The Politics of the ‘Geo’: the Art of Geopolitics during the Cold War, Contemporary Global Politics and Indonesia’s Position

As the global community fights with the pandemic of the coronavirus with its many consequences and impacts. The growing tension of the global power rivalry between the United States and the People’s Republic of China didn’t diminish at all. On the contrary, the two power seems to be more eager in exerting their power and influences, now even in vaccine issues. This breaks the illusion that the likelihood of humanity to face a major war is almost zero in a foreseeable future, is not necessarily true. As the race towards a global power between China and the United States continues, we shall see the use of every mode of methods using by the two countries to win and checkmate their rivals movements. States, especially big power states, as a political organism has always been able to or strives to find a leeway to achieve their objectives in any way possible or available for them, thus the asymmetric or hybrid methods. Combined with this, as the space of human interaction has become hyper-connected; as the traffics of peoples and information and ideas become more rapid, often too much and easily create confusion; and the world becomes more and more interdependence to each other. So is the interaction dynamics within the global system. Leaders and policymakers in every country, in either developed or developing countries, is now facing a far more challenging task in how to govern their respective territories and move forward.
The best answer to these challenges, in my opinion, is to back to the basic, “understand ourselves”. To be clear-headed and vigilant as not to lose our roots and footings, understanding of ourselves, our living space, our interests and aspirations, and our limitations are the best way to reflect in this turbulent and uncertain era. The reality that Indonesia is consists of more than 17.000 islands, more than 300 ethnolinguistic groups and tribes, multiple religious groups, and the body of waters, straits, etc., that connect us as a whole nation, is an undeniable fact. So, Indonesia’s shift towards a more maritime orientation, then, should be deemed as a natural shift. It is a necessary step, rather than the opposite. It is not about big ambition. It is about how we, as a human being, have to naturally adapt to our various dimension of space, our geographical reality, then seek the economic values within it to realize our promise to the population (social contract) as has been stated in the preamble of our Constitutions, UUD 1945, that is:
1) Melindungi segenap bangsa Indonesia dan seluruh tumpah darah Indonesia
2) Memajukan kesejahteraan umum
3) Mencerdaskan kehidupan bangsa, dan
4) Ikut melaksanakan ketertiban dunia yang berdasarkan kemerdekaan, perdamaian abadi dan keadilan sosial.
The shifting toward a maritime orientation also does not mean that our ‘business’ and interest in land is neglected. On the contrary, things that happened on land with those that out at the sea are connected and complemented to each other. The word “maritime” itself, is a big word that should not limitedly be translated as “eating more seafood or sea-based products” or, maybe “a bigger portion for naval expenditure”, “more maritime diplomacy” etc. But most importantly about how we see ourselves, and how to cultivate our capability – means the mobilization of political, economic or social capacity, etc. – and working them together to create what they called as ‘relative efficiency’, so not only we can master our habitat but also influence the actions of other actors or have relative control over them (exert power). Or in reverse, we can have better immunization or able to resist the influences of other actors in the international system. That is one of the big goals. But how can we master our living habitat and cultivate those capabilities? By using the space or the ‘Geo’ dimension of earth or physical space that is available to us. This is where the study of geopolitics came and our understanding of the subject becomes the utmost important, especially in today’s world where everything seems so confusing and rendered us to lose our footing.
A. Geopolitics or the Politics of the ‘Geo’: the Art of Geopolitics
Our understanding of geopolitics may differ from each other. But in essence, there is geopolitics as a study and there is geopolitics as an art, a part of statecraft. Thus, the politics of the “Geo”. To better understand this subject, the best way is by learning how geopolitics is practiced throughout history, especially those in the Cold War periods, in Europe and today. But let’s start with a word to word definition. The word “Geo” in geopolitics is derived from the Greek word “Gaia” or “Geae” which means “earth” or the goddess of the earth in Greek mythology. If we add the word “Graphy” as in “geography” as it is closely related to the study of geopolitics, “Graphy” means “writing’ which is derived from the word “graphika” also in Greek. So geography means ‘the writing of the earth’, often in a physical sense, or “the writings of the physical space of the earth” . Thus, what a geographer does is writing about the nature of the earth or the physical space of the earth. The terms “geopolitics” or “the politics of the ‘Geo’ can be roughly translated as “the politics of the earth-space”. The terms of ‘politic’ itself, derived from the word “politika” which means “the art of governing the polis” from Aristotle’s book of the same name.”Governing” means the organization of society and the distribution of resources – the picking of leader and distribution of power, as well as the distribution of welfare; and “polis” from the word “polity” means ‘a self-governing political group inhabiting a particular space’. Before things start confusing, here are several examples of how the ‘art of geopolitics’ is practiced or implemented as an example.
Example: German Geopolitics
As a nation at the center of the European continent, Germany and its immediate surrounding are the densest concentration of wealth in the world. Its extensive navigable waterways and arable lands give the country an edge in trade and commercial activities. Yet for all of its advantages, the country is utterly exposed to neighboring powers which then determined the geopolitics of Germany for the last two centuries. Located in central Europe the Federal Republic of Germany enjoys some of the best and worst of geography. The south of the country is defined by its mountainous terrain that is partially dominated by the Alps. While the north exists the flat terrain and borders the Baltic and North seas. Besides, spread interchangeably throughout Germany are vast fields of arable plateaus rich forests. Yet perhaps the most distinguishable geographic feature is the dense concentration of navigable waterways.
Germany hosts at least seven major rivers that are commercially navigable and they play an enormous role in the geoeconomic prospects of the country. For instance, the Rhine which enticed into the north sea is north Europe’s longest navigable river and the world’s busiest internal waterway. The Rhine allows for the cost-effective transportation of goods into the German inlet. Along the river and its smaller tributaries are hosts of major cities and commercial hubs like Dusseldorf, Essen, Dortmund, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, and many more. Other examples of navigable rivers include the Wesser and the Elbe. These waterways and their tributaries link major populations hubs like Bremen, Hannover, and Hamburg to the North sea, while the other river in the east allows the Germans to reach the Baltic sea. Then there is the Danube in the South that connects the industries city of Munich to the Black Sea. There are dozens more navigable rivers and canals, but the large demographic clusters along the Rhine, Elbe, Wesser, and Danube formed Germany’s heartland. However, because of that many rivers, the heartland does not formed a single unified compartment. There are instead multiple seats of power that for most of their history, the German heartland territories developed separately until the country unified in 1871. Even then, national unity remained a fragile concept.
Following the disastrous fallout of World War II, the Germans were once again divided. This time, however, along with the parameters of the cold war. This situation lasted until the 1990s when modern Germany finally reunified. Today, Berlin is the most populous city and wheels of the most political power. However, in addition to the capital, there are political and economic seeds of power in Frankfurt. Cologne, Munich, and Hamburg. To maintain unity, Germany as a whole is a federal entity. The result is that political power is widely decentralized and distributed across the country. This brings forth Berlin’s first political objective which is to ensure its territorial integrity by maintaining a complex political balance between the federal states within the country. More often than not, political unity is easier when wealth is abundant and Germany’s extensive navigable waterways. Combined with its access to seaports and the country’s central location in Europe, and supported by a sophisticated infrastructure network, practically guarantees that German’s industrial and agricultural surpluses enjoy much lower transportation costs. Ultimately, it gives the government in Berlin a competitive edge in trade, which is why Germany is the third-largest exporter in the world and as a result a prosperous nation. Taken together, Germany’s geography grants an impeccable advantage in terms of trade, technology, and communication, as well as the accumulation of massive amounts of capital from those activities. This is also why the Germans have always been able to swiftly recover from military conflicts. Yet, as remarkable as this sounds, wealth is not evenly distributed across the country.
According to the Germany Central Bank, the wealthiest 10 percent owns 63 percent of the assets. While the bottom 50 percent have less than 3 percent of the total wealth. This stark of economic disparity is especially noticeable between the west and eastern part of the country. Take a look at the graphic on the left. The stark contrast between west and east Germany is partially due to the communist past and partially due to the layout of the rivers. Most specifically, waterways in the western part of Germany have better access to other capital-rich ports and hubs in western Europe and out to the ocean. Whereas the rivers in the eastern part of the country mostly have to access via the underdeveloped eastern European region. So the layout of the rivers makes the development of the eastern part of Germany slightly more complicated than that of West Germany. This complex situation is Berlin’s second geopolitical objective. Berlin must mitigate the regional inequalities to prevent social unrest. To answer these tasks, Berlin then adopted a social-economic policy by distributing the economic resources through a wide selection of social safety net so the general public wouldn’t necessarily feel the economic disparity. The problem is, because nearly half of Germany’s GDP derives from export, Berlin’s generous social policy to ease the economic disparity can only sustainable as long as it can maintain access to their markets. This is where the European Union comes into play. Roughly a third of Germany’s export heads for member states within the eurozone. Should this market collapsed, it would trigger a massive internal crisis within Germany because its economic and social well-being is inherently linked to the existence of the European Union. This unique predicament brings forth another geopolitical objective, the third. Regardless of the banking and fiscal disputes, the bailouts the austerity measures the flow of refugees, etc., the Berlin government has to do whatever it takes to maintain the eurozone as the market for German goods and services. For the sake of domestic stability, it must ensure the survival of the European Union.
In this context, the European block also fulfills another political objective, the fourth, which is Germany’s relationship with regional powerhouses. For all its advantages Germany finds itself in between present and historical European powers including the Dutch, French, British, Italians, Austrians, Danish, Swedes, Poles, and Russians. South Germany is relatively secure, but in the north, the country is exposed to multiple fronts in the flat terrain of the European Plain. Although Berlin’s tactics to deal with the dilemma have changed over the 20th century. The modern objective to keep Paris and Moscow at bay has remained the same. Modern Germany and France have dealt with their mutual problem by interlocking themselves in European Institutions. When the Eurozone came out in full force in 2002 it quickly became an indispensable market for German industries. This dependency reassures France and Germany of their security concerns in the European Plain and this understanding is a geopolitical objective that must be maintained. Because it allows Berlin to secure its western side while Paris secures its eastern flank. However, the east side, which faces Russia, is a more complicated matter. Here is where NATO has proven its great value for Germany. While the EU has allowed Germany to deal with France, NATO has allowed the German leadership to reduce hazards from the Russian side. This distinct situation explains why Berlin has traditionally operated as a strong advocate of the expansion of the EU and NATO into central and eastern Europe (former Warsaw Pact nations and the Baltic states). Because the more the EU and NATO expand eastward the more secure Germany gets. Because by encouraging European integration, Berlin gains political, legal, and economic leverage across much of the European plain. This in turn creates an effective buffer zone between Germany and Russian. However, this policy also has its consequences. The EU and NATO expansion have damaged Berlin relations with the Kremlin because Russia’s objective is to push westward. The result of this collision of interests is a prolonged crisis in Ukraine, mutual sanctions, and an overall breakdown of diplomatic relations between Berlin and Moscow. This stalemate is unlikely to change anytime soon. Russia and Germany may not border one another, but the fact that both of their heartlands occupied the same lowland plains means that they must seek to extend their buffer zones west and east respectively. An ideal situation for Germany would be a relationship with Russia which benefits both sides.
The final, the fifth, objectives of Germany is to secure its maritime access in the North Sea and Baltic sea. In this regard, the Kiel Canal in north Germany by the Jutland peninsula is particularly important because it links the Baltic Sea to the North sea through German territory, bypassing the Danish straits. However, guaranteeing the security of its north straits in the North and Baltic seas is beyond the ability of Berlin since it requires a capable Blue Water navy which is one of the costliest endeavors a nation can undertake. In the west, the solutions usually come down to an alliance with global maritime power, the US. However, German-American relations are complex. As a nation that was partially defeated, occupied and rebuilt by the Americans, Berlin has mixed feelings for Washington. This is visible in the current friction between German’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and US President Donald Trump which concerns Germany’s large trade surplus. While the Trump administrations have toned down its criticisms, the politician in Berlin remains anxious. Because their export-driven economy has a lot to lose in a trade dispute. In the past, maritime rivals managed to shift the balance of power in the European plain by siding with the coalition against Germany. To avoid a repeat of history, Berlin has to remain in a friendly term with Washington, so it can continue to dominate its environment through economic and diplomatic means. Such an alliance, however, will not be without costs. As such berlin will have to find ways to remain relevant to the US.
In essence, the geopolitics of Germany stems from its immediate surroundings. The extensive waterways formed the backbone of the country and give the German industries a competitive edge over their rivals. But for all its strengths, Germany has substantial vulnerabilities. To fully secure its interests, Germany must maintain unity among its seats of economic and political power within the country; it must ensure domestic stability by reducing financial inequalities through its social safety programs which can only be sustained by maintaining the eurozone as a market for German’s goods and services. At the same time, Germany must secure its western and eastern flank along the European plain by encouraging EU integration to deal with France, and NATO integration to bolster its buffer zone against Russia. Furthermore, Berlin must also work closely with Washington to secure its maritime access to the Baltic and North sea. Ultimately, the tactics used by the German may have changed throughout history but those objectives that form the geopolitics of Germany remain the same.
From the explanation above, we can learn just how geographical dimensions could shape the geopolitics of a country. How they run their nation, extract resources and create wealth, then how the geographical advantages and limitations are used to exert influences over others in practice, and how those “geo” dimension shaped country geopolitics. Here we will analyze the geopolitics on a worldwide scale, in the Cold War in theory and the current global politics.

B. The Geopolitics of the Cold War and Current Global Politics
The origins of the terms of geopolitics could be traced to the ‘geographical pivot theory’ by British geographer Halford J. McKinder on his journal of “the geographical pivot of history” in 1904. McKinder says that “as the age of the exploration or the Columbian Epoch, which lasted around 400 years, ended around the 1900s. We shall again have to deal with a closed political system and nonetheless it will be one of a worldwide scope which every explosion of social forces, instead of being dissipated in a surrounding circuit of unknown space and barbaric chaos, will be sharply re-echoed from the far side of the globe. And weak elements in the political and economic organisms of the world will be shattered in consequences” (McKinder, 1904). In another word, as the age of exploration is ended in which almost every physical part of the world has been discovered -as well as their respective politics, society, and economic uniquity- so is the mobilization and movements of people, business and technocrat that follows the step of explorer to the previously unknown world. There is, in a harsh word, no other way to gain materialistic values of those worlds without getting into violence. As every part of those maps had already been discovered, even those of the Arctic and the Poles, and has their own ‘master’. Moreover, with technology, railways, and ships at that time, things that happened in the faraway land could affect those in the homeland and worldwide. And every weak element in the political and economic organisms of the world will be affected or even shattered in consequences.
McKinder’s‘ geographical pivot theory’ or ‘heartland theory’ is widely famous among strategists, policymakers, and international relations students alike. McKinder divided the world into three bodies. The first was the world island or Pivot area, which consists of Europe, Asia, and Africa. Second, the offshore islands or inner or marginal crescents, like the British isles and the Japanese archipelago. Lastly, the outlying islands or outer/insular crescents, which refers to the Americas and Australia. Within this perimeter, McKinder put special emphasis on the world islands or pivot area as this was the most populous and resources-rich land combination. Combined with technological advancement especially long-range railways such as those Trans-Siberia railways, McKinder argued that whoever controlled those pivot areas, would be able to extract the rich and abundant resources within those areas and gain the means to dominate the globe. Within the world island, however, was the heartland region which stretched from the Volga to the Yangtze, and from the Arctic to the Himalayas. This was the core domain of the world island power. Further dissecting the world island were the flat plain of eastern Europe. Here, McKinder argued, that the heartland power has most likely emerged. So, any power-seeking for global supremacy would need to start from the eastern part of Europe. A summary of his theory are often quoted and can be summarized in the following passage:
“Who rules East Europe command the Heartland; who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island; who rules the world Island controls the world” – Halford J. McKinder
Going by this theory, McKinder explained international relations by observing how pivot island were trying to conquer or at least prevent a singular power from dominating the heartland. This concept also explained why Britain always fought with whoever tried to conquer continental Europe like Napoleon in France, Nazi Germany, and the Soviet Union. On the other hand, as an offshore island, Britain was destined to act as regional police since the balance of power in Europe was vital for its independence.
Prior to McKinder’s writing, there was actually a prominent writer on geopolitics, that is American Historian, Alfred Thayer Mahan, who wrote extensively on global politics. His most important writing’s “the Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783” (1890) were extensively used and become mandatory teaching materials for Navy not only in America but also France and German at that time. Even today, Mahan’s works are widely used and have become somewhat mandatory reading materials world-wide. Contrary to McKinder’s theory, Mahan believes that whoever controlled the “world oceans would come to dominate global politics since most people live adjacent to the sea. The notion was that a powerful navy allows one to project power by the way of the sea onto the commercial maritime routes that connect the globe. He argued that in peacetime, national power, security, and prosperity depended on the sea as a means of transportation. Meanwhile, in the wartime, seapower, which resulted from naval supremacy, provided the means of attacking the enemies’ trade and threatening his interests ashore, whilst protecting our own. This is why, he argued that the seapower would prosper in peacetime, prevail in the wartime, and could enable one to dominate world events. By this, Mahan concluded that control of the sea by maritime commerce and naval supremacy means predominant influence in the world, and is the chief among other material elements in the power and prosperity of nations.
But it has to be noted too, that it is only one factor in general advancement or decay of a nation. The trade produces wealth that leads to maritime strength, and naval strength protects trade but in turn, it depended on: (a) the geography of that nation or the access to sea routes to be precise; (b) physical conformation, to build seaports, etc., for example; (c) the extent of territory of that nation; (d) the population, of who able or have the capacity to sail, or could be defined as the maritime community, that then lead to; (e) the character of people, and most importantly; (f) the character of the government or political will of that nation’s government. Thus, as a naval officer, Mahan knew what he is talking about, and his works greatly influenced the behavior of military, strategists, and policymakers like Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt. For instance, Mahan’s works encourage the American government to purchase Alaska, annexed Hawaii, constructed a strong navy, and confront Spain in a war. In global terms, Mahan’s books “the Influence of Sea Power upon History, even inspired the Japanese to fight the Russian in 1904. Considering his monumental impact Mahan is often considered as a critical strategist in the world’s history. Those two influential figure and their writings are the fundamental ideas of what would happen in the aftermath of WWII and the following era of the Cold War between Russia and the United States
Although McKinder’s works came a bit later than that of Mahan, McKinder’s writing is so important and was also mold the minds of policymakers to come and is often considered as the father of geopolitics as a field of study. The reason was, McKinder’s writing was vindicated by the start of the Cold War but for all the wrong reasons. The timing for McKinder’s works set before the two world wars against Germany, but his forecasts, which was initially written as a warning for the European nations, instead become a manifested destiny of the Soviet Union and the half-decade of the Cold War. Alexander Dugin, for instance, who is a political analyst with close ties to the Kremlin, had repeatedly written about the need for a Russian-based Eurasian power. This is where the terms of ‘geopolitics’ started and became a worldwide practice that last and shaped global politics, especially those in Europe, even today. Rusia’s insistence to strive for what we could refer to as McKinder’s heartland theory, even until today, would be better understood if we take a look at Russia’s geographical reality.
Russia is immense, it spans 5.000 miles across, 2.000 miles vertically, crosses 11 time zones, borders everywhere from Norway to North Korea. It is huge, but it has a problem. A problem that can explain part of why the average Russian living at the same latitude as Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, and Canada but makes only $7.500 per year. A problem that can explain at least a portion of almost every decision the country has ever made. If we look at the map and demography of Russia, the majority of Russians live in Europe. Three-quarters of the country’s populations live in the western part of the country. Therefore, as a country with a fairly centralized power system, many of its decision go to protect the country’s core in and around Moscow. A lot of the success of certain countries over others depends on how well its geography protects it. Russia or at least Moscow had some serious protection problems. Siberia is large enough that no army could invade through it and make it to Moscow. The supply lines would have to be thousands of miles long through inhospitable conditions. Not only that, but the army with one or 2000 miles long supply line, then have to make it over the Ural mountains to get to Moscow. Attacking from the south or west would also take an army either across water or through mountains. By the time the 19th century rolled in, Russian had truly become an unconquerable power. Countries could and can take over portions of Russia, but there is no conceivable way that a single country could fully and conquer Russia. Because to occupy a territory of that size, a country would need an estimated 13 million trained ground troops – more than the 17 largest militaries combined. However, there’s one major flaw to Russia’s geographical defense system, the northern European plain. Whereas every other border has a geographical defense preventing easy invasion from a foreign army, this completely flat plain just acts as a funnel, easily bringing an army from western Europe right up to Moscow. While a large part of the Soviet Union’s motive to expand into eastern Europe was to spread the socialist revolution, Stalin still believed that he needed to create a zone of buffer states to defend Russia against the threat of the USA and its allies in western Europe. The USSR had both manpower and political power to keep the west far from Moscow. And this once again can be at least partially attributed to the Geography . Things start to change as technological advancement, including those in the military equipment of course. To make the matters worse, Russia spy information about the success of the U.S. first ever atomic bomb test, which happened between the Yalta Conference and the Postdam Conference, combined with the trust and mistrust among the actors of that conference, has somewhat forced Stalin into taking an aggressive policy that lasts throughout the Cold War even until now. That Russia has to move westward to protect its heartland. Moreover, despite its size, Russia could never develop economically to the same level as some of its neighbors, because Russia has no significant warm water, ice-free port with direct access to the ocean. So that’s one of the many reasons for Moscow (USSR) with its satellite countries projects.
Before that, in the late 19th and early 20th century, McKinder’s theory, especially the part concerning east Europe also became a source of inspiration for policymakers from Nazi Germany. Karl Haushoffer, a politician and strategist from Munich University argued that Germany’s national interests were to expand to the east. Haushoffer believes that to command authority over eastern Europe and thereby pivot into the heartland one had to control the eastern half of Europe as a collective unit since the landmass was geographically defenseless or lack of barriers like mountains and rivers. As such, Haushoffer sought to promote a Russian-German alliance because their collective output would have overwhelmed the coastal powers such as France, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Most analysts today would argue that there is merit to this claim. However, Haushoffer’s ideas took it to turn the dark side when Adolf Hitler took the cue and then added it to his ‘to do’ lists. Although Haushoffer himself was not a member of the Nazi party, his works influence the Nazi leadership and laid a backdrop for what then we have known as “lebensraum” (living space). This expansionist policy sought to permanently remove the indigenous people and re-populated the land with the Germans settlers with the ultimate goals being able to dominate the heartland and from there, then world island.
Later, a political scientist from Yale University, Nicholas J. Spykman came along and merged the studies of McKinder and that of Mahan. He argued that sea power alone was not enough for global dominance. He believes that whoever controls the Eurasian landmass could come to dominate the world. But he contended that to manage such a vast stretch of land, one would have to control the Rimland which refers to the coastal territory of Eurasia which starts from southern Rusia and Northern China and goes all the way down through Southeast Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, the Caucasus until finally anchoring in Europe. And for a single power, it was an impossible area to dominate. AND THAT IS PRECISELY WHAT MADE IT THE PERFECT PLACE FOR THE LEADING SEA POWER TO CONTAIN THE HEARTLAND POWER. So it’s not surprising that Spykman Rimland theory was used to create the containment strategy that dominated the Cold War.
But, containment was one thing, and the total disintegration of the Soviet Union was an entirely different matter. This is when we enter the word of a Polish statesman, Joseph Pilsudski. Living in between two expansionist power, Germany and Russia were not easy. Poland had to get creative. Its policymakers were first aligned with France and Britain but that didn’t work. The second idea, however, was to unified all the nations in between Germany and Russia into a single federation under the Polish leadership while at the same time supporting the nationalist and secessionists movements within the Soviet Union to weaken it. This was a gist of Pilsudski’s, “Prometheism” concept. Although the initials project failed for its reasons, this geopolitical concept greatly inspired American policymakers, for instance, Zbigniew Brzezinski, who also happens to be a Polish descent and he argued for the Balkanization of Russia, an idea that was taken directly from Pilsudski.
Lessons learned, although one must always consider the historical periods of those studies, because the technological advancement, for instance, is changing many things in our present global politics. But in a general sense, all those concepts remain relevant today. And what that they have in common is about the constituency of geography. Even though the Cold War between the United States has been officially ended for decades now, but remnants are still there looming especially in the European theater. Since the fall of the USSR, Rusia has continued to strive to keep political power in the region. Out of the 15 states that emerged from the Soviet Union, 12 joined a Commonwealth of Independent States with Russia, essentially aligning them politically with Russia. While 3 joined both NATO and the EU – Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. That means that, on paper, Russia still had a strong political buffer between it and western Europe. The Russian exclave of Kaliningrad and the countries of Belarus and Ukraine covered almost all of the Northern European plain. Not only that, but Russia used its influence in Ukraine to sign a long term lease on the warm water port of Sevastopol which greatly expanded the naval capabilities of Russia’s black sea fleet. Except for Ukraine as a whole progresses to be more and more pro-European in the decades following the fall of the Soviet Union. Which was a major reason for Russia’s invasion of Crimea. While on the surface Putin might have claimed that Russia’s invasion was to save the Russians of the area from the increasingly westernizing country. The annexation of Crimea was in reality a strategic imperative to keep the warm water port of Sevastopol. A Ukraine that was friendlier to the west likely would have ended Russia’s lease on the port. So in Putin’s mind, he needed to invade Crimea to prevent a crippling blow to Russia’s ocean access.
In essence, the clash between the US and the USSR during the Cold War could be described as the most epic international power struggle in modern history and was essentially a game of chess on a global scale. Where the Americans sought to contain their Russian counterpart whenever and wherever. Meanwhile, the Soviets fought desperately to break out of the containment by exporting its communist ideology and create its colonies. In the ensuing tug of war, alliances were made, governments were overthrown and the international community was practically split in two. Underneath the disguise of ideology, though, the age-old geopolitical rules guided the contests. So when Putin says that the break up of the Soviet Union was a disaster he is not referred to the collapsed of communism but more of the disintegration of the heartland concept. In this regard, one can argue that the grand chessboard of the Cold War still presents the template of the modern global politics of the 21st century. This is when we shift from the European theater to Asia. The growing tension between the United States and China today is one that almost becomes headlines in media networks. Are we entering into a new Cold War between the US and China now?. If we see the current trend between the two power one might argue that it is true with one difference. The current rivalry between the US and China is still based on the logic of geopolitics. We might already familiar with this map below.
The slights difference between the last Cold War between the US vs the USSR and now the US vs China is that the US and USSR didn’t have any economic ties at all. Meanwhile, the US and China have done many businesses together for so last several decades now (DW Documentary, 2020. Asides from that, all remains essentially the same. It was essentially a game of chess on the global scale where the US will seek to antagonize China whenever and wherever at any current issues, though with a slightly different means than that used to Soviet. Blaming China from economic recessions, the coronavirus, human rights, and many more. Meanwhile, China will vehemently react to such blame. In the ensuing fight for the spheres of influences between the two power, alliances or cooperation between like-minded countries were made and the international community now is once again forced to pick a side. If I might add to this claim, there is one more difference between the current ‘cold war’ and those with the Soviets. It is essentially still a sort of game of chess on the global scale between the US and China. But China didn’t use the same chessboard as the US. China uses its own chessboard of GO and so is its logic. But underneath, the age-old geopolitics rules still guided the contest.
C. Conclusion: Indonesia’s Position and Development
In between all of development in geopolitics of major countries, where is Indonesia standing? What is Indonesia position? How should Indonesia manage and conduct itself? Home to more than 17.000 islands, the largest archipelagic country in the world in which 70 percent of its territory is water, the fouth largest population in the world, positioned in the global maritime trade supply chain and sea lanes of communication, bridging the Indian ocean and the Pacific ocean (look at the map below).

Strategist around the world has agreed that Indonesia’s position in the global economy and global politics is that of hyper strategic position. Our natural resources are abundant from agriculture to minerals, fish, manufacturing, etc. So is our access to the world ocean. But why Indonesia did not grow as fast as that of neighboring countries?. The answer lies half on its geographic problem and a half on the domestic and political wills of the government. The geopolitics foundation of our country is should be seas and port that integrated our countries islands. And it is true that as a home to more than 300 ethnolinguistic groups that spread throughout its thousand islands, maintaining the political unity of our culturally diverse islands poses as our nation’s primary geographic challenge. And history has taught us the hard way that we are indeed really prone or vulnerable to infiltration of outside power to secessionists groups etc. Moreover, Indonesia’s disconnected landmasses and vast maritime stretches present difficulties and limitations to centralized control. And holding this island nation together will require a strong central authority to balance regional aspirations and national interests.
In many ways, Indonesia is ASEAN’s most prominent country. Its destiny will largely determine Southeast Asia’s future as it has nearly half of the Southeast Asia landscape. It goes both ways, as regional stability is also Indonesia’s foreign policy main objective as it will affect the stability and development of our domestics. Just like what the German’s faces, often time the political unity is easier when there is an abundance of wealth and that wealth must be distributed equally throughout the society within the country. Indonesia indeed since a couple of years back has been trying to address this problem. With President Joko Widodo’s vision of Indonesia as a global maritime fulcrum, it lies the hope that Indonesia could finally realize and embrace its geographic realities which in turn could help to cultivate Indonesia’s capability and be able to exert more influence at the very least in the regional architecture. The re-orientation towards maritime is also Indonesia’s attempt to address several domestic governance and management problems because with highly decentralized and social-economic disparity it is easier for social unrest to erupt, criminal activities, and even give birth to proxy-secessionist groups. Many projects addressing Indonesia’s current problem has been going underway since the initiative was launched in 2015. From infrastructure, overall connectivity from the main islands to the outer, remotest and border islands, economic resources, and many more. Despite its slow progress, the efforts are there and have been going underway in process.
Another major problem for Indonesia’s geopolitics, internally, though is that the tendency of Indonesia’s politics to be swayed in face of instability. The geography, the potential, and the problem are still there, but in the end, the mind of the leaders that matters. Because to achieve Indonesia’s as a maritime power, the political will of that nation is of the utmost importance because it cost a large sum of capital, labor, and dedication. And once again, it is not about a big ambition, but the reality is that we live and must survive in that geographical reality and make use of it. The issue is especially striking to Indonesia’s defense outlook and military expenditure. This trend has rendered Indonesia’s tasks of enforcing its archipelagic/maritime outlook over the short term almost impossible. Indonesia’s internal political problems often consuming and drowning strategic, security, defense, and military attention and resources. Combined with the current global situation, the pandemic and new challenges and vulnerabilities from asymmetric/hybrid threats – media propaganda, misinformation, cyber-attacks, and many more- rendered the leader and policymakers in Jakarta to be overwhelmed. The lack of air and naval coverage around Indonesia’s critical straits also emits the unintended signal that it still hard for Indonesia to even master our territory, let alone to be a major strategic player in its own area of maritime interest, one where more than half of the world’s merchant fleet is transverse (William, 2002. p.142). The discourse about the zero potentiality of war in the upcoming decades is also staggering because the threats are there especially in the current development in global politics. And even if we choose to stay on a neutral side, one has to have a certain degree of power or influence under its belt to be heard. It does not necessarily have to be a military force or supremacy. It could form in technology or mastery of our own maritime domain/ geographical space.

McKinder, Halford J. 1904. “The Geographical Pivot of History”. The Geographical Journal. Source:
Tow, Willian T. 2001. “Asia-Pacific Strategic Relations: seeking Covergent Security”. Cambridge Univ. Press.
Mayne, william, et. al. 2017. “Russia’s Geography Problem”. Wendover Production. Source:
Shirvan. 2018. “Geopolitics of Germany”. Caspian Report. Source:
Walker, Richard. 2020. “USA vs China: A New Cold War on a Horizon”. DW News. Source:

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Heni Sugihartini

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Heni Sugihartini was born in Sumedang on November 21, 1993. In 2011 she studied at Program of Study in International Relations, Padjadjaran University, Bandung. She started her career in July 2016 as editorial staff and analyst at the Defense and Maritime Studies Forum (FKPM).
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