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Robert D. Kaplan

Robert D. Kaplan speaking at the U.S. Naval War College in 2014

Robert David Kaplan (born June 23, 1952 in New York City) is the author of many books on foreign affairs and travel, whose work over three decades has appeared in The Atlantic, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The New Republic, The National Interest, Foreign Affairs and The Wall Street Journal, among other newspapers and publications.

His more controversial essays about the nature of US power have spurred debate and criticism in academia, the media, and the highest levels of government. One of Kaplan's most influential articles infclude "The Coming Anarchy", published in The Atlantic Monthly in 1994. Critics of the article has compared it to Huntingon's Clash of Civilizations thesis, since Kaplan presents conflicts in the contemporary world as the struggle between primitivism and civlizations.[1] Another frequent theme in Kaplan's work is the reemergence of cultural and historical tensions temporarily suspended during the Cold War.

From March 2008 to spring 2012, Kaplan was a Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, which he rejoined in 2015.[2] Between 2012 and 2014, he was chief geopolitical analyst at Stratfor, a private global forecasting firm. In 2009, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates appointed Kaplan to the Defense Policy Board, a federal advisory committee to the United States Department of Defense. In 2011, Foreign Policy magazine named Kaplan as one of the world's "top 100 global thinkers."


  • Biography 1
  • Foreign correspondent career 2
  • Balkan Ghosts and The Arabists 3
  • "The Coming Anarchy" 4
  • After 9/11 5
    • Support for the Iraq War 5.1
    • Imperial Grunts 5.2
    • Hog Pilots 5.3
    • Monsoon 5.4
    • The Revenge of Geography 5.5
    • Asia's Cauldron 5.6
  • Influences 6
  • Criticisms and controversy 7
    • Environmental determinism 7.1
    • Perceived Orientalism 7.2
  • Recognition 8
  • Bibliography 9
  • See also 10
  • References 11
  • External links 12


Kaplan grew up in Far Rockaway in a Jewish family, son of Philip Alexander Kaplan and Phyllis Quasha. Kaplan's father, a truck driver for the New York Daily News,[3] instilled in him an interest in history from an early age. He attended the University of Connecticut on a swimming scholarship and earned a BA in English (1973).

After graduating Kaplan applied unsuccessfully to several big-city newsrooms. He was a reporter for the Rutland Herald in Vermont before buying a one-way plane ticket to Tunisia. Over the next several years, he lived in Israel, where he joined the Israeli army,[3] traveled and reported on Eastern Europe and the Middle East, lived for some time in Portugal and eventually settled down in Athens, Greece, where he met his wife. He lives with his wife in Massachusetts.

Kaplan is not related to journalist Lawrence Kaplan, with whom he is occasionally confused. He is also sometimes confused with neoconservative scholar Robert Kagan.[4]

In addition to his journalism, Kaplan has been a consultant to the President Bush. He is the recipient of the 2001 Greenway-Winship Award for Excellence in international reporting. In 2002, he was awarded the United States State Department Distinguished Public Service Award.

In 2006–08, Kaplan was a visiting professor at the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, where he taught a course entitled, "Future Global Security Challenges".[5] As of 2008 he is a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security.

Foreign correspondent career

He traveled to Iraq to cover the Iran–Iraq War (1984). He first worked as a freelance foreign correspondent reporting on Eastern Europe and the Middle East, but slowly expanded his coverage to all regions ignored in the popular press. His first book, Surrender or Starve: The Wars Behind The Famine (1988) contended the famine in Ethiopia in the 1980s was more complex than just drought, pointing the blame instead to the collectivization carried out by the Mengistu regime.

Kaplan then went to Afghanistan to write about the guerrilla war against the Soviet Union for Reader's Digest. Two years after writing Surrender or Starve, he wrote and published Soldiers of God: With the Mujahidin in Afghanistan (1990) in which he recounted his experiences during the Soviet-Afghan War.

Balkan Ghosts and The Arabists

Neither of these books sold very well, and Kaplan's third book, Balkan Ghosts, was rejected by several editors before being published in 1993. At first, it did not sell very well. But when the Yugoslav Wars broke out, President Bill Clinton was seen with Kaplan's book tucked under his arm, and White House insiders and aides said that the book convinced the President against intervention in Bosnia. Kaplan's book contended that the conflicts in the Balkans were based on ancient hatreds beyond any outside control. Kaplan criticized the administration for using the book to justify non-intervention, but his popularity skyrocketed shortly thereafter along with demand for his reporting. That same year, he also published The Arabists.

Kaplan had not set out to influence U.S. foreign policy, but his work began to find a wide readership in high levels of government. Many felt that his reporting, as well as his frequently-invoked historical perspective, strengthened his arguments. In 1994 and 1995, he set out to travel from West Africa to Turkey, Central Asia to Iran, and India to Southeast Asia and published a travelogue about his journey in The Ends of the Earth. He then traveled across his home country and North America and wrote An Empire Wilderness, published in 1998.

"The Coming Anarchy"

His article "The Coming Anarchy" published in The Atlantic in February 1994 about how population increase, urbanization, and resource depletion are undermining fragile governments across the developing world and represent a threat to the developed world was hotly debated and widely translated. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman called Kaplan one of the "most widely read" authors defining the post-Cold War era,[3] along with Francis Fukuyama, Harvard Professor Samuel P. Huntington, and Yale Professor Paul Kennedy. Kaplan published the article and other essays in a book with the same title in 2000, which also included the controversial article '"Was Democracy Just a Moment?" His travels through the Balkans, Turkey, the Caucasus, and the Middle East at the turn of the millennium were recorded in Eastward to Tartary. Also written in 2000 was another controversial essay, entitled "the Dangers of Peace," in which he described an America falling under peacetime's "numbing and corrosive illusion."

Writing in the New York Times, reviewer Richard Bernstein notes that Kaplan "conveys a historically informed tragic sense in recognizing humankind's tendency toward a kind of slipshod, gooey, utopian and ultimately dangerous optimism."[6]

After 9/11

Demand for Kaplan's unorthodox analysis became more popular after the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. In his book, Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos, published shortly after 9/11, Kaplan offered the opinion that political and business leaders should discard Christian/Jewish morality in public decision-making in favor of a pagan morality focused on the morality of the result rather than the morality of the means. He also published a pure travel book titled Mediterranean Winter.

Support for the Iraq War

Kaplan, along with Newsweek‍ '​s Fareed Zakaria, has been described by American journalist Glenn Greenwald as one of many prominent pundits advocating support for the Iraq War.[7]

Kaplan participated in a secret meeting convened by then deputy secretary of defense Paul D. Wolfowitz, at which he helped draft an internal government document advocating the invasion of Iraq.[8] He later concluded that the war had been a mistake and expressed deep remorse for supporting it.[9][10]

Imperial Grunts

Kaplan's book Imperial Grunts: The American Military On The Ground, was published in October 2005. In it, Kaplan tells of US Special Forces on the ground across the globe in Colombia, Mongolia, the Philippines, Afghanistan and Iraq. Kaplan predicts that the age of mass infantry warfare is probably over and has said that the conflict in Iraq caught the US Army in between being a "dinosaur" and a "light and lethal force of the future." Kaplan sees large parts of the world where the US military is operating in "injun country" which must be civilized by the same methods used to subdue the American Frontier in the 1800s.

He also analyzes the revival of Confederate military virtue in the US armed forces. Kaplan was embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq and wrote an often-cited report for The Atlantic entitled "Five Days in Fallujah" about the spring 2004 campaign. In June 2005, he wrote the cover story for the The Atlantic titled "How We Would Fight China", which suggests the inevitability of a Cold War-type situation between the US and China. In October 2006, he wrote "When North Korea Falls" for the same magazine in which he examines the prospect of North Korea's collapse and the effect on the balance of power in Asia in favor of China.

Hog Pilots

Kaplan's book Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts: The American Military in the Air, at Sea, and on the Ground, published in September 2007 by Random House, reflects his continuing interest in the US Armed Forces.


Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power (2010) is about the Indian Ocean region and the future of energy supplies and maritime trade routes in the 21st century. He claimed that the Indian Ocean has been a center of power for a long time and that the shift to the Atlantic can be seen as an anomaly which will be set straight in future years. For the United States to maintain its power, it would have to link its goals with those of the people of the developing world, he concluded.

The Revenge of Geography

The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate (2012) describes how countries' respective political and social histories have been shaped by factors like relationship to oceans and to terrain features that act as natural borders.

Asia's Cauldron

Asia's Cauldron (2014) describes the modern (from the colonial era to the present) cultural and political history of the various countries of Southeast Asia (such as Singapore, Vietnam and The Philippines) and the region's geopolitical significance to China, as well as those states' resultant anxiety over Chinese maritime territorial claims in the region.


Kaplan is a stated admirer of the work of John Mearsheimer, a University of Chicago-based Realist political scientist whom Kaplan's books occasionally cite. Moreover, Kaplan's predictions in The Coming Anarchy dovetail in part with Mearsheimer's predictions for the future of Post-Cold War Europe. Kaplan's stance on Mearsheimer's work is addressed in an essay in The Atlantic, titled "Why John J. Mearsheimer is right (about some things)".[11] The essay was written largely in response to Mearsheimer's stance in his controversial 2007 book The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, which was negatively received and described as a polemic by several reviewers. In the same essay, Kaplan defends the theory of offensive realism advocated by John Mearsheimer from claims that it necessarily advocates hawkish or neoconservative foreign policy.

Additionally, Kaplan draws on the Halford Mackinder and his once-influential Heartland theory, along with the theories of Nicholas Spykman and Alfred Thayer Mahan.

Criticisms and controversy

Kaplan's arguments have been criticised on various grounds. Some of his more controversial articles, such as "The Ruins of Empire in the Middle East"[12] and "In Defense of Empire",[13] have been criticized for creating a more positive image of empires, and, implicitly, imperialism as a prosperous, stabilizing force.

Political geographer Nick Megoran argues that "for geographers, Kaplan's article [The Revenge of Geography] makes dismal reading".[14] The article, in Megoran's view, takes theories of classical geopolitical scholars like Halford Mackinder out of their socio-historical context. Kaplan's writing contributes to an "unwelcome return" to what Megoran loosely perceives as militarist-imperialist discourses in traditional geopolitics. This study and approach, due to its historical associations, is considered a discredited field amongst geographers, but Megoran objects to its influence on Kaplan and on the foreign policy of states.[15]

Environmental determinism

Late academic geographer Harm de Blij has criticized Kaplan's book The Revenge of Geography for tending toward what de Blij interprets as environmental determinism, a school of thought often regarded negatively as a discredited paradigm by geographers.[16] He also argues that book lacks acknowledgment of thinkers associated with postmodern schools of geographic thought, such as critical geopolitics. Finally, he describes Kaplan's book The Revenge of Geography as one of several "misleading" books on geography by non-formally trained geographers, and as such misrepresents the field to those unfamiliar (other examples that de Blij alludes to include Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat and Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel).[17]

Perceived Orientalism

Dag Tuastad, senior lecturer of Middle East and Africa at the University of Oslo, claims that Kaplan', like Huntington (author of Clash of Civilizations), perpetuates a neo-Orientalist sentiment, namely, emphasizing "features innately embedded in the Muslim religion, including the provision that Islam is a religion of the sword and a religion that glorifies military virtues".[1] In this criticism, Tuastad misreads the intentions of both Kaplan and Huntington but echoes other common criticisms of these authors' works.

American journalist, lawyer and writer Glenn Greenwald has raised similar criticism against Kaplan's approach to the Iraq War.[7]


In 2012, he was named by Foreign Policy magazine on its list of top global thinkers.[18]


  • Carta's Guide to Israel and Jordan. (pbk.)  
  • Robert D. Kaplan (November 11, 2003). Surrender or Starve: Travels in Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, and Eritrea. , published September 1988, reprinted November 2003  
  • Robert D. Kaplan (November 2001). Soldiers of God: With Islamic Warriors in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Vintage. ), published February 1990, reprinted November 2001 Soldiers of God: With Islamic Warriors in Afghanistan and Pakistan (also titled  
  • Robert D. Kaplan (May 1, 2005). Balkan Ghosts: A Journey Through History. Picador. , published February 1993, reprinted March 1994  
  • Robert D. Kaplan (July 1, 1995). Arabists: The Romance of an American Elite. Free Press. , published September 1993  
  • Robert D. Kaplan (June 2001). The Ends of the Earth: From Togo to Turkmenistan, from Iran to Cambodia--A Journey to the Frontiers of Anarchy. Peter Smith Pub Inc. , published February 1996, republished January 2000  
  • Robert D. Kaplan (September 7, 1999). An Empire Wilderness: Travels into America's Future. Vintage. , published August 1998  
  • Robert D. Kaplan (February 13, 2001). The Coming Anarchy: Shattering the Dreams of the Post Cold War. Vintage. , published January 2000  
  • Robert D. Kaplan (October 2001). Eastward to Tartary: Travels in the Balkans, the Middle East, and the Caucasus. Vintage. , published November 2000  
  • Robert D. Kaplan (January 7, 2003). Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos. Vintage. , published December 2001  
  • Robert D. Kaplan (Spring 2003). "America and the Tragic Limits of Imperialism" (PDF).  
  • Robert D. Kaplan (February 3, 2004). Mediterranean Winter: The Pleasures of History and Landscape in Tunisia, Sicily, Dalmatia, and Greece. Random House. , published February 2004  
  • Robert D. Kaplan (September 12, 2006). Imperial Grunts: On the Ground with the American Military, from Mongolia to the Philippines to Iraq and Beyond. Vintage. , published September 2005  
  • Robert D. Kaplan (September 4, 2007). Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts: The American Military in the Air, at Sea, and on the Ground. Random House. , published September 2007  
  • Robert D. Kaplan (October 19, 2010). Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and The Future of American Power. Random House. , published October 2010  
  • Robert D. Kaplan (September 11, 2012). The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate. Random House. , published September 2012  

Contributions to other books

  • Gafni, Shlomo S.; A. van der Heyden (1980). Yael Lotan, ed. The Glory of the Holy Land. Robert D. Kaplan (research).  
  • Joseph Conrad (April 18, 2000). Lord Jim & Nostromo (Modern Library). Modern Library. , published April 2000 (Introduction, Modern Library 1400061334Edition)  
  • Travelers Tales Turkey: True Stories. Travelers' Tales. September 17, 2002. , published September 2002 (Contributor)  
  • Nikolai Gogol (December 30, 2003). Taras Bulba (Modern Library Classics). Modern Library. , published April 2003 (Introduction, Modern Library Edition) (Introduction)  

See also


  1. ^ a b Tuastad, Dag (2003-08-01). "Neo-Orientalism and the New Barbarism Thesis: Aspects of Symbolic Violence in the Middle East Conflict(s)". Third World Quarterly 24 (4): 591–599. 
  2. ^ Robert Kaplan, profile at CNAS website
  3. ^ a b c  
  4. ^  
  5. ^ "New and Special Courses - Fall Semester 2007-2008".  
  6. ^  
  7. ^ a b Greenwald, Glenn (2006-11-22). ""Whitewashing Iraq on the Washington Post Op-Ed Page"". Retrieved 2015-09-27. 
  8. ^ "Secret Iraq Meeting Included Journalists" By Julie Bosman. The New York Times, October 9, 2006[2]
  9. ^ Kaplan, Robert D. (October 2009). "Iraq: The Counterfactual Game". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2015-09-27. 
  10. ^ Kaplan, Robert D. (2011-01-01). "The Wounded Home Front". The American Interest. Retrieved 2015-09-27. 
  11. ^ Robert D. Kaplan. "Why John J. Mearsheimer Is Right (About Some Things)". The Atlantic. Retrieved October 21, 2015. 
  12. ^ "The Ruins of Empire in the Middle East". Foreign Policy. Retrieved October 21, 2015. 
  13. ^ Robert D. Kaplan. "In Defense of Empire". The Atlantic. Retrieved October 21, 2015. 
  14. ^
  15. ^ Richardson, Paul (2015-05-04). "‘Blue national soil’ and the unwelcome return of ‘classical’ geopolitics". Global Change, Peace & Security 27 (2): 229–236.  
  16. ^ "THE REVENGE OF GEOGRAPHY: What the Map Tells Us about Coming Conflicts and the Battle of Fate. By Robert D. Kaplan". Retrieved October 21, 2015. 
  17. ^
  18. ^ "The FP Top 100 Global Thinkers". Foreign Policy. November 28, 2012. Archived from the original on November 28, 2012. Retrieved November 28, 2012. 

External links

  • Robert Kaplan's Official site
  • The Ends of the Earth: A Journey at the Dawn of the 21st CenturyInterview with Kaplan about , C-SPAN, April 21, 1996.
  • Interview with Kaplan, C-SPAN, April 3, 2005.
  • "Robert Kaplan: Empire Without Apologies" by Andrew J. Bacevich, The Nation Magazine, September 26, 2005
  • Robert Kaplan interview, The American Enterprise, January/February 2006.
  • "Video: Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts: The American Military in the Air, at Sea, and on the Ground". FPRI BookTalk. Foreign Policy Research Institute. 
  • "Robert D. Kaplan (Class of 1960 National Security Chair) - Faculty BIO".  
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