Changing Geopolitical Scenarios

Authored by: Juan Luis Suárez de Vivero , Juan Carlos Rodríguez Mateos , David Florido del Corral , Fernando Fernández Fadón

Routledge Handbook of Ocean Resources and Management

Print publication date:  October  2015
Online publication date:  October  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415531757
eBook ISBN: 9780203115398
Adobe ISBN: 9781136294822


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The shift from the twentieth to the twenty-first century is associated with deep structural changes in geopolitical balances. These, in turn, are connected with other aspects in the realms of the economy, the environment, science and technology. In geographical terms, these changes are resulting in a rearrangement of areas of power and the rise of new political actors; for their importance in the media, the so-called emerging countries, especially Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC) are a case-in-point of this type of change, where emerging actors displace those that ‘historically’ used to wield power. In political theory, the notion of territory has been closely linked to that of the State, the existence of which requires a geographical area over which to exercise power and a social body vitally rooted in emerged land that might result in a fortuitous maritime space of diffuse political substance. As regards geopolitical thought, from the time that it was founded modern geography instituted spatial schemes of political organisation for systems with relevance on the world scale that combined the large territorial areas of a recently explored world. Even recognising the importance of the oceans in shaping grand geostrategic visions, they were, for the most part, considered as no more than an encasement (as a result of which classical geographers, such as Carl Ritter and Richthofen, did not include them as part of the oikouménē) (Suárez de Vivero, 1979), lacking the territorial and political entity that would allow them to be regarded as the core subjects of geopolitical statements. It is since changes have begun to take place in the power balances on the global scale (including the decline in the maritime powers of the imperialist past) and the new law of the sea has consolidated (which occurred in parallel with the decolonisation process) that new spaces of geographical interest characterised by their consisting predominantly of marine areas have begun to be defined. In this way, emerging countries have not only changed the correlation of economic and political forces, but have also reconfigured the geopolitical chessboard (Brzezinski, 1997), to which they add their own maritime spaces as part of the general ‘maritimisation’ process, not only in the economic (Vigarié, 1990), but also in the geopolitical sense. States, as territorial units used as the basis for the construction of the political world, gradually take in the marine domain through jurisdictional expansion (i.e. exclusive economic zones) while geographical features, such as islands, archipelagos and the continental shelf, enable rights of sovereignty to be expanded. This chapter describes some of the geographical features that as a result of the formulation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) are transforming States’ territorial bases and changing hierarchies hereto based exclusively on emerged land, and identifies new areas of geostrategic interest linked to the incorporation of new political actors and their areas of influence over the ocean. With this exercise in maritime geography it is also hoped to provide an interpretation of the scenarios where power is exercised and of some of the key concepts and historical background that refer back to the early approaches of classical geopolitics.

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