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Geography basis of long-lasting power centres

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The Revenge of Geography

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

By Robert D. Kaplan

Random House, 348 pages, $34

THIS thought-provoking polemic by a recognized American deep-thinker attempts to demonstrate how geography helps to fashion long-lasting power centres, starting with the likes of ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt.

The Revenge of Geography goes on to predict where new power centres will likely emerge because of the influence of oceans, mountains and deserts.

Foretelling the future is a fool's game, yet readers are likely to cut journalist and author Robert D. Kaplan some slack because his predictions are based on historic events that have been carefully scrutinized by a host of past and present experts.

The book, Kaplan's 14th, brims with scholarly references to the theories of renowned geographers such as Halford Mackinder and shows how intellectuals like Hans Morgenthau, a renowned geopolitical observer, have affected the foreign policies of nations around the world.

Kaplan even reaches into antiquity to anchor his predictions, demonstrating how modern historians like William McNeill have seen the past in ways not unlike the ancient Greek historian Herodotus saw the future.

He looks at former power centres like ancient Greece and Rome, then compares them to the ill-begotten Third Reich to reveal why geographic awareness is so important.

The Nazis failed to appreciate that those ancient empires owed their longevity to the Mediterranean Sea, which was used both as a highway for economic growth and as a barrier to potential threats, Kaplan says.

Hitler's Germany lacked such a geographic friend, giving credence to Kaplan's assertion that had the Allies not succeeded in driving the Germans out of North Africa, the Mediterranean could have become a German lake, with unimaginable consequences.

This is a book that commands a reader's undivided attention because Kaplan's predictions can be provocative.

He risks the wrath of patriotic Canadians and Mexicans by foreseeing American political leaders borrowing a page from the nation's "Manifest Destiny" past and embarking upon a North and South Destiny.

The result will be an even more U.S.-dominated North America, protected by three oceans, and allied with a European-influenced Eurasia, balancing the inevitable rising power and influence of India and China.

Time will determine if Kaplan is prescient, but the book's trove of ideas makes it an engrossing read.

Joseph Hnatiuk is a retired teacher in Winnipeg.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 10, 2012 J7

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