15 September 2012

The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate

Robert D. Kaplan, The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate (New York: Random House, 2012).

From the Publisher: In this provocative, startling book, Robert D. Kaplan, the bestselling author of Monsoon and Balkan Ghosts, offers a revelatory new prism through which to view global upheavals and to understand what lies ahead for continents and countries around the world.
In The Revenge of Geography, Kaplan builds on the insights, discoveries, and theories of great geographers and geopolitical thinkers of the near and distant past to look back at critical pivots in history and then to look forward at the evolving global scene. Kaplan traces the history of the world’s hot spots by examining their climates, topographies, and proximities to other embattled lands. The Russian steppe’s pitiless climate and limited vegetation bred hard and cruel men bent on destruction, for example, while Nazi geopoliticians distorted geopolitics entirely, calculating that space on the globe used by the British Empire and the Soviet Union could be swallowed by a greater German homeland.
Kaplan then applies the lessons learned to the present crises in Europe, Russia, China, the Indian subcontinent, Turkey, Iran, and the Arab Middle East. The result is a holistic interpretation of the next cycle of conflict throughout Eurasia. Remarkably, the future can be understood in the context of temperature, land allotment, and other physical certainties: China, able to feed only 23 percent of its people from land that is only 7 percent arable, has sought energy, minerals, and metals from such brutal regimes as Burma, Iran, and Zimbabwe, putting it in moral conflict with the United States. Afghanistan’s porous borders will keep it the principal invasion route into India, and a vital rear base for Pakistan, India’s main enemy. Iran will exploit the advantage of being the only country that straddles both energy-producing areas of the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea. Finally, Kaplan posits that the United States might rue engaging in far-flung conflicts with Iraq and Afghanistan rather than tending to its direct neighbor Mexico, which is on the verge of becoming a semifailed state due to drug cartel carnage.

A brilliant rebuttal to thinkers who suggest that globalism will trump geography, this indispensable work shows how timeless truths and natural facts can help prevent this century’s looming cataclysms.

Advance praise for The Revenge of Geography
“Robert D. Kaplan wields geography like a scalpel, using it to examine international relations and conflicts that globalization fails to explain. The Revenge of Geography is a sagacious account of how geography has shaped the world we know—and what this means for the future. Kaplan’s wedding of historical and present-day analysis on a region-by-region basis makes for a well-researched, entertaining, and informative read that cannot be ignored.”

—Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group and author of Every Nation for Itself
“The importance of geography in shaping history is the great issue that Robert Kaplan tackles in this extraordinary book. Thirty years of scholarship and travel lie behind his recounting of human triumphs and conflicts through the ages. At the heart of his wide-ranging analysis is his belief in the abiding influence of geography on human behavior, now and in the future.”

—James Hoge, counselor, Council on Foreign Relations

“Geography is destiny. This is well known. History, too, is destiny. Sadly, few notice that the twenty-first-century will not see the end of history but the return of history. Robert Kaplan’s The Revenge of Geography describes well how many old fault lines will once again reemerge. Kaplan bravely writes, ‘America, I believe, will actually emerge in the course of the twenty-first century as a Polynesian-cum-mestizo civilization.’ Why, then, have American strategic thinkers failed to anticipate the real challenges America will face? Kaplan’s book provides a valuable wake-up call for them.”

—Kishore Mahbubani, author of The Great Convergence
“In this fascinating blend of geography and history, Robert Kaplan offers a compelling look at economic and political trends that will shape our future. Well written and brimming with insight and historical anecdotes, this smart book is a refreshing call to reconsider the pivotal role of geography in global strategy and how to understand American interests in it.”

—Vali Nasr, author of The Shia Revival and The Rise of Islamic Capitalism

About the Author

Robert D. Kaplan is the author of fourteen books on foreign affairs and travel translated into many languages, including Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power; Balkan Ghosts: A Journey Through History; and Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos. He has been a foreign correspondent for The Atlantic for more than a quarter-century. In 2011, Foreign Policy magazine named Kaplan among the world’s “Top 100 Global Thinkers.” In 2012, he joined Stratfor as chief geopolitical analyst.
From 2009 to 2011, he served under Secretary of Defense Robert Gates as a member of the Defense Policy Board. Since 2008, he has been a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security in Washington. From 2006 to 2008, he was the Class of 1960 Distinguished Visiting Professor in National Security at the U. S. Naval Academy, Annapolis.


p. 219

… Beneath Taiwan on the map looms the South China Sea, framed by the demographic cockpit of mainland Southeast Asia, the Philippines, and Indonesia, with Australia further afield. A third of all seaborne commercial goods worldwide and half of all energy requirements for Northeast Asia pass through here. As the gateway to the Indian Ocean—the world’s hydrocarbon interstate…

p. 220

…the South China Sea must in some future morrow be virtually dominated by the Chinese navy if Greater China is truly to be realized. Here, we have the challenges of piracy, radical Islam, and the naval rise of India, coupled with the heavily congested geographic bottlenecks of the various Indonesian straits (Malacca, Sunda, Lombok, and Macassar), through which a large portion of China’s oil tankers and merchant fleet must pass. There are also significant deposits of oil and gas that China hopes to exploit, making the South China Sea a “second Persian Gulf” in some estimations, write Naval War College professors Andrew Erickson and Lyle Goldstein. …

p. 221

…China is intent on access denial in its coastal seas. In fact, scholars Andrew Erickson and David Yang suggest “the possibility that China may be closer than ever to mastering” the ability to hit a moving target at sea, such as a U.S. carrier, with a land-based missile, and may plan a “strategically publicized test sometime in the future.” … All parties are seeking to alter the behavior of other parties while avoiding war. The very demonstration of new weapons systems (if Erickson and Yang are right)… are all displays of power that by their very nature are not secret. …

For selected sources cited herein, see:

Andrew S. Erickson and Lyle J. Goldstein, “Gunboats for China’s New ‘Grand Canals’? Probing the Intersection of Beijing’s Naval and Energy Security Policies,” Naval War College Review 62.2 (Spring 2009): 43-76.

Andrew S. Erickson and David Yang, “On the Verge of a Game-Changer,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, 135.3 (May 2009): 26-32.