The New York Journal of Books has published a review by American geopolitician Francis P. Sempa of Robert D. Kaplan’s 2018 book ”The Return of Marco Polo’s World: War, Strategy, and American Interests in the Twenty-first Century”. Excerpts below:

Modern classical geopolitical thought dates from the late 19th century when the world, in the words of British geographer Halford Mackinder, became a “closed political system.” The territorial discoveries of the “Columbian epoch,” he noted, were complete.

Classical geopolitics includes the works of Mackinder, the American naval strategist and historian Alfred Thayer Mahan, the Swedish political scientist Rudolf Kjellen, the British scholar James Fairgrieve…and the Dutch-American international relations scholar Nicholas Spykman.

Robert D. Kaplan, in a series of books and articles—most notably, ”Monsoon”, ”Asia’s Cauldron”, and ”The Revenge of Geography”—has compellingly applied and updated classical geopolitics to current international relations. His latest book, ”The Return of Marco Polo’s World”, is a collection of articles written between 2001 and the present that combines elegant writing with a masterful grasp of global geopolitical realities.

What Kaplan calls the end of the “Long European War of 1914–1989” resulted in the dissolution of Europe as a geopolitical region and its unification with the “supercontinent” of Eurasia. Moreover, the interaction of technology, geopolitics, and globalization has brought to fruition Mackinder’s concept of the “World-Island”—the combined Eurasian-African landmass. “Who controls the World-Island,” Mackinder warned, “commands the world.”

Kaplan views China’s Silk Road policy toward Central Asia and Europe, and its development of a maritime network involving the Pacific Rim, the Indian Ocean, and the Middle East (the land and maritime routes that Marco Polo traveled in the 13th century) as an effort to attain political primacy on the World-Island. Twenty-first century geopolitics will be defined by how other Eurasian powers and the United States respond to China’s moves.

During the “Long European War,” U.S. national security policy sought to prevent the political consolidation of the key power centers of Eurasia by a hostile power or coalition of powers. This in essence was the geopolitics underlying the First World War, Second World War, and the Cold War.

That same U.S. geopolitical imperative applies to the 21st century. China potentially replaces Imperial and Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Her pressure on Central Asia and the spread of her maritime influence in the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean threatens to diminish U.S. predominance in the coastal regions of Eurasia—what Spykman called the Eurasian Rimland.

Kaplan believes that American security can be maintained by investing in sea and air power to ensure U.S. command of the sea in the Eastern Hemisphere. “Here,” Kaplan writes, “is where the ideas of Alfred Thayer Mahan meet those of Halford Mackinder.”

He praises the foreign policy realism of Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, and George H. W. Bush, and the scholarly realism of Hans Morgenthau, Henry Kissinger, Samuel Huntington, and John Mearsheimer.

Realists understand, notes Kaplan, that in an anarchic world of states order precedes freedom and interests trump values. Utopianism can be dangerous and costly. History is not linear. Progress is not inevitable. Nations, as Thucydides noted long ago, still act based on fear, honor, and interests.

Comment: To understand the basics of classical geopolitcs a politician just has to look at a world map and the central mega-continent on that map (from the Channel in the West to the Pacific Ocean in the East, from the Arctic in the north to the southern tip of India in the south). It is one land surrounded by one Great Ocean. Outside this World Island of Halford Mackinder are the islands of Great Britain, Japan and three island continents: North America, South America and Australia.

As in the period of circa 1890 to 1989 focus must again be on the great mega-continent after a unipolar moment when the United States was the sole superpower. Great power conflict is once more back on the agenda. Among the present challenges of the West is the possibility of a Russian-Chinese condominium that must be prevented. One of the main strategies of the West must thus be to reach out to the smaller states in Central Asia. Russia must not be allowed to keep that part of the World Island as a ”sphere of influence”. Even if Russia presently most likely is in a continuing decline it is still one of the world’s largest nuclear powers on par with the United States. There are signs that also the West is in decline. A forward strategy to prevent the further rise of the three empires of China, Russia, and Iran is thus necessary. The possibility that the global North is in decline makes it necessary to include this matter in grand strategy planning in the West.

One or more powers must not control the World Island. This dictum of Mackinder in 1904 stands as a continuing, lasting warning for the West.

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