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ABSTRACT. Countries are secure and prosperous, or fail to reach such advantage, for a variety of reasons. In the case of the United States, a primary cause for its past, current, and perhaps future success in these respects, the author believes, comes from its place amidst water, that resource amply located within the country, and also, within two extensive oceans beyond either coast. Steady rainfall produces abundant food; dependable river systems offer ready transport. Oceans keep North America distant and safe from Eurasia, Earth’s largest and most threatening land-expanse to America, leaving the United States in a separate and rich hemisphere with no dangers from neighboring states and able to involve its marine afar in Eurasian balances. These themes pertinent to water will be extended in the pages that follow. With the United States as this essay’s main focus, and with the country’s status as the current leader-state or hegemon, thanks in part to its possession of and location betwixt a relative abundance of domestic and global waters, the author will examine certain water-related topics that fit a classical geopolitics relevance, and in some cases, a neo-realist interpretation as well, giving this US-oriented theme a first attention at the local and then at the national and later at the strategic levels. This assortment of all three dimensions expands the recent interest toward a “geopolitics of water” (among the many sources, see Friedman and Federkasten, 2017; Janson, 2014) that has adhered rather narrowly to a description of the growing possibility of human/state conflicts over water scarcity. But not so limited to inter-state strife over rivers and aquifers, the present essay will provide a more extensive examination of a variety of these and other aspects by including the global perspective in addition to the national. But to repeat this paper’s thesis, the favorable locations of water for North America have made possible to some large extent the wealth and the strategic reach of the United States, marking its current global hegemony so pronounced that its present status of hegemon could well continue into the decades ahead. Human need for water will introduce our discussion, this precious but steadily depleting resource for good health and survival, with the plight of growing scarcity evidenced particularly in conflicts already in the arid and poorer countries of central Eurasia, Sub-Sahara Africa, and the Middle East. Rivalry and violence surely will attach to these shortages, eventually striking conflict within nations as well as war among states. The United States, holding adequate reserves, should suffer less of this strife than others. The importance of rivers next follows with special attention shown the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers and their combined watershed. This whole central region, the author asserts, should represent a more suitable fit for a global heartland identity than for Halford Mackinder’s original Eurasian location (Kelly, 2017). Barge traffic on these rivers reveals this importance, a factor reflected in the wealth of the North American continental expanse. Finally, on the strategic level, the United States navy commands the outer oceans of Earth. This power extends security perimeters away from America and closer to the fringes of Eurasia, satisfying the non-entanglement stipulations of Monroe’s Doctrine via the offshore-balancing advantage in addition to the awarding of safe passage for all nations’ freight and communications. No other Great Nation can come anywhere near to duplicating this American fulcrum of a two-ocean positioning over the waters off Eurasia. The author’s purpose for this essay is two-fold: one, to highlight the contribution of water in all of its three levels, human, state, and strategic, as substantiating further the contention that North America represents a true Mackinderisque heartland, and two, to go beyond this assertion, to connect the North American heartland and its balancing of strategic forces upon Eurasia with the present debate over security policy now surfacing that links in part to that US maritime offshore balancing astride Eurasia. In both cases, the focus is upon the geopolitics of water.

Keywords: water; Mississippi and Missouri Rivers; offshore balancing; North American heartland; grand strategies; geopolitics and neo-realism

How to cite: Kelly, Phil (2018). “The United States and the Geopolitics of Water: Human Need, Mississippi River Barges, and Offshore Eurasian Balancing,” Geopolitics, History, and International Relations 10(1): 94–118.

Received 18 December 2017 • Received in revised form 7 February 2018
Accepted 8 February 2018 • Available online 27 February 2018

doi:10.22381/GHIR10120185

PHIL KELLY
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Emporia State University

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