Copyright 1996 Guardian Newspapers Limited
The Observer
June 2, 1996, Sunday



BYLINE: Robert Kaplan


THERE was something quixotic about United States negotiators trying for the umpteenth time to patch together a peace accord between Liberian street gang leaders, while US warships carrying 4,000 troops hovered off the West African coast to protect a relatively few American lives, the US embassy and other properties in Monrovia.

It was like a police force trying to control a crime wave thousands of miles away, with no intention of dispatching foot patrols. Of course, fighting will cease, when the gang leaders tire or run low on ammunition. Negotiators will then claim the start of a 'democratic' process, as they have done throughout the 1990s in Liberia: as if democracy can mean much where 87.1 per cent of adults have not even completed one year of schooling.

And there will be more Liberias, as absolute rises in population and decreases in water and soil availability exacerbate ethnic and regional divides, which, in turn, will further undermine state institutions and infrastructures in the poorest, most conflict-prone societies.

More Third World states than Western elites in Foreign Ministries and at the United Nations can ever deal with are in the process of slow rot.

Oh sure, we can invade a country, occupy it and rebuild its roads and civilian institutions, as US President Woodrow Wilson did in Haiti in 1915, after 102 coups and uprisings in the preceding 72 years. When US Marines finally left Haiti in 1934 there was hope they would leave behind a credible legacy. But history had another judgment. The present 'success' in Haiti - in which the US and the UN attempted to change the country far less fundamentally than the Marines did earlier in the century - may similarly erode. If a US-led coalition cannot force history in a place near American shores, how can it do so across the ocean? Sub-Saharan Africa is where Western governments will continue to face their worst policy conundrums regarding failed states. Though a number of countries there registered impressive rises in gross domestic products recently, these apparent successes mask a truth few are willing to accept.

When African economies do expand, it is generally because of economic reforms or price rises in agricultural commodities, not because of the acquisition of new skills. This is what sets Africa apart from the second poorest region on earth - the Indian subcontinent.

Africa is the only large continental space left that is not undergoing a dramatic industrial revolution, to say nothing of a post-industrial one. This is tragic because the next century will be the most materialistic in human history: driven by a race for exportable production skills in a global marketplace. Every place in Africa will be competing with every place in Asia and Latin America for investment capital. Regions with both skills and public order will get the money.

Democracy is no panacea. In some places, especially those with brutal military dictatorships such as Nigeria, democracy would constitute an improvement. But to believe it holds the solution to Africa's dilemma is to have little regard for history. Democracy does not necessarily help populations become middle-class - the prerequisite for order in modern and postmodern society. In fact, evidence suggests the embourgeoisement of societies tends to happen under various forms of authoritarianism. Only when the middle class becomes sufficiently large and self-confident does it begin to get rid of the dictators responsible for its prosperity.

This is what has been happening in Chile and the Pacific Rim. Democracy works best when it is introduced last, as a crowning achievement for societies in which all the other requisites for order are already in place. This is why elections in places such as Sierra Leone - where none of the requisites is in place - may constitute short-term epiphenomena en route to greater chaos.

Copyright 1996 Cable News Network, Inc.
SHOW: NEWS 6:42 pm ET
March 26, 1996
Transcript # 124-7

SECTION: News; International

HEADLINE: Robert Kaplan Says We Need New Ways of Looking at World

GUESTS: ROBERT KAPLAN, Journalist, Author of "The Ends of the Earth" (LIVE);


The author of a book about ethnic strife throughout the world says he tried to combine the methods of a hippie backpacker with the interests of a policy wonk to guide his travels for the book.


ARTHUR KENT, Anchor: 'We cannot escape a more populous, interconnected world of crumbling borders.' That observation from a new book about growing ethnic strife around the globe. The book, entitled The Ends of the Earth, explores ethnic conflicts both within and across national boundaries. Its author is Robert Kaplan, a contributing editor of the Atlantic Monthly. He joins us now from New York.

ARTHUR KENT, Correspondent: Robert, you traveled to Africa, to Southeast Asia, all over the world. What were you looking for with this book?

ROBERT KAPLAN, Journalist, Author of 'The Ends of the Earth': Well, I was trying to combine what a hippie backpacker does and a Washington policy walk. I was using the techniques of a backpacker to sort of ask the questions that a policy analyst would, to sort of ground truth, to find out what places were going to be the trouble spots over the next 10, 20, and 30 years. I started my journey in West Africa, continued across through Egypt, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and ended in Cambodia.

ARTHUR KENT: And all over the world. And I'll stop you there because some of the things that you say really resonate with those of us who've tramped about a bit ourselves. I'll just read a passage from the book if I may.


ARTHUR KENT: 'The room had no windows. The air conditioner made a loud humming noise with a background rattle like pouring rain. I couldn't sleep. What was I doing here? I thought I was here for answers.' I have to ask you, did you find any answers on that quest?

ROBERT KAPLAN: Look, the more you travel, Arthur, the more answers disappear and the more you find that economics, ethnic strife, culture, history, all are inextricable. But what I did find was that in many places, the nation's state is not working. It's beginning to implode. Rising populations combined with diminishing water and soil, resources, are fueling and aggravating already existent ethnic conflict. And those things in turn are putting further stress on already weak and fracturing institutions.

In other words, the places that can least cope are having more and more to cope with, whether it's a country in sub-Saharan West Africa or Pakistan or India, places that every 20 or 30 years or 35 years are doubling their populations. Their governments have more and more people to service. Electricity and water systems are breaking down throughout the third world. And in the face of sort of dissolving infrastructure, middle classes are increasingly building ingenious bubbles around themselves. They're digging their own water wells, buying their own private generators, hiring their own security guards to replace the police forces that are cracking up.

So, in a place like Pakistan, for instance, the state is collapsing but the middle class seals itself off and thus global businessmen have an increasing market for everything from the Discovery Channel to Crest toothpaste, and therefore, they can claim Pakistan as sort of a 'more consumers for global success story.' My point is that both optimists and pessimists are right, but we each tap into different levels of a country's reality.

ARTHUR KENT: You're also saying that Western leaders are living in a bubble of unreality or exploitation, outright exploitation, aren't you?

ROBERT KAPLAN: Well, not exploitation because history shows that as cultures materially develop, they use up more and more resources. That cannot be helped, but the problem is that our leaders tend to deal with elites in these other countries. They deal with the Egyptian elite, with the Pakistani elite, with the elites in sub-Saharan Africa. And in a sense they're all telling each other- they're giving each other optimistic accounts of things where on the street, as I saw, things are not getting better.

I remember going into Conacrie [sp], Guinea, where I went to one photocopy machine after another after another and none was working. The electricity had broken down. So, in places where one can't even trust the electric current, how can people tap into the computer world we're entering, the internet, for instance?

ARTHUR KENT: Now, one of the big red flags that you raised has to do with AIDS. What did you encounter there and how does the reality as you saw it compare with our impressions of it in the developed world?

ROBERT KAPLAN: All right, the nightmare of AIDS in Africa is already known about. What's less known about is how rapidly AIDS is spreading in Southeast Asia - in Thailand, in Cambodia, in India - where we're going to see a big increase in AIDS in the next decade.

But it's the larger point of disease, because population increase, soil deterioration, migration all fuel new viruses and regenerate old viruses and in an increasingly interconnected populous world, we can't seal ourselves off. AIDS is an example of how the political and economic problems of say, sub-Saharan Africa, have found their way to our most secluded suburbs. In other words, we can't escape from the world. We have to confront it.

ARTHUR KENT: And I'll be very much interested in reading this work. Thank you, Robert Kaplan, author of The Ends of The Earth, joining us from New York.


Copyright 1996 Cable News Network, Inc.
SHOW: NEWS 6:43 pm ET
January 4, 1996
Transcript # 66-7

SECTION: News; International

HEADLINE: Government Shutdown Dims U.S. Image Abroad



HIGHLIGHT: Journalist Robert Kaplan says the image of the U.S. is being tarnished overseas to the extent that it affects the operation of U.S. agencies abroad. He says sophistication levels obviously temper foreign views.


BERNARD SHAW, Anchor: The ripples from the shutdown are finding their way into newspapers across the globe. A daily South Korean newspaper said, 'Looking at the superpower's haughtiness in attempting to settle its own domestic issue by taking foreigners hostage, we once again think about what the real image of the U.S. is.'

Well, President Clinton is concerned about how the United States is looking to the rest of the world. He says U.S. security interests are at stake in the partial shutdown.

Pres. BILL CLINTON: The secretary of State reports that this shutdown is adversely affecting the national security of the country. We are running the risk of not being able to maintain our diplomacy abroad, and this shutdown, frankly, is injuring the reputation of the United States around the world. People wonder what is going on.

BERNARD SHAW: Joining us now to discuss how Washington superpower image has been affected by the budget impasse and how this may bear on Mr. Clinton's reputation overseas, journalist Robert Kaplan. He is a contributing editor at the Atlantic monthly magazine. He's also the author of Balkan Ghosts, A Journey Through History.

For a world power, is this an embarrassment?

ROBERT KAPLAN, Journalist: It's an embarrassment, and especially if it goes on for another 10 days or so it's going to be an embarrassment that won't be forgotten. But it's not quite a bad as it looks. Because remember, the people waiting on line for visas at American embassies around the world are a very self-selecting crowd who ordinarily are very high up in their societies. They may already have relatives in he United States. They know a lot about how the United States works. And for the others, remember, this is the biggest story in our country, but it's just another story in their country where it's competing with a lot of domestic obsessions over there.

BERNARD SHAW: Thomas Lippmann, writing in the Washington Post, says in Vietnam the government has threatened to cut off electricity to the U.S. embassy because the $1,600 bill hasn't been paid, and in Cuba the trucker who hauls drinking water to the U.S. intrasection in Havana is refusing to make any more deliveries until paid.

ROBERT KAPLAN: And also in Bangladesh the same thing has happened. The Bangladeshi government has offered to pay our electricity bill. But it's more of an oddity than anything else because I can't remember this ever happening before. And therefore if it stops after a week or so, it's going to quickly be forgotten. But, nevertheless, for a number of foreigners that city on the hill image that many people have on the United States may be weakening.

BERNARD SHAW: Does this shutdown make the president of the United States appear weak?

ROBERT KAPLAN: I think it might to people who are unsophisticated how the American system works. To those people really following it, they know that this is part of the Washington power game. And, also, had this occurred before, say, we had deployed all these troops in the Balkans, I would agree. That coupled with this strike, this stoppage, would have made the American president look very weak. But when we send 20,000 over to Europe on one hand, this kind of thing is put in context, I believe.

BERNARD SHAW: And globally, how does this affect the image of Congress.

ROBERT KAPLAN: It's always been amazing to me how many foreigners, even sophisticated foreigners, really don't quite understand how Congress works, how they tend to lump the U.S. government all into one. And this may provide actually a learning experience for a lot of them.

BERNARD SHAW: And how does this affect strategic United States allies?

ROBERT KAPLAN: Well, I'm sure at many levels of policy a lot of nitty-gritty things are not being done, and that obviously may cause problems. But, for instance, the CIA is working, the IRS is working. The real essential people who need to work are working.

BERNARD SHAW: The image of an American president abroad differs from that image at home. You had an experience during Watergate?

ROBERT KAPLAN: Yes, during the summer of 1972 I spent in East Germany, and while Watergate was the Washington story that summer I hadn't heard of it because I was traveling through East Germany and none of their local newspapers covered it, even though you would have thought a communist regime would have like to have poked fun at, you know, a White House embarrassment. It just wasn't an obsession there. It wasn't an issue. The one American story they were covering had to do with the space program here. So we really have to keep in context what we're obsessed with and what other people overseas are obsessed with.

BERNARD SHAW: We saw the graphic clashing of wills in Eileen O'Connor's piece. But I'm wondering - and obviously that doesn't happen in the United States, they don't roll tanks up to the White House or up to Capitol Hill - is there any degree of empathy in world capitals for what's going on here given the budget problems and given the economy problems around the globe?

ROBERT KAPLAN: Oh, sure. Look at France just a few weeks ago, which was far worse than here. I mean, there you had a whole nation really come to a halt, not just the federal government. And most European countries, not to mention many countries in the developing world, are much more familiar with general labor shutdowns than we are with any sort of broad-based shutdown.

BERNARD SHAW: So, to go back to your bottom line, your point about this partial shutdown now in terms of the U.S. image as it plays around the world is, as long as it ends soon, there's no problem?

ROBERT KAPLAN: If this ends in 10 days, in two or three months it will be forgotten around the world. But if this goes on through January it could mark a sea change in how foreigners perceive the United States.

BERNARD SHAW: Journalist Robert Kaplan. Thank you.


Copyright 1995 The Times Mirror Company
Los Angeles Times
July 30, 1995, Sunday, Home Edition

SECTION: Book Review; Page 3; Book Review Desk


BYLINE: By Robert Kaplan, Robert D. Kaplan is a contributing editor of The Atlantic Monthly. His fifth book, The Ends of the Earth: A Journey at the Dawn of the 21st Century will be published early next year by Random House.


Grand theories about society are by nature imperfect. As any traveler knows, street-level contact with different peoples and cultures has the habit of deconstructing even the most perceptive of abstractions.

Nevertheless, grand theories, or "paradigms" as they are called, are essential targets, without which there can be no focused debate. That is why the nicest compliment one can offer the inventor of an ambitious social or political theory is to accuse him, or her, of a "brilliant failure." As the creator of one much-critiqued paradigm, "The Coming Anarchy," let me congratulate Francis Fukuyama and Kenichi Ohmae -- inventors of paradigms that compete with my own -- of two brilliant failures.

Fukuyama's new book, "Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity," is a sequel to his triumphalist vision written after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, "The End of History and the Last Man." Fukuyama had argued that history, in the Marxist-Hegelian sense, has been one long argument over which kind of political system works best. The defeat of communism was part of a long process that ended the argument and, therefore, history. While not every place, according to Fukuyama, will accede to an orderly liberal democracy, the places where democracy does take firm root will be where individuals are happiest. And because, as Fukuyama tells us in his new book, "rapid economic modernization is closing the gap between many former Third World countries and the industrialized North," liberal democracy is poised to conquer the world.

Here I furiously disagree with Fukuyama. With as much as 95% of all human births in the poorest countries, or among the poorest people of wealthier countries, the middle classes of the planet, while increasing in absolute terms, are decreasing in relative terms. Income disparities between rich and poor are likewise rising. Nor do elections guarantee civil societies. While the number of elections increase, the world -- faced with more poor people and fewer resources -- is becoming less civil.

Rather than congratulate ourselves over democracy, we should worry about what new kinds of authoritarianism will emerge in the 21st Century to manage the growing numbers of desperate people who will lack sufficient soil to till and water to drink. We should keep in mind that 100 years ago, the words fascism and totalitarianism did not yet exist in dictionaries. Marx and Hegel notwithstanding, the Greek etymology of the word history, as any student of Herodotus knows, suggests merely researches or stories. As long as we have stories and conflict we will have history.

At the beginning of his new book, "The End of the Nation State," Kenichi Ohmae attacks Fukuyama's "end of history" notion: "Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, now that the bitter ideological confrontation sparked by this century's collision of 'isms' has ended, larger numbers of people from more points on the globe . . . have aggressively come forward to participate in history."

But the differences between Ohmae and Fukuyama are, in fact, superficial. Just as the differences between Fukuyama and myself are less substantial than I have just made them out to be. I can only explain this by way of experience:

In 1993 and 1994, in separate trips, I traveled by land from West Africa to Southeast Asia. In many places I visited, the computer revolution was irrelevant because there wasn't even a reliable electric current to recharge a laptop battery. This lack of electricity, as Fukuyama would know, was but a symptom of deeper social problems. Only when I arrived in Bangkok did I truly enter the world that Fukuyama and Ohmae describe in their new books: a world of middle-class consumers and emerging democratic institutions (rather than mere elections as in Haiti, or in parts of West and East Africa). Though India, Pakistan and Iran had pockets of sophisticated globalization, even in those places it was the poverty and newly emerging sub-proletariats -- beyond the nice districts of big cities -- that constituted the overwhelming reality.

Because Fukuyama and Ohmae have concentrated on the parts of the world that are economically on top (East Asia, North America and Western Europe), the building volcano of poor people, and how it may throw history (or post-history, whatever you want to call it) off course through massive migrations in the 21st Century remains to them an abstraction. Because Ohmae is an economist specializing in the industrialized world, he sees how nation-states in Europe and East Asia are being withered away at the top by world trade, regional associations and the international consumer class. Because Fukuyama is a generalist who understands how economies and culture are inextricable, he knows that in places where a particular culture coheres with the borders of a nation state -- such as in Japan, France and Germany -- some nation-states at least are not about to be rendered meaningless. More importantly, not only do both Ohmae and Fukuyama handle their own areas of concentration well, but they make quite a few generalizations that I -- as one lonely traveler -- can attest are true, however uncomfortable they will make some readers.

Comparing Ohmae's "The End of the Nation State" with Fukuyama's "Trust" is unfair to Ohmae. Ohmae has written a small book about one facet of the world economy that is meant, primarily, for others involved in global trade. Fukuyama's "Trust," on the other hand, is an intellectual event. I say this because the real test of an intellectual is not to disprove competing theories, but to place those theories in a larger, more understandable context. In "The End of History and the Last Man," Fukuyama succeeded in rescuing classical and modern philosophy from the dungeons of academe; in "Trust" he rescues economics, by showing how it is little more than the financial and monetary results of culture. And cultures, Fukuyama intones, "are not all created equal."

Beneath the patina of explanations as to why some areas of the world are richer than others, and why some parts of society are richer than others, lies a stark, unpalatable truth that Fukuyama seamlessly and sinuously reveals: that while we all may be born equal at birth, the way we are brought up makes us profoundly unequal even a few years later, so far as our potential to produce exportable material wealth is concerned. As any traveler or foreign correspondent knows, what you notice about place always is the "national style" or culture: the way things just seem to work or don't work. And while some places work, others don't, and perhaps never will.

While "The End of History" produced merely a debate among the elite, "Trust" will produce authentic, visceral controversy. Multiculturalists, affirmative action types and others who believe that all cultures are equal and that the government can force-feed economic results from above should be terrified over this book.

"Trust" is not some superficial neoconservative polemic, but a work of interdisciplinary synthesis that shows a superior mind in action. And while the book is based on many cultural generalizations, Fukuyama does this so openly and so unapologetically, and with sufficient statistical back-up, that he will convince the middle-of-the-road reader, who will quickly realize that cultural generalizations -- however crude and sometimes unfair -- are necessary if meaningful discussion is to take place. Fukuyama simply won't play by Edward Said's rules, whereby, for instance, only Arabs are allowed to criticize Arabs, and so on. Since to play by such rules is to immobilize thought.

"Trust" is so named because, in Fukuyama's view, the wider the radius of trust within a culture the more material wealth it can produce. People in Germany, Japan and Korea are wealthy because trust in those places extends far beyond the immediate family. Cultures where suspicion reigns cannot create the necessary organizational links that fuel economic growth. Japan's industrial policy, in other words, derives organically from Japanese culture.

However, while some cultures are better than others at producing wealth, the key factor, according to Fukuyama, is to have a culture. Fukuyama defines inner-city blacks as having been culturally deracinated by slavery. They lack the minimum radius of trust to produce social stability, and thus wealth: unlike in sub-Saharan Africa, where credit associations and other organizations that require great trust among strangers flourish, if not on the same scale and sophisticated level as in East Asia.

Cultures evolve, but they constitute massive, complex forces which change very slowly. Consequently, in "Trust," Fukuyama expands on his notion of the "end of history:" it means not only the end of "grand ideological projects like communism," but the doom of more "modest efforts at social engineering -- the sort attempted by moderate democratic governments. . . ."

Ohmae, in "The End of the Nation State," goes even further than Fukuyama in exploring how the falling away of the nation-state will leave all of us at the mercy of own cultural strengths, and weaknesses. Ohmae believes that the nation-state has become little more than "a cloak for subsidy and protection" of those within a geographical space who cannot, as Fukuyama might put it, culturally compete.

Protectionism and subsidies lead, in Ohmae's view, to an economic hardening of the arteries that will only quicken the collapse of the nation-state: those who can compete without help are in the process of realizing that they have no stake in the survival of the traditional state. Ohmae sees cultures passing through the "brutal filter" of a borderless world, in which only their strongest aspects survive. Rather than a contest of cultures, though, he sees a melding and borrowing process. But he is a prisoner of the success stories he covers. Cultural borrowing may occur at the top levels, but in the broad swaths of the globe where even electricity is a sometime thing, too many are being left behind, in no position to borrow from the cultural experiences of others.

While Fukuyama concentrates on strong nation-states that cohere well with cultures, such as France and Japan, Ohmae concentrates on the emergence of "region states," such as Hong Kong/Southern China and Research Triangle Park in North Carolina. In either case, the heavy bureaucratic hand of government is weakening, leading to stable, liberal democracy in areas that already have firm economies and tax systems in place, such as Taiwan and the southern cone of Latin America, and to anarchy in places where democracy is attempting to occupy a vacuum, as in Pakistan and the countries of sub-Saharan Africa, where much of the world's new people are being born.

Fukuyama ends his book by saying that "the preservation and accumulation of social capital will occupy center stage." In other words, as state control becomes less important, cultures are on their own: either they will develop sufficient radials of trust to produce wealth, or they won't. There is little in Ohmae's book that suggests he disagrees on this point. I would add that massive cultural failure in places where resources are scarce will lead eventually, in some cases, to "hard" neo-authoritarian regimes, as part of a last-ditch attempt to manage humanity's battle with nature. But we all might agree that culture, and some form of competition between cultures, will be paramount. This brings me to yet another maligned, imperfect, yet illuminating grand theory, Professor Samuel P. Huntington's "Clash of Civilizations." But I'll stop here.