The Cold War: The Geography of Containment


Gary E. Oldenburger

Independent Study in Geography

Dr. Charles Gildersleeve



The Cold War: The Geography of Containment


            The conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union known as the Cold War has been examined in many different ways.  The term Cold War was used to indicate that while it was a real conflict, the threat of nuclear weapons made direct armed confrontation too dangerous to contemplate.[1]  The exact beginning and ending dates of the conflict cannot be precisely defined, nor can questions of motive or blame be exactly determined.  Most people believe that the conflict began soon after the end of the Second World War, although many trace the origins of the conflict to World War I.[2]  Estimates of a date for the end of the Cold War range from January of 1989 to December 25, 1991, when the Soviet Union was officially dissolved.[3]

            A study of the relevance of some of the traditional theories of political geography to the pursuit of the United States policy of containment must first consider the scope and origins of the containment policy, and the theories which may be applied to the study of containment.  Specifically, the Mackinder Heartland theory, the Spykman Rimland theory, and the organic state theory are applicable to the study of containment.

Origins of Containment

            The battles of the Cold War were fought on nearly every continent and in nearly every country around the globe.  At the heart of the conflict were two very different world-views held by the two nations and their allies.  The Soviet Union viewed capitalism as a monster, which, if unchecked, would consume the entire world with hedonistic abandon.  America viewed Communism as an inherently evil mechanism designed to destroy the rights and liberties of all mankind.  Both sides believed that the other was seeking world domination.[4]  In this way, each side held views that were essentially in line with Friedrich Ratzel's organic state theory, and, to an extent, with Rudolf Kjellen's extensions of the organic state theory. 

Both states were acting to secure their own survival and security.  To do so, they must create a system in which their own power was maximized, while that of their opponents must be reduced.  It was necessary to "absorb politically valuable territory"[5] by direct control or indirect influence in order to ensure the security and survival of the state.  One analyst wrote, "Such a drive to achieve absolute security in a system in which no state could achieve that aim short of total domination left other states insecure and contributed to the volatility of the international system throughout the Cold War."[6]  Thus, in their efforts to pursue the Cold War, the superpowers were involved in a number of "hot" conflicts around the world.

            These conflicts can be characterized by several alternating periods of aggression and reaction.  The Soviets took the lead, with a grab for territory at the end of World War II.  The success of the Soviets in achieving dominance in Eastern Europe, and the apparent desire of the Soviet Union to continue to expand it's sphere of influence into Greece, Turkey, and Iran caused great alarm in the United States.  It was at this time that the policy of containment was crafted, and the United States began to implement elements of the containment strategy.

            The United States drafted its strategy for meeting the post-war Soviet threat in 1947.  George Kennan, an American diplomat serving in Moscow, proposed a strategy in an anonymous article in the July 1947 edition of Foreign Affairs magazine.  In his article, Mr. Kennan proposed, "a long-term patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies" through "counter-force at a series of constantly shifting geographical and political points."  This soon became the impetus for the development of the containment policy by the Truman administration.  President Truman identified two key components to the containment strategy: the formation of regional alliances and providing economic and military assistance to other nations to prevent communist expansion.[7]

            American administrations from Truman to George H.W. Bush pursued the strategy of containment in one form or another.  The actions of the Soviet Union during the Cold War and the American response to those actions through the containment policy can be viewed in relation to the Heartland concept of Sir Alfred J. Mackinder, and the Rimland theory of Nicholas Spykman, as well as the organic state theory.  The key question regarding the Cold War which faces the student of geography is: 

Do the actions and outcomes of the Cold War validate or invalidate traditional theories of political geography?

            To answer this question, it is necessary to view the events of the Cold War in the context of these theories.

Containment in Mackinder's Heartland and Spykman's Rimland

            Sir Halford Mackinder first proposed his Heartland theory in 1904.  In his view, the entire continent of Eurasia was viewed as one landmass, with Europe being one of its peninsulas.  He also described the combined continents of Eurasia and Africa as the World-Island.  Mackinder designated the north central area of Eurasia as the Heartland.  He also referred to it as the "Pivot Area," since control of this area was essential to control of the entire continent.  He predicted that Russia, the owner of the Heartland, with its massive land power and abundant natural resources would have the capacity to challenge British and Japanese sea power and obtain control of all of Eurasia.

Outside of the central Eurasian "Pivot Area" lay the "Inner or Marginal Crescent," which, on Mackinder's Eurasia-centered map, spanned from the Baltics around the European and Asian coasts to eastern Siberia.  Control of this area would ensure the dominance of the Heartland power over the entire world.  He proclaimed: "Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland, Who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island, Who rules the World-Island commands the world."[8]  Mackinder's Heartland concept as originally presented is illustrated in Figure 1.

Figure 1.  From Spykman, The Geography of the Peace, 36

As can be seen from this illustration, the Heartland includes virtually all of the Soviet Union.  Mackinder's later revisions move the Heartland westward, to include Eastern Europe, but including less of Siberia.  The Siberian area, called Lenaland after the Lena River, was not considered to be part of the Heartland, but was considered as a resource base for the Heartland power.  Another map of Mackinder's concept is in Figure 2.

Figure 2 From Polelle, Raising Cartographic Consciousness, 57.

At the end of World War II, it seemed as though Mackinder's prediction was coming true.  One War Department analyst wrote: "'With Germany crushed, there is no power in Europe to oppose her [the Soviet Union's] tremendous military forces . . . The conclusions from the foregoing are obvious . . . without question she will dominate Europe on the defeat of the Axis.'"[9]  The Soviet Union had also made large territorial gains in Asia, obtaining portions of Manchuria, North Korea, and some Japanese islands.

Mackinder was countered in 1944 by Spykman's Rimland theory.  Spykman contended that the Heartland power would be immobilized by difficulties with internal lines of communication and lack of mobility to expand beyond the physical barriers along its borders.  Spykman felt that the domination of the Rimland (Mackinder's Marginal Crescent) would guarantee a naval and air power complete dominance over the earth.  Spykman concluded, "Who controls the rimland rules Eurasia; who rules Eurasia controls the destinies of the world."[10]

Spykman's Rimland is depicted in Figure 3.

Figure 3 From Polelle, Raising Cartographic Consciousness, 118.

            As can be seen in Figure 3, Spykman's Heartland and Rimland areas closely matched those depicted by Mackinder.  However, the emphasis was on the Rimland and it's position between the Heartland and the seas.  The Rimland must be capable of contending both with the Heartland's land power, and the naval powers on its coasts.  This unique advantage of the Rimland to compete with both forms of power is a significant advantage.  In addition, the Rimland contains large material and population resources.

The starting point for our analysis will be the map of the post-war world devised by the three great powers at the Yalta Conference in July 1943.  At Yalta, Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin foresaw the eventual Allied victory in World War II.  It was necessary for them to define the roles they each would play in the defeat and occupation of the Axis nations.  Key components of the Yalta Agreement were:

1.  The British and French colonial empires would not be dismantled.

2.   A United Nations organization was to be formed following the war.

3.  The colonies of the Axis powers were to be governed under a protectorate system by the United Nations.

4.   Under terms of the Secret Agreement between Roosevelt and Stalin, American and Soviet troops were to meet at the Elbe River, which would separate Germany into eastern and western occupation zones.  In addition, the Soviets were to maintain primary influence over Eastern Europe as a buffer zone.  However, Stalin assured Roosevelt that he would support self-government and free elections in the nations of Eastern Europe.[11]

5.   Three days following the defeat of Germany, the Soviet Union would enter the war on the eastern front against Japan.  The Soviets would liberate Manchuria and Korea north of the 38th parallel, while the U.S. would occupy Korea south of the 38th parallel. In addition, the Soviets would gain control of the Japanese Kuril Islands, effectively placing the entire Sea of Okhotsk under Soviet control.

Figures 4 and 5 depict the areas under Soviet control at the end of the war.  These figures describe the starting lines of the Cold War.

Figure 4  From Tosevic, The World Crisis in Maps, 53.

Figure 5 From Knox, Human Geography, 372.

            The Soviet Union took the advantage early in the Cold War.  In the closing days of World War II, the Soviets sought to occupy as much territory as they possibly could.  Most of the new Soviet territory is within the Rimland.  In Eastern Europe, the Communists quickly set up puppet governments and placed communists in virtually every position of power.  The West now understood that Stalin's concept of "free and open government" was quite different from Roosevelt's.  The Soviets incorporated territory gained in Asia into its republics. North Korea and Iran remained under Soviet Army occupation.

            At the beginning of the Cold War, the Soviets had established their sphere of control over portions of the Rimland.  As of yet, the Allies were unaware that a confrontation lay ahead.  They still believed that the Soviets would honor the terms of the Yalta Agreements in withdrawing its occupation forces and assisting in the establishment of independent governments in formerly occupied territories.

            The Soviets established the Rimland as the key battleground of the Cold War.  Spykman argued that the key to maintaining post-war stability lay in preventing any power from obtaining control of the Rimland.  Kennan concluded that the key to the success of containment was industrial might.  There were five industrial centers in the world: the United States, Britain, West Germany, Japan, and the Soviet Union.  The US and its allies owned four of the five, and the Soviets only one.  To be successful, containment must limit the Soviets to that one.[12]  Two of the four industrial centers controlled by the US and its allies were in the Marginal Crescent, the others, Japan and the United States, were in the outer.  In addition, key territory within the Rimland included the oilfields of the Middle East, and warm-water seaports in the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean, and the Pacific.

            The first contests of the Cold War were in Turkey, Greece, and Iran.  The Soviet Union refused to remove its troops from Iran by March of 1946, the date agreed upon by the governments of Iran, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union.  Instead, the Soviet Union sought to exploit the oil resources of Iran, as well as using its position there to gain influence and concessions from Turkey and Iran.  Confronted with American and British pressure in the United Nations, the Soviets agreed to withdraw their troops by May 1946.  This was the Allies first victory against the Soviet Union.  Meanwhile, Britain was financially unable to continue its support for the anti-Communist governments of Turkey and Greece.  Great Britain requested the assistance of the United States in the prevention of communist expansion into these countries.

            In response, President Truman in March of 1947 made a speech to Congress requesting aid to the governments of Greece and Turkey.  In this speech, he outlined the elements of the Truman Doctrine: the United States must act to "help free peoples to maintain their free institutions and their national identity against aggressive movements that seek to impose upon them totalitarian regimes" and that these regimes "undermine the foundations of international peace and hence the security of the United States."[13]  The United States must therefore "assist free peoples to work out their own destinies in their own way."  The administration then began to put Kennan's containment strategy into action.

            As discussed earlier, the United States attempted to counter the Soviet threat through the formation of regional alliances and by providing economic and military assistance to nations vulnerable to Soviet penetration.  Initially, these efforts were concentrated on the Rimland, and then later moved into the outer crescent.

Between 1947 and 1960, the United States formed mutual security agreements with forty-six nations.  These included agreements with most of the Rimland nations, as well as many nations in the outer crescent.  The only areas not covered by these pacts were Africa and most nations in the Middle East.  Africa remained largely under control of the colonial powers of Western Europe and within the West's sphere of influence.[14]  And while most of the Middle Eastern nations were not included in regional security alliances, President Eisenhower issued the Eisenhower Doctrine, promising to oppose any communist encroachment in the Middle East.[15] 

These alliances surrounded the Soviet Union and its allies with a ring of nations pledged to come to each other's aid if any member became a victim of Soviet aggression.  This effectively limited the paths of Soviet expansion.  This encirclement of alliances is depicted in Figure 6.


Figure 6 From McCormick, American Foreign Policy, 50.


The first test of containment came in Korea in June of 1950.  The communist regime of Kim Il Sung, with the approval of Stalin and Mao Tse Dong, sought to forcefully reunite North and South Korea.  The United States, though completely surprised and unprepared, reacted quickly to the communist aggression.  Troops from the army of occupation in Japan were sent to assist the withering South Korean army.  The United States was able to garner the support of the United Nations, and a multinational force with troops from several Asian nations was sent to Korea.  When American forces seeking to liberate North Korea approached the Chinese border, China sent more than a million troops to stop the capitalist aggression.  Eventually, a stalemate was reached in 1953, with the lines near the 38th parallel, where they began.  While neither side gained any additional power or territory, the Korean conflict demonstrated the United States' resolve to back up its containment policy with force.

            The Soviet Union, however, had found a way to bypass the containment ring.  Since 1919, the Soviet Union had been operating Communist International, or Comintern, an organization dedicated to spreading communist revolution throughout the world.  In 1943, in an effort to gain favor with the West, Stalin officially disbanded the Comintern, although it continued to function informally.  During and following the war, communist parties in nations throughout the world continued to support the implementation of communism through violent revolution.  The communists were well received in many parts of the world, particularly in southeast Asia and Latin and South America.  The weapons of ideological warfare were able to pass through the American blockade where troops and tanks could not.  American military intervention became necessary to stop the communist incursions.  The United States acted to remove governments with communist leanings in Iran in 1953, in Guatemala in 1954, and in Lebanon in 1958.

Moving into the 1960's, the Cold War opened fronts in both the Rimland and the outer crescent.  The colonial empires of the European nations began to crumble.  The European powers attempted to institute democratic governments in their former colonies, and to maintain their economic connections to their former colonies.  

As governments were being restructured in the former colonies, the communists sought to expand their influence to these newly independent nations.  The governments of these nations, now in a position of insecurity and weakness, sought help in stabilizing their frail economies and political structures.  Many aligned themselves with either the Soviets or the Americans as a means of securing economic and military assistance for their nations.  As a result, in the second half of the Cold War, the areas of conflict expanded rapidly throughout the outer crescent.  Most of the nations on the superpowers bankroll maintained military dictatorships or other forms of authoritarian rule, whether rightist or leftist in ideology.

The most intense of the "hot" conflicts of the Cold War was the Vietnam War.  This conflict began as a struggle for independence from French colonial rule.  The French fought to maintain control of their colony from the end of World War II until their defeat at Dienbienphu in May of 1954.  An agreement reached by the Five-Power Conference (France, The United States, Great Britain, China, and the Soviet Union) divided the country into a communist North above the 17th parallel, and a free South Vietnam, with elections and reunification to occur in July 1956.  Recognizing that elections were likely to be won by Ho Chi Minh, the United States blocked the proposed elections.  Eventually, conflict broke out between the North and the South.  Millions of American troops were sent to Vietnam to support the South, while the Soviets and the Chinese sent troops and equipment to aid the North.  Despite the superiority of the American fighters in training, technology, and equipment, they were unable to defeat the communist guerillas.  In 1973, a peace agreement was reached and the American troops withdrew from Vietnam.  Fighting continued, however, and two years later, the Northern forces overran the South, and Vietnam was reunited under communist rule.

Vietnam was the most significant Cold War loss for the West.  The war was costly in men and money, and destroyed the American perception that the US could not be defeated in war.  It caused deep rifts within the country, and caused many to question the American ideals used to justify the war.  Disagreements regarding Vietnam also strained relations within the alliance systems, especially in NATO, where France, Britain, and the US differed on Vietnam policy, and in SEATO.

From 1979 to 1989, the Soviet Union pursued a war to maintain a communist government it had installed in Afghanistan.  The conflict became the USSR's Vietnam.[16]  The war was fought against mujihadeen rebels who were trained and supplied by the US Central Intelligence Agency.  The Soviets also discovered how difficult it is for a modern mechanized army to fight a determined rebel force in hostile terrain.  The war was a tremendous drain on the Soviet military and economy, and was very unpopular on the home front.  The Soviet withdrawal in 1989 resulted in the collapse of the communist government, and plunged the country into a civil war that continued for twelve more years.

The Cold War ended with a rapid series of dramatic events.[17]  Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev recognized the tremendous strains the conflict was having on his nation.  The Soviet Union had been suffering for many years from a number of resource pressures resulting from its extremely inefficient economic system.   Mikhail Gorbachev sought to reduce the demands on his nation's resources by withdrawing some of the Soviet Union's support for Cold War battles around the world.  Significantly, the Soviet Union withdrew its forces from Afghanistan, and made agreements with the United States on nuclear arms reduction.  Mikhail Gorbachev introduced reforms in the Soviet Union designed to relax state control of the economy and increase personal freedoms.  He reduced Soviet control of the Eastern Bloc nations.  These actions soon resulted in the fall of the Berlin Wall in December of 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in December of 1991.

With the Cold War hostilities officially ended, the superpowers rapidly abandoned their Cold War outposts.  Support for aligned governments in Africa, Latin America, and Asia ended.  Almost overnight, the Cold War battlefields grew silent.

Analysis: Containment and the Heartland/Rimland Concepts

How do the events of the Cold War correlate with the theories of Mackinder and Spykman?

In the first place, it seems that the conduct of the Cold War was not based on the principles espoused by either Mackinder or Spykman.  There seems to be no indication that American planners considered the advice of either man during the Cold War.  American actions during the Cold War were almost purely reactive.  Whereas Kennan had argued for a policy of selective engagement, where the US would contend with the Soviets only for key strategic locations, the American policy came to be an effort to oppose communism wherever it appeared.  American politicians and military analysts frequently portrayed the communist expansion as a centrally planned and controlled operation under the direction of Moscow.  However, there is no evidence to support this.  The Soviets desire was to spread revolution through training of communist leaders by the Comminform.  Rather than having a strategic plan for obtaining control of certain areas, communist revolutions seemed to occur haphazardly, as the opportunity presented itself, and as conditions were ripe.  It is unclear what Soviet geopolitical thought was at the time, but it does seem as though the ideas of Mackinder were considered.[18]

It seems that whether planned or not, both sides emphasized the value of Mackinders' Marginal Crescent and Spykman's Rimland. The following map indicates the areas of the most intense superpower conflict.  As can be seen, most of the conflicts of the Cold War occurred in the Rimland/Marginal Crescent.


Figure 7 From Nijman, The Geopolitics of Power & Conflict, 79.


To what degree are Mackinder and Spykman's ideas supported or invalidated by the events of the Cold War? 

The end of the Cold War resulted in the presence of a single superpower, the United States.  This outcome was not predicted by either Mackinder or Spykman.  However, it does correlate with Spykman's thinking.  Spykman held that the nation that could maintain control of the Rimland could dominate the world political and economic order.  However, neither side was able to obtain control of the Rimland.  The intense conflict within the Rimland throughout the Cold War demonstrates the geopolitical and economic value of this territory.  The unwillingness of the West to allow their opponent complete control over the Rimland is likely a significant factor in the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union.  The United States victory in the Cold War occurred in much the same way that George Kennan had theorized: the Soviet system was incapable of self-sustainment, and by limiting the industrial and economic resources available to the Soviet Union, the system collapsed upon itself.  By limiting the Soviets access to the resources available in the Rimland, the United States brought the fulfillment of Kennan and Spykman's theories. 

Mackinder's theories are in some ways validated and invalidated by the outcome of the Cold War.  Mackinder, in the height of World War II, wrote:

     All things considered, the conclusion is unavoidable that if the Soviet Union emerges from this war as conqueror of Germany, she must rank as the greatest land Power on the globe.  Moreover, she will be the Power in the strategically strongest defensive position.  The Heartland is the greatest natural fortress on earth.  For the first time in history it is manned by a garrison sufficient both in number and quality.[19]

   Mackinder also extols the value of the natural resources afforded to the Soviet Union.  He states that the Soviet Union is capable of producing all of the food, industrial output, and power that it needs, and is basically self-sufficient within its borders.  Mackinder also believed that the natural inclination of the Heartland power would be to establish a domain which included the Marginal Crescent.  Based on Mackinder's determination, the Soviet Union should have had the power and resources to become the dominant world power. 

For a number of reasons, Mackinder's concept largely did not come to pass.  One key factor to consider is that Mackinder did not correlate the availability of resources with the ability to exploit those resources.  The Soviet economic system was unable to capitalize on the resources available to it.  The Soviet system was unable to create a robust economy.  In fact, the Soviet Union eventually became dependent on imports of many commodities it should have been capable of producing within its own borders.  Supporting expensive military operations around the globe became a great burden on the weak Soviet economic system.

Mackinder also failed to account for the rise of the United States as a world power.  While he acknowledges that the United States had risen to the level of a great power following the First World War, he does not consider that the United States would eclipse the powers of Europe on the world stage.  And once again, Mackinder considers the resources of the Soviet Union to equal the combined resources of the US and Canada,[20] but does not account for the ability or inability to exploit those resources. 

It could therefore be said that the United States military power, fueled by its economic power, prevented Soviet domination of the Rimland, which prevented Soviet domination of the World-Island of Eurasia and Africa.  It must be noted that military defeat of the Heartland power may still have been impossible.  The West had no land power equal to that of the Soviet Union, and the Soviet Union was impenetrable with Western sea power.  The only counter Europe had to the Soviet Union's massive military might in Europe was the threat of nuclear weapons.  And, as Mackinder noted, even with airpower, the wide plains of Eastern Europe held the only plausible path for invasion of the Soviet Union.[21]  The United States and the Soviet Union had few options for direct military conflict outside of nuclear war.[22]

An important note in his favor is Mackinder's advocacy of an Atlantic alliance.  Mackinder had proposed an alliance of Great Britain and the nations of Western Europe with the United States as early as 1904.  He considered this alliance of sea and land powers as an essential part of preventing the heartland power from expanding beyond its borders into Europe and Africa.  The NATO alliance, formed after World War II, essentially performed this function as Mackinder had proposed.[23] 

Victory in the Cold War came as George Kennan predicted, by the collapse of the Soviet system due to its inferior economic power.

Analysis: The Cold War and Organic State Theory

The organic state theory was originally proposed by the German geographer Friedrich Ratzel in 1896.  According to his theory, which is based on the theories of Darwin, the State can be compared to an organism in nature.  Glassner summarized Ratzel's idea in this way:

The State is land, with man on the land, linked by the State idea and conforming to natural laws, with development tied to the natural environment.  Therefore, for example, States, like plants and people, do not do well in desert or polar regions.  States need food in the form of Lebensraum (living space) and resources, and they constantly compete for them.  States, like organisms, must grow or die.  They live through stages of youth, maturity, and old age, with possible rejuvenation.  The vitality of a State can generally be gauged by its size at a given time.[24]

The Swedish geographer Rudolf Kjellin took Ratzel's ideas to an extreme.  He declared that the State, in fact, is an organism.  Kjellin maintained that it was absolutely necessary for States to grow and expand their territory, population, and resource base for survival.  The larger States would consume the weaker ones, until only a few large States remained.

Karl Haushoffer, another German geographer, took the ideas of Ratzel and Kjellin even further.  He convoluted their ideas to create justifications for the expansion of Nazi Germany.  His teachings, known as Geopolitik, demonstrated the need for aggressive expansion of the German State as a requirement for obtaining the Lebensraum Germany needed to survive.  It is largely the association of Geopolitik with Nazi aggression that discredited the study of geopolitics for many years.[25]

Modern geographers generally do not believe that the State is literally an organism, and give little credence to the deterministic points of view put forward by Ratzel, Kjellin, and Haushoffer.[26]  It is not generally held that the expansion of the State is a requirement for survival.[27]  In fact, some geographers discredit the concept of the organic state theory altogether.[28]

While the more extreme views put forward by Kjellin and Haushoffer cannot be used to create or justify the actions of States, certain aspects of the organic state theory can be applied to an understanding of the Cold War.  Ratzel's original concept, especially, is useful in understanding the actions of the Soviet Union and the United States during the Cold War.  The actions of both the Soviet Union and the United States during the Cold War clearly indicate that both parties sought to expand the territory under their control in an effort to expand their base of power while denying critical resources to the other. 

The motivation for these actions was rooted in the concept of a bipolar world: a world consisting only of the Soviet Union and its allies, and the United States and its allies.  This view, in a way, demonstrates Kjellin's theory of superstates.  It could be viewed under the bipolar world concept that the Cold War globe was thus divided into two superstates.  This view that every state must be aligned with one side or the other was so strongly held that the U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles declared, "Neutralism is immoral."[29]

Both states felt that the other was pursuing a program designed to completely eliminate their competitor from the map of the world.  An American strategist wrote, "'the Soviets cannot in all prudence be expected to have ambitions for their imperial security restricted to Eurasia.  At stake ultimately in the contest is control…of the world.'"[30]  According to Glassner, the United States "assumed that the Soviets (and all communists and most socialists everywhere) were, and are, unqualifiedly evil, that they are bent on world domination, that they are fiendishly clever, and that any small victory by them would automatically result in many more."[31]  The Soviets felt that they must perpetuate the "'inevitable and irreconcilable struggle'"[32] with the capitalist states and that it was necessary to break out of the "capitalist encirclement."[33]  It was therefore necessary to pursue the path of expansionism and interventionism to ensure their own survival. 

Viewed in light of the organic state theory, the actions of the superpowers during the Cold War were as could have been expected.  While neither side utilized the organic state theory for formulation or justification for their foreign policies, their actions were in accordance with its principles.  The superpowers acted to expand their control of "politically valuable positions,"[34] to continually expand their spheres of influence, and to dominate smaller and weaker states in a struggle for survival.  In the end, the United States proved to be the "fittest," and became the sole surviving superpower.


The Cold War was a long and intense struggle between two great nations, a struggle that reached nearly every corner of the globe.  The events and outcomes of the Cold War have validated elements of three main classical geopolitical theories: the Mackinder Heartland concept, Spykman's Rimland doctrine, and the organic state theory.  Mackinder's Heartland theory held merit, but failed to survive the realities brought about by the rapid pace of change in technology and balance of power in the world following World War II.  The organic state theory proves to be useful as a generalization only of the behavior of states in the pursuit of national survival.  Of these theories, Spykman's Rimland doctrine most closely correlated with the policy of containment that the United States pursued successfully to the end of the Cold War. 



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Note:  Cover illustrations from Freedman.

[1] Stephen W. Hook and John Spannier, American Foreign Policy Since World War II, 15th ed.  (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, Inc., 2000), 45-46.


[2] James M. McCormick, American Foreign Policy and Process, 3rd ed.  (Itasca, Illinois: F.E. Peacock Publishers, 1998), 48.


[3] Hook, 232 and 241.


[4] McCormick, 45-46.


[5] Martin Ira Glassner, Political Geography, 2nd ed.  (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1996), 323.


[6] Hook, 33.


[7] McCormick, 49-56.


[8] Sir Halford J. Mackinder, Democratic Ideals and Reality: A Study on the Politics of Reconstruction.  (New York:  Henry Holt, 1919.  Reprint, New York: Henry Holt, 1942), 150.


[9] Hook, 25.


[10] Spykman, 43.

[11] Hook, p28.


[12] Hook, 44.


[13] McKormick, 48.


[14] Ibid, 53.


[15] Schwartz, Richard Alan.  The Cold War Reference Guide.  (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., 1997), 92.


[16] Schwartz, 30-31.


[17] McCormick, 181-189.


[18] Dohrs, Fred E.  "Heartland and World Ocean: A View of Soviet Geopolitical Theory."  The Annals of the Association of American Geographers, (June 1956): 244.

[19] Sir Alfred J. Mackinder, "The Round World", Foreign Affairs, (July 1943): 601.


[20] Mackinder, "The Round World," 604.


[21] Ibid, 598 and 602.


[22] Colin S. Gray, The Geopolitics of Superpower, (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1988), 46.


[23] Gray, 11.


[24] Martin Ira Glassner, Political Geography, 2nd ed.  (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1996), 323.


[25] Paul L. Knox, and Sallie A. Marston.  Human Geography: Places and Regions in Global Context. (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1998), 375 and Jerome D. Fellman, Arthur Getis, and Judith Getis.  Human Geography: Landscapes of Human Activities, 6th ed.  (Boston: McGraw Hill, 1999), 467.


[26] Fellman, 467.


[27] Norman J.G. Pounds, Political Geography, 2nd ed.  (New York: McGraw Hill, 1972), 423.


[28] Ibid, 423.

[29] Glassner, 338.


[30] Jan Nijman, The Geopolitics of Power and Conflict: Superpowers in the International System 1945-1992.  (London: Belhaven Press, 1993),48.


[31] Ibid,339.


[32] Hook, 32.


[33] Ciro E. Zoppo and Charles Zorgbibe, eds. On Geopolitics: Classical and Nuclear.  (Boston: Martinus Nijhoff, 1985), 135.


[34] Friedrich Ratzel,  "The Laws of the Spatial Growth of States.", trans. Ronald Bolin in Kasperson, Roger E. and Julian V. Minghi, eds.  The Structure of Political Geography.  (Chicago: Aldine, 1969), 24.