Interview with prof. dr. Todd LANDMAN
Vasile SIMILEANU: Geopolitics, as a science, was challenged after the World War II. After 1989, it became part of the new world order.
Please tell us about your activities in the field of geopolitics!
How do you define geopolitics?
Todd LANDMAN: I have spent the last 30 years working on the systematic analysis of development, democracy, and human rights. I have written widely on the logic of comparative politics and the intersection between in-ternational relations and comparative politics primarily with a focus on human rights. I became interested in major theories of international relations and the evolving human rights regime. My 2005 book Protecting Human Rights (Georgetown 2005) is the first book length com-parative quantitative analysis of the effectiveness of international human rights law with respect to human rights practice, a set of findings that have found confir-mation and corroboration from other subsequent studies.
In 2015 I turned my attention to the global challenge of modern slavery, and I have produced a number of publications about how and why we can study this phenomenon, from measuring modern slavery, to its relationship with globalisation, to understanding ‘what works’ in seeking to eliminate it. My work has included seven series of a podcast called The Rights Track [www.rightstrack.org], three years of which featured guests working on the problem of modern slavery. The podcast had 70 guests, over 26 hours of recordings, and ultimately yielded my new book The Rights Track: Sound Evidence on Human Rights and Modern Slavery (Anthem Press 2022).
My work has taken me to over fifty countries around the world for a wide range of projects, training sessions, assessments, and evaluations primarily focused on development, democracy, and human rights.
For me, geopolitics involves the ways in which inter-state relations shape domestic and international politics, and which reflect underlying sources of relative power, in terms of material resources (economic and military), population size, geographic location, and degree of influence. At the heart of my understanding is an attention to hard and soft power, alliances, conflicts, cooperation, and coordination. Even though I have mainly focused on comparative politics, my research factors in the interaction between states and the influence of states on one another, including attention to geographic contiguity and proximity, contagion of ideas, practices and policies, and diffusion of values, practices, norms, and legal frameworks.
V.S.: Geopolitics has become of impact in all analyses of political, military, social, economic, cultural and diplomatic developments. Do you think that the classical theories of the geopolitical schools are still relevant?
Todd LANDMAN: We should never lose sight of the classical theories from international relations, broadly divided between realism and idealism, but which include a continuum of approaches that variously focus on relative power, normative power, and the construction of international frameworks and institutions. There remains an importance of analysing geopolitics from material and ideational per-spectives, and in my work, I try not to see these as mutually exclusive approaches to understanding global politics. I am particularly fond of the theories from Mears-heimer, Moravcsik, Krasner, Keohane, Wendt, and Rosenau, to name a few.
V.S.: At university level, please tell us how geopolitics is reflected in the university curriculum (undergraduate courses, masters, doctorates)!
What research institutes, NGOs and other formats are developed for geopolitical studies?
Todd LANDMAN: Any large university will have a department or school of politics (or political science) and international relations, where geopolitical developments and matters will be a core part of the curriculum. Key global challenges as set out in the UN Sustainable Development Goals, for example, cannot be understood or analysed by modern students without a solid grounding in core theories from international relations and strong methods training. Students need to learn to appreciate different perspectives, different theories, and to understand how to design research projects to answer well specified research questions. They need to learn to balance evidence and competing claims about geopolitics through the lens of international relations. The Kennedy School at Harvard, the Edmund B. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown, and the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) are all exemplars of world leading research institutes in geopolitics, while major think tanks include the Council on Foreign Relations, the Brookings In-stitution, the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, the Centre for Strategic International Studies, and the US Institute of Peace. In Europe, there is a strong international relations research and teaching group at the University of Essex, which sits alongside the Uppsala Department of Peace and Conflict as a leading geopolitical and interna-tional relations department. At Nottingham, we have a strong group working on unconventional warfare, intelligence, security, the Russian military, and the politics of Asia, as well as the world’s largest group of modern slavery researchers housed in the Rights Lab. The Rights Lab has a mature research programme in using earth observation, machine learning, and artificial intelligence to map and understand physical sites in the world that have a high probability of modern slavery and other forms of exploitation, which to me fits squarely in the domain of geopolitics.
V.S.: Do you think that there is a need for a better visibility of this geographical science in research environments worldwide? Through what forms and means?
Todd LANDMAN: I believe that geographical science needs much greater promi-nence, particularly with the increased capacity and capability of earth observation and remote sensing analytical techniques, combined with machine learning, artificial intelligence, and geospatial analysis. These techniques typically form part of the core curriculum in geography programmes with a focus on the natural world (physical geography); however, they are particularly apt for analysing the social world, un-covering geo-located phenomena where human activity can be detected, analysed, and inter-related with broader sets of socio-economic and political data. Research publications that combine these techniques with political science and international relations are now coming out and proving popular in their provision of new and systematic insights. These techniques should be mainstreamed across curricula in the social sciences and move beyond their primary application in the discipline of geography.
V.S.: Should geopoliticians and their theories be made more popular in the media and social media? What about in relations with partner structures in other countries?
Who do you work with to promote geopolitics?
Should an international organisation be set up to promote the interests of this science?
Todd LANDMAN: The increase in geopolitical analysis in scholarship, as well as data visualisation, are making their way into mainstream and social media (particularly info graphics and maps). Research networks, conferences, and working groups are actively engaged in this kind of research, where I do not believe a formal organi-sation is required. Rather, there should be the continued attempt for all geopolitical research institutes to share their work and to build collaborative networks across the world.
V.S.: In the new global constructions, determined by geo-strategic actions, how do you perceive geopolitical pressures on your state?
How should state actors react to pressures from non-state actors?
Is there collaboration between geopoliticians and business?
Todd LANDMAN: The UK provides an excellent case study in having undergone a recent major disruption with the vote to leave the EU in 2016. Political leaders in government since BREXIT have sought to create a new vision for ‘Global Britain,’ but in the ensuing years since the vote, it has become clear how incredibly challenging realising this vision is, where geopolitical developments in Russia, Ukraine, China, the EU, the United States, and the Indo-Pacific region demonstrate the complex effects of shifting policy agendas, nation state interests, populist nationalism, and rising powers. State actors do respond to non-state actors, particularly coalitions of so-called ‘transnational advocacy networks,’ with links downwards toward domestic based NGOs and upwards to inter-governmental organisations. In one current policy example, the UK government has seen tremendous pressure from such actors with respect to its desired goal to deport migrants to Rwanda. The challenges to this policy have come from domestic non-state actors, domestic courts, international non-state actors, and supranational bodies, such as the European Court of Human Rights. Business organisations are increasingly becoming enmeshed in geopolitics through such organisations and initiatives as the UN Global Compact, the SDGs, and the in-creasing importance of the ESG agenda.
V.S.: What are the geopolitical and geo-strategic challenges of impact and how are they reflected in the strategies promoted by your state?
Todd LANDMAN: The UK is proactively seeking new free trade agreements across the world now that it is outside the EU. It has had a heavy emphasis on the Indo-Pacific region given its younger population cohorts, population size, and formidable economic development. Its history in the region and its presence through the British Council, Foreign Office presence, and business interests make this a popular region for these agreements. For example, between 2019 and 2022, it has signed agreements with Australia, New Zealand, China, Vietnam, Japan, Singapore, Korea, Pacific States (Fiji, Papua Guinea). Outside this region, the UK has also signed agreements with Iceland, Lichtenstein, and Norway; CARIFORM states; Eastern and Southern African States; Albania; Cambodia; Canada; Chile; Cote D’Ivoire; Egypt; the Faroe Islands; Israel; Jordan; Kosovo; Lebanon; Mexico; Morocco; Tunisia; and Georgia among others. The Integrated Review Refresh published in 2023 takes a stronger tilt toward risk, security, and resilience, with a greater emphasis on increased defence spending and attention to the governance of AI.
V.S.: What impact do geopolitical theories have on the decisions of your country’s leaders?
Todd LANDMAN: The primary focus at the moment is on risk, security, and resilience, which cuts across physical threats of kinetic violence (e.g., Russia in Ukraine), economic power (e.g. China, the US, and the EU), migration to the UK (i.e. the small boats issue and the Illegal Migration Bill), climate change and sustainability, nuclear power capability, cyberwarfare and cyber-attacks, the risks of AI and quantum computing, and the domestic economic situation, which itself has geopolitical dimensions. Across all these issues is a varied attention to broader geopolitical theories and developments. As a small island state cut free from the confines and constraints of the EU, the UK is finding its way in the world and very much interested in alliances (e.g., US and NATO) and coordinated responses to global challenges (e.g., trade, future pandemics, climate change).
V.S.: Do you consider it appropriate to collaborate with the Romanian GeoPolitica Magazine on these approaches?
We would be honoured to publish your analyses in the magazine’s pages!
Todd LANDMAN: My primary interest is publishing peer reviewed journal articles and research monographs, but I have enjoyed this interview.
V.S.: New technological changes have led to the emergence of new geopolitical theories such as GeoIntelligence: the geopolitics of information, which we promoted in Romania in 2014, Geopolitics of Artificial Intelligence: the fifth dimension of geopolitics (2019) and Exopolitics: the geopolitics of outer space as the sixth geopolitical dimension (2021), theories that have been presented in the pages of GeoPolitica Magazine.
How do you assess these theories?
In the environment of an academic in your country are there such concerns?
Todd LANDMAN: These are interesting new theories that are relevant to develop-ments in geopolitics. For me, any utility of new theoretical perspectives is down to their ability to derive ‘observable implications’ and testable propositions that can be analysed through well-specified research methods. I think that Exopolitics will become increasingly important in the future as we are seeing an increase in public and private efforts to explore space, the moon, and planets, such as Mars. There are active discussions here in the UK’s research and innovation ecosystem on how we might approach questions of space through the social sciences. One view is that classic theories of international relations will dominate the thinking, where power politics will play themselves out in space. Another view is that there is a collective governance challenge with respect to space and perhaps a desire not to repeat the mistakes that have been made on earth. Space offers opportunities and challenges for access to raw materials, scientific experiments, and knowledge gain, as well as military application. I fear that the primacy of security and defence on earth will shape the possible militarization of space. There is also an environmental concern over space junk and space crowding as more and more missions to space leave technical materials in space that with time become obsolete.
V.S.: Finally, please send a message to the GeoPolitica staff and our readers!
Todd LANDMAN: It has been a pleasure taking part in this interview. I have fond memories of spending time in Bucharest and Tescani many years ago for a series of methodological training workshops with young Romanian political scientists. I have also taught and honoured a larger number of Romanian students over the years, and I am currently working with Romanian colleagues at Nottingham on many different research projects.
Dr. Todd LANDMAN is Professor of Political Science, School of Politics and International Relations and Research Director, The Rights Lab, University of Nottingham, United Kingdom.
Latest publications: The Rights Track: Sound Evidence on Human Rights and Modern Slavery, (2022), ‘Aid Effectiveness: Human Rights as a Conditionality Measure,’ (2022), ‘Machine Learning Methods for “Wicked Problems:” Exploring the Complex Drivers of Modern-Day Slavery,’ (2021), ‘Informing Action for United Nations SDG Target 8.7: Examining Modern Slavery from Space,’ (2021), ‘Measuring Modern Slavery: Law, Human Rights, and New Forms of Data,’ (2020)
Todd LANDMAN is Reviewer for: The American Political Science Review, British Journal of Political Science, Political Studies Review, Journal of Politics, American Journal of Political Science, European Political Research and Methods, British Journal of Politics and International Relations, Journal of Latin American Studies, and more.
Todd LANDMAN is also creator and host of The Rights Track Podcast (www.rightstrack.org), and regular commentator and guest on Channel 4; CNN; BBC TV; Today Programme on BBC Radio 4; BBC Radio Five Live; BBC Essex; TRT World, Al Jazeera, Voice of Islam, Essex FM; SGR Radio; BBC Three Counties; BBC Suffolk, LBC Radio, BBC Nottingham, BBC Radio Foyle, Capital Radio, Redaction Politics, The Conversation UK, PMP Magazine, Stylist Magazine, Verdens Gang, and The Guardian.