Mackinder’s geopolitics resurface in WikiLeaks cable

A geopolitical mentality reminiscent of the classical theories of Halford Mackinder has surfaced in some WikiLeaks cables. Mackinder was the early twentieth century British geographer whose ideas about territorial control informed cold war thinking about “buffer states” and containment (or cordon sanitaire).

As first pointed out by the National Security Archive (NSA) blog, an independent security research effort based in DC, a cable

04GUATEMALA3270, dated 27 December 2007, reports on the visit of Senate Foreign Relations Committee Latin American specialist Carl Meacham to Guatemala and his meetings with staff from the Ministries of Foreign Relations, Immigration, and Defense. Officials discussed the Mexico-Guatemala border and “the current role of Guatemala as a “buffer” between Central/South America and the NAFTA space and how that role can be expanded to improve U.S. security.” Guatemalan officials at the meetings stressed the central place Guatemala plays in North American security and called for greater cooperation between Guatemalan security agencies and between these and their Mexican and American counterparts.

The phrase “NAFTA space” is particularly compelling here because it lifts the concern from the country-level to the bloc level. It also goes some way to interpreting the geo-strategic importance of a territory (here, Guatemala) in the larger scheme of things.


Just for fun, compare this view with the highly metaphorical movie Monsters, which features a no-go or infected area also in central America:

The “infected zone” in this movie is thus a direct descendent of the buffer or containment idea. (Its older name of cordon sanitaire makes this even more explicit.) Despite (or perhaps because of) its sc-fi trappings, Monsters is well worth discussing in a political geography class. It also plays heavily into the topic of immigration as most of the movie is set in Mexico with its protagonists trying to get into the USA, and is therefore something of “the view from outside.”

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