[Robert Kaplan, The Return of framework Polo's World. War, Strategy, and American Interests in the Twenty-first Century. Random House. New York, 2017. 280 pp.]


review / Emili J. Blasco

The Return of framework Polo's World

The signs of "imperial fatigue" that the United States is giving—a less willingness to provide world order—contrast with the destiny of projection on the globe that its nature and size imprint on it. "The United States is doomed to lead. It's the sentence of geography," writes Robert Kaplan. "No. The United States is not a normal country (...), but it has the obligations of an empire."

Between the reality of a great power whose foreign policy has entered a new phase – a certain withdrawal on the international scene, begun by Barack Obama and continued by Donald Trump – and the demands of its national interest, which in Kaplan's opinion requires an assertive presence in the world, moves the new book by this well-known American geopolitical author.

Unlike his previous works – the most recent is Earning the Rockies. How Geography Shapes America's Role in the World (2017) – this time it is a volume that collects his essays and articles published in different media over the last few years. The longest, which gives degree scroll to the compilation, was commissioned by the Pentagon; The headline of another of the texts, also from 2016, heads these lines.


When Kaplan talks about returning to the world of framework Polo is meaning two things. The main one is the new link that is emerging between China and Europe thanks to the increased trade, symbolized by the new Silk Road, which gives rise to a long essay about the materialization of what until now was only an idea: Eurasia. The other meaning, which he develops further elsewhere in the book, has to do with the new international order we are moving towards, which he calls "competitive anarchy": an era of greater anarchy compared to the time of the Cold War and the one we have known since then (the Cold Age). average of framework Polo was also a time of multiple powers.)

Kaplan is one of the authors who is most concerned about the emergence of Eurasia. The arrival of Syrian migrants in Europe has made it dependent on the vicissitudes in the Middle East, showing that the internal borders of the supercontinent are fading. "As Europe disappears, Eurasia becomes cohesive. The supercontinent has become a fluid and comprehensive unit of trade and conflict," he writes. And with the cohesion of Eurasia, the specific weight of the world shifts from the Asia-Pacific to the Indo-Pacific or, as Kaplan also calls it, the Great Indian Ocean.

Realism, Morals and Values

Among the many strategic aspects that Kaplan considers in relation to Eurasia, perhaps one important caveat can go unnoticed: much of China's success in its Belt and Road course depends on Pakistan acting as the leader of the Belt. core topic which, in the middle of the arch, gives it completion and at the same time sustains it. "Pakistan will be the main recorder of China's ability to link its [land] Silk Road through Eurasia with its [maritime] Silk Road through the Indian Ocean," Kaplan said. In his view, Pakistan's instability, even if it does not end up causing the country's collapse, could well limit the effectiveness of the great project Chinese.

Outside of that Eurasian chapter, the book is an argument, sober and calm, with Kaplan's always elegant prose, of the principles of realism, understood as "a sensibility rooted in a mature sense of the tragic, of all the things that can go wrong in foreign policy, so that caution and caution knowledge of history are embedded in the realistic way of thinking." For a realist, "order comes before freedom and interests before values," because "without order there is no freedom for anyone, and without interests a state has no incentive to project values."

Kaplan discusses these considerations in articles dedicated to the thought of Henry Kissinger, Samuel Huntington, and John Mearsheimer, all of them realists of different stripes, of which he is close, especially the first: Kissinger's reputation will only increase over the years, he says. On the other hand, he rejects that Trump's foreign policy can be framed in the realist doctrine, because the American president lacks a sense of history, and that is because he does not read.

Kaplan presents realism as a sensibility, rather than a guide with recipes for acting in crisis situations, and certainly on various pages he enters into the discussion on whether the external actions of a State should be guided by morality and the defence of values. "The United States, like any nation – but especially because it is a great power – simply has interests that are not always consistent with its values. This is tragic, but it is a tragedy that has to be embraced and accepted." "Because the United States is a liberal power, its interests – even when they are not directly concerned with human rights – are generally moral. But they are only secondarily moral."

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