Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power

Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power

by Robert D. Kaplan


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812979206
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/13/2011
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 176,874
Product dimensions: 7.90(w) x 5.26(h) x 0.88(d)

About the Author

Robert D. Kaplan is the bestselling author of sixteen books on foreign affairs and travel translated into many languages, including Asia’s Cauldron, The Revenge of Geography, Monsoon, The Coming Anarchy, and Balkan Ghosts. He is a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and a contributing editor at The Atlantic, where his work has appeared for three decades. He was chief geopolitical analyst at Stratfor, a visiting professor at the United States Naval Academy, and a member of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board. Foreign Policy magazine has twice named him one of the world’s Top 100 Global Thinkers.

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Chapter One


Al Bahr al Hindi is what the Arabs called the ocean in their old navigational treatises. The Indian Ocean and its tributary waters bear the imprint of that great, proselytizing wave of Islam that spread from its Red Sea base across the longitudes to India and as far as Indonesia and Malaysia, so a map of these seas is central to a historical understanding of the faith. This is a geography that encompasses, going from west to east, the Red Sea, Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal, and Java and South China seas. Here, in our day, are located the violence- and famine-plagued nations of the Horn of Africa, the geopolitical challenges of Iraq and Iran, the fissuring fundamentalist cauldron of Pakistan, economically rising India and its teetering neighbors Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, despotic Burma (over which a contest looms between China and India), and Thailand, through which the Chinese and Japanese, too, may help finance a canal sometime in this century that will affect the Asian balance of power in their favor. Indeed, the canal is just one of several projects on the drawing board, including land bridges and pipelines, that aim to unite the Indian Ocean with the western Pacific.

On the Indian Ocean's western shores, we have the emerging and volatile democracies of East Africa, as well as anarchic Somalia; almost four thousand miles away on its eastern shores the evolving, post-fundamentalist face of Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country in the world. No image epitomizes the spirit of our borderless world, with its civilizational competition on one hand and intense, inarticulate yearning for unity on the other, as much as an Indian Ocean map.

Water, unlike land, bears no trace of history, no message really, but the very act of crossing and recrossing it makes this ocean, in the words of Harvard professor of history Sugata Bose, a "symbol of universal humanity." There are Indian and Chinese, Arab and Persian trading arrangements creating a grand network of cross-oceanic communal ties, brought even closer over the centuries by the monsoon winds and, in the case of the Arabs, Persians, and other Muslims, by the haj pilgrimage. This is truly a global ocean, its shores home to an agglomeration of peoples of the fast-developing former "third world," but not to any superpower: unlike the Atlantic and Pacific. Here is the most useful quarter of the earth to contemplate, pace Fareed Zakaria, a "post-American" world in the wake of the Cold War and the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Rudyard Kipling's turn of phrase "east of Suez"-from the 1890 poem "Mandalay," which begins in Moulmein in Burma, on the Bay of Bengal-applies more than ever, though few may realize it.

Cold War military maps highlighted the Arctic, owing to the geography of the Soviet Union and its principal ports. Former president George W. Bush's so-called war on terrorism underscored the Greater Middle East. But the geopolitical map of the world keeps evolving. The arc of crisis is everywhere: a warming Arctic could even become a zone of contention. Because the entire globe is simply too general an instrument to focus on, thus it helps to have a specific cartographic image in mind that includes the majority of world trouble spots, while at the same time focusing on the nexus of terrorism, energy flows, and environmental emergencies such as the 2004 tsunami. Just as phrases matter for good or for bad-"the Cold War," "the clash of civilizations"-so do maps. The right map provides a spatial view of world politics that can deduce future trends. Although developments in finance and technology encourage global thinking, we are still at the mercy of geography, as the artificiality of Iraq and Pakistan attest.

Americans, in particular, are barely aware of the Indian Ocean, concentrated as they are, because of their own geography, on the Atlantic and the Pacific. World War II and the Cold War confirmed this bias, with Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, the Soviet Union, Korea, and Communist China all with Atlantic or Pacific orientations. This bias is embedded in mapping conventions: Mercator projections tend to place the Western Hemisphere in the middle, so the Indian Ocean is often split up at the far edges of the map. Yet, it is this ocean to which Marco Polo devoted almost an entire book of his travels near the end of the thirteenth century, from Java and Sumatra to Aden and Dhofar. Herein lies the entire arc of Islam, from the eastern fringe of the Sahara Desert to the Indonesian archipelago; thus it follows that the struggle against terrorism and anarchy (which includes piracy) focuses broadly on these tropical waters, between the Suez Canal and Southeast Asia. The Indian Ocean littoral, which takes in Somalia, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan, constitutes a veritable networking map of al-Qaeda, as well as one of disparate groups smuggling hashish and other contraband. Indeed, Iran has supplied Hamas by a sea route from the Persian Gulf to Sudan, and then overland through Egypt.

Here, too, are the principal oil shipping lanes, as well as the main navigational choke points of world commerce-the Straits of Bab el Mandeb, Hormuz, and Malacca. Forty percent of seaborne crude oil passes through the Strait of Hormuz at one end of the ocean, and 50 percent of the world's merchant fleet capacity is hosted at the Strait of Malacca, at the other end, making the Indian Ocean the globe's busiest and most important interstate.

Throughout history, sea routes have been more important than land ones, writes Tufts University scholar Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, because they carry more goods more economically. The sea silk route from Venice to Japan across the Indian Ocean in the medieval and early modern centuries was as important as the silk route proper across Central Asia. "Whoever is lord of Malacca has his hands on the throat of Venice," went the saying. Another proverb had it that if the world were an egg, Hormuz was its yoke.

Today, despite the jet and information age, 90 percent of global commerce and two thirds of all petroleum supplies travel by sea. Globalization relies ultimately on shipping containers, and the Indian Ocean accounts for one half of all the world's container traffic. Moreover, the Indian Ocean rimland from the Middle East to the Pacific accounts for 70 percent of the traffic of petroleum products for the entire world. Indian Ocean tanker routes between the Persian Gulf and South and East Asia are becoming clogged, as hundreds of millions of Indians and Chinese join the global middle class, necessitating vast consumption of oil. The world's energy needs will rise by 50 percent by 2030, and almost half of that consumption will come from India and China. India-soon to become the world's fourth largest energy consumer after the United States, China, and Japan-is dependent on oil for more than 90 percent of its energy needs, and 90 percent of that oil will soon come from the Persian Gulf by way of the Arabian Sea. Indeed, before 2025, India will overtake Japan as the world's third largest net importer of oil after the United States and China. And as India must satisfy a population that will be the most populous in the world before the middle of this century, its coal imports from Mozambique, in the southwestern Indian Ocean, are set to increase dramatically, adding to the coal that India already imports from Indian Ocean countries such as South Africa, Indonesia, and Australia. In the future, India-bound ships will also be carrying enormous quantities of liquefied natural gas across the western half of the Indian Ocean from southern Africa, even as it continues to import gas from Qatar, Malaysia, and Indonesia. This is how African poverty may be partially assuaged: less by Western foreign aid than by robust trade with the richer areas of the former third world.

Then there is China, whose demand for crude oil doubled between 1995 and 2005, and will double again in the coming decade or two, as it imports 7.3 million barrels of crude daily by 2020-half of Saudi Arabia's planned output. More than 85 percent of that China-bound oil will pass across the span of the Indian Ocean through the Strait of Malacca: the reason China is desperate for alternative energy routes to the Pacific, as well as overland ones into China from Central Asia, Pakistan, and Burma. The combined appetites of China, Japan, and South Korea for Persian Gulf oil already make the Strait of Malacca home to half of world oil flows and close to a quarter of global trade.

"No ocean is in need of strategic stability more than the Indian Ocean, which is arguably the most nuclearized of the seven seas," notes the defense analyst Thomas P.M. Barnett. "Among the nuclear powers whose navies ply this ocean are the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, and Israel."

The Indian Ocean is where the rivalry between the United States and China in the Pacific interlocks with the regional rivalry between China and India, and also with America's fight against Islamic terrorism in the Middle East, which includes America's attempt to contain Iran. Whenever U.S. Navy warships have bombed Iraq or Afghanistan, they have often done so from the Indian Ocean. The U.S. Air Force guards Iraq and Afghanistan from bases in the Persian Gulf, and from the island of Diego Garcia, smack in the center of the Indian Ocean. Any American strike against Iran-and its aftershocks, regarding the flow of oil-will have an Indian Ocean address. The same with responses to any upheaval in Saudi Arabia; or in the teeming, water- starved tinderbox of Yemen, home to twenty-two million people and eighty million firearms.

The U.S. Navy's new maritime strategy, unveiled in October 2007 at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, both states and implies that the navy will henceforth seek a sustained, forward presence in the Indian Ocean and adjacent western Pacific, but less so in the Atlantic. The U.S. Marine Corps "Vision and Strategy" statement, unveiled in June 2008, covering the years to 2025, also concludes in so many words that the Indian Ocean and its adjacent waters will be a central theater of conflict and competition. Along with its continued dominance in the Pacific, the U.S. clearly seeks to be the preeminent South Asian power. This signals a momentous historical shift away from the North Atlantic and Europe. The United States may not control events inside the "big sandbox" of the Middle East, but, as the military analyst Ralph Peters suggests, it will compensate by trying to dominate the doors in and out of the sandbox-the Straits of Hormuz and Bab el Mandeb: choke points where the naval presence of India and China will be expanding alongside America's own.

India's and China's aspirations for great-power status, as well as their quest for energy security, have compelled them "to redirect their gazes from land to the seas," write James R. Holmes and Toshi Yoshihara, associate professors at the U.S. Naval War College. Meanwhile, as Holmes and Yoshihara also note, there are "lingering questions over the sustainability of American primacy on the high seas," something that has guaranteed commercial maritime stability for decades, and has, therefore, been taken for granted, even as globalization itself has depended upon it. If we are entering a phase of history in which several nations will share dominance of the high seas, rather than one as in the recent past, then the Indian Ocean will play center stage to this more dynamic and unstable configuration.

While China seeks to expand its influence vertically, that is, reaching southward down to the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, India seeks to expand its influence horizontally, reaching eastward and westward to the borders of Victorian age British India, parallel to the Indian Ocean. Chinese president Hu Jintao, according to one report, has bemoaned China's sea-lane vulnerability, referring to it as his country's "Malacca dilemma," a dependence on the narrow and vulnerable Strait of Malacca for oil imports from which China must somehow escape. It is an old fear, for Ming China's world was disrupted in 1511 when the Portuguese conquered Malacca. In the twenty- first century an escape from the Malacca dilemma means, among other things, eventually using Indian Ocean ports to transport oil and other energy products via roads and pipelines northward into the heart of China, so that tankers do not all have to sail through the Strait of Malacca to reach their destination. This is just one reason why China wants desperately to integrate Taiwan into its dominion, so that it can redirect its naval energies to the Indian Ocean.

The Chinese military's so-called string of pearls strategy for the Indian Ocean features the construction of a large port and listening post at the Pakistani port of Gwadar on the Arabian Sea, where the Chinese could monitor ship traffic through the Strait of Hormuz. There could be another Chinese-utilized port in Pakistan, at Pasni, seventy- five miles east of Gwadar and joined to it by a new highway. At Hambantota, on the southern coast of Sri Lanka, the Chinese seem to be building the oil-age equivalent of a coaling station for their ships. At the Bangladeshi port of Chittagong on the Bay of Bengal, Chinese companies have been active in developing the container port facility, where China might also be seeking naval access. In Burma, where the Chinese have given billions of dollars in military assistance to the ruling junta, Beijing is building and upgrading commercial and naval bases; constructing road, waterway, and pipeline links from the Bay of Bengal to China's Yunnan Province; and operating surveillance facilities on the Coco Islands deep in the Bay of Bengal. A number of these ports are closer to cities in central and western China than those cities are to Beijing and Shanghai. Such Indian Ocean ports, with north-south road and rail links, would help economically liberate landlocked inner China. China is reaching southward and westward, evinced by a seemingly improbable railway it hopes to construct linking its westernmost provinces-across some of the highest terrain in the world-to a copper-producing region of Afghanistan south of Kabul.

Of course, one must be extremely careful in judging China's actions in this region. What the Chinese actually plan for the Indian Ocean is still far from clear and open to debate. Some in Washington are skeptical of the whole notion of a string-of-pearls strategy. Overt bases do not conform with China's nonhegemonic, benign view of itself. The Chinese are rarely seeking outright control, standing by, as in the case of Gwadar, as the Port of Singapore Authority prepares to run the facility for decades to come. (Though, as one Singaporean official told me, his country is tiny and thus no threat to China at Gwadar.) Many

Table of Contents

Preface The Rimland of Eurasia xi

Part I

1 China Expands Vertically, India Horizontally 5

Part II 2 Oman Is Everywhere 21

3 Curzon's Frontiers 33

4 "Lands of India" 47

5 Baluchistan and Sindh 67

6 The Troubled Rise of Gujarat 95

7 The View from Delhi 119

8 Bangladesh: The Existential Challenge 135

9 Kolkata: The Next Global City 155

10 Of Strategy and Beauty 179

11 SriLanka: The New Geopolitics 191

12 Burma: Where India and China Collide 213

13 Indonesia's Tropical Islam 241

14 The Heart of Maritime Asia 261

Part III

15 China's Two-Ocean Strategy? 277

16 Unity and Anarchy 295

17 Zanzibar: The Last Frontier 307

Afterword for the Paperback Edition 325

Acknowledgments 333

Glossary 335

Notes 341

Index 357

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"The book's political and economic focus and forecasts are smart and brim with aperçus on the intersection of power, politics, and resource consumption (especially water), and give full weight to the impact of colonialism." —-Publishers Weekly Starred Review

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Monsoon 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 24 reviews.
Magus_Manders on LibraryThing 10 months ago
In Monsoon, Robert Kaplan brings the reader on a crash course through the history and politics of the whole Indian Ocean region, from Zanzibar off Tanzania's coast to the deep water ports of Indonesia. Though relatively small in relation to its Atlantic and Pacific neighbors, the Indian Ocean has served as a unifying network for a vast array of cultures over the past thousand years. The reliable and regular monsoon winds made this ocean a major hub of trade in ages past, and as Kaplan explains, the growing power of its coastal nations promise to make it a center of political and economic power in the coming decades. Kaplan jumps from one region to the next, briefly covering its history and framing the potential for growth and change in the future. From tiny Oman, living under a benevolent sultanate in control of the Persian Gulf, to vast India and its constant maneuvers in Burma to counter Chinese influence, Monsoon covers a huge amount of territory in a very few pages, but still captures the visceral reality of the people working to bring this region to the forefront of world politics. Kaplan has a long list of books under his belt, dealing with a range of topics from the US military to the aftermath of the Cold War and the development of the third world. The level of scholarship and sensitivity he shows his subjects in this book are a testament to what must be in those works. He clearly spent a lot of time on the ground getting to understand the world of the Indian Ocean and the paths of progress it takes today. He writes rather beautifully of the crumbling ancient cities living in the shadows of new foreign-built commercial ports and the rich cultural heritage of all his subjects. Globalization is everywhere in the region, but Kaplan makes it clear that this is not necessarily new. Though he makes no statements as to his politics, his contempt for the human-rights abuses in many of these states is clear (he refuses to refer to Burma as Myanmar, the name give it by the current ruling junta), giving time to the opposition figures in order to provide a historical and social context to the violence. His thesis, that the Indian Ocean will soon become a major center of world power, is somewhat subtle but pervasive; however, he spends very little time with the sub-titular topic of American power. Largely, the world he sees is a multi-polar one where the Indian Ocean is patrolled by Indian, Chinese, and Indonesian fleets as well as American carrier groups. The power in his posited future is a soft one of trade, aid, and mutual support. One of the blurb-writers on the back cover stated that he hoped Kaplan was wrong in his theories this time, but I feel he must have not read the whole book. Kaplan does suggest that there are risks of failed states and extremism, but ultimately the only really successful nations in the region are the democracies. As the Indian Ocean coast becomes a greater cast of players on the world stage, it seems that the whole human race will benefit from their resurgence as a heart of world exchange.
JBreedlove on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Classic Kaplan. Informative and historically deep while explaining the various possibilities that the future may hold for power in the western Pacific and Indian Oceans. More like his previous works than his last two love affairs w the American military.
RajivC on LibraryThing 10 months ago
An excellent book, This book clearly explains the issues that surround the countries that are affected by the monsoons. When I picked up this book, I thought that it may be one of those geopolitical books that have been written by an American diplomat with scant knowledge of what is happening in this part of the world. This is one time that I was really proved wrong, ad Robert Kaplan has demonstrated excellent knowledge and insight into the issues affecting this part of the world. The book has been very clearly laid out, and the writing style is easy enough to read without having to strain unnesecarrily. The chapters are complete in themselves, so it is easy to come back to a specific section and read, without having to scan the whole book again. This part of the world changes fast, so I hope that he comes up with updated versions soon.
nbmars on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Robert Kaplan¿s Monsoon borrows a format from his earlier popular and very influential book Balkan Ghosts: part history, part travelogue, part geography lesson, and part political analysis. Here he broadens his scope from a European peninsula to the Indian Ocean littoral. His overall theme is that the United States no longer has the power to be the world¿s only hegemon, and so it must adapt to sharing power in this theater with China and India. Moreover, the Indian Ocean littoral is the locus of some of the most unstable regimes in the world, and thus is likely to be a place where radical changes in the political status quo will occur. While the geography of the Indian Ocean determines the scope of the book, that area¿s characteristic wind patterns (the monsoons) unify its history from early medieval times to the advent of steam power. Because the winds blow like clockwork from southwest to northeast part of the year and then reverse themselves in April and October, Arab traders were able to sail to India and farther east to Indonesia with the wind at their backs, and then return home, also with favorable winds. From the east, Chinese traders were able to sail to India and East Africa, and then return home with favorable winds.The spread of Islam is another principal theme of the book. Where Islam spread by conquest (its usual modus operandi)¿in Persia and Northwest India (modern Pakistan)¿it retained its intolerant, close-minded character. Where it expanded through trade and voluntary conversion¿Indonesia¿it absorbed many of the local religious beliefs and practices, and became much more tolerant and open minded. In India, where Islam¿s spread by conquest was stopped by Hindu civilization, the history of the country is still suffused with the confrontation of Muslim and Hindu belief systems. The coming of the Portuguese with Vasco da Gama in the late 16th century disrupted trading patterns that had prevailed for over 500 years in the area. The Dutch and British followed soon thereafter, and Europeans dominated the area until World War II. Kaplan¿s narrative takes us on a chapter-by-chapter tour of Oman, Baluchistan and Sindh (Pakistan), Gujarat (western India), Delhi (central India), Kolkata (eastern India), Bangladesh, Burma, and Indonesia. Oman is prosperous, but not remotely democratic. India is a thriving democracy. Pakistan and Bangladesh are atrociously-ruled basket cases. Burma is a mixture of rival ethnicities ruled by an oppressive dictatorship. Indonesia practices a remarkably tolerant form of Islam, and is fairly democratic. Kaplan¿s descriptions of these countries is much more detailed and nuanced than my thumb nail sketches, so you will have to read the book for a full appreciation of his careful and detailed analysis. Hovering over the entire area is the rapidly growing power of China, which seeks to expand its navy to protect its vital interests in oil from Arabia. At present, China, India, and the United States all have significant naval presences in the Indian Ocean. The three have been able to cooperate in such matters as suppressing piracy. However, as U.S. power wanes and Chinese and Indian power wax, the situation must be handled deftly and carefully by all involved to avoid confrontation and possible military conflict. Evaluation: Monsoon is a lucid analysis of the complexity of the issues presented in this potentially troublesome portion of the globe that accounts for a third of the world¿s population. Kaplan contends that just as Europe defined the geopolitics of the 20th Century, the Indian Ocean will define the 21st. For those interested in global power relationships, this book is essential. A helpful glossary as well as a number of maps are included.
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I'm just beginning this book, but feel it is good for every American. It looks at the world with a different perspective - one that is the future of this world. We tend to have a view as Americans and not as world players. Sincerely - Arlene Kroh