The Return of History and the End of Dreams by Robert Kagan

Robert Kagan’s The Return of History and the End of Dreams is a small book (105 pages) that outlines his views on the current international scene.

Here is a brief synopsis of the book from the publisher’s website:

Hopes for a new peaceful international order after the end of the Cold War have been dashed by sobering realities: Great powers are once again competing for honor and influence. Nation-states remain as strong as ever, as do the old, explosive forces of ambitious nationalism. The world remains “unipolar,” but international competition among the United States, Russia, China, Europe, Japan, India, and Iran raise new threats of regional conflict. Communism is dead, but a new contest between western liberalism and the great eastern autocracies of Russia and China has reinjected ideology into geopolitics. Finally, radical Islamists are waging a violent struggle against the modern secular cultures and powers that, in their view, have dominated, penetrated, and polluted their Islamic world. The grand expectation that after the Cold War the world would enter an era of international geopolitical convergence has proven wrong.

Kagan is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and has written several books on international relations. He writes a monthly column on world affairs for the Washington Post, and is a contributing editor at both the Weekly Standard and the New Republic. He served in the State Department from 1984 to 1988 as a member of the Policy Planning Staff, as principal speechwriter for Secretary of State George P. Shultz, and as deputy for policy in the Bureau of Inter-American Affairs.

Based on an internet search, this book is creating quite a stir. Some people are vehemently defending Kagan’s views and others are demonizing him as a warmonger. I find myself leaning toward those who think that he is a realist who is not trying to stir up support for war.

Kagan’s discussions seem to be fairly rational – that there are two competing philosophies today, democracy and autocracy. Although democracies are the majority governments in the world, Kagan states that autocracies are beginning to gain more power. Examples of these autocracies are Russia, China, and Iran. Kagan does not argue for democracies to go to war against the autocracies, just to be on guard against the resurgence of despotism.

Unfortunately, this guard has slipped in several areas. For example, Hugo Chavez in Venezuela (who is buying significant amounts of military hardware from Russia) has gained more power in the region. He has been causing more than a few headaches in Washington. However, this has begun to change. As a sign that the United States wants to contain Chavez’s influence, the United States Navy has reestablished its Fourth Fleet which will cover the Caribbean and Central and South America and the surrounding waters.

This is a fascinating look at the new world of international relations in the Twenty-First Century.

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