Cohen, S.

Cohen, Saul (1925–)

Born in Malden, Massachusetts, and was educated in Boston, Saul Cohen graduated in geography of Harvard (MA 1948, PhD 1954) and served in Europe in World War II. A liberal Democrat, he is married to Miriam, has two daughters and seven grandchildren.

In 50 prolific years of writing, teaching, and studying in geography, Saul Bernard Cohen has written 14 books and monographs, and over 100 articles and other publications (Figure 1). Cohen fulfilled many important academic and administrative positions, such as president of Queens College, New York City; Dean, Clark University Graduate School; president, the Association of American Geographers; and numerous positions and functions within the US educational system – the US Office of Education, the New York State Board of Regents and many more. His enormous contribution to education in geography is manifested by the hundreds of geographers who were educated by him in his rich teaching career at Boston University, Clark University, Queens College, and Hunter College. Furthermore, Cohen was a major force in several committees and organizations which focused on the advancement of geography in American Universities in his role in the American National Standards Committee and in his offices in the National Science Foundation, the American National Academy of Sciences, Office of the Geographer, US Department of State, and so forth. This genuine interest in education is expressed in Problems and Trends in American Geography (1967) in which the scientific knowledge of geography, its paradigmatic structure and perhaps its aspirations for the future, is presented in 19 chapters authored by prominent geographers of that era. An additional ten articles authored by Cohen are dedicated to education at large. Most conspicuous is ‘Reflections on the elimination of geography at Harvard 1947–1951’ which was published in the Annals of the Association of American Geographers in 1988.

Figure 1 Photo of Saul Bernard Cohen.

It is most appropriate that a biography of Saul Cohen appears in the International Encyclopedia of Human Geography, as Cohen represents, through his writings, an interest and curiosity in a rich variety of topics: from Store Location Research for the Food Industry (1961); ‘Israel’s fishing industry’; ‘Towards a geography of policy’; ‘Geography and the Federal Government’ (1968); ‘Israel’s place names as reflection of continuity and change in nation building’; ‘The world geopolitical system – in retrospect and prospect’. Yet, Cohen, a combination of classical scholar with extensive research interests, is also a ‘specialist’ in its modern interpretation and is known as a world authority in modern geopolitics and political geography at large. His most important theoretical contributions are, however, in the area of political geography and geopolitics. Cohen is the geographical editor of the Oxford World Atlas, and editor in chief of the Columbia Gazetteer of the World.

Two of Cohen’s research areas need to be discussed in depth as they embrace most of his research and writings: Israel and the Middle East, and political geography and geopolitics. His interests in the former were founded on frequent visits to Israel, which always involved joint research projects. The research topics were mostly political and geopolitical: not only Jerusalem and Israel’s borders but also Israeli society, ideology, politics, and the economy. Cohen, who is fluent in Hebrew, was able to conduct direct studies in Israel, which reflects another important quality: all were based on sound theoretical and empirical foundations. An example of such study is the Developmental Approach to the Study of the Rural Sector in Israel, which was based on Cohen, Wapner, and Kaplan’s ‘An organismic developmental perspective for understanding transactions of men and environments’. This research, which was completed in the 1970s, was able to forecast processes which took place in Israeli rural society 30 years later.

Cohen also wrote perhaps one of the best works on Jerusalem, in which he, with great skill, utilized his political geography craftsmanship to offer a governmental/geopolitical integration structure for the city. His proposal for area wide integration is still relevant in the present time. In two other monographs, Cohen was able to analyze in a very eloquent manner all the aspects of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, Israel’s geopolitical standing in the Middle East, and its future. These works are still outstanding in their precise analysis of all the weak and strong points in Israel’s geopolitical position. ‘‘To define secure borders in a narrow, military sense, is toadopt a too limited definition of geopolitical strategy.’’ In addition to the abovementioned books, about one fifth of Cohen’s scientific papers are dedicated to the study of Israel and the Middle East, and he brought to the area that original research perspective.

Yet, it is Cohen’s broader contributions to political geography and geopolitics which is certainly his most significant contribution. The best expression of these original works is Geography and Politics in a World Divided and Geopolitics of the World-System. In Geography and Politics in a World Divided Cohen presents, in the first two chapters, the essence of political geography and geopolitics, and takes it very far from the German geopolitics. Thus, Cohen guides political geography into six approaches to the study of the subject: the power analysis approach, the historical approach, the morphological approach, the functional approach, the behavioral approach, and the systemic approach. Cohen, together with Rosenthal, made a very important theoretical contribution within the system approach. In the model proposed by those authors, a geographical system was advanced as the unit with which the political process interacts with geographical space. Political transactions, structures, and societal forces are the components of the process; place, area, and landscape are the components of geographical space. Process and space interact through the formation of political action areas, and various ideological attachments, organizations, and perceptions characterize these action areas. This approach charac terizes Cohen’s unique perspective to geopolitics.

Following Gottman, MacKinder, and others, move ment and change are crucial elements in the geopolitical system as Cohen perceived it. He suggested two geostrategic regions: (1) The Trade-dependent Maritime World and (2) the Eurasian Continental World. Pro jecting into the future, Cohen anticipated the eventual emergence of a third geostrategic region – the Indian Ocean Realm. The core of the Trade-dependent Maritime World is the Maritime Ring of the USA and it is subdivided into four geopolitical regions: Anglo America and the Caribbean; Maritime Europe and the Maghreb; Offshore Asia and Oceania, and South America. The core of the Eurasian Continental World is the Russian Industrial Triangle, with two geopolitical regions: the Russian Heartland and Eastern Europe and the East Asian mainland. Between these two geostrategic regions lie Shatterbelts – the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

In his 2003 Geopolitics of the World-System, Cohen ad justed the global system to the various political changes. In his spatial hierarchy of the global structure, the highest level is the geostrategic realm. Cohen proposes three geostrategic realms: the Atlantic and Pacific Trade-dependent Maritime Realm, the Eurasian Continental Russian Heartland, and the mixed Continental Maritime East Asia. Today’s Trade-dependent Maritime Realm, which embraces the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean basins and their interior seas, had been shaped by international exchange. The Eurasian Continental Realm, which is anchored today in Heartland Russia, is inner oriented and less influenced by outside economic forces or cultural contacts. The boundaries of the Heartland Russian Realm have changed substantially. To its west, the Eastern European states are no longer tightly within the grip of Moscow, but in the East, the former Soviet Republics of the Trans Caucasus and Central Asia are not free of Russia’s strategic oversight. In the third Realm – the East Asia Realm – China emerged as a major trading nation, but has not become part of the maritime world, and is still continentally oriented. China extended its power southward into the Indochinese states of VietnamCambodia, and Laos. South Asia stands apart from the three realms as an independent geopolitical region which, when linked with the Middle East, forms an Arc of Instability. The future of the Middle East Shatterbelt and Eastern Europe, as a gateway political region or as a Shatterbelt, remains to be determined. The major feature of a Shatterbelt, as defined by Cohen, is that it presents an equal playing field to two or more competing global powers, operating from different geostrategic realms. The Shabberbelts of the 1970s – sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, are no longer Shatterbelts, but the Middle East remains one. The future may bring additional Shatterbelts onto the world scene: the Baltic through Eastern Europe and the Balkans are the most likely candidates. Cohen depicts in his book the evolution and development of the global hierarchical structure and complements the jigsaw by two arcs of geostrategic instability. These are South Asia and the Middle East – and the southern continents – the Quarter Sphere of Marginality, as it is called.

Cohen treats the world as a general system. The developmental principle holds that systems evolve in predictably structured ways, that they are open to outside forces, that hierarchy, regulation, and entropy are important characteristics, and that they are self correcting. There is no doubting the theoretical crux of Saul Cohen’s geopolitics, and the fact that it has endured well for more than 30 years of researching and writing about the upheavals of our world.