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

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The writing is evocative, carrying us up to Central Asian tablelands, deep into Russian forests, and bumping over rutted roads across black and red Asian deserts. But is the argument persuasive? Not really. While Kaplan qualifies his main argument in places, he more of- ten overreaches—as if in the tradition of Napoleon, Alexander, or Aurangzeb, riding beyond the bounds of prudence. This conceptual stretching renders geography a convenient vehicle for all that Kaplan finds wrong with liberal internationalist theory.

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

It is one thing to argue, as Jared Dia- mond has done, that climate and the map gave Europe, the Middle East, and Asia a civilizational head start. It is quite another to claim that geography is still a factor. Iraq and Russia may have suffered in the past because of a lack of natural barriers to conquest. But in an age of predator drones and ICBMs, topographical considerations are surely a shadow of their former self.

‘The Revenge of Geography,’ by Robert D. Kaplan

A more granular analysis would distinguish first-order geographic effects like strategic proximity to sea lanes and resources, or suitability for bases and pipelines, from legacy effects. Second- and third-order effects of geography like restive national identities and fundamentalist religions are much more important than first-order ones, but have become untethered from their geo- graphical moorings. Kaplan nonetheless elides them with the same broad brush. In sketching the geographic causes of youthful demography, insecure national identity, austere religion, or ethnic diversity, Kaplan would profit from several recent insights in the quantitative social sciences.

Meanwhile, comparative political scientists like David Laitin have drawn our attention to mountainous terrain as a predictor of civil war within states.

And political scientists and economists find a statistical relationship between geoclimatic variation and ethnic fractionalization, which is associated with a heightened risk of underdevelopment and conflict. In these myriad ways, the legacy of geography is present, but geography per se is of little consequence.

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One can also quibble with a relentless realism redolent of the Cold War. This is not Hardware, men, and geopoli- tics are all that count. But we are a long way from that Hobbesian world. You do not have to go the distance with Steven Pinker to see that inter-state war has become exceedingly rare since When state sovereignty is breached, as in Abkhazia or Libya, there is an anguished hue and cry and pressure for the offending party to depart unless it has secured a UN resolution.

International norms, democratic peace theory, and economic interdependence can be overstated, but let us not pretend these things do not count at all. This, surely, is the story of North America. It is one thing for the Taliban to mount hit-and-run raids, but they will never stack up to Genghis Khan. To conflate the two is intellectually lazy. In fact, international recognition of any boundary change is extremely difficult.

We live in a norm-governed international system in which wars are rare and 95 percent take place within states rather than between them. It is time to discard romantic notions of the Grand Chessboard.

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Kaplan acknowledges this will not keep America in its current position astride the globe. Which begs the question of what average American citizens will gain from the social engineering and cultural transformation called for by chess master Kaplan. But perhaps their views must bend to the inevitability of geography, much as those of Hegel and his Prussian heirs believed in the inevitability of History.

In the end, The Revenge of Geography is an entertaining, evocative, and well- informed exercise in futurology, but its core thesis fails to deliver. Empirical studies of happiness have mushroomed over the past four decades.

Table of Contents: The revenge of geography :

There are now six specialized happiness journals. None existed before the year , when the Journal of Happiness Studies was launched. Derek Bok, former president of Harvard University and former dean of its Law School, provides an overview of this new field and writes clearly, without jargon.

Robert D. Kaplan's The Revenge of Geography Book Launch Event

Happiness is an intuitively appealing word that is often used to refer to a state of mind more accurately described as life satisfaction or subjective well-being. Bok uses. Related Papers. Robert D. The region's geography ensures that it will remain disputed territory and that any nation that wishes to control the world must control this "heartland.

Perhaps the most important geographical claim that Kaplan advances is that the world will increasingly suffer from a "crisis of room. Higher populations will have more to fight over and less to agree on when it comes to the control of natural resources, strategic military points and simple, arable land. Kaplan also notes important features of U. Its primary weakness is its southern border with Mexico, since the boundary is artificial and the influence of Mexican culture and immigrants will prove impossible to resist.

The Revenge of Geography is divided into three parts. In Part I, Visionaries, Kaplan rediscovers important early 20th century and late 19th century geopolitical intellectuals, including Nicholas Spykman and Halford MacKinder. These intellectuals can help the foreign policy community to focus on geography once again. Kaplan spends a good bit of time trying to separate their insights from what often prove to be unsavory political views of the day. He predicts that in one hundred years the United States will have partly merged with Canada and Mexico and have a much more Hispanic racial and cultural cast.

However, the US's friendly economic environment and intellectual communities will remain world class, as will its military power. An important and not to be overlooked feature of the book is that it was written in part because Kaplan realizes that the War in Iraq occurred partly at his insistence and he now believes it to have been a complete disaster.


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The Revenge of Geography is supposed to help explain why it was a disaster and how the US can maintain global dominance by paying attention to long-term geographical factors that would have dissuaded it from invading Iraq in the first place. Read more from the Study Guide. Browse all BookRags Study Guides.