The Geopolitics of Five Dimensional Space

Classical geopolitical analysis examined international political relations in terms of an interactive power network and in the context of a three-dimensional spatial structure that consisted of dry land, sea, and air. From the last third of the twentieth century onwards, however, the dominant view in geopolitical thought uses as its analytical framework the coordinates of the concept of five-dimensional space.

The traditional three-pronged approach has been expanded to include aerospace, as well as a cyberspace, which belongs to the broadly defined information sphere or Infosphere. Due to a large scale, rapid technological and technical development that defies even our wildest fantasies, aerospace has not only become an organic part in our everyday lives, but also an organic part of the power struggle between the actors in international relations. Aerospace, therefore, makes up an independent field of geopolitical research under the name “astropolitics”. Everett Dolman, widely regarded as an indispensable thinker in this field, regards himself as a modern-day representative of political realism, as well as the intellectual heir of the classical geopolitical thinkers – primarily Alfred Thayer Mahan, Sir Halford Mackinder and Nicholas Spykman – whose work he further develops in his own. His book, published under the title Astropolitics, bears the subtitle Classical Geopolitics in the Space Age. Dolman adapted Mackinder’s sentence about the heartlands, widely regarded as scientific adage, to our days. He emphasizes the significance of aerospace when he writes: “Who controls Low-Earth Orbit controls Near-Earth Space. Who controls Near-Earth Space dominates Terra. Who dominates Terra determines the destiny of humankind.” A significant group of American geopoliticians regards Dolman as a representative of the so-called Neo-Classicist geopolitics on account of his having adapted Mackinder’s, Haushofer’s, and Spykman’s theories to the Space Age, and criticizes his scholarship on this basis.

Toward a Theory of Spacepower: Selected Essays, a volume published in 2013, tackles similar issues and questions, as well as CiberElcano, a monthly periodical published by the Elcano Institute in Madrid.

Despite the criticisms expressed about neoclassical geopolitical thinkers, the fact remains that Everett Dolman’s book and his studies on aerospace determined and laid the field’s scientific groundwork. Dolman takes his point of departure from the observation that a power struggle, which is conducted at present primarily between individual states, takes place just as much in aerospace as it does in geopolitical three-dimensional space. Aerospace, however, also has its individual traits, which necessitate the adaption of the classical conceptual system, and, parallel to this, the introduction of a new category of system.


Elements of orbital space have been precisely defined and categorized in the physical sciences a long time ago. Geopolitical analysis, however, requires the reinterpretation of certain concepts and their introduction into the thought pattern. Aerospace has become another terrain for power struggle and, similar to other systems, it is made up of various spatial elements that are organically connected to one another. On the basis of their characteristic traits, these spatial elements may be suitable for accommodating and operating space tools that either serve military, civil, scientific, health care, and meteorological etc. purposes, or, for sketching future alternative possibilities, as well as solutions for humankind’s survival and power strategies in their relation to one another. An orbit is defined by altitude, eccentricity, the length of the major axis.

The various spaceships, satellites and spacecrafts all follow orbits around the Earth. A fundamental property of the orbit is whether constant or variable altitude may be associated to it. From an orbit’s highest point, called apogee, we get a comprehensive view of our planet. The near-Earth altitude or the orbit’s lowest point, called perigee, serves for mapping details. Spaceships travel on an elliptic shaped orbit. Relative divergences from this path express the relation to north and south latitude in numeric form. The highest altitude point measured from Earth’s poles belongs to the equatorial plane. Inclination stands for divergence from the elliptic-shaped orbit, the ascending node stands for the location where the higher path is entered. On the basis of the above, the structure of aerospace can be defined and shown the following way:

Earth orbits can be clustered into the following categories based on altitude of orbiting spacecraft: the first encompasses low-altitude orbits, between 150 to 800 km above the surface of the Earth; medium-altitude orbits between 800-35,000 km, and finally high altitude orbits that surpass an altitude of 35,000 km.  We may speak of a geostationary orbit that has a 24-hour period, orbits on the equatorial plane at a 36,000 km distance from the surface of the Earth and rotates simultaneously with Earth.


Based on these orbits and orbital systems, and using an adaptation of the Mackinder classification, aerospace can be divided into four geopolitical regions according to geopolitical scales and levels. One is Terra or Earth, which we can regard as humankind’s general living space. In the interpretation of Everett Dolman, this sphere corresponds to Eastern-Central Europe in MacKinder’s equation. The next one is Terran or Earth space, the geostationary zone that includes Earth space up to 36,000 thousand kilometer altitude. This is the terrain of space armament and of long range ballistic missiles. Moving further away from our center, the Earth, the next region is Lunar or Moon Space. Finally, adapting Mackinder’s conception the next region is the Solar Space or the space of the Solar system.

Dolman also borrows from Mahan’s theory on control and choke points. On this basis, he names five specific points in space where the gravitational effects of the Earth and Moon would cancel each other out if a power were to gain control over them.

It would become possible for powers opposing one another in space to liquidate the spacecraft of a non-friendly party. To adapt and define chokepoints and bottlenecks for use in aerospace, Dolman also takes Van Allen radiation belts into consideration. From a geopolitical viewpoint, these radiation belts are significant in that they signal the limits and opportunities of the deployment of various purpose spacecraft.

The inner belt starting from 400 kilometers to 10,000 kilometers would still protect the spacecraft and the astronaut from damages and dangers. The outer belt, according to our current knowledge, is not capable of providing this protection. According to Walter McDougall, the change in traditional perception of space, the possession of outer space, the birth of space programs can be linked to four big technical discoveries that were developed in war. Britain’s radar, Germany’s ballistic rocket, the United States’ electronic computer, and the atomic bomb fundamentally changed the perception of space, spatial extension, dimension and the analysis of international relations from a geopolitical viewpoint up to the 1940s.

At the same time, we should not forget that once the war concluded triumphantly and its urgency of its conclusion was no longer present, the practical application and further development of said innovations suffered a delay. The faster and widespread deployment of said technical innovations came to the forefront in the international relations of the Cold War, which from certain viewpoints could be described as having ossified into two poles, when the Soviet Union developed the hydrogen bomb in 1949, launched Sputnik 1 into low orbit in 1957, and in 1960 shot down an American U2 spy plane over Sverdlovsk. From that moment onward, the deadly struggle between the two superpowers intensified to extend their spheres of influence. In this rivalry, the now five-dimensional geopolitical space gained an ever more important role.

Among other actors of the interstate and international relations system, as well as the international society, the struggle started for taking control over air and, in our days, aerospace.  In terms of international law, the territory of outer space – similarly to Antarctica – can either be regarded as res nullius (no man’s

land, a territory belonging to no one), or res communis (everyone’s matter, a territory that everyone can make use of) and its neither mere long term nor only peaceful use still brings up numerous issues not easily solved. The difference between res nullius and res communis is enormous, both theoretically and in principle. If a thing does not belong to anyone, does not form the possession of anyone, then, according to the traditional interpretation of international law the person taking possession of it first secures right of possession or disposition over it. This typically colonial mentality is untenable in our days. Outer space is a common treasure and heritage of humankind. Nonetheless, we cannot deny that superpowers and economically, politically, and militarily leading states have secured themselves a privileged position in both air and aerospace.

Satellites on an Earth orbit do not only serve scientific, meteorological, and commercial purposes. The AEW (Airborne Early Warning), the AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System), the C4IS (Command, Control, Communication, Intelligence, Consultation and Informatic System), the GPALS (Global Protection Against Limited Strikes), a GPS (Global Positioning System), the SDS (Strategic Defense System), the SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses), the SHORAD (Short Range Air Defense), the THAAD (Theater High-Altitude Area Defense System), the TMD (Theater Missile Defense), just as the Strategic Defense Initiative, nicknamed “Star Wars”, announced by US President Ronald Reagan and which now forms part of the near past’s history, also serve military and strategic purposes.


We had a chance to observe the effects of aerospace, outer space, info sphere, and cyberspace on military strategy and warfare among others in Desert Storm in 1991, a military operation to defend Kuwait, and in the war launched against Iraq in 2003.

We find a theoretical analysis of the above facts and circumstances, their effect on the character and nature of war, as well as their new strategic and geopolitical analysis in the studies of John Warden and Robert Pape.

John Warden’s name became a household name worldwide in the course of the Desert Storm military operation in 1991. The colonel was among organizer and responsible parties for the air attacks against Iraq. He theorized his experiences in his works entitled The Enemy as a System and The Air Campaign – Planning for Combat. In the course of planning and implementing the operation, Warden attributed fundamental importance to harmonizing national political goals as well as military strategic goals, using air force, as well as using and exploiting the advantages secured by outer space and cyberspace. The North-American geopolitician distinguishes between traditional and strategic war, and redefines the concept of enemy as well. In this view, the definition of enemy does not simply include the concrete soldiers in combat, but rather, enemy should be seen as a characteristic Q system consisting of concentric circles.

From the point of view of victory, John Warden regards it as indispensable to lame the opponent’s centers of gravity as well as its decision centers. Aside from weapon force, decision centers may be attacked from three spheres. The information supply may be interrupted, a state of indecision can be generated, and the external and internal, physical and intellectual communication systems can be destroyed. In the possession of appropriate air, cyber, and information superiority it is possible to achieve total overview over the opponent’s activities and movements. The decisive point is the strategic laming of the opponent. Its essence consists of five concentric rings – fielded military, population, national infrastructure, system essentials, political leadership -, that relies on blocking enemy, now understood to be a comprehensive system relying on centers of gravity.

Warden regarded taking out the center ring, political leadership, as the most important element of this novel warfare. He described this center ring, using a simile from biology, as the system’s brain. This is what makes the system move. This is the main center of gravity. Putting it under constant attack and laming it is therefore a key task of the attackers who wish to achieve victory. In order to achieve military, political, or economic victory, simultaneous or parallel attacks can also be launched against the concentric rings. This view is reminiscent of Clausewitz’s views on ideal war, as well as Napoleon Bonaparte’s views on the concentration of forces, gaining control over decisive points and applying dominant force there. According to Warden, knocking out an enemy means simultaneously implementing various complementary methods. These include gaining control over aerospace and outer space, strategic bombing, air strikes against non-military targets, which may result in breaking moral resistance. This theory and warfare conducted on its basis, however, bring up numerous questions regarding human rights and humaneness. These however also take a viewpoint that includes another dimension into consideration.


Similar to John Warden, Robert Anthony Pape, Professor of the University of Chicago attributes great significance to air force in warfare. In 1996, he published Bombing to Win: Air Power and Coercion in War he introduces and analyzes a number of historical examples to illustrate and examine the advantages and disadvantages of air force in war, as well as its non-desirable consequences.

Robert Pape is a social scientist and not a military strategist. In his analyses, he turned to the strategic questions of implementing air force, aerospace, and cyberspace in order to establish political objectives and to come up with political alternatives. The attack against the Twin Towers in New York on September 11, 2001 prompted him to study the problems of asymmetric warfare. For this reason, in 2005 he published his book Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism, which focused on a branch of international terrorism, and in 2010, he organized the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism – CPOST, an institute belonging to the University of Chicago.

In their analyses, John Warden and Robert Pape write about modern air war,

and they also take into account data transmitted and forwarded by Earth-orbiting orbital instruments. Information gained in outer space has a fundamental importance in establishing and securing air superiority, as well as achieving victory in war. As General Thomas D. White observes, “air and space are not isolated from one another, the two categories are not separated by a firm boundary; in fact, they make up a unified and indivisible space for military operations.” Outer space can be regarded as the natural and logical extension of air; control over outer space can only be understood as a cumulative result of air’s ever growing development… More precisely, we live in a Space Age, our military operations are conducted in a “Space Era”… According to Thomas D. White, the objectives of the air force changed depending on level. The basis is permanent and unchanging: greater speed, greater distance and ever greater altitude.

This we can read in other words in one of Stephen Rothstein’s scientific studies prepared on Alabama Air Force Base, Air Force Academy:  “… integration of air and space is a natural and logical step for the development of air power.”


The fifth dimension in the changing conception of geopolitics is Cyberspace. The world of electronic phenomena and flows, which form part of information sphere, are inseparable from it, denote the computer networks of online communication and the system forwarded, made alive, and taking shape in various forms of virtuality.

Cyberspace has fundamentally changed the relationship of space, time, politics and political powers to one another. We have now entered an era where space and time are simultaneous and identical. In the world of chronopolitics that concept of space which can be tied to a determined, concrete physical reality is disappearing and losing ever more ground. “Traditional” spaces are replaced by “spacelessness”, a space lacking any concrete form, a physically undetectable “extensionlessness”. Colin Gray in his book Modern Strategy calls space appearing in this fashion anti-geography, that is, a space quasi against geography.

These factors have an effect on the behavior of the state, on the kinds of roles it assumes, on the state’s functions, and the concept of sovereignty, as well. The state, after all, is one of the most important representatives of territoriality, the political world based on the application of the territorial principle. This is not merely integration tendencies that go hand in hand with globality prevailing. The change is a great deal more cardinal, radical and deeper. We have entered an age where politics has moved into virtual reality. In the era of chronopolitics, politics departs from and becomes independent of real space. In the twenty-first century, post-Cold War geopolitical thinking must find and discover among never before experienced spatial relations the laws of power struggle in various arenas of the international system.

Research institutes and groups, as well as decision preparations and decision making organizations and bodies of the United States assign high priority to the problems of cyberspace. A document of the United States Department of Defense (DOD) from September 2008 addresses the question of cyberspace in great detail and gave the following systematic definition of the concept: “Cyberspace is a global domain within the information environment consisting of the interdependent network of information technology infrastructures, including the Internet, telecommunications networks, computer systems, and embedded processors and controllers.” Referring to the strategic relevance of cyberspace, Colin Gray also uses the more broadly defined word environment to explain and shed a light on its characteristics: “land, sea, air, and space environments and the electronic empire of cyberspace have in common that we may regard them all as war zones. Cyberspace is a “geographical” zone of strategic relevance.”

Merna Hsu, in his dissertation entitled Gaining and Maintaining Cyberspace Superiority: Quest for a Holy Grail?, which, similarly to Rothstein, he defended at the Maxwell US Air Force Base Air University, attempted to sketch and grasp the characteristic traits, attributes of the fifth dimension.

“Although cyberspace is an artificially created domain, it nonetheless is derived from, and governed by, physical laws associated with the electromagnetic spectrum. As such, cyberspace is not wholly subject to human will and whim.”

What, therefore, characterizes this domain? We can list at least six characteristics. One of its attributes is its multidimensionality. Cyberspace has non-geographical, post-geographical, and even anti-geographical traits. For its use, and in order to enter this domain, a hard- and software infrastructure are necessary. However, their connection and activities in cyberspace can be carried out on land, sea, air, and space. It is not constrained by political and geographical boundaries. It exists simultaneously in numerous countries and geographical locations. Cyberspace realizes the interconnected network of hardware and software. Cyberspace is simultaneously an artificial construct dependent on technology, a dynamic and self-regenerating phenomenon. Physical boundaries cannot delimit its movements and activities. Cyberspace is simultaneously intransparent and opaque. As it is an artificial creation, it can be operated, controlled according to specific rules, and, as a consequence, may constitute the subject of international and global “business transactions”. As we may regard it as a relatively new domain of military history, there is an ongoing struggle to establish “spheres of influence”. If a state endeavors to be a great power, presence in and influence over cyberspace are an indispensable task. As General Keith Alexander, a retired four-star general of the US Army claims with reference to the historical situation in 1823: “I think we need to develop a cyber Monroe Doctrine.”


In his study published in 2008, General William T. Lord, the commander of the United States Cybers Command unit emphasizes that attacks are also launched at the United States from the electronic domain. In addition to destroying the Twin Towers, the secondary objective of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 was to destroy the financial system on which, among other things, the United States economy significantly depends. Up to September 11, 2001, Al-Qaeda and similar actors in international relations were not regarded as a serious danger factor from the point of view of American national interest and survival. Following the attacks, this changed. Another reason for the change was a cyberspace attack launched at Estonia with Chinese support in 2007. Not only great powers, but also individual state must prepare for the ever more serious and ever more threatening dangers internationally. “This is a war that knows no constraints, where there are no rules and no prohibitions” – as General William T. Lord writes in his article.

It is relatively easy and inexpensive to wrest cyberspace capabilities from the enemy. Therefore, one must defend oneself appropriately. Air Force Cyber Command – AFCYBER, set up by the United States in the fall of 2008, serves precisely this goal. “Make no mistake” – I am quoting General William T. Lord – “if we cannot dominate in cyberspace, we place air and space dominance at risk. For example, if an adversary is able to inject malicious software into the F-22 fleet, we may not be able to fly the Raptor when it is needed in battle.”

Zsolt Haig and István Várhegyi, similarly to William T. Lord, speak of cyberspace as a new domain of warfare in their writings and studies. In accordance with American authors and strategists, they too attribute a great importance to gaining information superiority in the course of the struggles taking place in the fifth dimension. As their analyses focus on changes that have happened in the character of warfare, they highlight the importance of emphasizing the difference between civil and military applications with regards to cyberspace. “According to civil terminology, cyberspace is a generic name for electronic communication tools and systems (computer networks, phone lines, satellite systems etc.) and services carried by them, the virtual space or world made up by information”, they write. […] The interpretation of the term cyberspace used by the military diverges from the civil term: it is a great deal broader.

According to the document National Military Strategy for Cyberspace Operations, cyberspace is a domain where electronic tools operating in networked systems and the electromagnetic spectrum are used to store, modify, and exchange data. However, it should be noted that various electronic devices in a network may connect to one another by different cable connections. Thus, for instance, a widespread connection form for stationary systems is broadband. Within this category, optical cables are gaining ever more ground.  Accordingly, the definition above must also be extended to such networks whose elements are connected not via radio channels, but rather by cable (copper cable, optical cable). Beyond this, the electromagnetic spectrum must be regarded only as part of cyberspace, as cyberspace must be extended to other domains of the spectrum of frequencies, which includes, for instance, the physical domain of mechanical vibrations and particle radiation.

A multitude of instruments serve the purpose of mapping seismic and acoustic vibrations, as well as particle radiation (sonars, acoustic sensors deployed on battlefields, artillery measurement devices, specialized microphones, radiation detectors etc.), and in the struggle against them electronic warfare must be implemented. Directed energy weapons, a large portion of which (for instance sonic weapons based on infrasound, sonic shockwave generators, high energy particle radiators etc.) also operate in physical domains.  Accordingly, instead of the electromagnetic spectrum, it is more correct to speak of and interpret the entire frequency spectrum.”

Thus, it is not only extraordinarily important to obtain and maintain information superiority, but also an exceptionally complex and difficult task. According to Zsolt Haig and István Várhegyi, this means a new kind of military philosophy called “Network Centric Warfare” (NCW), or alternatively, using NATO terminology, Network Enabled Capacity.

According to this, the exploitation of resources is more efficient if systems are interconnected, share certain resources, than if they were to exist independently, in isolation from one another.

The concept’s essence is that those participating in military operations must be able to access all important information necessary to carry out their task in real time, in the appropriate content and in usable form. This new form of warfare increases battle force and ability by integrating the communication and information systems of the sensor systems, commanders, and executers into the same system.”

Based on the five-dimensional geopolitical view of space, cyberspace is tightly connected to the domains of land, air, and sea, the “classical” domains, as well as the space embodying astropolitics.

Zsolt Haig’s and István Szilágyi’s study is perfectly appropriate for their representation from a military viewpoint, and to introduce and characterize their system of relations. This means that obtaining and maintaining cyber superiority in the course of cyber warfare includes physical destruction by kinetic energy, various forms of consciousness and psychological warfare from the cognitive sphere, as well as network procedures and activities from the information sphere.

The task is therefore extraordinarily difficult, complex, and intricate, because cyber-attacks themselves are extraordinarily complex, being a form of activity and a complex of phenomena that appear in mass and network form. In order to avoid getting lost in the military political, technical, technological details of gaining cyberspace superiority and making an attempt to analyze them, we must call attention to Zsolt Haig’s study published in 2011.

In this, the author regards securing information supremacy as one of the basic conditions of gaining cyberspace superiority. From the point of view of breaking the opponent’s virtual and actual power – similarly to General William T. Lord, whom we have already cited – he regards the build-up and the organization of successful and efficient defense systems against exterior enemy attacks equally important to attack operations.

These two objectives complement one another. Without an efficient defense of one’s own information sphere and information capabilities, countering exterior and interior attacks launched against it and securing the usability of one’s own information capacities there is no chance to constrain, weaken, deactivate the capacities of the opponent’s information system, to “immobilize’ it, so to say. Information superiority is based on organizing and operating the two networks in one unified system.

In order to gain information superiority that secures cyberspace domination, success in the electronic domain and the success of electronic warfare is imperative.


In the twenty-first century, electronics have made their way into the public realm and politics. Indeed, it rewrites and reinterprets our conceptual apparatus and our point of view. The new technology alters the management of public affairs and res publica not merely on a technical level, but on the level of content as well. Elevating the role of electronics to a general political theory will effect a paradigm shift in political theory. A new Prince appears on the scene. The electronic Prince.

As Octavio Janni puts it in the introductory sentence of his study published in 1999: “In the history of politics there are numerous ‘princes’ from the theoretical and practical points of view.” Taking the brilliant insight of the well-known Latin American social scientist as our point of departure and mentioning the most famous and best known examples, we may speak of Niccolo Macchiavelli’s The Prince, written in 1513. This prince had been a flesh and blood person, a historical figure. In the writing of the book, Lorenzo Magnifico of Florence, as well as the ruling couple of Ferdinand the II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castille, served as examples. Luck (fortuna), virtue, and courage (virtu) are necessary but not sufficient conditions of political success. Next to force, intellectual influence, as well as the validation and enforcement of hegemony are indispensable. Four hundred and twenty-four years later, in 1937 Antonio Gramsci wrote about the importance and indispensability of a New Prince embodied and personified by the party, by a political organization, reflecting the circumstances of a new historical era, the twentieth century. Sovereignty and hegemony are inseparably intertwined with the activities of these two princes.

According to Octavio Jannie, the Electronic Prince of cyberspace “is neither a condottieri, nor a political party, but at the same time recreates, surpasses, and makes us forget the activities of these two classical political figures. The Electronic Prince is an opaque, active, present, invisible, reigning, omnipresent entity that permeates every level of society, local, national, regional, and world levels. He is present on the level of structures, power blocks, and on the national, regional, and word level; he is a reigning, collective and organic intellectual, which always appears on the world’s political map according to various social and political-economic circumstances. It goes without saying that the Electronic Prince is neither homogenous nor monolithic on either the national or the world level. Generally, the Electronic Prince is primarily a conventional expression of the national, regional, worldwide vision enforce by power blocks reigning in the world.” Octavio Ianni’s argument in our view creates a new paradigm, a new intellectual framework for the analysis, point of view, and interpretation of cyberspace. Above all, they create he twenty-first century’s world that is mediated on a world scale. In this network, organized and operated space influenced by transnational actors and the manipulation industry, the boundaries disappear in the sphere of hegemonic relations and public awareness. Information becomes uncontrollable with traditional methods and modes, knowledge, behaviors, lifestyles, and behavior cultures from international media gain decisive influence. Boundaries between civilizations cease to exist. The mass of information flowing from the virtual realm gains a reigning position in defining the hegemony relations of international society. Owing to the culture industry, the contact and meeting of civilizations becomes an everyday matter. The borders of countries dissolve and disappear. Lies are exposed and at the same time transformed. New convictions, new beliefs, new world views, new directions, new global solutions appear and take root. The Electronic Prince renders humanity a homebody, and forces it to remain in front of a screen. The state of mass solitude (multidao solitaria) appears.

The widespread deployment and use of electronics and its part Internet become part of operating the economy, finance, the state entities and institutions etc. It contributes to the spread of democracy based on direct participation, to the modernization and simplification of electoral systems, as for instance Rodrigo Araya Dujisin predicted in his 2005 study. As a result of these facts, the significance of cyberspace far surpasses the military framework of gaining information superiority. We may not forget the circumstance that the Electronic Prince, operating in the direct sphere of virtuality, coexists with its classical predecessors in the traditional space, with the princes and political organizations of previous eras. This constitutes the examination and analysis of spatial international power relations in the twenty-first century.

written by: István Szilágyi

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