A while ago, when I was doing some cleaning at my place, I stumbled upon a box of college texts that I had kept from a handful of history classes I had taken in undergrad. One of them was from a class in United States foreign policy in the era since Pearl Harbor. I love stumbling upon little treasure troves like this. I am so glad that I kept those books from my major and can refer to them all these years later. I took the book out and put it aside to glance through that weekend.
When reading through the book, there were excerpts from a number of famous geopolitical thinkers, like Halford Mackinder, Nicholas Spykman and others. I later went to the library and got out some of their titles so as to read their thoughts in full. I was spellbound. I was especially struck by Mackinder's focus on the Heartland and how it paralleled — for better or for worse — many elements of Russia under the previous Russian Steamroller Rule in Baron Powell's 1900 variant.
Geopolitics is a field of study that all Diplomacy players should familiarize themselves with. It is the study of the geographical influence on politics and strategy. Think for a moment. Relations between powers and their struggle for world domination are in large part shaped by the battlefields themselves. The location of resources. The location of defensive barriers. The routes of invasion. These factors are of crucial importance. No skilled diplomat or general would launch a war without some knowledge of these factors. There is debate on the real world applications of various geopolitical theories. Can they be successfully implemented? Should they be successfully implemented? Regardless, I submit that these theories should be studied and discussed in relation to our beloved game. What new insights may they bring to light? Already within the literature of our hobby, authors such as Paul D. Windsor and Ole R. Tuft have already opened the door by studying in depth the impacts of the geography of the standard map on game play.
One of the earlier geopolitical theorists was Sir Halford Mackinder (1861-1947). Mackinder's writings helped popularize geopolitics in the early 1900s. His works included The Geographical Pivot of History (1904), Democratic Ideals and Reality (1919), and The Round World and the Winning of the Peace (1943). Mackinder's beliefs centered on a couple of basic principles.
First, that the world was now a closed system. During the earlier Columbian epoch, new discoveries continued to expand states' horizons and opportunities for growth. At the turn of the 20th century, however, colonialism had brought the whole planet under the control of the European powers. There were no new worlds to discover and the competition among powers had approached a zero sum game. The struggle for empire would now focus on warfare over current territories, and not the search for new lands and peoples. This definitely parallels the situation on the game map, where the limits are finite. The seven powers of Europe cannot expand into further parts of the Americas, Africa, Asia and Australasia. Instead, they are limited to intense competition amongst themselves in Europe and those small portions of North Africa and the Middle East the circle the Mediterranean on the 1900 map.
Second, Mackinder believed that the center of Eurasia would be the new seat of global power. This portion of Eurasia that either drained into the ice bound Artic Ocean or into landlocked seas like the Caspian and the Aral, he called the Heartland. Mackinder's longest lasting contribution to geopolitical thought was the development and articulation of this Heartland theory. In stark contrast to Mahan's stress on the decisive influence of sea power, Mackinder saw how land based powers were increasing their economic power and their military reach by the used of improved technologies like the railroad. During the previous Columbian epoch, the seat of world power had rested with dominant naval powers like Spain or Great Britain, in large part because naval transport and communication was so much faster and more efficient than that based on land. Mackinder's Heartland theory, on the other hand, hypothesized the possibility for a huge land empire that could exist without reliance on coastal or transoceanic transport to supply its military and industry. He further speculated that such an empire would dominate the Eurasian-African bloc of continents, which he termed the World Island. As he was developing his theory, Mackinder developed a list of characteristics defining the Heartland (c. 1900) which were very analogous to the traits of Russia under the earlier Russian Steamroller Rule in 1900.
First, the Heartland had a high level of defensive impregnability. In the North, it was protected by the frozen waters of the Artic Ocean and inaccessible to contemporary naval powers. Along much of the South, a string of daunting mountains and formidable deserts discouraged adventures in from the periphery of the Eurasian continent by contemporary armies. (Obviously, many of these factors are less significant with real world technological advances during the past century.) The inaccessibility at that time was a great source of strength from a defensive point of view. The defensive strength is also shared by Russia in 1900. A rear attack from the east is blocked geographically by the edge of the map. This is very similar to the effect that the inaccessible Artic Ocean creates in Mackinder's theory. Neither Britain nor France share this strength since numerous sea spaces intervene between their position and the western limits of the board, thus allowing for naval based attacks from the rear. Flank attacks from either the north or the south are blunted by the Rodina's back being flush to the board edge. Two of the Tsar's home supply centers - St. Petersburg and Sevastopol - are contiguous to the map limits. An extra province in Siberia along the map edge affords another position for a defending Russian army to sit in and offer defensive support to beleaguered defenders in St. Petersburg, Moscow, or Sevastopol. Thus, both Mackinder's Heartland and Russia in 1900 have the advantages of edge powers.
The limited accessibility of the Heartland to contemporary naval powers is also paralleled by Russia in 1900 by the placement of the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea and the Barents Sea. The layering of the Baltic Sea and Barents Sea spaces around Scandinavia and the insertion of the Black Sea space between the Balkans and Armenia inhibit the successful launching of simplistic land or sea attacks on Mother Russia's northern or southern flanks. Instead, more complicated amphibious assaults must be made to have a realistic chance of success. While not impregnable, these map features limit seaborne accessibility and certainly do add to Russia's defensive strengths on the 1900 map.
The second similar trait in common between the Heartland and Russia in 1900 is a high level of offensive mobility. Mackinder describes in some detail how the Heartland has a powerful central position on the Eurasian continent. This gives the state in that region crucial interior lines of communication. That power can use its base as a springboard to attack in any direction towards the periphery of the Eurasian landmass. It has an advantage over the sea based periphery powers that must skirt around the edges of the Eurasian landmass Furthermore, during the Columbian epoch sea borne communication and transport was much faster, technological developments during Mackinder's time and since -- especially the development of extensive railway networks and later the growing use of the internal combustion engine - were tipping the scale towards land based power once again. Based upon central positioning, combined with increasing technology, the Heartland offers a high level of mobility for the deployment of land based military forces.
Mackinder gives two examples of interior lines of communication allowing for faster and more efficient deployment… and redeployment. He cites the nearly contemporary ability of the Romanovs to deploy a large army quickly into Manchuria during the Russo-Japanese War, (Democratic Ideals and Reality, p.260-262). This, however, may not be the strongest example. In truth, the Russian Empire never did develop the industrial resources or transportation infrastructure to put Mackinder's theory into practice, and many of the inherent strengths would only be utilized years later by the Soviet Union. A more forceful argument is offered by the success of the Mongol empire of the pre-Columbian epoch in deploying large mounted armies across the vast steppes (Democratic Ideals and Reality, p.251-254).
While it is true that Russia is not a central power on the 1900 map, but an edge power, much of the deeper analysis offered by Mackinder still proves analogous to the Russian position. In 1900, the residents of the Winter Palace also have an ability to rapidly deploy troops and to project power based upon shorter lines of communication from a springboard the eastern side of the map. Russia has home supply centers on both major sea theaters, St. Petersburg facing the Atlantic and Sevastopol facing the Mediterranean. It can quickly field naval units in either theater or both. The true "central powers" of the 1900 variant, like Germany or Italy, lack this ability to deploy fleets in both theaters and instead expend significant tempi sailing around the European landmass to have influence and impact. This is one factor in Russia's offensive mobility.
We can also take a different approach and use Caissic analysis. In his pioneering article, Geography is Destiny: How the Standard Map Dictates Fortunes and Strategies, Paul D. Windsor counted the tempi, or unit moves from province to province, it would take each of the seven powers to most quickly and efficiently reach the magical number of eighteen supply centers for a victory from their home supply centers. Furthermore, he challenged us "Indeed, why stop with the standard map? There are many popular map variants out there. I'm not a variant player myself, but perhaps someone who is would care to analyze their favorite variant's map, using this kind of analysis, and present their own analysis to the world regarding the Colonial map, the Modern map or some other variant map." Baron Powell, the designer of 1900, took him up on this and developed a similar tempi count for the seven powers in the variant.
The most and least efficient powers in reaching eighteen supply centers:
|1 tempo away||2 tempi away||3 tempi away||4 tempi away||Minimum tempi
|VIE, TRI, BUD||RUM, SER||BUL, SWI, MUN, MIL, ROM, SEV, WAR||GRE, TRP, MAR, BER, COL, KIE, NAP, MOS, CON||34|
|Britain||LON, EDI, LVP, EGY||MOR, SPA||BEL, DEN, NET, NWY, POR, TRP, ALG, BRE, MAR||GRE, SWE, PAR, COL, KIE, NAP, ROM, STP, CON||28|
|France||PAR, MAR, BRE, ALG||MOR, SPA, SWI||BEL, POR, TRP, EGY, LON, MUN, MIL, ROM||DEN, NET, NWY, TRI, VIE, EDI, LVP, BER, COL, KIE, NAP||28|
|Germany||BER, COL, KIE, MUN||SWI, BEL, DEN, NET||SWE, BUD, TRI, VIE, MAR, MIL, WAR||NWY, RUM, SER, SPA, EDI, LON, BRE, PAR, ROM,
|Italy||MIL, ROM, NAP||SWI||GRE, SPA, TRP, TRI, VIE, ALG, MAR, MUN||BEL, BUR, MOR, POR, SER, BUD, EGY, PAR, BRE, COL, KIE, CON, DAM||35|
|Russia||STP, MOS, WAR, SEV||NWY, RUM||BUL, SER, SWE, BUD, BER, MUN, ANK, CON, DAM||BEL, DEN, NET, SWI, TRI, VIE, EDI, LON, COL, KIE||29|
|Turkey||CON, ANK, DAM||BUL||GRE, RUM, SER, EGY, SEV||TRP, BUD, TRI, NAP, MOS||MOR, POR, SPA, VIE, ALG, BRE, ROM, STP, WAR||42|
Chart developed by Baron Powell
We can see that Russia stands in the first tier of powers, along with Britain, France and Germany when it comes to the fewest number of tempi needed to achieve the most efficient eighteen supply center victory. A great deal of effort has been made by the designer, in the pursuit of historical accuracy, to ensure that the balanced play of this variant also lines up with the true strengths of the powers at the turn of the century. No one would debate that any of Austria-Hungary, Italy or Turkey was the equal of Britain, France, Germany or Russia. Baron Powell discussed his thought process in respect to the relative strength of at-start forces in Chapter 8 of the Gamers' Guide to 1900. Looking one layer deeper, we see the tempi counts of Caissic analysis also reflects the historical strengths of the seven Great Powers. It is a subtle differentiation, to be sure, because we do not want any of the positions on the map to be unplayable. It is a crucial balance that Baron Powell has effectively struck between historical accuracy and the ensuring that each player has a reasonable opportunity for victory.
Whether based on the ability to field units in a variety of theaters or comparing tempi counts in Caissic analysis, Russia shows a high level of offensive options similar to those offered the central positioning of the Heartland.
The third, and possibly the strongest, parallel between Mackinder's Heartland and Russia in the 1900 variant under the Russian Steamroller Rule was that both have great productivity. The Heartland's wealth of natural resources are discussed by Mackinder at length, and include the bread basket of the Ukraine, significant oil and natural gas reserves, iron and coal deposits, plus numerous other minerals to be extracted from the ground. (Democratic Ideals and Reality, p.272).
Russia with the Russian Steamroller Rule in 1900 also shared the strengths envisioned by high productivity and a wealth of natural resources. Russia starts at four units and four home supply centers, making it tied as the largest power in that variant. It also benefited from an extra unit from the Russian Steamroller Rule. This reflected the position of Russia as the most populous nation in Europe which had apparently endless reserves of manpower. Baron Powell discussed his decision to implement this rule in Chapter 7 of the Gamers' Guide to 1900. "At the turn of the century, the leaders in Berlin, Constantinople, London, and Vienna all worried about Russia's hordes, while the leaders in Paris saw their Russian ally as the "Steamroller" that would crush the Germans should they be so bold as to attack France. The Russian general staff maintained large garrisons across the length and breadth of the Empire to cow local populations into submission, break up anti-government gatherings, defend the borders, and take advantage of opportunities that might be found across the frontiers. Russia also had the vast resources of Siberia at its disposal…"
In short, the Russian Steamroller Rule had allowed the Tsar to field one unit over his supply center count as long as he controls one of its home supply centers. This extra unit needed to be built following normal build rules. If, after a fall turn, Mother Russia had lost all four home supply centers, it could only maintain one unit for each owned supply center. If an extra unit was on the map, the Tsar has to disband something to meet this provision. Russia would have been entitled to an extra unit once again if it had reclaimed a home supply center, but the extra unit had to be built during the winter adjustment phase.
So where did these sets of parallels leave us?
This was the logical axiom that Mackinder arrived at in developing his Heartland theory. When we look at the results of the seventy one completed games of the 1900 variant that used the Russian Steamroller Rule, we can the final important parallel between Mackinder's Heartland and Russia.
Game results under the Russian Steamroller Rule:
Statistcs through March 1, 2007
Russia had become a hyperpower to give the other six players nightmares. Under the Russian Steamroller Rule, it was 64% stronger than the average great power ranking (GPR). The Rodina's score was a whopping 152% higher than the lowest scoring power, Turkey! That was quite a discrepancy. Russia had scored more solo victories and participated in more draws than any other power during that seventy one game period. It grew into the most fearsome power on the 1900 map. Mackinder's fears about Heartland dominance appeared to have taken concrete form in the play of Russia. Playing upon Mackinder's axiom, it could plausibly be said that the lucky player who drew command the white pieces had by far the best chance to command the game.
Seeing this imbalance in the variant under the Russian Steamroller Rule, Baron Powell wisely tweaked 1900, to limit the powerful Russian offensive potential. Furthermore, as discussed previously, Russia of that time was significantly underdeveloped industrially and possessed a pitiful transportation infrastructure. Baron Powell has been unequivocal in his desire in generate more realistic historical reflection and greater play balance in this variant. Obviously, the Russian Steamroller Rule was not fitting the bill on either count. At the beginning of 2007, he has instituted the Russian Emergency Measures Rule for the 1900 variant as a replacement for the Russian Steamroller Rule.
The new Russian Emergency Measures Rule operates this way:
The Russian Emergency Measures Rule gives Russia appropriate defensive capabilities, without overwhelming the rest of Europe with offensive firepower. It parallels the historical reality of Russia during the First World War when Russia reacted with desperation in the face of the string of military defeats it suffered on the Eastern Front in 1915. The successful Brusilov offensive of 1916 was due in large part to better management its resources and industrial capacity and better utilization of its transportation infrastructure. Sadly for the Tsar, it took a near military collapse to maximize the potential of his country, and it is appropriate that this rule should be available to Russia in the variant only in times of crisis.
I applaud Baron Powell for his continued desire to perfect his already wonderful variant, 1900. Few designers in the hobby spend as much time GMing and observing games of their creations, or keep as many detailed statistics on the game play as he does. His willingness to be flexible and to update the rules with the Russian Emergency Measures Rule to improve the play balance and the historical accuracy will no doubt be rewarded with a richer gaming experience for all. I cannot wait to try my hand in an upcoming game of 1900, using this newest version of the rules. Care to join me?
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