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The first potential confusion to avoid is a benign but nonetheless problematic one between what we call “geopolitics” and “political geography.” In France, we often use Yves Lacoste’s definition of geopolitics as the “representations” relating to different territories, but I prefer to define it more explicitly as the “ideologies” relating to different territories. Here I use the word ideology to mean a “system of ideas.” What we think about geographic areas, and their populations, is not an abstract representation but is deeply rooted in each of our individual hearts and minds, in ideological assemblages that also provide a cover for various interests.
Many global issues are however characterized by a geographic rationale clearly outside ideology, such as civil air traffic control systems, or numerous economic problems, which from a practical point of view are governed by geographical politics, or political geography. What we call “geopolitics” does not therefore encompass all territorial issues.
The second potential confusion is between the precise or common meaning of “geopolitics” and “international politics.” This one is much more serious because it reflects an implicitly deterministic view of history: identifying geopolitics with international politics implies that the latter are strictly determined by territorial features, and that territorial aspects outweigh all freedom of choice. But the decisions of international politics are not in fact determined solely by political geography…


A foreign policy points to a united society that manages its relationships with its surroundings while defending its own interests. For France, these surroundings have changed considerably since the end of the Cold War and the turn of the century. New lines of force are now emerging, defining a new direction for France—in which European integration will play a major role—that will influence all of our foreign policy choices over the coming decades.

  • foreign policy
  • France
  • European integration
  • Southern flank
Thierry de Montbrial
Thierry de Montbrial is a member of the Académie des sciences morales et politiques, and the founder and chairperson of both the Institut français des relations internationales (IFRI) (French Institute of International Relations) and World Policy Conference (WPC).
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