Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power – (Review on the book)

25 Jul

There can be no doubt that the power of the western industrialized nations in general and that of the United States in particular is declining relative to Asia. China and India both have over a billion people with rapidly growing economies and can also boast of having extremely successful overseas communities. People of Chinese extraction have long been a large part of the merchant class in other Asian nations and many of the major information technology companies in the United States have been created or expanded by expatriates of Indian extraction.

The consumption of crude oil and other fossil fuels in both China and India is also rapidly increasing, making their economies just as reliant on Middle Eastern oil as those of the west and Japan. Most of this oil will have to travel through the northern sections of the Indian Ocean, making it a vital sea-lane for both nations. If a path is necessary for your survival, it must be protected and both India and China are ramping up their navies in order to do so. At the same time, the U. S. Navy is downsizing in the number of ships, so its longtime dominant naval power in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific is declining.

This situation is leading to a new great power rivalry between the major players of India, Indonesia, China and the United States in the area of the Indian Ocean. Less powerful but still extremely significant nations that will be critical to what happens in the future are Iran, Pakistan, Burma, Thailand, Afghanistan, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. The new reality has reformed old ties, re-ignited old conflicts and led to the development of unusual alliances. For example, the centuries old hostility between Vietnam and China has risen once again, the Vietnamese now welcome an American naval presence on their coast.

The seeds of the complexity of this situation were planted centuries ago, almost literally at the dawn of modern history. Kaplan goes back and explains these roots in detail and there were many facts and situations that I was unaware of. For example, I did not know that Farsi, the language of the Persians, was the lingua franca of India until the British colonial masters decreed that it would be English. While there have been conflicts between the different ethnic and religious groups in the area, with the exception of the enslavement of black Africans, those groups have been surprisingly tolerant of each other.

A very strong case can be made that the history of the twenty first century is going to be concentrated in east and south Asia and a great deal of that case is made in this book. Geopolitical and economic forces are pushing all the nations into positions of possible conflict over power, position and resources. Kaplan does an excellent job in describing most of the potential conflicts and many of the possible outcomes. If the solutions are to be largely non-violent, then there must be the application of a great deal of wise and intelligent thinking by all of the major players. In Kaplan’s terms, it is the application of soft or economic and intellectual power. As Kaplan also explains, real or potential insurgencies are active in nearly all of the nations of the region, so some of the countries may be damaged or destroyed by internal factors.

This is a fascinating book about the region of the Indian Ocean, there is an enormous amount of information in this book and it could easily become the basis of a very large number of “What if?” type novels. Pick almost any location in the area and a good writer of fiction could use the local history and potential conflicts to create an entertaining and engaging story that just might come true.

Was PNS Mehran Operation of 2011,  linked to above thinking? It is also being said that world’s greatest oil reserves are few miles south of Karachi in the Arabian sea. Is it for this reason that Pakistan Navy is being punished?

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