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Land Power v Sea Power

Phil Tinline explores what the century-old ideas of two little-known geopolitical thinkers, Alfred Mahan and Sir Halford Mackinder, can tell us about global tensions today?

What can the ideas of two long-dead geopolitical thinkers tell us about relations between Russia, China and America today?

Documentary-maker Phil Tinline traces how, in the late 19th century, an American sea captain turned scholar, Alfred Thayer Mahan, drew on the historic successes of Britain’s Royal Navy to argue that sea power was a decisive force in world history, and that the rising United States should establish its own permanent naval forces.

But then a British geographer, Sir Halford Mackinder, spotted the revolutionary potential of the new Trans-Siberian Railway, and argued that land power, in the form of the Eurasian Heartland could now mobilise its resources to outdo British sea power.

Both men’s ideas have had profound influence on geopolitical thinking ever since. Today, as the post-war international order falters, Phil talks to leading scholars and strategists to discern what influence Mahan’s and Mackinder’s ideas are having on our new era of great power rivalry – between NATO and Russia in the Black and Baltic Seas, between Russia and China in the Eurasian heartland as the Belt and Road stretches westward, and between China and the USA, in the hotly-disputed waters of the South China Sea.

And he asks whether, in a globalised world, ends that were once pursued by military means are now being achieved through commerce, but in pursuit of the same hard geopolitical aims.

With contributions from: Professor James R. Holmes, Professor Charles Kupchan, Dr Nick Megoran, Professor Rana Mitter, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, Professor Angela Stent, Dr Dmitri Trenin

Producer: Phil Tinline

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37 minutes

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Last Sunday 17:00