Some international relations scholars and commentators are rediscovering that Eurasia is a geopolitical unit, a “supercontinent”, in the words of Bruno Maçães in his interesting new book The Dawn of Eurasia. Maçães traces the origins of the term Eurasia to Austrian geologist Eduard Suess in 1885, but the idea that Eurasia should be viewed as a single geopolitical unit is traceable to the great British geopolitical theorist Sir Halford Mackinder in a little-remembered article in 1890 entitled “The Physical Basis of Political Geography”.

The great British geopolitical theorist Halford Mackinder wrote that great statesmanship requires “geographical capacity” and “an insight into the minds of other nations.” He explained geographical capacity as a “mind which flits easily over the globe, which thinks in terms of the map, which quickly clothes the map with meaning, which correctly and intuitively places the commercial, historical, or political drama on its stage.”

The concept of “soft power”, popularized by Harvard’s Joseph Nye, has always seemed artificial. Power as wielded by nations is not neatly divisible into “hard” and “soft” categories. The great realist philosopher of power Hans Morgenthau identified the elements of national power as geography, natural resources, industrial capacity, population, military preparedness, national morale, the quality of government, and the quality of diplomacy.

Predicting the global future is never easy. Even the most knowledgeable and fair-minded observers of geopolitics frequently miss the mark. After the First World War, the German historian Oswald Spengler predicted the decline of the West. In 1964, the American political philosopher James Burnham opined that the West was committing suicide. In 1987, just a few years before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Yale’s Paul Kennedy warned that the US would likely suffer from imperial overstretch in its struggle with Soviet-led communism.