What Is Mackinder's Heartland Theory?

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Sir Halford John Mackinder was a British geographer who wrote a paper in 1904 called "The Geographical Pivot of History." Mackinder's paper suggested that the control of Eastern Europe was vital to control of the world. Mackinder postulated the following, which became known as the Heartland Theory:

Who rules Eastern Europe commands the Heartland
Who rules the Heartland commands the World Island
Who rules the World Island commands the world

The "heartland" he also referred to as the "pivot area" and as the core of Eurasia, and he considered all of Europe and Asia as the World Island. 

In the age of modern warfare, Mackinder's theory is widely considered outdated. At the time he proposed his theory, he took into consideration world history only in the context of conflict between land and sea powers. Nations with large navies were at an advantage over those that could not successfully navigate the oceans, Mackinder suggested. Of course, in the modern era, the use of aircraft has greatly changed the ability to control territory and provide defensive capabilities. 

The Crimean War

Mackinder's theory was never fully proven because no one power in history had actually controlled all three of these regions at the same time. But the Crimean War came close. During this conflict, waged from 1853 to 1856, Russia fought for control of the Crimean Peninsula, part of Ukraine.

But it lost to an allegiance of the French and British, which had more effective naval forces. Russia lost the war even though the Crimean Peninsula is geographically closer to Moscow than to London or Paris.

Possible Influence on Nazi Germany

Some historians have conjectured that Mackinder's theory may have influenced Nazi Germany's drive to conquer Europe (although there are many who think the eastward push of Germany that led to World War II just happened to coincide with Mackinder's heartland theory).

The concept of geopolitics (or geopolitik, as Germans called it) was proposed by Swedish political scientist Rudolf Kjellen in 1905. Its focus was political geography and combined Mackinder's heartland theory with Friedrich Ratzel's theory on the organic nature of the state. Geopolitical theory was used to justify a country's attempts to expand based on its own needs. 

In the 1920s, German geographer Karl Haushofer used the geopolitik theory to support Germany's invasion of its neighbors, which it viewed as "expansion." Haushofer posited that densely populated countries like Germany should be allowed and were entitled to expand and acquire the territory of less-populated countries.

Of course, Adolf Hitler held the much worse view that Germany had some kind of "moral right" to acquire the lands of what he termed "lesser" races. But Haushofer's geopolitik theory provided support for the expansion of Hitler's Third Reich, using pseudoscience.

Other Influences of Mackinder's Theory

Mackinder's theory also may have influenced Western powers' strategic thinking during the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States, as the Soviet Union had control over the former East Bloc countries. 

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Rosenberg, Matt. "What Is Mackinder's Heartland Theory?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/what-is-mackinders-heartland-theory-4068393. Rosenberg, Matt. (2020, August 27). What Is Mackinder's Heartland Theory? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-mackinders-heartland-theory-4068393 Rosenberg, Matt. "What Is Mackinder's Heartland Theory?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-mackinders-heartland-theory-4068393 (accessed June 1, 2023).