Daniel W. Drezner

That anarchy keeps coming. Any day now…..

My reaction to Robert D. Kaplan’s Foreign Policy cover story, "The Revenge of Geography," can be summed up in the following joke: Question:  Why will Robert Kaplan never do well at Guitar Hero? Answer:  Because you can only go so far playing just one note.  Kaplan has been saying the same thing for fifteen years ...

My reaction to Robert D. Kaplan’s Foreign Policy cover story, "The Revenge of Geography," can be summed up in the following joke:

Question:  Why will Robert Kaplan never do well at Guitar Hero?

Answer:  Because you can only go so far playing just one note. 

Kaplan has been saying the same thing for fifteen years now.  This paragraph from his FP essay encapsulates this point: 

The ability of states to control events will be diluted, in some cases destroyed. Artificial borders will crumble and become more fissiparous, leaving only rivers, deserts, mountains, and other enduring facts of geography. Indeed, the physical features of the landscape may be the only reliable guides left to understanding the shape of future conflict. Like rifts in the Earth’s crust that produce physical instability, there are areas in Eurasia that are more prone to conflict than others. These “shatter zones” threaten to implode, explode, or maintain a fragile equilibrium. And not surprisingly, they fall within that unstable inner core of Eurasia: the greater Middle East, the vast way station between the Mediterranean world and the Indian subcontinent that registers all the primary shifts in global power politics.

Look, this is a good and important note, as anyone paying attention to Pakistan recently would attest. But let me dust off something I wrote about one of Kaplan’s earlier books oh-so-many-years ago: 

Kaplan discovers that countries with corrupt governments, stagnant economies, and short histories of statehood are falling apart.  In other words, Kaplan looks only at failed states and concludes that all states are failing.  He believes these trends can be generalized to the rest of the world, yet his own descriptions [in The Coming Anarchy] contradict him.  In the countries where statehood has a longer tradition, such as Turkey, Iran, and Thailand, Kaplan finds a stronger state and a less fragmented populace.  This observation severs the contagion effect Kaplan wants to ascribe to events in West Africa and Central Asia. 

Kaplan believes in the power of geography to disrupt man-made institutions.  He’s right some of the time, and some of these cases are pretty important.  In general, however, the state — even supposedly weak states — have proven to be remarkably resilient institutions.   

 Twitter: @dandrezner

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