Agriculturally productive areas of Russia to represent the general historical location of the steppes of Central Asia.

The great natural inland highway formed by the steppes was inaccessible to any navigable rivers draining to the ocean.

The great natural inland highway formed by the steppes was inaccessible to any navigable rivers draining to the ocean. From the geographic perspective of maritime transport, the six rivers of the pivot area all drained to nowhere. The Volga, Amu Darya (Oxus), and Syr Darya (Jaxartes) drained to the salty interior Caspian and Aral Seas that were isolated from the ocean. The Ob, Yenisey, and Lena drained north to a seasonal ice pack that wooden and even steel-hull ships could not safely navigate. Mackinder’s paper is, in sum, a great counter-pose to Braudel’s history of the Mediterranean Sea. What the Mediterranean had always been to maritime mobility and society in Southern Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, the vast steppes had been to inland mobility and society in Central Asia before that.

Ironically, the threat of inland mobility was “stimulative.”

The scope of Mackinder’s history about the steppes of Central Asia, despite its brevity, is in some respects more ambitious in its scale of time and space than Braudel’s history of the Mediterranean. Mackinder suggests that the steppes of Central Asia had a persistent but indirect political influence on the societies of the European peninsula. For instance, ancient and pre-industrial European history shows evidence of “forced” political consolidation and retrenchment out of a continual need to defend against incursions from powerful Central Asian horse-based societies. Horse and camel societies of “Huns, Avars, Bulgarians, Magyars, Khazars, Patzinaks, Cumans, Mongols, Kalmuks” each in their time commanded the East-West latitudinal band of steppe vegetation across Central Asia, threatening to overrun weaker European societies by land. The powerful horse societies were only restrained by the transition to the forests and marshes at the headwaters of the Volga to the north; the Carpathian Mountains and the Alps to the west; and the Caucasus Mountains and Black Sea to the south. Mackinder said that “a large part of modern history might be written as a commentary upon the changes directly or indirectly ensuing from these raids.” Ironically, the threat of inland mobility was “stimulative.” It transformed European societies into masters of oceanic mobility creating a great long-term reversal of the dominance of Central Asia over Europe, such that there “emerged upon the world, multiplying more than thirty-fold the sea surface and coastal lands to which she had access, and wrapping her influence round the Euro-Asiatic land-power which had hitherto threatened her very existence.”

Central Asia was supposed to be different than the rest of the world when it came to the forms of mobility then available to ancient and pre-industrial societies.

Central Asia was supposed to be different than the rest of the world when it came to the forms of mobility then available to ancient and pre-industrial societies. Throughout most of its history, Central Asia experienced only limited North-South oriented incursions from the most powerful and prolific ship-men like Norse Varangians and Greek Christians navigating up the rivers that drained to the Black Sea. Central Asia had to wait for “Russian” descendents of sea-faring Norse Varangians, who settled the uplands and marshes of the Volga River drainage basin after the 9th century A.D., to turn their backs on the rivers and coasts and become a great inland society conquering open terrain. Russians enlarged their empire by expanding south from the marshes and forests of the Volga River and eventually into the steppes, remaking themselves into an inland power along the same East-West highway commanding Central Asia used by the Scythians and Attila the Hun.

A future projection of historical patterns between inland and oceanic mobility captured in a map distinguishes Mackinder’s short paper from a brief regional geography of Central Asia.

A future projection of historical patterns between inland and oceanic mobility captured in a map distinguishes Mackinder’s short paper from a brief regional geography of Central Asia. Mackinder fast-forwards a pre-industrial rivalry between the inland mobility of Central Asian societies that ruled the pre-Colombian world (then impregnable to maritime infiltration) and the maritime mobility of European societies who would eventually begin to spread throughout the rest of the world and encircle the pivot area during the Columbian epoch. Mackinder then speculated about the potentially transformative influence of technologically-enhanced or mechanized inland mobility across the steppes in contemporary times and the political threat that this reinvigorated and rival form of inland mobility posed against the reach of the British maritime empire.

PART II: MACKINDER’S WORLD IN A GIS

REPROJECTING MACKINDER’S WORLD AS THREE PENINSULAS

Less-densely consolidated territories caught in-between powerful wholly inland pivot area and the powerful wholly oceanic outer crescent would be socially and politically “shattered.”

Mackinder’s maps suggest that the source of geopolitical instabilities around the world stem from the fact that societies in less-densely consolidated territories caught in-between powerful wholly inland pivot area and the powerful wholly oceanic outer crescent would be socially and politically “shattered” by the social pressures of expansion and intervention. In natural power rivalries between organic states, the size of one’s territory mattered but density of territorial-administrative consolidation mattered even more in terms of a state’s stamina and the sustaining of its internal welfare and its common defense.

What if Mackinder had created the same pivot area but plotted it on a polar equal-area projection map?

In the spirit of Mackinder himself, one can start with the massive and persistent facts. The symmetry of Mackinder’s original map of the world could be seen differently when using a GIS. Mackinder’s map has a solid land area in the middle surrounded by continental-sized peninsulas, unfortunately using what appears to be a map based on a Mercator map projection that also cuts off the oceans. Perhaps this was the default base map for the Oxford atlas he consulted for his observations. Nonetheless, as many now know, a Mercator projection significantly distorts higher latitudes. As a result, centering the map on the Central Asian pivot area with a Mercator projection makes the land area look massive whereas the outer and inner maritime crescents seem peripheral and disconnected. I do not suggest that pointing out the simple fact of the Mercator projection of Mackinder’s map is anything new. In fact, I believe it has been the subject of some debate. What is new is if we ask the following: what if Mackinder had created the same pivot area but plotted it on a polar equal-area projection map without cutting off the oceans by using that ellipsoid map border?

Map3

Map 3: Georectified version of Mackinder’s pivot area map in a polar azimuthal equal-area projection

The Central Asian pivot area covers a total area not much larger than the area of the United States and Canada.

An equal-area projection centered on the North Pole distorts and enlarges areas the further they are from the pole, but it could have led to at least five different interpretations by Mackinder. First, the Central Asian pivot area is indeed a large more or less landlocked mass but still only covers a total area not much larger than the area of the United States and Canada, and in fact much smaller than North America in terms of population (see Appendix1 and 2 in the map gallery).

The high-seas and the oceanic-peninsulas of the inner and outer maritime crescent dominate the world in terms of total area.

Second, the high-seas and the oceanic-peninsulas of the inner and outer maritime crescent dominate the world in terms of total area. In Mackinder’s original Mercator-like map, the Central Asian pivot area looks like it is practically the same size as the entire Pacific Ocean, a severe exaggeration. A polar equal-area projection, on the other hand, would have distorted areas the other way around, making the crescents and especially the southern latitude areas seem larger while the Central Asian pivot area would have looked small, and making the oceans look more to their proper scale as enormous.

There would have been no “crescents” at all.

Third, there would have been no “crescents” at all. The term “crescent” probably refers to the upside down waxing moon shape of the rest of the world around the pivot area in Mackinder’s original map. A polar projection might very well have stimulated Mackinder’s spatial imagination in a different direction. Mackinder might have seen the world not as a single inland core with a crescent-shaped oceanic periphery and a transitional zone in between, but as three major world peninsulas jutting out in three different directions from the North Pole – onto which one could map a common inland-oceanic gradient of mobility. The world’s three peninsulas are: 1) the Americas from the Arctic Ocean to Cape Horn, 2) Europe, Africa, and the Middle East from the Arctic Ocean to the Cape of Good Hope, and finally 3) Asia and Australia from the Arctic Ocean to the Southwest Cape of New Zealand. Europe, Africa, and the Middle East could be split from Asia along a more or less strait line from the Urals Mountains to the Plateau of Iran, in other words, the eastern boundary of the greater Volga River basin and Caspian Sea. Thus the western Russian basins of Mackinder’s pivot area would be separated from the eastern basins of the pivot area.

North America had its own pivot area.

Fourth, Mackinder might have looked at North America and speculated that it, too, had its own pivot area and the world’s second largest temperate one, namely, the Mackenzie River basin and the Canadian-Alaskan coastal areas draining to the Arctic Ocean. The North American pivot area might possibly have included the northern reaches of the Great Plains along the largely non-navigable reaches of the Missouri River, lying at roughly the same latitude as the Central Asian steppes. Great Native American horse tribes that first incorporated horses brought from Europe by the Spanish perhaps as early as the mid-17th century and ranging from tribal people like the Comanche in the Southwest,  to the Sioux in the central Dakota Badlands, to the Cree in western Canada, would have played the role of an historically unfulfilled central grassland “horde” threatening European settlements on the Great Lakes or the Atlantic coast of North America. Because of a significantly different continental morphology and the absence of a centrally located sea like the Mediterranean or Caribbean, Mackinder could have labeled Asia not as the inland core of the world, but simply an inland core area that was significantly larger than any other temperate inland pivot area anywhere else around the world.

Map4

Map 4: Polar azimuthal equal-area projection of Mackinder’s map, with potential Canadian-Alaska “pivot area” of landlocked basins.

Mackinder might have thought in terms of a tripartite system of international relations belonging to each of the three world peninsulas.

Fifth, instead of leading to inferences about a dual Cold War-esque set of international relations between one pivot area and one outer maritime crescent over a disputed inner maritime crescent, Mackinder might have thought in terms of a tripartite system of international relations belonging to each of the three world peninsulas. Each of the three world peninsulas could have been characterized by the emergence of various great late-Columbian and early post-Columbian extraterritorial doctrines designed to deter the projection of foreign power by land, sea, or air mobility; as well as the extraterritorial interference of foreign governments in the affairs of adjacent states. For instance, 1) in the Americas: the Monroe Doctrine versus European imperialism, 2) in Europe and Africa: the Allies versus the Axis or NATO versus the Soviet Union, and 3) in Asia: containment and triangular diplomacy between and among China, Japan, Russia, and India in light of Russian extraterritoriality over adjacent areas by land; Japanese extraterritoriality over adjacent areas by water; or Chinese extraterritoriality over non-adjacent areas by virtue of the fact that they contain a significant ethnic Chinese Diaspora.

DIVIDING THE PIVOT AREA INTO ITS COMPONENT PARTS

The sources for the drainage boundaries that Mackinder used to draw the pivot area are reasonably accurate, but some significant adjustments are worth considering.

The sources for the drainage boundaries that Mackinder used to draw the pivot area are reasonably accurate when compared to drainage basins generated from digital elevation models available today. By re-creating the pivot area in a GIS one can certainly see what Mackinder was getting at. The pivot area is a large complex of individual basins that drained to an “icy sea” or internally, all commonly intersected or within reach of a massive natural East-West highway of steppes. However, some significant adjustments are worth considering.

The southern border of Mackinder’s original pivot area should be extended more to the East.

The southern border of Mackinder’s original pivot area should be extended more to the East, if drainage areas derived from digital elevation models are used. It is not clear what Mackinder had in mind when (in his April 1904 publication’s Figure 4) he mapped the southeast boundary. He may have simply taken this drainage area from a map source that for some reason included the low and flat Tarim Basin but excluded the high Plateau of Tibet. It appears as if the line was meant to exclude the edge of the Tibetan plateau and then continue north until it met the Ob River drainage basin. In any event, to be consistent with accurately derived drainage basins the Plateau of Tibet, the Gobi Desert, and Inner Mongolia should be included in the pivot area. This represents the biggest modification to Mackinder’s original map in terms of area and it puts the pivot area now significantly closer to Beijing, in fact, separated by only a few hundred miles and perhaps not coincidentally ending almost exactly at the line of the Great Wall of China (see later maps for the location of Beijing and the great walls).

Map5

Map 5: Reconstructed “pivot area” based on drainage basins computed from global digital elevation models.

The entire northern edge should be shifted east, based on modern monthly average patterns of Arctic ice generated from recent satellite remote sensed data.

The rest of the pivot area looks fine until one gets to seasonal pack ice on the Arctic Ocean, which Mackinder labels as the “icy sea.” The northern boundary of the central pivot area was drawn relative to some sort of average extent of sea ice, as one can see by the fact that the boundary actually continues out into the Arctic Ocean marked out with a stippled pattern. However, the entire northern edge should be shifted east, based on modern monthly average patterns of Arctic ice generated from recent satellite remote sensed data. Over about the last decade, the minimum extent of sea ice occurs in September when the Russian Arctic Coast is clear and continuous sea ice just barely touches the Severnaya Zemlya islands. The maximum extent of ice occurs during March when it covers almost the entire Arctic Coast of Russia, including parts of the Baltic and much of the Bering Sea and Sea of Okhotsk. The medium average extent of sea ice occurs in June, which corresponds most closely to the extent of sea ice drawn by Mackinder. However, during its average medium extent, sea ice does not extend west of Novaya Zemlya, thus it does not block navigation of the Pechora River. On the other hand, sea ice does extend all the way to the Bering Straits, a shift which is reflected in the “redrawn” northern border of the pivot area map.

Map6aMap6bMap6c

Maps 6 a,b,c: Maximum winter sea ice (March), medium average sea ice (June), and minimum summer sea ice (September).

The pivot area should really be broken down into three major parts.

Although my goal is not to contribute yet another version of the rampant “regionology” that several authors suggest has been going on with respect to former areas of the Soviet Union since its dissolution the pivot area should really be broken down into three major parts: 1) the greater Volga River-Caspian basin draining to the landlocked Caspian Sea, 2) the southern ‘upland’ Central Asian basins draining to landlocked water bodies like the Caspian Sea, Aral Sea, and Lake Balkhash or the Tarim Basin and the Gobi Desert; and finally 3) the northern ‘lowland’ Siberian coastal and fluvial basins draining north to the Arctic Ocean. For short, one could simply call them, respectively, 1) the Western Pivot Area, 2) the Southern Pivot Area, and 3) the Northern Pivot Area.

Map 6b: Medium average sea ice (June) corresponds well with Mackinder’s icy sea extent but shifts the Arctic border to the east.

Former Soviet territory in the lowland Siberian basins with an ethnic Russian majority remained with the Russian Federation, whereas former Soviet territory in the upland Central Asian basins with an ethnic Turkic majority became independent sovereign nations – with some interesting exceptions.

The environmental gradient most common and most important historically to the entire pivot area is its middle steppe transition zone of cropland, grassland, and grazing land around 50 degrees N latitude. The East-West oriented steppes bisect the greater Volga River basin and Caspian Sea and transition to different environments both north and south. The steppes overlap the lower portion of the lowland Siberian basins as cultivated areas that transition to forests, swamps, and tundra as one goes north towards generally lower elevations and the Arctic Ocean. The steppes overlap the upper portion of the upland Central Asian basins as cultivated areas that transition to pastures, grasslands, sparsely vegetated areas, and deserts as one goes south towards generally higher elevations like the Hindu Kush and Himalayan Mountains. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, former Soviet territory in the lowland Siberian basins with an ethnic Russian majority remained with the Russian Federation, whereas former Soviet territory in the upland Central Asian basins with an ethnic Turkic majority became independent sovereign nations – with some interesting exceptions.

Map7

Map8

Maps 7 & 8: Central Asian environmental gradient (upper map). Lower map emphasizes redrawn pivot area itself. Notice red lines west of Beijing representing Great Wall of China (dark red) and Wall of Genghis Khan (lighter red).

1: THE WESTERN PIVOT AREA (GREATER VOLGA-CASPIAN BASIN)

The greater Volga-Caspian basin of the pivot area is a single massive drainage basin that itself could be sub-divided into three constituent parts: 1a) the northern Russian sub-area between 50 and 60 degrees N oriented to the Volga River and centered on Moscow; 1b) the central Turkic sub-area oriented to the Caspian Sea between 40 and 50 degrees N that became independent nations after the dissolution of the Soviet Union perhaps centered on Baku; and 1c) the southern Iranian sub-area between 30 and 40 degrees N oriented to the Plateau of Iran and centered on Tehran. Thus whereas Iraq lies outside the pivot area in the inner crescent, almost all of the territory of Iran including Tehran lie within the pivot area just like much of the territory of Russia and China.

2: THE SOUTHERN PIVOT AREA (UPLAND CENTRAL ASIAN BASINS)

The upland Central Asian part of the pivot area can be sub-divided into perhaps three parts: 2a) the set of basins draining west of the Tien Shan Mountains to the Aral Sea and Lake Balkash and centered on the cities of Tashkent, Bishkek, and Almaty; 2b) the basin draining east of the Tien Shan Mountains to the Tarim Basin or from the Plateau of Tibet and centered on Urümqi; and 2c) the basin draining east of the Qilian Shan mountains to the Gobi Desert and Inner Mongolia to just about the border of the Great Wall of China.

3: THE NORTHERN PIVOT AREA (LOWLAND SIBERIAN BASINS)

The northern and lowland Siberian part of the pivot area contains a common environmental gradient north to south but also a major gradient east to west despite lying on a common band of latitude. The lowland Siberian part of the pivot area generally becomes colder, drier, and less diverse in terms of land cover as one goes from west to east. This part of pivot area can be sub-divided into six smaller parts: three small coastal drainage basins and three large fluvial (river) drainage basins. Focusing on the three large fluvial drainage basins they include 3a) the western Ob River basin, 3b) the central Yenisey River basin, and 3c) the eastern Lena River basin.

Map9aMap9b

Maps 9a & b: Average annual temperature (left) and precipitation (right) in Russia.

PART III: THEORETICAL ENHANCEMENTS TO MACKINDER’S WORLD

TERRITORIAL-ADMINISTRATIVE AND MARITIME-COMMERCIAL SOCIETIES IN THE SAME TERRITORY

Mackinder did not see from Central Asian history potential for development of maritime societies oriented along the Siberian rivers, coexistent initially with the inland power but fundamentally at right angles to it.

Mackinder saw Central Asia in terms of natural East-West highways of inland mobility back and forth across the steppes, with potential North-South maritime mobility up and down the major rivers draining to the Arctic Ocean not meriting much mention. Mackinder did not see from Central Asian history potential for development of maritime societies oriented along the Siberian rivers, coexistent initially with the inland power but fundamentally at right angles to it. Because Mackinder maps the pivot area as “wholly” inland and the outer crescent as “wholly” oceanic, a simple two-part inland-oceanic core-periphery with a shatterbelt transition zone, Mackinder does not put us in position to offer a “fine-grained” theoretical understanding of the processes by which politically-rival societies might form in a post-Columbian epoch based upon differences in mobility.

How might oceanic and inland societies that occupy the same territory be different in terms of their social and economic organization as well as their politics?

How might oceanic and inland societies that occupy the same territory be different in terms of their social and economic organization as well as their politics? How exactly do persistent “differences” in economically sustaining or force-projecting forms of mobility generate persistent political “rivalries” between societies vying with each other on the same political turf? Is there any historical evidence one can point to that societies evolved from fundamentally different forms of mobility thereby created different forms of social and economic organization with equally different forms of government, and as a result were consistently politically at odds with each other? Is it even plausible that social forms of organization adapted from geographic conditions belonging to the pre-industrial if not the ancient past can persist as distinct and continue to influence political rivalries despite wholesale industrial and post-industrial changes to the underlying human-built environment?

Edward Whiting Fox, in his geographic history of France, distinguished coastal-riverine from interior areas of France.

All of these questions have been asked and answered, but it is not Mackinder who did so. Edward Whiting Fox, in his geographic history of France, distinguished coastal-riverine from interior areas of France as non-uniform environments that would have naturally tended to redefine the nature and spatial range of flows of goods, people, finance, and messages. Like Braudel, Fox combined his geographic observations distinguishing coastal-riverine and interior areas of France with evidence of long-term exposure to the growth of the capitalist world economy. Fox hypothesized that coastal-riverine areas of France would have possessed a greater degree of spatial and social orientation to maritime commerce than interior areas of France. Therefore, the durable and enduring impacts of the growth of the capitalist world economy on social organization would not have been felt uniformly in France.

During unmistakable periodic regime shifts in contemporary French politics since the 17th century, the coastal-riverine port cities and those in the interior were on opposite sides.

Fox also posed a hypothesis based on his observations of geographic patterns in French history over long periods of time. He hypothesized that either a “territorial-administrative” or a “maritime-commercial” form of social and economic organization developed in the two different environments in France during pre-industrial times based on differences in flows of goods, people, finance, and messages in interior and coastal-riverine areas. Fox suggested these two types of pre-industrial societies persisted throughout French history and that their differences were behind a long term pattern in French politics. Fox used his fully-developed hypothesis of maritime-commercial and territorial-administrative societies to explain the recurring empirical pattern that during unmistakable periodic regime shifts in contemporary French politics since the 17th century, the coastal-riverine port cities and those in the interior were on opposite sides. Fox went on to explain that one of the long-term impacts of non-uniform geographic orientation to long-distance maritime flows of goods, people, finance, and messages was the existence of a French society he called the “other France” that had a different institutional gamut of political negotiation and consensus inherited from its legacy of maritime-commercial interactions with the Mediterranean and Atlantic oceanic worlds.

What Fox’s theory gives Mackinder is an explanation for exactly why Mackinder’s premonitions about the transformative impacts of the Trans-Siberian Railways were warranted.

Fox’s theoretical explanation is not without its limitations. Fox did not assess how over the short–term, especially during political elections, a political opposition might secure allies from across a societal divide by deploying certain kinds of rhetoric meant to induce different social classes to switch temporarily their political allegiance. He never elaborated how medium-term cyclical economic fluctuations impinge on the relationship between or the comparative strength of the two societies nor was it necessary for him to demonstrate, given his French case study, how the geography of commerce and administration might reinforce divergent ethnic loyalties. But what Fox’s theory gives Mackinder is an explanation for exactly why Mackinder’s premonitions about the transformative impacts of the Trans-Siberian Railways were warranted; that is, how the French railway network, once it was completed, radiated out from Paris and penetrated the small market towns, thereby reinforcing the communication hierarchy on which the territorial-administrative French state rested. This description suggests how mechanized inland mobility would enhance flows throughout the pivot area thus transforming and enhancing the social and economic organization of the pivot area leading to a more powerful state.

THE TRANS-SIBERIAN RAILWAY AND THE RUSSIAN TERRITORIAL-ADMINISTRATIVE STATE

The Trans-Siberian Railway was the East-West oriented backbone of a Russian territorial-administrative state.

The Trans-Siberian Railway system was not merely a means of moving soldiers and military equipment back and forth. The railway was the East-West oriented backbone of a Russian territorial-administrative state oriented both geographically and socially to flows potentially transforming the Central Asian pivot area into a world that could stand apart from any influence or coercion from powerful states in the maritime crescent – influence and coercion running the gamut from their navies to their commercial wealth.

The Russians were not a “horse people” they were a “railroad people.”

Thousands of years ago the first humans domesticated horses in what is today northern Kazahkstan, initially both as a form of mobility as well as a source of milk. The steppes and grasslands of Central Asia were the horse’s natural habitat of open grassy terrain, key to their distribution and abundance as animal species and open terrain in which the people of Central Asia could learn to master horses. At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century the Russians invested massive amounts into transportation infrastructure (at the time of Mackinder’s article) to build a mechanized form of inland mobility i.e., the Trans-Siberian Railway, that would replace the horse and the open grasses of the Central Asian steppes as the key to unlock the geographical power of the pivot area. Thus even if the cultural memory of horse mobility could be incorporated into symbols of the Russian revolution, as one sometimes sees in propaganda posters during the early 20th century, the Russians were not a “horse people” they were a “railroad people.”

The transformation from horse to mechanized railroad inland mobility seemed to Mackinder like an ominous sign given historical patterns.

By the time of the Russian Revolution in 1917, the Central Asian steppes transformed from grasses and horses into a corridor for the Trans-Siberian railway. The transformation from horse to mechanized railroad inland mobility seemed to Mackinder like an ominous sign given historical patterns. Nonetheless, it was not as simple as saying that railroads were superimposed on old horse trails. Nor was it as simple as saying that railroads were merely capable of carrying greater numbers of soldiers and military cargo faster and over longer distances than horses could have back and forth from St. Petersburg on the Baltic to Vladivostok on the Pacific. The ancient and enduring relationship between the Central Asian steppes and human mobility were not merely enhanced by railroads in terms of weight and speed of physical transport. Horse and railroad mobility were fundamentally different forms of inland mobility with very different needs and outcomes, even if they were both uniquely adapted to the environment of the Central Asian steppes.

The sub-surface mineral resources of the Central Asian steppes powered inland mobility by providing fuel for coal-burning steam engines.

First, the grasslands of the steppes provided energy to horses in the forms of carbohydrates but obviously grasses are not fuel for early 20th century steam engines, which were powered by coal. Yet what happened to lie almost directly beneath the grasslands Central Asian steppes? The answer is tremendous sources of coal, which perhaps by sheer luck of circumstance were in abundance below the subsurface of the steppes and within reach of the line of the railroad itself. Thus, in effect, just as the surface resources (grasses) of the Central Asian steppes powered horses, the sub-surface mineral resources of the Central Asian steppes once again powered inland mobility by providing fuel for coal-burning steam engines as well as the energy for the double-track electrified railway that today is (probably) powered mostly by coal but also oil fuel and hydro-electric plants.

The pattern of agricultural productivity in the steppes as enhanced and transformed by the railroads has two principal dimensions.

Second, as a result of the transformative effect of the Russian Trans-Siberian railway system, the surface of the vast East-West steppes went from grasslands feeding the distribution and abundance of horses to highly-productive agricultural and grain-growing areas feeding the distribution and abundance of the Russian people. The pattern of agricultural productivity in the steppes as enhanced and transformed by the railroads has two principal dimensions. The first principal dimension of agricultural production is a long “rain drop” pattern of high agricultural productivity in the West and successively lesser agricultural productivity trailing off to the East along the Trans-Siberian Railway system, a pattern explained by the flowering of roads and railroads in a clearly visible radial pattern around the nodal core of Moscow itself. The second principal dimension of agricultural production is higher agricultural productivity within a buffer zone adjacent to either side of the East-West Trans-Siberian Railway, related not only to accessibility to the railway system itself and feeder rails but the massive environmental facts of the Central Asian steppes themselves as a latitudinal band suitable for agriculture. Although Mackinder himself did not use maps of agricultural productivity and instead focused more on the mobility of cavalry across the steppes, he does discuss the vast natural resources of the pivot area as part of his premonitions about the transformative effect that the Russian railroads could have on the balance of power between Central Asia and Europe.

The Trans-Siberian railway system transformed the Russian bureaucratic state.

Third, the Trans-Siberian railway system transformed the Russian bureaucratic state. The territorial-expansion model of primary state formation, like Fox’s theory of territorial-administrative versus maritime-commercial societies, may also hold theoretical merit to explain the patterns Mackinder recognized. What is always interesting is when researchers try to make inferences about the future based on patterns in the past. A recent 16 April 2010 announcement of findings from a National Science Foundation project reported the following:

“The earliest evidence of state organization is contemporaneous with the earliest evidence of long-distance territorial expansion,” said lead researcher Charles Spencer, curator of Mexican and Central American Archaeology at the AMNH. “This result may provide a cautionary lesson as we think about international relations in our contemporary world,” said Spencer. “Since the bureaucratic state as a political form originally evolved through a process of predatory expansion, we should not be surprised if states continue to have predatory tendencies, regardless of their particular ideologies.”

The state-owned and Moscow-based Trans-Siberian railway represents the fourth largest source of revenue in Russia.

The state-owned and Moscow-based Trans-Siberian railway represents the fourth largest source of revenue in Russia, directly employing 1.2 million people and controlling the livelihoods of millions more through its indirect, induced, and parallel economic effects. Even more, despite the connotation of being part of early industrial society, railroads are considered among the first innovators in modern data management. A recent article states:

“Railroads were probably the original users of IT,” says Edward Burkhardt, the president of Rail World, a Chicago-based company that specializes in railroad restructurings. “They always had huge amounts of data to manipulate, long before any IT came along.” Masses of clerical employees kept track of millions of transactions one way or another, sending cargo shuttling along the steel rails. The hunt for an automated way of tracking cargo eventually led to the invention of bar codes, which were initially developed as electronically readable labels for freight cars. Throughout their history, railways have forged ahead, with information technology at their side.”

The Trans-Siberian railway is a social, economic, and information-driven organization.

Thus the Trans-Siberian railway is a social, economic, and information-driven organization as much as it is a means of ferrying military personnel and equipment deeper into the interior. One article suggests that “if the railroad drives the economy, data drives the railroad,” and continues:

“No freight train on the 170-year-old railroad moves without documentation of its contents, the contract for their delivery, and the route map that defines the train’s journey. All that information gets tracked by a string of data centers, aided by an optical-fiber network that mirrors every kilometer of track. In total, the data centers manage the movements of the 1.3 billion passengers and just as many tons of freight that pass through the country’s far-flung depots each year …”

The Russian railway company recently arranged a partnership with IBM scheduled for completion in 2014 to overhaul its hardware, software, and communications infrastructure.

The Russian Railways boasts that the Trans-Siberian Railway system will soon reach a capacity to transport one million containers per year thus competing with container ships as the means of transportation between Atlantic and Mediterranean ports through the Suez Canal to Pacific ports. The Russian railway company recently arranged a partnership with IBM scheduled for completion in 2014 to overhaul its hardware, software, and communications infrastructure that will completely redesign how the railway does business. The interesting problem noted by the article was replacing hundreds of thousands of people with cyberinfrastructure as the means of processing data could encounter resistance. One article states:

“The storied Trans-Siberian railway, efficient at last, may finally start to compete successfully with oceanic shipping between Asia and Europe. According to Forrest Van Schwartz, managing director of the Global Transportation Consultancy, in Madison, Wis., transporting goods from mainland China to Europe by way of Russian railroads currently costs five times as much as moving containers by sea from Beijing, around Singapore, through the Suez Canal, and past Gibraltar to Europe’s ports. Part of the problem, he surmises, is that too many railroad employees are doing jobs better done by technology. “It’s as much a social, keeping-people-employed program as it is a transportation company,” Van Schwartz says.”

Another route is (possibly) becoming an internal competitor to the Trans-Siberian railway system.

As the Trans-Siberian railway continues to take major steps to modernize as a competitor in the container market against the all-water route between Europe and Asia through the Suez Canal, another route is (possibly) becoming an internal competitor to the Trans-Siberian railway system over control over the vast natural wealth of the pivot area, much of it dry bulk goods more suitable for waterborne transport, with direct implications on Mackinder’s original thesis.

PART IV: social fractures IN THE PIVOT AREA

THE “OTHER RUSSIA”: THE YAKUT MARITIME/RIVERINE-COMMERCIAL SOCIETY OF THE LENA RIVER

Moscow’s East-West oriented territorial-administrative society meets Siberia’s North-South oriented riverine-commercial societies.

Are political differences among the racial populations of Siberian society (Russian, Ukrainian, Slavic, Turkic, Arctic coast indigenous peoples, and others) merely due to ethnic differences or are there other social and geographic relationships with respect to Russia’s East-West oriented territorial-administrative society anchored in Moscow extended overland by rail and highway, and North-South oriented riverine-commercial societies anchored in the various river ports.
Consider a crisscross pattern in which two societies can compete over the same space, and at times come into contact with one another, though operating more or less independently and with distinct forms of governance.

Consider a crisscross pattern in which two societies can compete over the same space, and at times come into contact with one another, though operating more or less independently and with distinct forms of governance. Might we see the development of a maritime-commercial “other Russia”? A few years ago, this would have been an interesting name for a Russian opposition based on purely theoretical implications. The term “other Russia” used here is NOT to be confused with “The Other Russia,” (http://www.theotherrussia.org) founded in 2007 by former world chess champion Garry Kasparov and billed as a “coalition of Russian political parties, human rights organizations, and pro-democracy activists” in opposition to Vladimir Putin. Could our theoretical “other Russia” (lower case), as a maritime and riverine-oriented society along the rivers draining to the Arctic Ocean, internally complicate Russian extraterritoriality and possibly entangle China, Japan, or even the United States? Is there the possibility that Mackinder and others may have missed the potential existence of an “other Russia,” just as Edward Fox suggests historians writing about France missed the existence of his maritime-commercial “other France”?

Map10

Map 10: The East-West orientation of railroads and roads in the pivot area. Major cities are displayed in red (within the pivot area) and dark yellow (outside the pivot area with the exception of Beijing) proportional to 2005 population.

Map11

Map11: The North-South orientation of rivers at right angles to the roads and railroads of the pivot area (railroads are semi-transparent in the background). Also shown are world ports (World Port Index) displayed in three categories by size of vessel allowed (large, medium, or only small).

There are several curiosities about the political boundaries that emerged after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

There are several curiosities about the political boundaries that emerged after the dissolution of the Soviet Union when plotted against the natural boundaries of the drainage basins that form a new GIS-based pivot area. For instance, there is an agriculturally productive area of northern Kazakhstan that lies within the boundaries of the Ob River basin, not to mention overlapping part of a southern (old) branch of the Trans-Siberian railway – like a Central Asian version of the Gadsden Purchase, if you will. The rationale for this territory becoming a part of independent Kazakhstan, rather than remaining with Russia, probably has to do with the fact that although these croplands and northern pastures had attracted Russian immigrants since the 1950s and 1960s as part of a major agricultural initiative, the legacy of Soviet-era boundaries for the territory of Kazakhstan as a whole meant everything went to its majority Turkic (Kazakh) population.

Trace the path of the Trans-Siberian railway system West to East.

Trace the path of the Trans-Siberian railway system West to East along the southern border of Russia near the dividing point between the northern pivot area and the southern pivot area. At each intersection of the East-West railroad with a major North-South draining Arctic Rivers thereupon sits the area’s largest cities. First, consider the western Ob River basin. At the intersection of the Trans-Siberian railway system and the greater Ob River are the principal cities of Kurgan, Omsk and Novosibirsk, while at the intersection of the northern railway and the Ob River is the principal city of Salekhard. Next consider the central Yenisey River basin. At the intersection of Trans-Siberian railway system and the greater Yenisey River are the major cities of Krasnoyarsk and Irkutsk. Finally there is the eastern Lena River basin. At the intersection of the Trans-Siberian railway system and the greater Lena River is a city called Osetrovo, not a principal city and not nearly the most important city in the Lena River drainage basin.

Map12

Map 12: Trace the East-West Trans-Siberian railway system as it intersects the rivers of the Ob, Yenisey, and Lena basins. Major cities are displayed in red proportional to 2005 population, and other Russian cities are displayed in black. Ports from the World Port Index are displayed in blue proportional to the size of vessel allowed.

The single exception to the rule of East-West dominance lies in the most eastern fluvial drainage area of Siberia, the Lena River basin.

Why this anomaly? The single exception to the rule of East-West dominance lies in the most eastern fluvial drainage area of Siberia, the Lena River basin. The most important city oriented to the North-South draining Lena River is Yakutsk, the capital city of the separate semi-independent Republic of Sahka (Yakutia). Yakutsk is not intersected by the East-West oriented Trans-Siberian Railway system. In fact, it is not intersected by any East-West oriented road or railroad at all. Yakutsk’s North-South orientation to the seasonally-navigable Lena River tends to be the most dominant factor affecting mobility into and out of the city. What makes Yakutsk even more interesting than its North-South orientation along the Lena River is that it also has the only sizable and distinct Turkic population north of the Trans-Siberian railway not to have formed its own independent sovereign state after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The Republic of Sahka (Yakutia) has the dubious distinction of being the very coldest and driest part of Siberia.

Roughly six times the size of France and representing one-fifth of the Russian Federation, but with less than 1% of Russia’s population at about one million, the Republic of Sahka (Yakutia) has the dubious distinction of being the very coldest and driest part of Siberia. In fact, the coldest temperature ever recorded on the face of the planet besides Antarctica was recorded in the Lena River drainage basin somewhere around the city of Yakutsk. A myth about the area conflates what distinguishes this place the most: its inhospitable climate and its wealth of natural resources. According to local legend, when the world was created, God gave one angel the assignment to distribute wealth all around the earth. But as the angel flew over the territory of Sakha, its hands froze from the cold, and it dropped all the wealth in Sakha.

The considerable natural resources of Siberia and Yakutia are not in its agriculture but its timber and its minerals.

Though the evidence about the regional impacts of global climate change in Siberia can seem contradictory, climate change might possibly extend the growing season and conditions for agriculture further north into areas of Siberia currently dominated by forests; or it might not. Nonetheless, the considerable natural resources of Siberia and Yakutia are not in its agriculture but its timber and its minerals, including everything from diamonds, gold, and other rare metals to oil, natural gas, and coal. Yakutia’s mineral wealth explains why its most important current long-distance orientation in terms of transportation is neither East-West by land nor North-South by river; it is by air. Yakutia supposedly possesses the largest diamond processing facility in the world and diamond mining represents the main industry. Diamonds are one of those minerals that can be transported by air because of its value to weight ratio. The diamond company Almazy Rossii-Sakha (Alrosa) accounts for between one-half and one-third of the Sahka Republic’s total fiscal revenues. Alrosa employs about 50,000 workers in Sakha, represents one of the largest sources of foreign revenue in the Russian Federation, and is the world’s second largest diamond corporation after DeBeers. As one author puts it, what is good for Alrosa is good for Sakha.

Map13

Map13: Projected natural gas deposits in the Arctic. Source: U.S. Geological Survey.

Map14

Map14: Projected oil deposits in the Arctic. Source: U.S. Geological Survey.

Map15

Map15: Coal deposits of the former Soviet Union.

The East-West versus North-South orientations of the city of Yakutsk are contradictory, complex, and even a little bit comical.

The East-West versus North-South orientations of the city of Yakutsk are contradictory, complex, and even a little bit comical. There is an interesting seasonal winter-summer rivalry when it comes to use of the East-West oriented railway corridor versus the North-South oriented Lena River. One orientation hands off to the other depending on the season. According to one assessment, the North-South oriented Lena River is only safely navigable for five to six months (160 to 180 days) of the year. The rest of the time the Arctic Rivers are frozen solid, and during the spring melt enormous stretches of river are clogged by broken ice flows that not only block river navigation but create hazardous near shore flooding and scouring. The North-South Lena Highway (M56) between Yakutsk and main artery of the East-West Trans-Siberian railway is one of the worst highways in the world, popularly known as the “Highway from Hell” because of the fact that even though during the winter it is a relatively high-speed earthen road, during the summer when subterranean ice melts the roadway turns into an impossibly muddy impasse even the largest trucks will sink into over their tires, stranding hundreds of motorists. Yet this is (currently) the only significant overland connection between the city of Yakutsk and the main East-West transportation corridor to the south.

Map16

Map16: Zoomed in view of the city of Yakutsk in the Republic of Sahka (Yakutia) showing the city on the left side of the Lena River and the only highway south to the East-West Trans-Siberian railway system on the right side of the river.

The first railroad-roadway bridge across the Lena River is scheduled for completion by 2013.

There is another problem. The end of the awful Lena Highway, as bad as it is, and the city itself are on opposite sides of the Lena River. This should not be an issue except for the additional fact that there are no bridges across the Lena River in the entire Sahka Republic. This is curious indeed. The only significant highway to the south (on the east side of the river) is accessible to the city of Yakutsk (on the west side of the river) during the summer by ferry. But since ferries cannot cross the river during the winter and spring due to frozen conditions and dangerous floating ice fields, people have to just drive their own cars over the frozen river directly to the highway. In fact, during the high point of winter, truckers throughout Yakutia actually drive on top of the frozen river channel itself North-South to deliver goods to remote areas (leave it to the people of the pivot area to misuse a river as an inland highway). The first railroad-roadway bridge across the Lena River is scheduled for completion by 2013. A North-South Amur Yakutsk Mainline railroad will finally connect with the East-West Baikal Amur Mainline, the slightly more northern parallel of the Trans-Siberian railroad.

Yakutsk is in a central position for a two-way corridor of access to two different sets of seaports.

What is also interesting is the combination of connections between the North-South Lena River corridor, the city of Yakutsk, and the seemingly very poorly maintained East-West Kolyma Highway (M56) that continues east from Yakutsk to the port of Okhotsk. Yakutsk is in a central position for a two-way corridor of access to two different sets of seaports. To the north at the mouth of the Lena River is the port of Tiksi, probably better known for its remote airfields regularly used as the base for Tupolev Tu-95 bomber training missions across the Arctic Ocean for operations against potential targets in the Western Hemisphere. Co-located with Tiksi air base is a major commercial transfer point between North-South riverine and East-West oceanic transportation. Russian timber rafts towed up the Lena River are offloaded at Tiksi onto commercial vessels (presumably Russian ice-fitted ships) bound for Japan.

Okhotsk was the site of the last stand of the White Russians under the command of Gen. Anatoly Pepelyayev during the Yakut Revolt between 1921 and 1923, the final episode of the Russian Civil War.

To the east of Yakutsk are two ports for possible two-way access to the sea for Yakutsk, including Okhotsk and Magadan. History is merely suggestive. Okhotsk had virtually lost its importance as a naval base to Vladivostock after the “Amur Annexation” in 1860, when Russia annexed the Chinese territory of “Outer Manchuria” north of the Amur River and adjacent to Yakutia. Okhotsk was the site of the last stand of the White Russians under the command of Gen. Anatoly Pepelyayev during the Yakut Revolt between 1921 and 1923, the final episode of the Russian Civil War. Pepelyayev apparently planned to sail up the Okhota River from the port of Okhotsk, at the time the headquarters of the White Russian Pacific fleet, taking Yakutsk as the key to the Lena River and thereby perhaps sealing off the territory of the Bering Peninsula beyond the Lena River for a White Russian resistance.

Through the theoretical lens of Mackinder enhanced by Fox’s theory, one can imagine the beginnings of a societal conflict.

Of what evidence there is of persistent jealousy and conflict between ethnic Russians and ethnic Yakut, it almost always seems to be related to Russian fiscal control over commercial wealth generated from transportation of minerals and other natural resources. In this conflict, through the theoretical lens of Mackinder enhanced by Fox’s theory, one can imagine the beginnings of a societal conflict between East-West oriented territorial-administrative control in Moscow and North-South oriented maritime-commercial relationships between Yakutia and the rest of the world.

One has to see the Yakut of the Lena River as more than merely an ethnic minority resisting the extraterritorial maneuvers of Russians from Moscow.

One has to see the Yakut of the Lena River as more than merely an ethnic minority resisting the extraterritorial maneuvers of Russians from Moscow. Yakut are a Turkic ethnic group like those that broke away after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and they are potentially a maritime (and riverine)-commercial society, opposing a Russian and a territorial-administrative society based in Moscow at the opposite end of the Central Asian pivot area. The societal and ethnic differences complicate matters. In Fox’s France, maritime-commercial and territorial-administrative societies were both “French.” In Yakutia, the Russian and Turkic Yakut societies are ethnically distinct, enhancing already profound societal differences that many might see only as ethnic conflict.

Map17

Map 17: Map of ethnicities of the former Soviet Union, with major and minor political subdivisions of the Russian Federation. Russian people are shown in red, Turkic people are shown in bluish-green.

Map18

Map 18: Overlay on map of ethnicities of the former Soviet Union showing major (e.g., republics, krays, oblasts) and minor (e.g., rays) political subdivisions colored by “status” within the Russian Federation. Oblasts and krays, colored red and orange respectively, are associated with a majority Russian population and are the most subordinate entities. A more independent status within the Russian Federation exists for autonomous districts, colored yellowish-green. Finally republics, which are the most independent, are colored green and are associated with a majority Turkic population.

There is the flickering of a maritime-commercial federalist “state’s rights” dispute.

A recent assessment of Yakutia found “no likelihood” of rebellion in the near future but did note the following:

“Recent levels of protest have been low and associated with displeasure over proposed measures to increase Russian federal control of the diamond industry company ALROSA in the Sakha Republic (Yakutia). There has also been increased political agitation by some ethnic Russians, perhaps in part due to the Yakut domination of executive positions in the republic despite their relatively small size proportionally …. While historically the Yakut have violently resisted Russian political control, there has been no violent resistance since the 1930s, when the Yakut fiercely resisted Stalinist policies. The Yakut do have a high level of group cohesion and territorial concentration. However, these factors are unlikely to lead to violence absent government repression (which triggered the outbreak of violence under Stalin). The leadership of the Yakut Republic has repeatedly stated that the republic does not seek secession and that the Russian Federation must remain intact. On the other hand, Sakha/Yakutia clearly aims to maintain significant policymaking freedom. For example, in January 1995 Sakha/Yakutia issued a decree banning recruitment of its citizens by the Russian military on the grounds that draftees would be sent to fight in Chechnya …”

Yet there is the flickering of a maritime-commercial federalist “state’s rights” dispute between North-South oriented Yakut maritime-commercial society along the Lena River, and East-West oriented Russian society extended from Moscow. An author commenting on the Sahka Republic validates the idea that a “federalist” experiment is indeed unfolding:

“Up until … [October 1991 during the dissolution of the Soviet Union], “sovereignty” had been a movement largely directed against economic control from Moscow, but this divisiveness reflected the ethnic tensions among the sovereigntists. By sovereignty, local [Yakut] politicians did not claim independence from the central government. They understood the term to represent political and economic autonomy from Moscow as opposed to complete political independence from Russia. In this sense, federalism as a concept is particularly relevant, in that regional leaders desired to share powers with, rather than be subjects to, the centre. The declaration of sovereignty thus was less a declaration of independence than a bid for greater republican rights within a federal system. Since this declaration, representatives of the republican government have gone to great lengths to point out that they do not perceive Sakha’s future outside the realm of Russia, while at the same time they work to strengthen Sakha’s capacity to function autonomously within the federation.”

For example, in response to suspicions about Moscow and the fact that it directly controlled almost 100% of the estimated $1 billion per year diamond industry, the Republic of Yakutia in 1990 made a failed attempt to gain a more independent status by declaring its sovereignty and cutting off its flow of diamonds and gold to Moscow. In response, Moscow allowed the Republic of Yakutia to market 25% of the diamonds and about 10% of the precious metals mined in Yakutia for itself and its own treasury, and also allowed the Republic of Yakutia to control bureaucratic appointments within the mining industry.

Siberian regions “must take the lead in both developing strategy and in forging beneficial ties with the Pacific region,” meaning China, Japan, and South Korea.

One author claims that the former president of the Sahka Republic, Mikhail Nikolaev, was to have believed that as long as Moscow maintained its “exploitative attitude” with respect to the wealth of eastern Siberia’s natural resources then these regions themselves “must take the lead in both developing strategy and in forging beneficial ties with the Pacific region,” by which he meant China, Japan, and South Korea. Noting the most important consequence of foreign relations in Sahka, the same author said it “has to do with Sakha’s orientation away from the west (Moscow), and towards the east (Pacific),” continuing to say that the economic shift away from Moscow “foreshadows possible future political ramifications of the structural changes that are part of the breakdown of the centralized economy.”

A changing global climate may also impact the more troubling problem of year-round Arctic river navigation.

If a recently published consensus of global climate change models is accurate, then by around the year 2040 the Arctic Ocean could be mostly free of summer ice. A changing global climate may also impact the more troubling problem of year-round Arctic river navigation. Does the fact that summer sea ice could be largely absent in the Arctic Ocean mean it will automatically be useful for navigation? No, it does not. A recent April 2010 National Academies Report entitled “National Security Implications of Climate Change for U.S. Naval Forces: Letter Report,” published in response to a request by the U.S. Chief of Naval Operations, said that it “does not expect that there will be routine commercial shipping in the Arctic in the foreseeable future.” The same sentiment was echoed by an earlier 2004 U.S. Arctic Research Commission “Arctic Marine Transport Workshop” that also did not anticipate commercial use of the Arctic Ocean at least within the next 20 or so years. But what happens after 20 years?

Consider a more seasonally accessible Northwest or Northeast Passage and Siberian rivers linking the economies of the North Atlantic and North Pacific.

The North-South oriented riverine-commercial flows of precious minerals, fuel minerals like coal and oil, and timber from Yakutia to the rest of the world could continue to be enhanced by the massive fact of a changing climate for the next century. Consider also the gradual possibility of a more seasonally accessible Northwest or Northeast Passage and Siberian rivers linking the economies of the North Atlantic and North Pacific. A 28 July 2009 New York Times article quietly noted the “first time” a vessel crossed through the Russian Arctic on a commercial transit between Asia and Europe, saying:

“Russian vessels have long hauled ore and oil along the country’s sprawling northern coast, but no commercial ships under other flags have passed between Asia and Western Europe. Now, a German company, the Beluga Group of Bremen, has a ship poised to make what appears to be the first such trip, an 8,000-mile shortcut compared with alternate routes. The “Arctic Rush” is on.”

This was certainly not the first time the Northeast Passage or coastal Northern Sea Route has been used for commercial purposes, but it was merely the first time in many years that a foreign-flag vessel crossed in transit from Asia to Europe through the Arctic.

Distance matters but it is not decisive when shorter distance does not dramatically improve overall transit time.

The key to things like finished goods packed in containers is not just cost but time. Container vessels are extremely time-sensitive, which is why container vessels can support much higher toll fees than other vessel markets. One of the reasons why this article does not focus solely on a simple distance relationship between ports in the North Pacific and North Atlantic via Panama, Suez, or the Arctic is because it is does not factor in the issue of slower overall speeds, including adding the time it may take to fill out Russian paperwork. Insurance costs, costs of ice-breaker escorts, pilots, and other “navigational safety” fees are another matter as well. Make no mistake, distance matters; but it is not decisive in the thinking of a shipping company especially when shorter distance does not dramatically improve overall transit time while nonetheless incurring higher costs and risks.

There is at least one interesting thing to consider in terms of logistics and its impact on places like Yakutia: maritime back-haul opportunities.

There is at least one interesting thing to consider in terms of logistics and its impact on places like Yakutia: maritime back-haul opportunities. The Panama Canal’s major customer both in terms of tonnage and tolls is container traffic from East Asia to the East Coast of the United States. What if vessels from East Asia bound for the East Coast of the United States and other destinations in the North Atlantic diverted to Arctic Routes during the summer? Depending on the balance of trade, the result would be an arsenal of empty or half-empty commercial vessels looking for a back-haul opportunity. A reinforced hull hybrid dry bulk/container vessel loaded with finished products in containers stacked high on deck and bound for North Atlantic ports could, after having the containers offloaded, revert to a bulk carrier below deck ready to stop on the Arctic Coast to load up with dry bulk mineral or timber goods on its way back to East Asia. Depending on the draft of the vessel, its stability, and the state of possibly dredged-Arctic rivers such a vessel might be able to navigate further and further into Siberian rivers thus making it possible for there to be just one transfer point – rather than an expensive loading-unloading transfer point from land to shallow river craft, and another transfer point from shallow river craft to ocean-going vessel.

What are the implications of a Siberian maritime (riverine)-commercial society?

The fracture zone in the wholly inland orientation of Mackinder’s pivot area is not merely the physical fact that changing conditions may enhance summer navigation of the Lena River, but the fact that increased maritime (and riverine)-commercial activity among Turkic Yakut could lead to more “federalist” political aspirations. What are the implications of a maritime (riverine)-commercial society commanding a seasonally navigable river and enormous natural resources, lying at right angles and poorly integrated into Russian territorial-administrative control, and potentially exercising independent control over two Pacific ports? Consider the effect of riverine-oceanic patterns of mobility on new forms of social and economic organization and then new forms of negotiation and governance. Finally, consider as a result of new forms of negotiation and governance, new “triangular” international relationships between Moscow, China, Japan, and other states, including the United States and Canada.

PART V: APPREHENSIONS AND PREMONITIONS

A SIBERIAN MARITIME-COMMERCIAL REVOLT

Let us, like Mackinder, imagine some grim consequences.

Let us, like Mackinder, imagine some grim consequences in geographic perspective in light of the fact that the two nearest major industrial economies to eastern Siberia in the North Pacific, namely Japan and China, contain very large populations and economies but with limited natural resources. One consequence, using comparative historical patterns and a version of Fox’s hypothesis, is that the developing Turkic maritime-commercial society of Yakutia will begin to “solicit” extraterritoriality and political interference from powerful interests in states with whom they maintain an active exchange of goods, people, finance and messages – in an attempt to internationalize and triangulate its federalist state’s rights dispute with Moscow over who gets what share of the flow of Yakutia’s natural commercial wealth. The territorial-administrative society based in Moscow will assert fiscal control over commercial flows on its rivers, including all commercial revenues from mineral or timber exports, in an effort to curtail the rampant problem of commercial capital gains fleeing Russia into foreign banks and in order to increase revenues into the Russian treasury. If Yakutia were to reach out to another state, it is not unimaginable that either China or Japan that would become entangled in a dispute between Russian territorial-administrative society and Yakut maritime-commercial society.

Map19

Map 19: Two territorial areas are highlighted. One is the Amur River basin, showing outer Manchurian territory on the other side of the yellow Chinese-Russian border. Another is the disputed southern Kuril Islands (territorial seas) north of Japan.

Yakutia straddles a peculiar area of inland, oceanic, and aerospace mobility.

Yakutia straddles a peculiar area of inland, oceanic, and aerospace mobility. China is the adjacent land power. “Outer Manchuria” and Russian territory north of the Amur River is still a contested and contestable area between Russia and China, and is an area that immediately borders Yakutia to the south. Japan is the adjacent maritime power. The southern Kuril Islands, a contested area between Russia and Japan, flank the entrance to the Sea of Okhotsk and Yakutia’s two-way access to the sea through Okhotsk or Magadan. Depending on the balance of power in East Asia, Yakuts could try maneuver an entangling alliance promising all sorts of exclusive privileges of access to their mineral and timber wealth to either China or Japan, or both. Even more, Yakuts could dangle promises that they would adopt a favorable attitude about recognizing Chinese and Japanese claims over Manchuria and the Kuril Islands in exchange for political, economic, or military support against Russia with respect to demands for Yakutia’s semi-independent statehood or even some sort of new satellite status with Japan and China. In other words, a flirtation between the maritime-commercial aspirations of the Yakuts on the Lena River against Russian territoriality, and the already longstanding territorial disputes between both China and Japan with Russia over Manchuria and the Kuril Islands, could lead to a dangerous geo-strategic liaison. Logical possibility does not imply high probability, but as any attorney might say in a courtroom first there is means (a revived rivalry whereby China might seek to secure Outer Manchuria or Japan might seek to secure the south Kuril Islands, in which case both China and Japan might attempt to interfere in Russia), then there is motive (territorial disputes and the search for extraterritorial access to natural resources), and then finally, there is opportunity (a moment in time where support for a Yakut federalist rebellion is solicited by Yakuts to representatives of China or Japan).

All of this has the beginnings of a geostrategic mess.

Add the fact that the territory of Yakutia separates the Russian inland core from the strategic Bering Straits, which are not only separated from the United States by a mere fifty miles but could possibly play a much more important role in the future as the Straits straddle a major potential lifeline of commercial exchange between the powerful economies of the North Pacific and those of the North Atlantic – and all of this has the beginnings of a geostrategic mess. Such are the sorts of (purely) theoretical re-imaginings possible by enhancing Mackinder’s observations with Fox’s theory armed with no more than a GIS and publicly available map data.

A “GRID PATTERN” OF NORTH-SOUTH RIVERS AND EAST-WEST ROADS AND RAILROADS IN THE PIVOT AREA

“it is inevitable that a vast economic world, more or less apart, will there develop inaccessible to oceanic commerce”

Despite many of his premonitions, it is not clear that Mackinder had an explicit theory to explain how the railroads would have socially and economically transformed Central Asia leading to the development of a powerful territorial-administrative state capable of threatening the rest of the world. There is, however, one possible exception when he says:

“True, that the Trans-Siberian railway is still a single and precarious line of communication, but the century will not be old before all Asia is covered with railways. The spaces within the Russian Empire and Mongolia are so vast, and their potentialities in population, wheat, cotton, fuel, and metals so incalculably great, that it is inevitable that a vast economic world, more or less apart, will there develop inaccessible to oceanic commerce.”

Mackinder describes the inevitability of a vast and largely self-sufficient pivot area segregated and inaccessible not merely to naval forces but “oceanic commerce.”

Here Mackinder comes tantalizingly close to making a crucial connection between highly segregated forms of mobility and the rise of highly segregated forms of social and economic organization. In this passage, Mackinder describes the inevitability of a vast and largely self-sufficient pivot area segregated and inaccessible not merely to naval forces but “oceanic commerce.” Thus the pivot area would become a self-sufficient railroad-driven social and economic power inaccessible to maritime commerce, a world “more or less apart,” but one in which the dimensions of its strategic military inaccessibility were not the same as the dimensions of its socio-economic segregation from the ocean.

The question that Mackinder leads us to is what are the transformative geopolitical impacts of the Trans-Siberian Railway system on the pivot area with respect to its inland social and economic organization? What was one to be more apprehensive about? Was it the fact that the pivot area was potentially unassailable from naval forces in a full-scale war? Or was it the fact that the pivot area could grow incalculably wealthy on its own terms, as a world apart from any form of coercion or leverage by the industrial economies of the maritime outer crescent, and could devote that incalculable wealth towards military superiority in both land-based and perhaps even mixed coastal and ocean environments for even greater territorial-administrative ambitions around the world? How does Mackinder prepare us to go beyond tactical maneuvers in the pivot area in a time of war, to apprehensions about the growth of a territorial-administrative state combining the power of inland mobility and the wealth of inland natural resources and economic activity to build its inland military capabilities?

What if two different societies oriented to inland and oceanic forms of mobility were all mixed together?

Add to the principal East-West dimension of Russia a competing North-South dimension. What if two different societies oriented to inland and oceanic forms of mobility were all mixed together, crisscrossing each other at right angles and though coming into contact and conflict at certain points, remained largely independent of each other? This was essentially the situation Fox observed in France, i.e., two Frances that were both equally “French” and inhabited the same territorial domain but evolved around different forms of mobility, different forms of social and economic organization, and ultimately, different conventions and preferences of governance.

Moscow’s East-West oriented territorial-administrative society will certainly encourage commercial activity through the Northeast Passage and Northern Sea Route as well as throughout its North-South inland waterway system.

Moscow’s East-West oriented territorial-administrative society will certainly encourage commercial activity through the Northeast Passage and Northern Sea Route as well as throughout its North-South inland waterway system. For instance, after World War II the Soviets used the Northeast Passage (Northern Sea Route) as a substitute East-West route for the southern railways in order to supply military provisions and for transporting minerals. In fact, one report notes that all Arctic cargo shipped on the Northern Sea Route after World War II until recent times was transported for Soviet military or administrative purposes and fully half of the provisions of the Yakutia military base were brought by sea. Another rough comparison even suggests that in 1987 traffic along the western portion of the Northern Sea Route between the ports of Murmansk and Norilsk, at the mouth of the Yenisey River, was nearly one-sixth that of the St. Lawrence Seaway.

Throughout the 20th century, the Soviet Union tried to open the Northern Sea Route to commercial traffic.

Throughout the 20th century, the Soviet Union tried to open the Northern Sea Route to commercial traffic, but always with a clear eye on the national interest in terms of its internal welfare and common defense. During the 1970s, the Soviets developed special shallow-draft “river-sea” bulk carriers for coastal and inland waterway trips deep into the interior of Central Asia and as far away as the UK and the Mediterranean. One report shows a single fascinating photo of a rail-river loading-offloading interface at Osetrovo, where the Trans-Siberian railway crosses the Lena River, nearly 2,700 km from the sea, and says:

“The great Siberian rivers move supplies to the Arctic coast from railway ports in the south and transport goods brought by sea into the interior. The total freight carried on the Ob’-Irtysh, Yenisey, and Lena systems (much of it between river ports) is roughly eleven times that transported on the sea route. In recent years rivers have carried sixty-five percent of waterborne freight in Siberia, and ninety-two percent of freight delivered beyond the Arctic circle.”

There no doubt exist a number of Russian naval officers and powerful political figures who advocated both sea power and maritime commerce, as long as it adhered to one simple policy: a Russian Northern Sea Route and Siberian inland waterway system under Russian control. The spirit of this policy is likely to be enforced subtly and bureaucratically in the future with respect to foreign use, with all sorts of complicated rules and procedures including mandatory payment for icebreakers, pilots, and other fees to support Russian coastal monitoring infrastructure; all of this certainly (and not in-genuinely) justified in the name of navigational safety and preventing damage to Arctic coastal environments. The rules will provide enough latitude of judgment and discretion to allow Russian authorities to deny passage to any vessels they so choose, regardless of general purpose rights of passage to be found in the U.N. Law of the Sea, in order to ensure that Russia’s internal navigation and defense interests always come first. As one author notes:

“The Northern Sea Route was again declared open to foreign shipping in 1991. Interestingly, the initial regulations, published as a notice to mariners, were issued by the Ministry of Defence. They specified compulsory pilotage and icebreaker service, and charts and sailing directions were made available. In a procedure similar to that established by the Canadian Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act, ships have to meet standards prescribed by the state and permits are issued.”

Over the next several decades, global climate change could enhance an emergent geographic pattern of mobility in the new Siberia, a “grid pattern” of crisscrossing East-West inland mobility and North-South riverine mobility. The enhanced grid pattern should at very least have the positive effect of helping transform the infamous Lena Highway or “Highway from Hell” into a relic of the past, with an enhanced (seasonal) international flow of mineral or possibly agricultural wealth down the Lena River to the Arctic.

An emerging maritime-commercial society along the Lena will try to secure as little interference as possible from Moscow.

Territorial-administrative Moscow will likely continue to assert fiscal control over the flow of commercial wealth on its rivers and through its territorial waters, thereby seeking to reduce the problem of offshore capital flight and lessen the exit of its vast natural resource wealth from Siberia. Meanwhile, the leadership (most notably the ethnically Turkic businesspeople) of an emerging maritime-commercial society along the Lena will try to secure as little interference as possible from Moscow.

What about a Russian Arctic of hybrid societies and amphibious military capabilities?

Moscow’s politicians will publicize the fact that Moscow’s public investments in support of Siberian coastal-riverine commerce and navigation will be paid off by the taxable earnings its generates, which will go back into the national treasury for nationwide public infrastructure projects like health and education, more roads and railroads extending East-West from Moscow into the interior, a new all-season elevated road along the Arctic Coast, and the defense of the territorial integrity of the Russian state. A portion of funds collected from use of the Northern Sea Route or Arctic inland waterways would be earmarked to enhance Russian military superiority in the unique and seasonally highly-variable Arctic coastal theater, which demands simultaneously an amphibious, riverine, and medium to short-range aerospace mobility. Whether over the next several decades an emergent grid pattern in Siberia ultimately leads to dissent, like a Yakut maritime-commercial federalist rebellion against Moscow and an opportunity for China or Japan to extend their sphere of influence in Asia; or whether, on the other hand, it works the opposite way and transforms the Arctic Ocean into a Russian Arctic of hybrid societies and amphibious military capabilities is a matter of speculation from a theoretically-informed imagination.

CONCLUSION

Contemporary authors reading Mackinder’s maps liken the pivot area and the inner and outer crescents to “geopolitical tectonic plates.”

Some contemporary authors reading Mackinder’s maps liken the pivot area and the inner and outer crescents to the equivalent of “geopolitical tectonic plates,” sometimes forgetting the ‘linear’ patterns and emergent, technologically-enhanced processes of mobility that the ‘areas’ represent. History suggested to Mackinder that there were two forms of mobility sustaining power, which he called “rival” approaches to consolidating territory whose relative advantages as applied over a non-uniform environment could change the balance of power over long periods of time. This observation of history led to his apprehensions about the potential transformative impacts of the Trans-Siberian Railway in the future. His geographic focus on the historical importance of rival forms of mobility over long periods of time is a fascinating observation but his explanation is missing a stepwise sequence of theoretical understanding about how “rival” mobility (meaning different, separate, or segregated) can turn into “rival” politics. Though Mackinder makes several suggestive and tantalizing statements, this theoretical sequence eluded Mackinder. His “macro theory” of geopolitics can be enhanced in this regard with Fox’s “micro theory,” and other calls for research such as that from the American Historical Review:

“Our hope is that specialists in one of the oceans, the Central Asian steppe, or the Sahara will join with students of the Mediterranean in dialectic. Its ultimate objective will be to refine the ways in which we frame a global history—a history of which the Mediterranean has been such a peculiar and important segment.”

If Mackinder was apprehensive about the global rivalries that might arise as a result of the pivot area becoming a world apart due to the transformative impacts of an East-West oriented territorial-administrative society along the Trans-Siberian Railway, we might just as easily become apprehensive about the transformative impacts of an intersection of the Trans-Siberian Railway with North-South oriented maritime-commercial societies particularly in far eastern Siberia, and whether that results in an economically and militarily reinvigorated hybrid Russian society or a territorial-administrative Russian society centered in Moscow struggling to prevent by force if necessary its ethnically its culturally distinct maritime-commercial Siberian fracture zone from soliciting foreign interference. Since this essay began with turn of the century apprehensions and excitement, so it will end with them. A retired Canadian Commodore with a longstanding interest in Russian use of the Northern Sea Route and Siberian rivers noted his own turn of the century excitements, albeit absent of any premonitions:

“During this century commercial use of the Northeast Passage has become well established. Thus far shipping has consisted largely of domestic traffic along the northern coast. The development of a viable navigation route by the Russians has been achieved through a lengthy and sustained effort. Will this now lead to regular international use of the Northern Sea Route for both transits and trade with Siberia and north European Russia? This question could become one of the most interesting in world-wide trade at the turn of the century and beyond.”

Jan Drent, 1993, “Commercial Shipping on the Northern Sea Route” Northern Mariner 3(2): 1-17.


Footnotes and Sources Not Hyperlinked Within the Text:

Thomas D. Hall, Social Change in the Southwest, 1350-1880 (University of Kansas Press, 1989). By way of comparison, Thomas J. Barfield, The Perilous Frontier: Nomadic Empires and China (Basil Blackwell, 1989) and William H. McNeill, Europe’s Steppe Frontier, 1500-1800: A Study of the Eastward Movement in Europe (University of Chicago, 1964).

Peter J. Taylor, Political Geography: World-economy, nation-state and locality (Longman, 1985).

Edward Fox, History in geographic perspective: The other France (W. W. Norton, 1971). See also the following: Edward Fox “The range of communications and the shape of social organization.” Communication 5 (1980): 275-287; and Edward Fox “The argument: Some reinforcements and projections,” in Eugene D. Genovese and Leonard J. Hochberg, eds., Geographic perspectives in history (Bookcraft Ltd., 1989), 331-342.

Selected Citations to Publicly Available Sources of Data and Cartography for the Maps:

National Ice Center. 2006, updated 2009. National Ice Center Arctic sea ice charts and climatologies in gridded format. Edited and compiled by F. Fetterer and C. Fowler. Boulder, Colorado USA: National Snow and Ice Data Center. Digital media.

Kenneth J. Bird, Ronald R. Charpentier, Donald L. Gautier, David W. Houseknecht, Timothy R. Klett, Janet K. Pitman, Thomas E. Moore, Christopher J. Schenk, Marilyn E. Tennyson and Craig J. Wandrey, 2008, Circum-Arctic resource appraisal; estimates of undiscovered oil and gas north of the Arctic Circle:  U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 2008-3049, 4 p. Available at http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2008/3049/.

Michael Bradshaw. “A New Russian Heartland.” Department of Geography, The University of Leicester. Available at http://www.geog.le.ac.uk/russianheartland/


Copyright Robert Aguirre. Posted December 7, 2010.