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Alana Houkamau asked: How did airpower disrupt the dichotomy between geopolitics as sea-power (Mahan) versus geopolitics as land-power (Mackinder), and do either of these theories holds any relevance today?

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  • Kishore Kumar Khera replies: Physically, there are just three ways to connect - land, water and air. And these three mediums are also used to perceive and project power. Mahan and Mackinder based their theories on the centrality of seas and landmass respectively. And now airpower has come into play in a major way.

    Geopolitics is about control and power. The efficacy of power projection is based on perceptions of both sides involved - one that projects power and the one on the receiving end. Mackinder focused on control of central landmass or heartland and thus resources to exercise power, and Mahan brought in the significance of control of communication lines using seas and thus flow of power projection through control. Primarily both these theorists recognised the role of control or flow of resources in building a powerful perception. Both these theories have relevance in specific contexts. Airpower was in its infancy when these theories were formulated. The growth of airpower, and now aerospace power, allowed perception and projection of power bypassing sea and land. In a way, this is just an extension of theories by Mahan and Mackinder in the third dimension. Aerospace power owing to its speed and flexibility is capable of projective power in a much faster time frame and often more decisively. Practically, Mahan's sea lanes, Mackinder's heartland and modern aerospace capabilities are complementary models of geopolitics and not contradictory. In the current environment, all three are invariably looked at in an integrated fashion and not as mutually exclusive domains.

    Posted on April 13, 2021

    Views expressed are of the expert and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or the Government of India.