The Revenge of Geography – Braudel, Mexico and Grand Strategy

The Revenge of Geography

Part III – America’s Destiny

Chapter XV – Braudel, Mexico and Grand Strategy

By Robert D. Kaplan

The Revenge of Geography 3In the first instalment of this article, we looked at the base discussions of the book. Then in the second instalment, our focus was on India’s Geopolitical Dilemma in view of The Early-Twenty Century Map.

In the third part, Robert Kaplan takes up his analysis from the point of view of America’s Destiny. In Chapter XV – Braudel, Mexico and Grand Strategy – he has utilized Fernand Braudel’s one of the most influential works – The Mediterranean and The Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II . Barudel’s geographic compass identifies the Mediterranean as a complex of seas near a The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, Volume 1great desert of Sahara. Braudel’s story is not really one of individual man overriding the obstacles, but rather of men and their societies subtly being moulded by impersonal and deeply structural forces. Braudel, with his writings establishes the literary mood-context for an era of scarcity and environmentally driven events in an increasingly water-starved, congested planet.

It is impossible to speculate on how geopolitics will play out over the inhuman time frame of much of Braudel’s analysis, especially given the controversy over climate change and its effect on specific regions. Precisely because Braudel places the events of humankind against the pressure of natural forces, our thinking facilitates on the longue duree (English- the long term).

Thus from the viewpoint of distant future, while US deeply focuses on Afghanistan and other parts of Greater Middle East, a massive state failure was developing right on America’s south border. It goes far beyond Eurasia, but is rooted in North American geography.

America is bordered by oceans to east and west, and to the north by Canadian Arctic. It is southwest where America is vulnerable. Much like Indian subcontinent in Northwest, it stresses civilization in the region. On much the similar the then historical perspective, the income gap between US and Mexico is largest between any two contiguous countries in the world.

Half the length of America’s southern frontier is an artificial boundary line in the desert established by the treaties following the Mexican- American war of 1846-1848.

Since 1940, Mexico’s population has risen more than five-fold. The North-Mexico’s population had more than doubled since NAFTA was signed in 1994. The irony is that Mexico registers far less in the elite imagination of the East Coast than does , Israel, China or even India. Yet Mexico could affect America’s destiny more than any other countries.

The fact that most of the drug-related homicides have occurred in only six of Mexico’s thirty-two states, mostly in North – another indicator of how North Mexico is separating out from the rest of country. The Us shares a 2000-mile border with narcotics controlled powerful multinational drug cartels.

America is a nation of Anglo-Protestant settlers and immigrants, with former providing philosophical and cultural backbone of the society. Only by adopting Anglo-Protestant culture do immigrants become American. America’s classical liberalism emerges from the very fact that it was born Protestantism. This creed might be subtly undone by and advancing Hispanic, catholic, pre-Enlightment society… While the Americans champion diversity, the current immigrant wave is actually the least diverse in America’s history.

Geography is at the forefront of all these arguments. Most of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada and Utah were part of Mexico until of 1835-36 Texan War of Independence and 1846-48 Mexican-American War. Incidentally, some these states also have a rich deposits of Shale Gas. The exploration of this shale gas has been able to convert the US from a net importer to a potential net exporter of the fossil-fuel.

Mexico is the only country that US has invaded, occupied its capital and annexed a good deal of its territory. Consequently, Mexicans arrive in US, settle in the areas of the country that were once part of their homeland, and so ‘enjoy a sense of being on their own turf’ that other immigrants do not share. Mexican Americans into their third generation maintain their competence in their native language to far greater degree than other migrants, largely because the concentration of the Hispanic communities.

America will actually emerge, in the course of 21st century a Polynesian–cum-mestizo civilization, oriented from north-to-south rather than as east-to-west, racially, lighter-skinned island in the temperate zone stretching from Atlantic to the Pacific. It will be brought closer to the rest of world not only by technology, but by the pressure of Mexican and Central America’s demography.

But this vision requires a successful Mexico, not the failed one. A stable and prosperous Mexico, working in organic concert with pro-America Columbia, could fuse together the Western Hemisphere’s largest, the third largest and fourth largest countries in terms of population.

Mexico is now at cross-road; it is either in the early phase of finally taking on cartels or it is sinking into further disorder or both. Because its future hangs in balance, what US does could be pivotal.

As Arnold J Toynbee notes[1], a border between a highly developed society and a less developed society will not attain equilibrium, but advance in favour of the backward society.

Thus, America’s economic power, cultural power, moral power, and even political and military power will be substantially affected by whether it can develop, into a cohesive, bilingual supra-state-of-sorts, with Mexico and Canada.

Finally, “Global war, as well as global peace means that all fronts and all areas are interrelated. No matter how remote they are from each other, success or failure in one will have an immediate and determining effect on the others.” This is far truer than it was in 1944 when that statement was published posthumously.[2]

[1] Arnold J Toynbee – A Study of History

[2] Nicholas John Spykman, The Geography of Peace (1944)

The Revenge of Geography – India’s Geopolitical Dilemma

The Revenge of Geography

Part IIThe Early-Twenty First Century Map

Chapter XIIIndia’s Geopolitical Dilemma

By Robert D. Kaplan

In the first installment of this article, we looked at the base discussions of the book.

The Revenge of Geography 2We now move on to Part IIThe Early-Twenty First Century Map, and focus on Chapter XIIIndia’s Geopolitical Dilemma.

India is possessed of geopolitical logic – Arabian Sea on the West and South-west, Bay of Bengal on East and South-East, the mountainous Burmese jungles on the east and Himalayas and knot of Karakoram and Hindu Kush on the North and North-West. Internally, too, India is vast. What it lacks is a single nursery of demographic organisation, like Wei Valley and lower Huang He (Yellow River) in China. Even the Ganges River valley did not provide enough platforms for the expansion of a unitary India State into the subcontinent’s deep, peninsular south. Various river system, besides Ganga, Brahmaputra, Narmada, Tungabhadra, Kaveri, Godavari and so on, divide it.

India has the hottest climate and most abundant and luxuriant landscape of all Eurasia population hubs and therefore its inhabitants lacked the need to build political structures for the organization of resources on the scale that temperate zones of Europe or China did.

The key to understanding India is the realization that while as a subcontinent, India makes eminent geographic sense; its natural boundaries are quite weak in place. The present Indian State does not conform to the borders of subcontinent. That is the heart of the dilemma.

The choice of Delhi as the capital of India was of very much function of geography for the invaders from the North-East, during the seventh through sixteenth centuries. Delhi’s back was the Islamic World and front is the Hindu World. The Mughal Empire was cultural and political expression of this fact. The last major ruler of Mughal Empire, Aurangzeb’s position was that of Delhi-based rulers going back hundreds of years – the (geographical) northern and north-western parts of the subcontinent were commonly under a single polity even as sovereignty over southern India was in doubt.

Unlike previous rulers who were essentially land powers, the British constituted the sea power. As evidenced by Bombay, Madras and Calcutta presidencies, it was from the sea that the British were able to conquer India. It was through technology of rail network, ranging from Afghanistan border to Palk Strait near Ceylon and from Karachi to Chittagong that the British made it possible to unite this vast internal space into one polity. British, being the sea power, were a neutral force in the historical drama between native Hindus and the Muslim land-route invaders.

When Indians look their maps of the subcontinent, they see Afghanistan and Pakistan in the North-West and Nepal and Bhutan in the North North-East or Bangladesh in East as all part of India’s immediate sphere of influence, with Iran, the Persian Gulf, the former Soviet Central Asian Republics and Burma as critical shadow zones. Not to view these places as such would tantamount to ignoring the lessons of history and geography.

From a different geographical perspective Pakistan makes up a civilizational intermediary and conduit of trade routes connecting the subcontinent with Central Asia …. A stable and reasonably moderate Afghanistan becomes truly the hub not just southern central Asia but of Eurasia in general… A quiescent Afghanistan would spur road, rail and pipeline construction not only in all directions across Afghanistan but across Pakistan as well. And therein lies the ultimate solution to Pakistan’s own instability.

But this is not the situation that currently obtains…. Hindu majority, albeit secular, Indian State wants to escape from the Muslim history and geography. The very competition and fixation with China can be views as the element of this escape. It is a rivalry with no real history behind it.

The very technologies that defeat geography also have the capability of enhancing geography’s importance. Whereas Chinese Dynasties of old almost completely fall within the current borders of China, the dynasties to which India is heir do not. Thus, India looks to Afghanistan and its other shadow zones with less serenity than doe s China to its own shadow zones. China’s influence extends all the way into Russian Far East and Central and Southeast Asia. China’s potential fear of more democratic way of state stems from Turks, Inner Mongols and Tibetans minorities that are restless. China will have to undertake some basic structural reforms and reorganize its economy. But it has an onerous task of containing the tumultuous transition to a manageable level.

India is a regional power to the degree that it is entrapped by its geography; it is a potential great power to the degree that it can move beyond it.

In the concluding installment of our look at The Revenge of Geography on 4th January, 2016, we will take up the chapter on Braudel, Mexico and Grand Strategy.

The Revenge of Geography – Robert D Kaplan

The Revenge of Geography

What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate

By Robert D. Kaplan

This fourteenth book by Robert D Kaplan attempts to bend our views on political lines on the contours of relief maps of geography.

The book is spread over three parts.

The Revenge of GeographyIn the Part IVisionaries – of the book, Robert D Kaplan builds on the insights, discoveries and theories of the great geographers and geopolitical thinkers of the near and distant past to look back at the critical pivots in history and then builds the platform to look forward at the evolving global scene. Kaplan traces the history of world’s hot spots through the learning their climates, topographies and proximities to other embattled lands.

In the Part IIThe Early-Twenty First Century Map -, Kaplan then applies the lessons learned from the present crises in the Europe, Russia, China, The Indian Subcontinent, Turkey, Iran and The Arab Middle East.

The part IIIAmerica’s Destiny – is devoted to the past, present and the future of USA’s foreign policy w.r.t the North America.

We will also take a three-part look at the contents of the book here . In the first part we will delve into the Preface and Chapter II – The Revenge of Geography – of Part I (Visionaries) of the book. Our second part will take a look at Chapter XII – India’s Geopolitical Dilemma – of Part II (The Early Twenty First Century Map) of the book. Our concluding part will be based on Chapter XV – Draudel, Mexico and Grand Strategy- of Part III (America’s Destiny) of the book.

The PrefaceFrontiers – contains material from four earlier titles – Soldiers of God (1990), An Empire of Wilderness (1998), Eastward to Tartary (2000) and Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts (2007). The mountains are a conservative force, often protecting within their defiles indigenous cultures against the fierce modernizing ideologies that have too often plagued the flat ends, even as they have provided refuge to Marxist guerrillas and drug cartels in our own era. .. In the times of upheaval, maps rise in importance. With the political ground shifting rapidly under one’s feet, the map is the beginning of discerning a historical logic about what might come next…When you look at the divided-country scenarios in the 20th century -Germany, Vietnam, Yemen – it is apparent that however long the division persisted. The forces of unity ultimately triumph, in an unplanned, sometimes violent and fast-moving fashion…

We all need to recover a sensibility about time and space that has been lost in the jet and information ages, when the elite moulders of public opinion dash across oceans and continents in hours, something that allows them to talk glibly about ‘flat world’….

Geography – the description of the Earth – has often been associated with fatalism and therefore stigmatized: for to think geographically is to limit human choice. However, study of relief maps and population studies add another layer of complexity to the conventional foreign policy analyses and finds a deeper and powerful way to look at the world. The more we look out over the span of centuries, the more the geography plays a role…Even as we send satellites into our outer solar system, and even as financial markets and cyberspace know no boundaries, the Hindu Kush still constitutes a formidable barrier.

In the Chapter II – The Revenge of Geography – Hans J Morgenthau (Politics Among Nations : The Struggle for Power and Peace) begins his argument by noting that the world is the result of forces inherent in human nature. And human nature is motivated by fear (phobos), self-interest (kerdos) and honour (doxa). “To improve the world, one must work with these forces, not against them.” The human nature makes for a world of incessant conflict and coercion. The tendency to dominate is the natural element of all human interactions, especially those of the states. Power only limits power.

Realists value order above freedom – the latter becomes important only after the former has been established. Sovereignty and alliances rarely occur in a void; they arise out of differences with others.

The map is spatial representation of human divisions. Maps don’t always tell the truth. They are often as subjective as any fragment of prose. Maps are materialistic, and therefore, normally neutral. Maps, even though being dangerous tools, are crucial to any understandings of the world politics.

Nature imposes, man disposes. The man’s actions are limited by the physical parameters imposed by geography. But these contours are extremely broad, so that human tendency to has more than enough room to maneuver…. The higher proportion of world’s most feeble economies are observed to be land-locked. The tropical countries (between 450 North and south latitude) are generally poor. The most high-income countries are in middle and high latitudes. East-west oriented temperate zone of Eurasia is better off than north-south oriented sub-Saharan Africa, because technological diffusion works much better across common latitudes where climatic conditions are similar. It is no accident that world’s poorest regions tend to be where geography, by way of soil suitability, supports high population densities, but not economic growth, because of distance from ports and rail-heads.

America and Britain could champion freedom only because the sea separated them from ‘the landlord enemies of liberty’. The militarism and pragmatism of continental Europe through the mid-twentieth century was the result of geography, not of character. Competing states and empires adjoined one another on a crowded continent. European nations could never withdraw across an ocean in the event of a military miscalculation. Thus their policies could not be grounded by a universalist morality. The two oceans gave America not only the luxury of their idealism, it was also that these oceans gave America direct access to the two principal arteries of politics and commerce in the world – Europe across the Atlantic and East Asia across the Pacific.

Geography, history and ethnic characteristics influence but do not determine future events. Robert Kaplan certainly succeeds in provoking our thinking on the geography as it was yesterday and as it is going to be tomorrow. As Eric Kaufmann notes, the first-order geographical effects like lack of natural barrier as a security threat, strategic proximity to sea-lanes and resources or suitability for bases and pipelines have attained new meaning in the context of the present and future legacy issues in view of the rapidly changing hard and soft technology. The second-order effects like restive national identities or the third-order fundamentalist religion culture have become untethered from their geographical moorings. Kaplan implores us to be mindful of the limits, posed by dirt, rock, and distance to our Utopian desire to bring forth a better world.


Robert Kaplan discusses his book, The Revenge of Geography, which illustrates how timeless truths and natural facts can help prevent this century’s looming cataclysms.

In the  second part of our look at the The Revenge of Geography on 20th December 2015, we will take up India’s Geopolitical Dilemma.