31 July 2019

Free Exchange: Robert D Kaplan on the future of a bipolar world


With the support of the Atlas Network, CapX is publishing a new series of essays, podcasts and interviews on the theme of Illiberalism in Europe, looking at the different threats to liberal economies and societies across the continent, from populism to protectionism and corruption.

Robert D Kaplan is the author of 18 books, including The Revenge of Geography and The Coming Anarchy. He is widely-regarded as one of the world’s leading thinkers on foreign policy, defence and geopolitics, and has been named in Foreign Policy’s ‘Top 100 Global Thinkers’. He’s advised Kings, Prime Ministers and Defence Secretaries all over the world, and has reported from over 100 countries, giving him a grounding in the reality of foreign affairs most pundits could only dream of.

Kaplan on… America

One of the worst things about Washington is that there’s this assumption of knowledge about distant places where little knowledge exists.

The Cold war forced the US to have an international-mindset, once the Cold War was over there was no longer a selfish national security reason to be involved in security programmes in Africa or South America.

Trump does not have a well-developed strategy of any kind. He’s a man of deep impulse and disorganisation….but the impulses can be mapped out a little and what they show are a very Jacksonian mindset. His impulses are to be very aggressive but at the end of the day to avoid war.

Kaplan on… Russia

We’re re-entering a bipolar landscape with an asterisk, and that asterisk is Russia.

Russia is impulsive, it’s insecure, it’s aggressive, in a way that China is not.

Kaplan on… Iran

This is a very sophisticated regime, it’s not a one-man thug-ocracy like Saddam in Iraq.

Kaplan on… China

The only thing that can stop China is China itself – it’s developing a large middle class and the middle class are notoriously ungrateful…they’ll be more difficult to govern, could hold the regime to a higher standard, [particularly in a context of] an ageing population and an economy growing at a slower and slower pace.

Belt and Road isn’t a specific plan it’s a grand strategy, and like any grand strategy it’s designed to give China a direction in which to go, and that grand strategy is always amenable to compromises to changes to adjustments.

Kaplan on… India

India now has the most geopolitically minded Prime Minister since Independence. He’s very different…he’s very willing to band with the US to balance against China but he would like India to be more autocratic to emulate China’s economic growth.

Kaplan on… Britain and the EU

Britain leaving Europe leaves Europe more open to the power of Germany, and Britain at the mercy of a very disorganised Europe [that’s soon] to come, a less united EU with Russia and China vying for influence….I would not be surprised if in the future Germany leans more in the direction of Moscow, because that’s the path of least resistance.

John Ashmore is Acting Editor of CapX