IR - One Definition A Day: Pivotal StatesA geopolitical term applied to those (conventionally peripheral) states whose fate may well determine regional and/or international stability. The maritime equivalent would be choke points. The classic nineteenth-century examples are Turkey, simultaneously 'the sick man of Europe' and the epicentre of Russo-British imperial rivalry over respective spheres of influence in the Eastern Mediterranean, and Belgium. Regarding the latter, Napoleon, who had good reason to be well versed in these matters, described Antwerp as 'a pistol levelled at the very heart of England'.
In recognition of this, after separation from Holland in 1830, the new Belgian state was granted permanent neutrality status and thereafter (until 1945) its continued territorial integrity was considered a vital national interest by Britain. During the Cold War with the widespread acceptance of the Domino theory, virtually all peripheral states were pententially 'pivotal' since the 'fall' or 'loss' of one necessarily involved the collapse of others resulting in a threat to international stability. According to some recent commentators (Chase, Hill and Kennedy, 1996) in the post-Cold War era the new, holistic security agenda with its emphasis on non-military / diplomatic threats such as overpopulation, environmental degradation, ethnic conflict, migration, aides, hunger, poverty, narcotics etc., necessitates a 'new pivotal strategy' for the USA.
Identifying these states then becomes an important policy planning task for Washington policy-makers. Identification criteria are notoriously fuzzy and subjective but at least four sets of factors are crucial; a large population, an important geographical location, developing status as a big emerging market and of course, the capacity to affect regional and international stability. From the US strategic perspective the following might therefore be considered pivotal: Central and South America - Mexico and Brazil, Africa - Algeria, Egypt and South Africa, Near and Far East - Turkey, India and Pakistan, Asia-Pacific - Indochina and Taiwan. While these states may be pivotal from the American perspective, Russian, Chinese, Japanese and European policy makers would no doubt draw up a different list of candidates for inclusion.
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