The Geopolitics of the 21st Century

Course Leader: Dr Fatos Tarifa

Home Institution: European University of Tirana, Albania

Course pre-requisites: None.

Course Overview
Geopolitics emerged in Western Europe at the beginning of the 20th century and had its heyday between the two World Wars. After World War II it was largely ignored in academia and survived only in military academies, although it continued to inform the foreign policy of major powers throughout the Cold War. Since the end of the 1980s formal geopolitical discourses gradually came back and today geopolitics is once again not only a term that is widely used in academia, mass-media, think-tanks, but also a subdiscipline that is taught in many IR programs. The course aims to provide students with an overview of this changing nature of contemporary geopolitics and the foreign policy strategies of the US and rising Great Powers in a globalized world. The course focuses on changing conceptions of world order against the background of major historical shifts of longue durée—economic and civilizational—which may challenge the western-centric nature of modern international society. The course will initially provide a set of analytical tools to make sense of the contemporary international system, with a focus on geopolitics. Particular attention will be given to the role of the United States as a global hegemon and the geopolitical imagination, the global role of the European Union, the role of demography, and the shifts in international politics and global political economy as a result of the rise of China.

Learning Outcomes
By the end of the course, a successful student should be able to: (i) have developed a critical understanding of geopolitics and grand strategy and relate this to the analysis of the current world order; (ii) comprehend the foreign policy practices of the United States, Europe, China and Russia in today’s international system; (iii) understand some of the key regional dynamics of contemporary geopolitics (iv) formulate academically informed arguments about the themes of this course.

Course Content
1 The Geography of International Relations     

  • Defining Geopolitics
  • Le démographie serai-t-elle le destin?
  • Stages of Modern Geopolitics
  • The Importance of Studying Geopolitics

2 The End of the Cold War and the Emergence of a “New World Order”

  • The Concept of Polarity
  • Multipolarity, Bipolarity, Unipolarity, Nonpolarity
  • Uni/Multipolarity vis-à-vis Uni/Multilaterialism
  • What’s the Current Structure of the International System?

3 How Stable, Peaceful and Desirable is the Current International System

  • Hegemony and Power: Analytical Categories
  • Hegemony and Hegemonic Rivalry
  • The Transformation of U.S. Hegemony
  • The End of American Hegemony—Illusion or Reality?

4 A New “Concert of Power”, or a “Community of Democracies” for the 21st Century

  • Wither the United Nations?
  • Can Democracies of the World Unite?
  • Can the Democratic Peace Proposition be Confirmed in the 21st Century

5 Europe—Vive la difference!

  • EU—An Unusual Actor on the Global Stage
  • The EU “Mid-Life Crisis”
  • The “Legitimacy Deficit” of the European Union
  • A German Europe, or a European Germany?
  • Where Does the UK Stand between Europe and the U.S.?
  • Europe’s Demographic Death
  • Europe’s Unresolved “Turkish Question”
  • Will Europe be at the Center or the Periphery of the Global Political Theater?

6 Russia—A Challenge and a Dilemma for the 21st Century

  • The Reappearance of the “Polar Bear” on the Global Stage
  • Russia’s Petropolitics
  • Russia Demographic Death
  • Russia and the West
  • Russia and China                        

7 China—The Peaceful Rise of a Great Power

  • The Trajectory of China’s Rise in the Global Economy and Politics
  • China’s Global Hunt for Oil and Metals: A Chinese Monroe Doctrine?
  • Why China Can Not Become a Global Hegemon?
  • The Dragon and the Eagle: How Possible Is a Military Confrontation between China with the U.S.?

8 Can U.S. Hegemony be Balanced by an Asian Pole?

9 The Future of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization

  • NATO’s Purpose
  • Beyond Europe: Rethinking Afghanistan
  • NATO, EU and Russia
  • NATO Capabilities
  • Looking Ahead: A Global Peacekeeper?
  • Security Challenges and Threats and Collective Defense in the Twenty-first Century

10 Shifting Powers: A World without the West?

  • Emergence of the ‘Asian Drivers’ and Latin America
  • The Changing Structure of the Global Economy
  • From Economic Interdependence to Total Interdependence
  • BRIKS Power = Hegemonic Rivalry = Declining U.S. Hegemony?

11 Will the 21st Century Remain an American Century?

  • Eurasia Geopolitical Volatility
  • (Capabilities to Project) Military, Economic/Technologic, Political Power
  • American Hegemony and East Asian Order
  • Why the U.S. Declinists Are Wrong Again?

12 Twenty-First Century Realities: A Farewell to Geopolitics?

  • The Fading Geopolitical Threats after the Cold War
  • The Impact of Global Political Weakening on 21st Century Geopolitics
  • The Geopolitically Most Endangered States
  • The End of Good Neighborhood
  • Egypt, Libya, and Syria. What’s Next?
  • New Threats and Dangers: Spread of WMD, Terrorism, and Threats to the Global Commons
  • A Chaotic World With(out) Global Leadership

Instructional Method
The course is structured around a series of lectures and seminars combined, involving―and encouraging―discussion in class. That means that lectures will be very interactive and students’ participation is essential for making the best of the learning experience.

Required Course Materials
Course materials will include a number of books or book chapters by major authors in the field of geopolitics (Kissinger, Brzezinski, Kagan etc. as well as selected article from some of the most reputable journals in the field, such as Foreign Affairs; The National Interest; The American Interest, Current History, International Security; International Affairs; International Politics, Orbis; Security Studies; Review of International Studies; Political Geography; World Politics; Europe-Asia Studies, China Quarterly.

There will be two assessed pieces of course work for this course:

  1. A 1,000 words book review, counting 20% towards the final grade of the course. The book should be chosen from the list of reading provided by the instructor. The book review is an opportunity to critically evaluate a longer, coherent piece of work in its entirety. It should contain the following elements: (1) A concise summary of the book’s most important arguments, with an emphasis on how these arguments relate to broader issues raised in the course; (2) A critical evaluation of the arguments, theoretical framework and empirical examples used in the book―what are the strengths and weaknesses of these, how well do empirical material and analysis hang together, how consistent is the argument, what objections could be raised? Students must not just state their opinions but provide a reasoned argument, backed up, if necessary, by reference to other sources and apposite examples; (3) The questions this book opens or leaves unanswered; and finally (4) what would be interesting avenues for further research? More information and a sample (published) review will be circulated in class.
  2. A 3500 to 4000 words essay, counting 80% towards the final grade of the course which will be due at the last day of class.