Essay on the Coming Anarchy
The Coming Anarchy by Robert Kaplan is a very pessimistic and dire rendering of world history in the 21st century after the end of the Cold War. It identifies the problems of overpopulation, crime, diseases, cultural and religious tribalism, criminality and scarcity due to environmental degradation, as situated in a context of a post-Soviet world order, which could lead to an anarchic global period.
Expounding on the works of a number of political thinkers, the author essays his political visions of the 21st century after the failure of democracy and capitalism to benefit the great majority of the world’s population. The author illustrates his point with the criminal turmoil of West Africa. He writes that “disease, overpopulation, unprovoked crime, scarcity of resources, refugee migrations, the increasing erosion of nation-states and international borders, and the empowerment of private armies, security firms, and international drug cartels” in West Africa best symbolize the global struggles with said issues.
Supporting Van Creveld’s belief in the end of the era of nation-states, he cites Sierra Leone as a microcosm of the diminishing power of central governments throughout West Africa and most of the underdeveloped countries. He even cautions that multi-ethnic states like the United States would not survive in its current form but he indicates that homogeneous ones like Japan and Germany stand to have better chances.
The author thinks that the prime national-security issue of the early part of the 21st century would be the degraded state of the environment. According to him, the scarcity of available resources would aggravate racial and cultural clashes. He also foresees a transformation of war from conventional large scale to tribal, which along with the dissolution or weakening of states, would mean that “future wars will be those of communal survival” and subnational in nature.
The article touches base with the discussion in our Worlds Together, Worlds Apart: A History of the Modern World in regards the role of the following in our 21st century world: ethnic or tribal clashes and the economic difficulties in Africa; the continued phenomenon of international migrations; inequitable distribution of goods and wealth; overpopulation; weakened family ties; natural resources and to a limited extent, environment; weakened influence of nation-states and ethnic or religious violence.
In a way, both accounts talk of a new global order that opened following the end of the Cold War, along with accompanying degrees of disorder. The textbook discusses how the collapse of the three-world system opened new ties of global integration and how it led to politico-economic difficulties for former Soviet-bloc states. The Coming Anarchy, on the other, envisions how the end of the Cold War will effect “a cruel process of natural selection among existing states”.
Both also agree that African countries generally struggle with poor economies, serious local and ethnic rivalries and gross inequalities. Anarchy however paints a more critical picture of the African as being near collapse whereas the Worlds Together includes the continent’s colonial history.
While both accounts talked of a new global order, Anarchy apparently overlooked or opted not to discuss the communication and technology aspects of globalization. Kaplan also fails to describe if not anticipate the globalization of commerce and manufacturing. Both do portray, however, the continuing big gap between the rich and the poor.
The Coming Anarchy specifies international migrations as an important factor in defining a volatile new era when territorial maps or boundaries are ever changing, indicating a chaotic global political order. Worlds Together discusses migration prompted by economic goals from the viewpoint of global integration.
Chapter 12 of Worlds Together reckons the importance of the issue of population and profiles global demography. Anarchy however stresses the role of the problem of overpopulation in aggravating his predicted war of survival over scarce environmental resources.
The textbook by Robert Tignor recognizes the negative effects of globalization on family ties. Anarchy, for its part, refers to the problem of extended families and how it contributes to lawlessness.
The issue of health and epidemics is regarded as a major problem in Anarchy. Presenting a dire probability of a mutated AIDS epidemic and the threat of malaria in Africa, the article considers the issue a serious factor in the erosion of the social fabric of our civilization. The unchecked spread of diseases is seen as one prompt to mass migrations that could in turn lead to group or tribal conflicts. Worlds Together concedes that developing countries at times demonstrate certain difficulties in containing diseases.
Kaplan sees the environment as a security issue and relates the predicted competition for scarce resources, as well as pollution, with population and ethnic conflicts. Tignor supports this to an extent by citing how fossil needs and consumption paved the way for the 1991 Gulf War and how the problems of pollution tend to cause international disagreements.
Worlds Together focuses on the paradoxical effect of globalization on cultures—the homogenization of world culture but at the same time, the diversification of local cultures. The Anarchy article, on the other, emphasizes the role of ethnic or religious tribalism in the transformed clashes and wars of the 21st century. It talks of how migrations bring with them religious and tribal ethnicity that chip away at national borders and redefine civilizations.
Overall, the author of Anarchy tended on the negative side and overstressed certain issues and factors but I agree with some of these arguments. I’m actually surprised that for an article written in 1994, the author was able to provide a crystal-ball glimpse of certain important events some two decades later.
Regarding his conclusions of what the world would be 50 years from the time of writing, they are really so grim that their complete materialization would be unrealistic. However, we are now only midway through but his belief that “war-making entities will no longer be restricted to a specific territory” and that it would be difficult “for states and local governments to protect their own citizens physically” almost eerily forebode of the September 21 and subsequent terrorist attacks in Europe and Indonesia. Connected with these is Anarchy’s vision of the emergence of “‘hard’ Islamic city states”—later proved right with the rise of Taliban to power in Afghanistan.
I do concur with the importance he placed on population as a determinant of the stability of the 21st century. Overpopulation exacts heavy toll particularly on underdeveloped countries, whether on the economy in general or on land and the environment. Kaplan made a logical and plausible connection among population explosion, scarce resources and conflicts or wars in his extrapolation because indeed, competition for land and goods is as old as mankind.
Kaplan’s projections of how ethnic and even religious conflicts could lead the world into anarchy, however, fail to factor in the spirit of global cooperation. As influence of the nation-states weakens somewhat, transnational organizations tend to wield greater sway. In his argument, the author ignores the United Nations factor and its Peacekeeping Forces that have helped effect regional peace since the 1940s. While it indeed was not able to anticipate and avert the Rwanda Genocide, the U.N. has since played a more active, considerably effective, mediating and welcomed role in post-Cold War international conflicts.
The Coming Anarchy is an insightful essay into global politics for the 21st century. While the conclusions drawn were too grim and unrealistic as a whole, the article nonspecifically forewarned of a few of what would be later and important developments for the world community.
Kaplan, Robert. “The Coming Anarchy”. The Atlantic Monthly Magazine. Feb. 1996.
Tignor, Robert, et. al. Worlds Together, Worlds Apart: A History of the Modern World (1300 to