Whoever rules the Eastern Europe will rule the Heartland, whoever rules the Heartland will rule the World Island, and whoever rules the World Island will rule the world! This theses became known, as the Heartland Theory, defined by Sir Halford John Mackinder, a famous English geographer, academic and politician. Heartland is a vast area of central Asia located between the Carpathians in the west, the Hindukush mountain range in the south and the Altai Mountains in the east. In the north it is surrounded by the Baltic Sea. Mackinder is considered one of the founders of geopolitics and geo-strategy, who wrote a paper in the 1904 entitled “The Geographical Pivot of History“, where he presented this theory and became famous for it.
Mackinder divided the world into three major geographical regions: The World Island, the Coastal Islands, and the Periphery Islands. The largest land mass in the world, which consists of Europe, Asia and Africa, he called the World Island. About 87% of the world’s population live in this area, which is at the same time the richest area with the world’s resources. The Coastal Islands are Japan and the British Isles, while the Peripheral Islands, according to his theory, are North and South America and Australia. Mackinder considered Eastern Europe as an extraordinary important region, which borders Heartland, therefore in his opinion, Eastern Europe has the best position to use Heartland’s resources. He felt that the countries belonging to the Coastal and Peripheral Islands were in a weaker position to take control of the Heartland. It is difficult to conduct a successful invasion to the Heartland, since it is protected by mountain ranges from the south and the sea from the north. He also called Heartland a “pivot zone”. According to him, Russia is the central state of the world due to its geographical position, since controls the “pivot zone” or the Heartland.
Mackinder’s theory is a combination of several factors that, by their dynamics, influence geopolitical movements, namely geographical position, political power and war strategy. If the forces of demography and economics are added, it is clear why the Heartland’s control is important. It is the reason whyMackinder assumed that control over Eastern Europe ensures control over the Heartland, control over the Heartland ensures control over the World Island, and control over the World Island creates the preconditions for the World control. Although theory has suffered many criticisms and even rejections, there are still strategists who question it and claim that the great geopolitical games are based on its matrix.
Contrary to Heartland theory is the Rimland theory, set up by Nicholas Spykman in 1942. Spykman was a professor of international relations at the Yale University who explainedhis theory during the World War II when he wrote the book “American Strategy in World Politics”. The Rimland theory holds that the main power belongs to the countries around the edge of Europe and Asia, thus controlling the Heartland. Spykman was an opponent of Heartland theory. During the World War II, strategists applied his theory with prevailing opinion that a combined naval and land force in the Rimlandarea could maintain control over the Soviet Union.
In the belt that encompasses Rimland, stretching from the farEast Asia, through Southeast Asia, India, the Middle East, then Southern and Western Europe, is passing the most of the world’s goods transit between the sea and the land. Professor Spykman considered that the control of coastal countries and the sea, gives an advantage over the control of the land itself. On the other hand, the critics’ argument was that Spykman did not take into account air control and nuclear warfare.
It is possible to list shortcomings for both, the Heartland and the Rimland theory, but they are certainly still being studied and taken as a basis for adopting new geopolitical strategies.The truth cannot be denied that most of the wars of the 20th century were fought on the Rimland belt. In broader areabehind the Carpathians the World War I began in 1914, and then the last war on European soil in the former Yugoslavia. Even today, political games of influence are being fought in the Balkans between NATO and Russia, which openly uses its power to stop integration of the remaining Balkan countries into the North Atlantic Alliance. Beneath that competition, the contours of both theories are clearly visible. The Biden administration’s announcements that will renew the American alliance with Europe, and give support to the Western Balkans on the path of integration into NATO and the European Union,are encouraging. Ending this process would permanently stop tensions that are equally a threat to both, local and world peace.