Central Asia in International Relations

The Legacies of Halford Mackinder

Edited by
April 2013 9781849042437 256pp


The republics of Central Asia re-emerged as independent actors in the global interstate system in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, their varied histories and geographies offering many different possible opportunities and course of action. In order to explain their often confusing and complicated foreign policy alignments, many analysts have turned again to the theories of Sir Halford Mackinder (1861-1947), the British geographer who is widely regarded as the founding father of geopolitics. This book brings together historical geographers and political scientists to explore this remarkable renaissance of Mackinder’s thinking. It charts his own engagement with the region, in both his writings and his visit to Central Asia as a British envoy in the aftermath of World War I. It outlines and evaluates how his ideas have been used by Central Asian, Russian, and American scholars to explain the region’s international relations, and it traces how his writings actually reached Central Asia and the manner in which they have been dynamically reworked by scholars ‘in transit’. The book is thus an important contribution not only to theorising the international relations of Central Asia, but also to our understanding of the historical geography of how ideas are ex- changed and reworked in the process.

Table of contents

List of Figures

About the Contributors


Introduction: Halford Mackinder and Central Asia — Sevara Sharapova and Nick Megoran


1. Mackinder: Imperialism, the Empire of India and Central Asia — Brian W. Blouet

2. Imperialism and the Heartland — Gerry Kearns

3. From Geostrategy to Geo-Economics: The ‘Heartland’ and British Imperialism Before and After Mackinder — Sarah O’Hara and Michael Heffernan


4. Russia’s Asian Heartland Today and Tomorrow — Milan Hauner

5. Mackinder on the Roof of the World: Contemporary Geopolitical Discourse in Tajikistan — Kirill Nourzhanov

6. The Intellectual Life of the Heartland: How Mackinder Travelled to Uzbekistan — Sevara Sharapova


7. The Enduring Relevance of Mackinder’s Heartland Philosophy: The Case of US-Uzbekistan Relations — Chris Seiple

8. The Heartland Today: Cooperation and the Struggle for Power — Alexey Dundich

9. Mackinder’s Legacy Today: New Challenges for Kazakhstan and Central Asia — Gulnara Dadabayeva and Aigul Adibayeva

10. The Heartland Fallacy: Central Asia, Geography and Globalisation — Levent Hekimoglu

Conclusion: Whither Mackinder and Central Asian studies? — Nick Megoran and Sevara Sharapova




‘[This] volume offers probably one of the most detailed accounts to date of the history and contemporary positioning of Central Asia in the study and practice of world affairs. … [T]he collection offers a rare but sophisticated and detailed consideration of Central Asia that challenges entrenched perceptions of the alleged passivity of the region. Instead, even though local (and localised), Central Asian affairs are profoundly and deeply enmeshed in global networks of relations … The erudition and detail of the contributions included in this edited volume would therefore be of interest not only to scholars and students of Central Asian studies and political geography, but also to those engaged in geopolitical analysis, international affairs, comparative politics and global history.’ — Political Studies Review

‘Central Asia in International Relations effectively re-evaluates and re-interprets Mackinder from the perspective of an international group of geographers and political scientists. … [It is] an essential text for academics concerned with the relevance of Mackinder today, and will also find an audience with a broader readership interested in the emergence of the ‘New Great Game’ in Central Asia.’ — Intelligence and Security 

‘Halford Mackinder’s “heartland” is invariably invoked in discussions about Central Asia. This distinctive, welcome collection by regional and international scholars provides a must-read systematic and perceptive assessment of how Mackinder’s ideas have been interpreted within and adapted to the complexities of Central Asia’s local contexts.’ — Sally N. Cummings, Professor of International Relations University of St Andrews, and author of Understanding Central Asia

‘Nick Megoran and Sevara Sharapova’s edited collection is a welcome and wide-ranging exploration of [Halford Mackinder’s] thought and its relevance for Central Asia.’ — International Affairs

‘A major contribution to a number of areas of study…the volume’s contributors have produced a wealth of interesting empirical details and theoretical discussions in solid case studies that will prove useful to interested scholars and students, as well as, non-specialist readers.’— Christopher Anzalone, The Muslim World Book Review, 2014

‘This is an excellent and engaging piece of work, which takes an innovative and ground-breaking approach to Mackinder’s theories. It is a must-read for anyone with an interest in Mackinder’s contribution to geopolitics and its contemporary readings. The kind of academic work to which so many aspire.’ —  Christopher Wyatt, author of Afghanistan and the Defence of Empire

‘Approaching Central Asia through the theories of the imperial scholar-strategist Halford Mackinder (1861-1947), this book offers an impressive guide to multilingual universes of power, intrigue and geopolitics. And if you think you know Mackinder already, prepare to be astonished and to reappraise.’ — James D. Sidaway, Professor of Political Geography, National University of Singapore

‘A challenging and insightful book representing serious analysis of Central Asian geopolitics.’ — Alisher Faizullaev, D.Sc., Professor at the University of World Economy and Diplomacy, Uzbekistan, and former Ambassador to the United Kingdom.

‘This book’s two editors and 11 authors form an impressive group of scholars that includes both ‘Western’ and Eurasian experts offering the reader a tantalizing variety of perspective on Mackinder, Pivot, Heartland, and Central Asian international relations.’ — Richard Fell, The Royal Society for Asian Affairs.

‘[This] volume is a stimulating and useful contribution. It engages with a long-established tradition of theorization in international relations. The perspectives presented are pleasingly diverse. It brings together critics and proponents, and scholars from the region as well as from outside it. The contributions convincingly show why scholars and practitioners need to understand and engage with this approach in the analysis of the international relations of Central Asia. Like it or not, Mackinder, or some variant thereof, is alive and well.’ — Journal of Islamic Studies


Nick Megoran is a political geographer at Newcastle University. He has published widely on both geopolitical theory and the politics and international relations of Central Asia.

Sevara Sharapova is a political scientist in Tashkent. She focuses on international relations in Central Asia and is the author of several books and articles on this topic.

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