Nicholas J. Spykman

Dutch-American geopolitician (1893-1943)

Nicholas John Spykman (pronounced "Speak-man", 13 October 1893 – 26 June 1943) was an American political scientist who was one of the founders of the classical realist school in American foreign policy, transmitting Eastern European political thought to the United States. A Sterling Professor of International Relations, teaching as part of the Institute for International Studies at Yale University, one of his prime concerns was making his students geographically literate, as geopolitics was impossible without geographic understanding.


  • The facts of location do not change. The significant of such facts changes with every shift in the means of communication, in routes of communication, in the technique of war, and in the centers of world power, and the full meaning of a given location can be obtained only by considering the specific area in relations to two systems of reference: a geographic system of reference from which we derive the facts of location, and a historical system of reference by which we evaluate those facts.
    • "Geography and Foreign Policy I", American Political Science Review, Vol XXXII, No. 1 (February 1938), p. 29.
  • Geography is the most fundamental factor in foreign policy because it is the most permanent.
    • The Geography of the Peace (1944)

America's Strategy in World Politics (1942)


America's Strategy in World Politics: The United States and the Balance of Power, New York, Harcourt, Brace and Company (1942)

  • Plans for far-reaching changes in the character of international society are an intellectual by-product of all great wars.
  • There are not many instances in history which show great and powerful states creating alliances and organizations to limit their own strength. States are always engaged in curbing the force of some other state. The truth of the matter is that states are interested only in a balance which is in their favor. Not an equilibrium, but a generous margin is their objective. There is no real security in being just as strong as a potential enemy; there is security only in being a little stronger. There is no possibility of action if one's strength is fully checked; there is a chance for a positive foreign policy only if there is a margin of force which can be freely used. Whatever the theory and rationalization, the practical objective is the constant improvement of the state's own relative power position. The balance desired is the one which neutralizes other states, leaving the home state free to be the deciding force and the deciding voice.
  • [A] political equilibrium is neither a gift of the gods nor an inherently stable condition. It results from the active intervention of man, from the operation of political forces. States cannot afford to wait passively for the happy time when a miraculously achieved balance of power will bring peace and security. If they wish to survive, they must be willing to go to war to preserve a balance against the growing hegemonic power of the period.
  • Nations which renounce the power struggle and deliberately choose impotence will cease to influence international relations either for evil or good.
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