The Return of Marco Polo’s World – Robert D. Kaplan (2018) – Energy Review

The Eurasian landmass is becoming increasingly important for energy and trade flows.

Numerous connections are being created, and energy is at the center of the future Eurasia. 


Robert D. Kaplan and John Mearsheimer seem to follow rather realistic principles in geopolitics. The key to his analysis is, to varying degrees, the concept of the world island. This was a concept first explored by Halford Mackinder, a British geopolitical thinker who was the first to conceptualize the existence of a tripartite geographical entity that is naturally connected. Mackinder called this Euroasia, and on this supercontinent, nations near the center of Euroasia try to control the core region of the Euro-Asian landmass. These lands project power outwards, while nations on the periphery swing to the center of the Euro-Asian supercontinent. The totality of this landmass consists of the Asian, European and African continents.

Robert D. Kaplan is a prolific writer who generally takes more of a realist bend to existential problems in the geopolitical arena. Robert D. Kaplan does acknowledge that human action can have an impact on geopolitical events.

This partly explains why the Middle East and Iran continue to play a major role in world politics, throughout the history of civilization. The Middle East is near the center of the Eurasian landmass. And while Halford Mackinder emphasized the Eurasian landmass, Western writers in the Anglo-American tradition, such as James J. Stavridis, provide a counterbalancing argument, exploring the possibilty that sea power limits power projection of nations located close the core region of Euroasia.

Other writers such as Henry Kissinger have examined these geographical as well as socio-historical concepts in more detail. Of great importance was Samuel Huntington, who studied in depth the geopolitical nature of the Euro-Asian continent and its people


The nations most suited to take advantage of this geopolitical game of chess are Russia, China and Iran. It is worth noting that all these nations attempt to control as much territory as they can, in order to become secure on land and project their power outward into the seas. This competing dynamic leads to rim nations forming their alliances against nations attempting to control the inner space of the Euroasian continent.

China’s economic growth depends on interaction with other regions around China. This brings China quite naturally into competition with the United States. At present, the United States is the world’s supreme maritime power. Just as the worlds main land power tries to control the Eurosian supercontinent, the main sea power attempts to control all sea lanes in order to preemptively strike through a network of coalitions at the world’s main land power.

Due to the costs involved in maintaining a capable navy that is ready to strike at any foe on the high seas it is necessary to form such coalitions, at the same time it is important to remain first among equals and control all the world’s sea lanes. This leads us to the Belt and Road initiative with which China intends to unify Euroasia, creating one coherent economic unit, to countervail American power on the high seas which should prevent rim nations working with the leading sea power of the day.

The “Belt and Road” initiative largely follows the route Marco Polo took to China through the Middle East, Iran and Afghanistan more than 500 years ago. Eurasia’s sea coasts along the Indian Ocean form the world’s most important energy superhighways. On Marco Polo’s journey, he circumnavigated the Straits of Malacca, Bangladesh, India, Oman, Arabia and back to Europe. In the northern half of Eurasia, Russia has become something like the energy artery for China. Russia enables China to continue its majestic growth. 

As Europe disintegrates into diferent political factions, Euroasia coheres into one single economic entity, shaped by conflict, which provides opportunities along the economic arteries of this mighty supercontinent, along the energy superhighways that are currently under construction.


Kaplan, R 2018, The Return of Marco Polo’s World, Random House, New York.

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