The Revenge of Geography – Robert Kaplan – Chapter 2
Copyright © 2012 by Robert D. Kaplan
Maps copyright © 2012 by David Lindroth, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Random House, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
RANDOM HOUSE and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.
The preface contains material from four earlier titles by Robert D. Kaplan:
Soldiers of God (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 1990), An Empire Wilderness (New York: Random House, Inc., 1998),
Eastward to Tartary (New York: Random House, Inc., 2000), and
Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts (New York: Random House, Inc., 2007).
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA
Kaplan, Robert D.
The revenge of geography : what the map tells us about coming conflicts and the battle against fate / by Robert D. Kaplan.
1. Political geography. I. Title.
Title-spread image: © iStockphoto
Jacket design: Greg Mollica
Front-jacket illustrations (top to bottom): Gerardus Mercator, double hemisphere world map, 1587 (Bridgeman Art Library); Joan Blaeu, view of antique Thessaly, from the Atlas Maior, 1662 (Bridgeman Art Library); Robert Wilkinson, “A New and Correct Map
But precisely because I expect little of the human condition, man’s periods of felicity, his partial progress, his efforts to begin over again and to continue, all seem to me like so many prodigies which nearly compensate for the monstrous mass of ills and defeats, of indifference and error. Catastrophe and ruin will come; disorder will triumph, but order will too, from time to time.
Memoirs of Hadrian (1951)
Chapter III: HERODOTUS AND HIS SUCCESSORS
Chapter IV: THE EURASIAN MAP
Chapter V: THE NAZI DISTORTION
Chapter VI: THE RIMLAND THESIS
Chapter VII: THE ALLURE OF SEA POWER
Chapter VIII: THE “CRISIS OF ROOM”
THE EARLY-TWENTY-FIRST-CENTURY MAP
Chapter IX: THE GEOGRAPHY OF EUROPEAN DIVISIONS
Chapter X: RUSSIA AND THE INDEPENDENT HEARTLAND
Chapter XI: THE GEOGRAPHY OF CHINESE POWER
Chapter XII: INDIA’S GEOGRAPHICAL DILEMMA
Chapter XIII: THE IRANIAN PIVOT
Chapter XIV: THE FORMER OTTOMAN EMPIRE
Chapter XV: BRAUDEL, MEXICO, AND GRAND STRATEGY
Other Books by This Author
About the Author
THE REVENGE OF GEOGRAPHY
The debacle of the early years in Iraq has reinforced the realist dictum, disparaged by idealists in the 1990s, that the legacies of geography, history, and culture really do set limits on what can be accomplished in any given place. Yet those who were opposed to Iraq should be careful about taking the Vietnam analogy too far. For that analogy can be an invitation to isolationism, just as it is to appeasement and, in the words of the Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami, to the easy prejudice of low expectations. Remember that the Munich conference occurred only twenty years after the mass death of World War I, making realist politicians like Neville Chamberlain understandably hell-bent on avoiding another conflict. Such situations are perfectly suited for the machinations of a tyrannical state that knows no such fears: Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.
Vietnam is about limits; Munich about overcoming them. Each analogy on its own can be dangerous. It is only when both are given equal measure that the right policy has the best chance to emerge. For wise policymakers, while aware of their nation’s limitations, know that the art of statesmanship is about working as close to the edge as possible, without stepping over the brink.1
In other words, true realism is an art more than a science, in which the temperament of a statesman plays as much of a role as his intellect. While the roots of realism hark back 2,400 years to Thucydides’ illusion-free insights about human behavior in The Peloponnesian War, modern realism was perhaps most comprehensively summed up in 1948 by Hans J. Morgenthau in Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace. Let me pause awhile with this book, the effort of a German refugee who taught at the University of Chicago, in order to set the stage for my larger discussion about geography: for realism is crucial to a proper appreciation of the map, and in fact leads us directly to it.
Morgenthau begins his argument by noting that the world “is the result of forces inherent in human nature.” And, human nature, as Thucydides pointed out, is motivated by fear (phobos), self-interest (kerdos), and honor (doxa). “To improve the world,” writes Morgenthau, “one must work with these forces, not against them.” Thus, realism accepts the human material at hand, however imperfect that material may be. “It appeals to historical precedent rather than to abstract principles and aims at the realization of the lesser evil rather than of the absolute good.” For example, a realist would look to Iraq’s own history, explained through its cartography and constellations of ethnic groups, rather than to moral precepts of Western democracy, to see what kind of future Iraq would be immediately capable of following the toppling of a totalitarian regime. After all, good intentions have little to do with positive outcomes, according to Morgenthau. Chamberlain, he explains, was less motivated by considerations of personal power than most other British politicians, and genuinely sought to assure peace and happiness to all concerned. But his policies brought untold sufferings to millions. Winston Churchill, on the other hand, was, in fact, motivated by naked considerations of personal and national power, but his policies resulted in an unrivaled moral effect. (Paul Wolfowitz, the former American deputy secretary of defense, was motivated by the best of intentions in arguing for an invasion of Iraq, believing it would immeasurably improve the human rights situation there, but his actions led to the opposite of what he intended.) Enlarging on this point, simply because a nation is a democracy does not mean that its foreign policy will necessarily turn out to be better or more enlightened than that of a dictatorship. For “the need to marshal popular emotions,” says Morgenthau, “cannot fail to impair the rationality of foreign policy itself.” Democracy and morality are simply not synonymous. “All nations are tempted—and few have been willing to resist the temptation for long—to clothe their own particular aspirations and actions in the moral purposes of the universe. To know that nations are subject to the moral law,” he goes on, “is one thing, while to pretend to know with certainty what is good and evil in the relations among nations is quite another.”
Furthermore, states must operate in a much more constrained moral universe than do individuals. “The individual,” Morgenthau writes, “may say to himself … ‘Let justice be done, even if the world perish,’ but the state has no right to say so in the name of those who are in its care.”2 An individual has responsibility only for his loved ones, who will forgive him his mistakes so long as he means well. But a state must protect the well-being of millions of strangers within its borders, who in the event of a failed policy will not be so understanding. Thus, the state must be far wilier than the individual.
Human nature—the Thucydidean pantheon of fear, self-interest, and honor—makes for a world of incessant conflict and coercion. Because realists like Morgenthau expect conflict and realize it cannot be avoided, they are less likely than idealists to overreact to it. They understand that the tendency to dominate is a natural element of all human interaction, especially the interactions of states. Morgenthau quotes John Randolph of Roanoke as saying that “power alone can limit power.” Consequently, realists don’t believe that international institutions by themselves are crucial to peace, because such institutions are merely a reflection of the balance of power of individual member states, which, in the final analysis, determines issues of peace and war. And yet the balance of power system is itself by definition unstable, according to Morgenthau: since every nation, because it worries about miscalculating the balance of power, must seek to compensate for its perceived errors by aiming constantly at a superiority of power. This is exactly what initiated World War I, when Habsburg Austria, Wilhelmine Germany, and czarist Russia all sought to adjust the balance of power in their favor, and gravely miscalculated. Morgenthau writes that it is, ultimately, only the existence of a universal moral conscience—which sees war as a “natural catastrophe” and not as a natural extension of one’s foreign policy—that limits war’s occurrence.3
Following the violence in Iraq from 2003 to 2007 we all claimed for a time to have become realists, or so we told ourselves. But given how Morgenthau defines realism, is that really true? For example, do most of those who opposed the Iraq War on realist grounds also feel that there is not necessarily a connection between democracy and morality? And Morgenthau, remember, who opposed the Vietnam War on grounds of both ethics and national interest, is the realist with whom we can all feel most comfortable. An academic and intellectual his whole life, he never had the thirst for power and position that other realists such as Kissinger and Scowcroft have demonstrated. Moreover, his restrained, almost flat writing style lacks the edginess of a Kissinger or a Samuel Huntington. The fact is, and there’s no denying it, realism, even the Morgenthau variety, is supposed to make one uneasy. Realists understand that international relations are ruled by a sadder, more limited reality than that governing domestic affairs. For while our domestic polity is defined by laws, because a legitimate government monopolizes the use of force, the world as a whole is still in a state of nature, in which there is no Hobbesian Leviathan to punish the unjust.4 Indeed, just beneath the veneer of civilization lie the bleakest forces of human passion, and thus the central question in foreign affairs for realists is: Who can do what to whom?5
“Realism is alien to the American tradition,” Ashley J. Tellis, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment in Washington, once told me. “It is consciously amoral, focused as it is on interests rather than on values in a debased world. But realism never dies, because it accurately reflects how states actually behave, behind the facade of their values-based rhetoric.”
Realists value order above freedom: for them the latter becomes important only after the former has been established. In Iraq, order, even of totalitarian dimensions, turned out to be more humane than the lack of order that followed. And because world government will forever remain elusive, since there will never be fundamental agreement on the ways of social betterment, the world is fated to be ruled by different kinds of regimes and in some places by tribal and ethnic orders. Realists from the ancient Greeks and Chinese right up through the mid-twentieth-century French philosopher Raymond Aron and his Spanish contemporary José Ortega y Gasset believed war is naturally inherent in the division of humanity into states and other groupings.6 Indeed, sovereignty and alliances rarely occur in a void; they arise out of differences with others. Whereas devotees of globalization stress what unifies humankind, traditional realists stress what divides us.
And so we come to the map, which is the spatial representation of humanity’s divisions—the subject of realist writings in the first place. Maps don’t always tell the truth. They are often as subjective as any fragment of prose. European names for large swaths of Africa show, in the words of the late British geographer John Brian Harley, how cartography can be a “discourse of power,” in this case of latent imperialism. Mercator projections tend to show Europe larger than it really is. The very bold colorings of countries on the map implies uniform control over hinterlands, which isn’t always the case.7 Maps are materialistic, and therefore morally neutral. They are historically much more a part of a Prussian education than of a British one.8 Maps, in other words, can be dangerous tools. And yet they are crucial to any understanding of world politics. “On the relatively stable foundation of geography the pyramid of national power arises,” writes Morgenthau.9 For at root, realism is about the recognition of the most blunt, uncomfortable, and deterministic of truths: those of geography.
Geography is the backdrop to human history itself. In spite of cartographic distortions, it can be as revealing about a government’s long-range intentions as its secret councils.10 A state’s position on the map is the first thing that defines it, more than its governing philosophy even. A map, explains Halford Mackinder, conveys “at one glance a whole series of generalizations.” Geography, he goes on, bridges the gap between arts and sciences, connecting the study of history and culture with environmental factors, which specialists in the humanities sometimes neglect.11 While studying the map, any map, can be endlessly absorbing and fascinating in its own right, geography, like realism itself, is hard to accept. For maps are a rebuke to the very notions of the equality and unity of humankind, since they remind us of all the different environments of the earth that make men profoundly unequal and disunited in so many ways, leading to conflict, on which realism almost exclusively dwells.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, before the arrival of political science as an academic specialty, geography was an honored, if not always formalized, discipline in which politics, culture, and economics were often conceived of in reference to the relief map. According to this materialistic logic, mountains and tribes matter more than the world of theoretical ideas. Or, rather, mountains and the men who grow out of them are the first order of reality; ideas, however uplifting and fortifying, only the second.
It is my contention that in embracing realism in the midst of the Iraq War, however uneasily we did so—and for however short a time we did so—what we actually embraced without being aware of it was geography, if not in the overt, imperialistic Prussian sense of the word, then in the less harsh Victorian and Edwardian senses. It is the revenge of geography that marked the culmination of the second cycle in the Post Cold War era, to follow the defeat of geography through air power and the triumph of humanitarian interventionism that marked the end of the first cycle. We were thus brought back to the lowering basics of human existence, where, rather than the steady improvement of the world that we had earlier envisioned, what we accepted was the next struggle for survival, and by association, the severe restraints with which geography burdened us in places such as Mesopotamia and Afghanistan.
And yet within this sad acceptance there is hope: for by becoming more expert at reading the map, we can, helped by technology as the Arab Spring has attested, stretch some of the limits the map inflicts. That is the aim of my study—to have an appreciation of the map so that, counterintuitively, we need not always be bounded by it. For it is not only narrow-mindedness that leads to isolationism, but the overstretching of resources that causes an isolationist backlash.
But first we need to recognize the very centrality of the geographical discipline. “Nature imposes; man disposes,” writes the English geographer W. Gordon East. Certainly, man’s actions are limited by the physical parameters imposed by geography.12 But these contours are extremely broad, so that human agency has more than enough room to maneuver. For the Arabs, it turns out, are as capable of democratic practices as any group, even as the spatial arrangement of Libyan tribes and of the mountain ranges in Yemen will continue to play crucial roles in those countries’ political development. Geography informs, rather than determines. Geography, therefore, is not synonymous with fatalism. But it is, like the distribution of economic and military power themselves, a major constraint on—and instigator of—the actions of states.
Yale professor Nicholas J. Spykman, the great Dutch American strategist of the early–World War II era, wrote in 1942 that “geography does not argue. It simply is.” He goes on:
Geography is the most fundamental factor in the foreign policy of states because it is the most permanent. Ministers come and go, even dictators die, but mountain ranges stand unperturbed. George Washington, defending thirteen states with a ragged army, has been succeeded by Franklin D. Roosevelt with the resources of a continent at his command, but the Atlantic continues to separate Europe from the United States and the ports of the St. Lawrence River are still blocked by winter ice. Alexander I, Czar of all the Russias, bequeathed to Joseph Stalin, simple member of the Communist party, not only his power but his endless struggle for access to the sea, and Maginot and Clemenceau have inherited from Caesar and Louis XIV anxiety over the open German frontier.13
And one might add, that despite 9/11 even, the Atlantic Ocean still matters, and, in fact, it is the Atlantic that declares a different foreign and military policy for the United States compared to that of Europe. In the same vein, we can say that Russia, unto this day, is an insecure and sprawling land power, the victim of invasions since before those of the Mongol hordes in the thirteenth century, with only time, distance, and weather as its friends, craving more access to the sea. And because there is no serious geographical impediment between Europe and the Urals, Eastern Europe, despite the collapse of the artificial boundary of the Berlin Wall, is still under threat from Russia, as it has been for centuries. It is also true that anxiety over the German frontier plagued France—like in the time of Louis XIV—through the end of World War II, when the United States finally guaranteed the peace of Europe.
Indeed, geography is the preface to the very track of human events. It is no accident that European civilization had important origins in Crete and the Cycladic islands of Greece, for the former, a “detached fragment of Europe,” is the closest European point to the civilization of Egypt, and the latter the closest point to that of Asia Minor.14 Both, because of their island situations, were for centuries protected against the ravages of invaders, allowing them to flourish. Geography constitutes the very facts about international affairs that are so basic we take them for granted.
What could be a more central fact of European history than that Germany is a continental power and Great Britain an island? Germany faces both east and west with no mountain ranges to protect it, providing it with pathologies from militarism to nascent pacifism, so as to cope with its dangerous location. Britain, on the other hand, secure in its borders, with an oceanic orientation, could develop a democratic system ahead of its neighbors, and forge a special transatlantic relationship with the United States, with which it shares a common language. Alexander Hamilton wrote that had Britain not been an island, its military establishment would have been just as overbearing as those of continental Europe, and Britain “would in all probability” have become “a victim to the absolute power of a single man.”15 And yet Britain is an island close to continental Europe, and thus in danger of invasion through most of its history, giving it a particular strategic concern over the span of the centuries with the politics of France and the Low Countries on the opposite shore of the English Channel and the North Sea.16
Why is China ultimately more important than Brazil? Because of geographical location: even supposing the same level of economic growth as China and a population of equal size, Brazil does not command the main sea lines of communication connecting oceans and continents as China does; nor does it mainly lie in the temperate zone like China, with a more disease-free and invigorating climate. China fronts the Western Pacific and has depth on land reaching to oil- and natural-gas-rich Central Asia. Brazil offers less of a comparative advantage. It lies isolated in South America, geographically removed from other landmasses.17
Why is Africa so poor? Though Africa is the second largest continent, with an area five times that of Europe, its coastline south of the Sahara is little more than a quarter as long. Moreover, this coastline lacks many good natural harbors, with the East African ports that traded vigorously with Arabia and India constituting the exception. Few of tropical Africa’s rivers are navigable from the sea, dropping as they do from interior tableland to coastal plains by a series of falls and rapids, so that inland Africa is particularly isolated from the coast.18 Moreover, the Sahara Desert hindered human contact from the north for too many centuries, so that Africa was little exposed to the great Mediterranean civilizations of antiquity and afterward. Then there are the great, thick forests thrown up on either side of the equator, from the Gulf of Guinea to the Congo basin, under the influence of heavy rains and intense heat.19 These forests are no friends to civilization, nor are they conducive to natural borders, and so the borders erected by European colonialists were, perforce, artificial ones. The natural world has given Africa much to labor against in its path to modernity.
Check the list of the world’s most feeble economies and note the high proportion that are landlocked.20 Note how tropical countries (those located between 23.45 degrees north and south latitudes) are generally poor, even as most high-income countries are in the middle and high latitudes. Note how temperate zone, east–west oriented Eurasia is better off than north–south oriented sub-Saharan Africa, because technological diffusion works much better across a common latitude, where climatic conditions are similar, thus allowing for innovations in the tending of plants and the domestication of animals to spread rapidly. It is no accident that the 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 railheads. Central India and inland Africa are prime examples of this.21
In a stunning summation of geographical determinism, the late geographer Paul Wheatley made the observation that “the Sanskrit tongue was chilled to silence at 500 meters,” so that Indian culture was in essence a lowland phenomenon.22 Other examples of how geography has richly influenced the fate of peoples in ways both subtle and obvious are legion, and I will get to more of them in the course of this study.
But before we move on, let me mention the example of the United States. For it is geography that has helped sustain American prosperity and which may be ultimately responsible for America’s panhumanistic altruism. As John Adams notes, “There is no special providence for Americans, and their nature is the same with that of others.”23 The historian John Keegan explains that America and Britain could champion freedom only because the sea protected them “from the landbound enemies of liberty.” The militarism and pragmatism of continental Europe through the mid-twentieth century, to which the Americans always felt superior, was the result of geography, not 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 foreign policies could not be grounded by a universalist morality, and they remained well armed against one another until dominated by an American hegemon after World War II.24 It wasn’t only two oceans that gave Americans the luxury of their idealism, it was also that these two 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, with the riches of the American continent lying between them.25 And yet these same oceans, by separating America by thousands of miles from other continents, have given America a virulent strain of isolationism that has persisted to this day. Indeed, except in its own sphere of influence in the Americas, the United States zealously resisted great power politics for almost two hundred years: even the breakdown of the European state system in 1940 failed to bring America into World War II. It took an attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 to do that. Following the war, the United States once more withdrew from the world, until the aggression of the Soviet Union and North Korea’s attack on South Korea forced its troops back to Europe and Asia.26 Since the end of the Cold War, American foreign policy elites have oscillated between quasi-isolationism and idealist-minded interventionism: all of this at root because of two oceans.
Geography “has been forgotten, not conquered,” writes the Johns Hopkins University scholar Jakub J. Grygiel.27 “That technology has canceled geography contains just enough merit to be called a plausible fallacy,” writes Colin S. Gray, a longtime advisor on military strategy to the British and American governments. It is not only that, as we’ve seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, “the exercise of continuous influence or control requires,” in Gray’s words, “the physical presence of armed people in the area at issue,” it is that anyone who truly believes that geography has been pivotally downgraded is profoundly ignorant of military logistics—of the science of getting significant quantities of men and matériel from one continent to another. What I had experienced in traveling with the 1st Marine Division overland through Iraq was only a small part of that logistics exercise, which included getting men and equipment thousands of miles by ship from North America to the Persian Gulf. In a strikingly clairvoyant analysis in 1999, the American military historian Williamson Murray wrote that the approaching new century would make the United States confront once again the “harsh geographic reality” imposed by two oceans, which limit and make almost insanely expensive the deployment of our ground troops to far-off locales. While some wars and rescue missions may be quickly concluded by airborne “raiding” (one thinks of the Israeli attack on Entebbe airport in Uganda in 1976 to rescue hijacked plane passengers), even in those operations, terrain matters. Terrain determines the pace and method of fighting. The Falklands War of 1982 unfolded slowly because of the maritime environment, while the flat deserts of Kuwait and Iraq in the Gulf War of 1991 magnified the effect of air power, even as holding vast and heavily populated stretches of Iraq in the Second Gulf War showed the limits of air power and thus made American forces victims of geography: aircraft can bombard, but they cannot transport goods in bulk, nor exercise control on the ground.28 Moreover, in many cases still, aircraft require bases reasonably close by. Even in an age of intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear bombs, geography matters. As Morgenthau points out, small- and medium-sized states like Israel, Great Britain, France, and Iran cannot absorb the same level of punishment as continental-sized states such as the United States, Russia, and China, so that they lack the requisite credibility in their nuclear threats. This means that a small state in the midst of adversaries, such as Israel, has to be particularly passive, or particularly aggressive, in order to survive. It is primarily a matter of geography.29
But to embrace the relief map along with mountains and men is not to see the world irrevocably driven by ethnic and sectarian divides that resist globalization. The story is far more complicated than that. Globalization has itself spurred the rebirth of localisms, built in many cases on ethnic and religious consciousness, which are anchored to specific landscapes, and thus explained best by reference to the relief map. This is because the forces of mass communications and economic integration have weakened the power of many states, including artificially conceived ones averse to the dictates of geography, leaving exposed in some critical areas a fractious, tottering world. Because of communications technology, pan-Islamic movements gain strength across the entire Afro-Asian arc of Islam, even as individual Muslim states themselves are under siege from within.
Take Iraq and Pakistan, which are in terms of geography arguably the two most illogically conceived states between the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Subcontinent, even as the relief map decrees Afghanistan to be a weak state at best. Yes, Iraq fell apart because the United States invaded it. But Saddam Hussein’s tyranny (which I intimately experienced in the 1980s, and was by far the worst in the Arab world), one could argue, was itself geographically determined. For every Iraqi dictator going back to the first military coup in 1958 had to be more repressive than the previous one in order to hold together a state with no natural borders composed of Kurds and Sunni and Shiite Arabs, seething with a well-articulated degree of ethnic and sectarian consciousness.
I realize that it is important not to go too far in this line of argument. True, the mountains that separate Kurdistan from the rest of Iraq, and the division of the Mesopotamian plain between Sunnis in the center and Shiites in the south, may have been more pivotal to the turn of events than the yearning after democracy. But no one can know the future, and a reasonably stable and democratic Iraq is certainly not out of the question: just as the mountains of southeastern Europe that helped separate the Austro-Hungarian Empire from that of the poorer and less developed Ottoman Turkish one, and that helped divide ethnic and confessional groups from one another for centuries in the Balkans, certainly did not doom our interventions there to stop internecine wars. I am not talking here of an implacable force against which humankind is powerless. Rather, I wish to argue for a modest acceptance of fate, secured ultimately in the facts of geography, in order to curb excessive zeal in foreign policy, a zeal of which I myself have been guilty.
The more we can curb this zeal, the more successful will be the interventions in which we do take part, and the more successful these interventions are, the more leeway our policymakers will have in the court of public opinion to act likewise in the future.
I am aware that I am on dangerous ground in raising geography on a pedestal. I will, therefore, in the course of this study, try to keep in mind always Isaiah Berlin’s admonition from his celebrated lecture delivered in 1953, and published the following year under the title “Historical Inevitability,” in which he condemns as immoral and cowardly the belief that vast impersonal forces such as geography, the environment, and ethnic characteristics determine our lives and the direction of world politics. Berlin reproaches Arnold Toynbee and Edward Gibbon for seeing “nations” and “civilizations” as “more concrete” than the individuals who embody them, and for seeing abstractions like “Tradition” and “History” as “wiser than we.”30 For Berlin, the individual and his moral responsibility are paramount, and he or she cannot therefore blame his or her actions—or fate—altogether, or in great part, on such factors as landscape and culture. The motives of human beings matter very much to history; they are not illusions explained away by references to larger forces. The map is a beginning, not an end to interpreting the past and present.
Of course, geography, history, and ethnic characteristics influence but do not determine future events. Nevertheless, today’s foreign policy challenges simply cannot be solved, and wise choices cannot be made, without substantial reference to these very factors, which Berlin, in his sweeping attack on all forms of determinism, seems at first glance to reject. Reliance on geography and ethnic and sectarian factors could have served us well in anticipating the violence in both the Balkans, following the end of the Cold War, and in Iraq, following the U.S. invasion of 2003. Nevertheless, Berlin’s moral challenge holds up well so far as framing the debates that have taken place in the course of the past two decades, about where and where not to deploy American troops abroad.
So what to do? How do we split the difference between recognizing the importance of geography in shaping history and the danger of overemphasizing that very fact? We can take harbor, I think, in Raymond Aron’s notion of a “sober ethic rooted in the truth of ‘probabilistic determinism,’ ” because “human choice always operates within certain contours or restraints such as the inheritance of the past.”31 The key word is “probabilistic,” that is, in now concentrating on geography we adhere to a partial or hesitant determinism which recognizes obvious differences between groups and terrain, but does not oversimplify, and leaves many possibilities open. As English historian Norman Davies writes: “I have come to hold that Causality is not composed exclusively of determinist, individualist, or random elements, but from a combination of all three.”32 Liberal internationalists, who generally supported intervention in the Balkans but opposed it in Iraq, reflect this spirit of fine distinctions. They intuited, however vaguely, a principal fact of geography: whereas the former Yugoslavia lay at the most advanced, western extremity of the former Ottoman Empire, adjacent to Central Europe, Mesopotamia lay at its most chaotic, eastern reaches. And because that fact has affected political development up through the present, intervention in Iraq would prove to be a stretch.
So what might that modest fate, that hidden hand, have in store for us in the years to come? What can we learn from the map, to forewarn us of possible dangers? Let us review some of the effects of geography on the grand pattern of world history through the eyes of several great scholars of the twentieth century, and then look specifically at geography and human intervention through the eyes of a great man of antiquity. That will prepare us to probe the most time-tested and provocative geopolitical theories from the modern era, and see where they take us in describing the world to come.