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The Geopoliticization of Everything

Everything is Geopolitics. Is Everything Geopolitics?

As I was preparing for the IR Section Conference, I got to read a lot of working papers written by my colleagues. They ran the gamut from space infrastructures, geoeconomics, and digital currencies to internet fragmentation and weaponized interdependence. My impression from these papers has reinforced a hunch that has developed over the past year or so: Geopolitics is suddenly permeating everything. Almost every issue, even those far outside the field of traditional foreign and security policy, now has a geopolitical dimension.

In 2022, Mark Galeotti published a book called the „The Weaponisation of Everything„. He argues that war is becoming de-bordered (a somewhat clunky translation of the much nicer German term „entgrenzt“) and that „the world is heading for a new era of permanent low-level conflict, often unnoticed, undeclared, and unending“. I have not read it but I consider Galeotti to be a smart person so I expect that his argument will have some legs, even though it seems very reminiscent of what „New Wars“ theories were saying 20-25 years ago, just reframed as great-power proxy wars instead of local-level civil wars.

We see a similar kind of de-bordering in how geopolitics gets brought up in all kinds of disparate fields. For many people, including some well-known scholars, geopolitics is back on the menu after a few decades of being slightly out of fashion. I might quibble with this assessment, especially in definitional terms – are these issues geopolitical in that they center around control of space or are they power political, i.e. referring to the pursuit of national interest? But I’m not as interested in finding out the „ground truth“, if such a thing ever exists when it comes to politics. I do find it normatively troubling, though – it’s not healthy for political discourse and international cooperation to see anything and everything as a field of geopolitics.

Geopoliticization is not Securitization

Analytically, the scholar in me who is steeped in critical geopolitics wants to ask: how and why now? What do people mean when they make geopolitical claims? How are such claims expressed? At the conference, Stefanie Walter quipped that we in the West are starting to care about geopolitics and de-globalization now that the current world order is no longer profiting us first and foremost – a provocative point I’d love to think about further. There is also plenty to be learned from a deconstruction of the discourses of geopolitics that we can see in migration, energy, or economic policy. This requires detailed, case-oriented work.

For now, I can only offer one thought: Assuming my hypothesis that we are in an era of widespread geopoliticization is correct, we need to work out what claims for the geopolitical salience of an issue entail, what actors want to achieve through geopoliticizing speech acts, and what the consequences of a de-bordered geopolitical discourse are. My current impression is that geopoliticization is comparable to, but broader than the better-developed concept of securitization, i.e. the production of security issues through speech acts. Geopoliticization speech acts are not (or at least, not primarily) claims about threats to survival and the need for emergency measures, as securitizing speech acts are. Instead, they appear more general and broad in scope. A geopoliticizing speech act is about „us“ being engaged in a geopolitical struggle, which may be about survival (ultimately) but more immediately about interests or relative power positions among states.

I will have to think about this more. Suggestions or comments are welcome.

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