The Geopolitics Of Renewables: A New Geopolitical Outlook – OpEd


Daniel Scholten shocked the energy sector with his illustrious book, “The Geopolitics of Renewables” because the book is mixed with warnings and triumphant solutions for the oil and gas exporting countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Russia. His book has influenced the policies of several leaders across the globe, predominantly Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Mohammad bin Salman, who last year announced the country’s Vision 2030 that aims at the economic modernization of the oil dependent Kingdom.

Scholten’s book is purely based on yield research focusing on the future of resource rich nations, which enjoy diplomatic leverage in the global politics based on their ascendancy in the energy market. According to Scholten:

  1. The clear losers in future will be those blessed with Ample-Fossil fuel reserves and those, who bet on oil for too long without reforming their economies. A clear message to the oil dependent nations.
  2. The main constraint in the energy system is scarcity, that does not exist on the face of falling energy prices.
  3. With time, the modern economies become electrified with “super-grids” to handle the additional demands of the urbanization. Thus, very soon grid-politics will replace pipeline politics. To be more precise, super-grid economies will replace oil-economies.

In contrast, geopolitics has been transformed in the recent years, because of the development of energy with the latest technology. In addition, there is a transition towards much cleaner energy and whoever will not embrace clean energy in the future will be a loser in the geopolitical sphere. The multi-billionaire tech leaders have already begun investing in new technologies, such as Elon Musk, who aspires at producing lithium batteries to deal with energy challenges and his recent experiment with new Tesla Model 5 car a good example of the latter transformation.

On the other hand, it is an established fact that in geopolitics energy is both a tactical and strategic weapon of influence because geopolitics is assertive, when it comes to energy dominance and global energy security. However, a large number of scholars are divided on this particular topic; some call it “the geopolitics of renewables” and others call it as “the geopolitics of gap”. Likewise, it could be interesting if we overhaul the traditional theories of Geopolitics as advocated by Halford Mackinder, Nicholas Spykman and Alfred Thayer Mahan that were only resource and geographic-centric to construct their own versions of a geopolitical outlook.

Spykman and Rimland thesis

Spykman was both a follower and critic of geopolitical scientists Mahan and Mackinder. His work is based on assumptions, like Mackinder’s, of including the unity of the world politics and world sea. Spykman resumes Mackinder’s division of the world with certain variations:

  1. The heartland (Eastern Europe)
  2. The Rimland (Analogous to Mackinder’s “inner or Marginal Crescent,” also an intermediate region lying between heartland and the Marginal Sea Power.
  3. The offshore Islands and Continents (Mackinder’s outer and insular Crescent).

Basically, the Rimland Thesis separates the heartland from the ports that are functional throughout year. Spykman thus suggested that this requires any attempt from the Heartland Nations (particularly Russia) to conquer those ports in the Rimland to be prevented. Moreover, Spykman, modified Mackinder’s Formula gesticulating the relationship between the heartland and Rimland.

“Who controls the Rimland rules Eurasia
Who rules Eurasia, controls the destinies of the world.”

Additionally, the United States’ Containment Policy was based on this theory. Karl Haushofer, a famous German political scientist, who admired the scientifically drawn geographical work of Mackinder and Spykman, presented his own work based on the Geographic pivot before the Royal Geographic society in 1938 where he warned about any sort of Russo-German alliance, the two major contenders of Eurasia. In 2004, famous historian Paul Kennedy wrote in the Guardian, “Right now with hundreds of thousands of US troops in the Eurasian Rimlands and with an administration constantly explaining why it has to say the course, it looks as if Washington is taking seriously Mackinder’s injunction to ensure control of ‘the geographical pivot of History’.”

Alfred Thayer Mahan and Sea Power

Mahan was a strong commentator on world’s naval strategic and diplomatic affairs and believed that, “National greatness was indissolubly associated with the sea and particularly with its commercial use in peace and its control during war”. His theoretical explanation was based on the assumption that strategic locations such as choke-points, canals and coaling stations, as well as quantifiable levels of fighting power in a fleet, were conducive to control over sea. He proposed six conditions required for a nation’s control over the sea:

  1. Advantageous geographic locations
  2. Serviceable coastlines, abundant natural resources and favorable climate
  3. Extent of territory
  4. Population large enough to defend the territory
  5. Society with aptitude for the sea and commercial enterprises
  6. Government with influence and inclination to dominate the sea

Mahan in his theory also distinguished a key region of the world in the Eurasian context; the central zone of Asia lying between 30-degrees and 40-degrees North and stretching from Asia Minor to Japan as significant for the future geopolitics. Moreover, Mahan was impressed by Russia’s transcontinental size and strategically favorable position for southward expansion, of which he warned the West and United States. Therefore, he argued for the “Anglo-Saxon” sea powers to resist Russia.

Last of all, as a result of the rapid growth in the means of communication and the technological sector, the whole context of geopolitics has changed in the recent years. The geopolitics of today, is much more sophisticated because of its reliance on clean energy and up-to-date technology, but it does not mean that it has cast aside the traditional resource and geographic-centric outlook of geopolitics, rather it has transformed itself alongside technological progress.

*Shahzada Rahim is a student at International Islamic University, Pakistan, pursuing a Masters in Politics and International Studies with interests in writing on history, current affairs, geopolitics and the international political economy.

2 thoughts on “The Geopolitics Of Renewables: A New Geopolitical Outlook – OpEd

  • August 11, 2018 at 8:02 am

    wooow great and coherent ideas …well written indeed…i personally appricatiate your vast ideas about the topic including the effort which you have done through different books and journals………good initiative must be continue

  • August 11, 2018 at 11:21 am

    A comprehensive analysis of contemporary geo-strategic/political transformation and the decline of oil-based economies. Worth reading


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *