GEOG 128
Geography of International Affairs

Geopolitical Codes


Required Reading Reminder

Please begin by reading Chapter 2 of Flint, C. (2016). Introduction to geopolitics (3rd ed.). London: Routledge.

A geopolitical code is the manner in which a country orientates itself to the world. There are five main calculations that define a country’s geopolitical code. They are:

  1. Who are our current and potential allies?
  2. Who are our current and potential enemies?
  3. How can we maintain our allies and nurture potential allies?
  4. How can we counter our current enemies and emerging threats?
  5. How do we justify the four calculations above to our public, and to the global community?

(Taylor and Flint, 2000, p. 62; Flint, 2016, p. 52)

Before we go into greater detail exploring (or operationalizing) the five questions above, we might ask why a particular state actor might be considered an enemy or an ally. In order to identify our friends or foes, we must first understand our own global position (geographically, as well as politically and economically), assets, challenges, aspirations, and historical legacies.

Read: Perspectives

To get better acquainted with the various ways in which particular countries may consider their strategic geopolitical code, read:

A New Dimension of Russia’s Geopolitical Code (June 30, 2013), By Igor Okunev
[The pdf of this article is available in Lesson 2 within the Modules tab in Canvas]

There are numerous ways in which we work to identify, maintain, and nurture the geopolitical relationships with our allies and potential allies. Among these are diplomatic meetings and gestures, economic ties, cross-cultural and educational exchanges, military operations and exercises, and other types of aid.

Similarly, countries may utilize the aforementioned economic, political, or military tactics to counter or contain a current enemy or emerging threat. Two sides of using ‘military might’ to contain or counter enemies are explained in Flint (2016, p. 53). First, mutually assured destruction (MAD) was a geopolitical code during the Cold War, wherein the countries that held the nuclear power (USA, USSR, and Great Britain) were purported to be deterred from using nuclear force, because the capability for annihilation of the enemy and to cause extensive devastation was so extreme that no one dared to instigate war, and, thus, “peace” would be the default. The flip side of militarization to keep the peace is diplomacy. Diplomacy is the “negotiations between governments to, at the least, prevent hostilities and, at best, nurture more friendly relations” (Flint, 2016, p. 53).

Sanctions (and boycotts) are an economic tool used to put pressure on governments to change certain policies or actions. For example, in early 2014, many Western nations imposed sanctions on both individuals and industries within Russia in order to push for peace along the Russia-Ukraine border.

Read: Sanctions

The conflict in Ukraine is very much tied to Russia’s shifting current geopolitical code mentioned in the previous box. Western responses are tied to their own geopolitical codes as well. As such, Western strategies used to confront or contain Russia have implications not only for its leaders and the Russian elite but also, as sanctions continue, can have more long-term negative implications for the civilian population. Such strategies must consider whether or not they will get the targeted results, and at what cost. If sanctions result in greater hardship for the Russian people, it may bolster their support for their government’s actions rather than weakening their support and thereby prompting them to pressure their government to change course.

Ukraine Crisis: EU adopts new sanctions on Russia

The West’s Tricky Economic War with Russia: What if Russians are feeling the squeeze of sanctions but Putin doesn't care?

Representational geopolitics is a key part of the geopolitical code. This is the fifth point in the list of calculations presented above: How do we justify who are our enemies and our allies (and what we do to maintain or constrain these relationships) to our public, and to the global community?

The United States is comprised of a diverse constituency with familial, historic, cultural, and economic ties throughout the globe. Thus, decisions about whether or not to take action in a situation where an ally or enemy is implicated are complex and varied. The sections following, and the third lesson will further detail the ways in which representational geopolitics is a product of immediate situations as well as how they are developed through and built upon stories deposited in national myths and memorials.

Every country has a geopolitical code. While some countries' geopolitical codes may be primarily focused on closely neighboring countries along their borders, others (i.e., China in Southeast Asia or Iran in the Middle East and Arab world) may develop geopolitical codes at the regional level, while a few others (i.e., the United States) may adopt a global geopolitical code and strategy. Nonetheless, regardless of the scale at which a country develops its geopolitical code, they are all embedded in a global geopolitical context.