Kaplan (Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power, 2010, etc.) sagely plots global territorial transformations from the United States to China.
The overthrow of artificial borders imposed by the Iron Curtain, the Berlin Wall, postwar treaties and dictatorships has recalled this senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security back to some essential geopolitical truths. While not promoting geographical determinism, Kaplan reminds readers that to understand the role of geography is to understand a “historical logic” lost to our age of instant information and travel. For example, the recent democratic upheavals in the Arab world seized Tunisia first partly because it was early on the North African hub under numerous civilizations from the Carthaginians and the Romans to the Turks, while Yemen, with its stubborn terrain of mountains and desert, remained isolated and ungovernable. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, “Central Europe” has now replaced “Eastern Europe,” yet with the reunification of Germany, the breakup of the Soviet Union and the Balkans, and massive military intervention in ethnic struggles for self-determination in the 1990s, geography has been ignored to great peril. Kaplan returns to hard lessons by “realists” like Hans Morgenthau, who appealed to historical precedent rather than abstract moral principles in foreign policy; Nicholas J. Spykman, who reminded us that geography was permanent while dictators were not; and British geographer Halford J. Mackinder, who conceived the notion of the “Eurasian Heartland” as the area on which human settlement (and power) would always “pivot.” Kaplan extends his academic argument to the early-21st-century map and offers predictions on how the historical logic will play out in Europe, Russia, China, India, Iran and North America.
A solid work of acuity and breadth.