The Revenge of the Geographers

Robert Kaplan’s recent Foreign Policy essay, The Revenge of Geography, was vintage stuff, entirely consistent with his tried and true essentialist arguments about the world. Whatever you might think of his ideas, Kaplan’s most recent foray also articulates a number of salient and timely points about realism resurgent in international relations. Anyone reading new work on Afghanistan and insurgency will recognize  elements of this trend in recent publications by Thomas Johnson and Chris Mason of the Naval Postgraduate School, and David Kilcullen of David Kilcullen the Center For a New American Security and the Crumpton Group.

Foreign Policy has just published a series of critical responses to Kaplan’s essay. From the FP intro:

Fights over geography have gone on ever since early man first dropped from the trees and started marking the territory he landed on. So it is little surprise that Robert D. Kaplan’s “The Revenge of Geography” has sparked some controversy and a number of smart responses.

In recent decades, talk of a “death of distance” at the hands of globalization has fed hopes that politics, economics, and even humans themselves might once and for all transcend the constraints of the physical world. Not so, Kaplan contends. His article reflects insights gleaned from decades of reporting from some of the most remote parts of the globe, marrying them to his readings of the great geographical determinists of the Victorian age. It is these thinkers, Kaplan argues, who offer the truest guidance to the many ways that geography continues to constrain human action. And “The Revenge of Geography” is his effort to breathe new life into an old way of looking at the world — one that respects the relief map and tries to discern the limits it imposes.

The responses to Kaplan come from academic geographers, students and teachers of geopolitics, and a world-traveling journalist. We decided to continue the discussion here at ForeignPolicy.com. Six responses to Kaplan are published below, and we are sure the debate will only continue to rage. Fights over geography may never end, but at least they now occur in print and in cyberspace, rather than with sticks and stones.

That last line is pretty flip and stupid, and makes me want to throw sticks and stones at FP for printing it, but at least the debate’s happening. Go read the rest: “Kaplan’s Balkan Ghosts,” by Gerald Toal; “Back to the Field,” by Christian Caryl; “Imperial Geopolitics,” by John Morrissey; “Rotten Tree, Rotten Apple,” by Gerry Kearns; “The Human Element,” by Simon Dalby; and “The Use and Abuse of Geography,” by David Polansky.

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