Author Robert Kaplan urges students to study history and geography of emerging countries in Future of Diplomacy Project Interview
December 16, 2010
Author: Sarah Kneezle, Coordinator, The Future of Diplomacy Project
Belfer Center Programs or Projects: The Future of Diplomacy Project
It is crucial that American students study the history and geography of rising powers such as India and China, author Robert Kaplan said in a one-on-one interview with professor Nicholas Burns.
“Elites in Beijing and New Delhi understand our history but we have very little knowledge of theirs outside of academic experts and some experts in government,” Kaplan said. “By laying out the geographical parameters of countries like Iran and Russia, and regions like Europe, East Asia, you can better understand the foreign policy choices of those areas.”
The Future of Diplomacy Project Interview filmed in October examined Kaplan’s book, “Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power,” and the reasons why he chose to undertake such an ambitious subject.
“The [Indian Ocean] encompasses the entire arc of Islam—from the Sahara Desert to the Indonesian archipelago,” Kaplan said. “It allowed me to write about Islam as a seafaring religion not just as a desert faith. There was a lot of scholarly writing about the Indian Ocean but it had not percolated upwards to a more general audience.”
Kaplan also emphasized the importance of incorporating U.S. naval power into foreign policy.
“There is an old saying: ‘Ships make port visits, armies invade,’” Kaplan said. “We’re better off as a country by emphasizing naval and air power. It means less causalities, and less of an aggressive stance. Navies and air forces unsettle other populations less so - armies do.”
During the 18-minute interview, Nicholas Burns, professor of the practice of diplomacy and international politics and faculty director of the Future of Diplomacy Project, praised Kaplan for the quality and depth of his writing and its influence on policy and public opinion.
“I’m a big believer of a lot of reading, and of being being isolated,” Kaplan said of his process. “The more we are bombarded by Internet and e-mails, the more important it is to find solitary time and the more important it is to work alone.”
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