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Authors: Robert D. Kaplan

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Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power

BOOK: Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power
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Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts:
The American Military in the Air, at Sea, and on the Ground


Imperial Grunts: The American Military on the Ground


Mediterranean Winter: The Pleasures of History and Landscape in Tunisia, Sicily, Dalmatia, and the Peloponnese


Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos


Eastward to Tartary: Travels in the Balkans, the Middle East, and the Caucasus


The Coming Anarchy: Shattering the Dreams of the Post Cold War


An Empire Wilderness: Travels into America’s Future


The Ends of the Earth: From Togo to Turkmenistan, from Iran to Cambodia


The Arabists: The Romance of an American Elite


Balkan Ghosts: A Journey Through History


Soldiers of God: With Islamic Warriors in Afghanistan and Pakistan


Surrender or Starve: Travels in Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, and Eritrea


Copyright © 2010 by Robert D. Kaplan
Maps copyright © 2010 by David Lindroth, Inc.
All rights reserved.


Published in the United States by Random House, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.


and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.


Grateful acknowledgment is made to Angel Books, London, for permission to reprint the poem that appears on
this page
Particles, Jottings, Sparks: The Collected Brief Poems
by Rabindranath Tagore, translated by William Radice (London: Angel Books, 2001). Reprinted by permission.


Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Kaplan, Robert D.
Monsoon : the Indian Ocean and the future of American power / Robert D. Kaplan.
p. cm.
eISBN: 978-0-679-60405-1
1. United States—Foreign relations—Indian Ocean Region.
2. Indian Ocean Region—Foreign relations—United States.
3. Indian Ocean Region—Strategic aspects. 4. National security—United States.
5. National security—Indian Ocean Region. I. Title.
DS341.3.U6K374 2010
327.730182′4—dc22                 2009049752




Grenville Byford




Gradual, inexorable, and fundamental changes … are … occurring in the balances of power among civilizations, and the power of the West relative to that of other civilizations will continue to decline.


P. H
The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (1996)


The map of Europe defined the twentieth century: from Flanders Fields to Omaha Beach to the Berlin Wall to the burned villages of Kosovo; from the Long European War, lasting from 1914 to 1989, to its bloody aftershocks, Europe was the center of world history. Momentous trends and events happened elsewhere, to be sure. But great power politics, from the collapse of Old World empires to the bipolar struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union, had more to do with Europe than anywhere else.

It is my contention that the Greater Indian Ocean, stretching eastward from the Horn of Africa past the Arabian Peninsula, the Iranian plateau, and the Indian Subcontinent, all the way to the Indonesian archipelago and beyond, may comprise a map as iconic to the new century as Europe was to the last one. Hopefully, the twenty-first century will not be as violent as the twentieth, but, to a similar degree, it could have a recognizable geography. In this rimland of Eurasia—the maritime oikoumene of the medieval Muslim world that was never far from China’s gaze—we can locate the tense dialogue between Western and Islamic civilizations, the ganglia of global energy routes, and the quiet, seemingly inexorable rise of India and China over land and sea. For the sum-total effect of U.S. preoccupation with Iraq and Afghanistan has been to fast-forward the arrival of the Asian Century, not only in the economic terms that we all know about, but in military terms as well.

Recently, messy land wars have obscured for us the importance of seas and coastlines, across which most trade is conducted and along which most of humanity lives, and where, consequently, future military and economic activity is likely to take place as in the past. It is in the littorals where global issues such as population growth, climate change, sea level rises, shortages of fresh water, and extremist politics—the last of which is affected by all the other factors—acquire a vivid geographical face. What the late British historian C. R. Boxer called Monsoon Asia, at the crossroads of the Indian Ocean and the western Pacific, will demographically and strategically be a hub of the twenty-first-century world.

Half a millennium ago, Vasco da Gama braved storm and scurvy to round Africa and cross the Indian Ocean to the Subcontinent. Writes the sixteenth-century Portuguese poet Luiz Vaz de Camões about that signal moment:

This is the land you have been seeking,
This is India rising before you.…


Da Gama’s arrival in India initiated the rise of the West in Asia. Portuguese seaborne dominance eventually gave way to that of other Western powers—Holland, France, Great Britain, and the United States, in their turn. Now, as China and India compete for ports and access routes along the southern Eurasian rimland, and with the future strength of the U.S. Navy uncertain, because of America’s own economic travails and the diversionary cost of its land wars, it is possible that the five-hundred-year chapter of Western preponderance is slowly beginning to close.

This gradual power shift could not come at a more turbulent time for the lands bordering the Indian Ocean’s two halves, the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal: at the top of the Arabian Sea is Pakistan; at the top of the Bay of Bengal is Burma, both highly volatile and populous pivot states. Analysts normally don’t put those two countries in the same category, but they should. Then, of course, there is the whole political future of the Islamic world from Somalia to Indonesia to consider. Besides their proximity to the Indian Ocean, so many of these places are characterized by weak institutions, tottering infrastructures, and young and restive populations tempted by extremism. Yet they are the future, much more than the graying populations of the West.

As the late Belgian scholar Charles Verlinden once noted, the Indian Ocean “is surrounded by not less than thirty-seven countries representing a third of the world’s population,” and extends for more than 80 degrees in latitude and more than 100 degrees in longitude.
I can only visit a few points along the Indian Ocean’s seaboard and see what is currently going on—so as to further illuminate a wider canvas, and to show what a world without a superpower looks like on the ground.

The Indian Ocean region is more than just a stimulating geography. It is an
because it provides an insightful visual impression of Islam, and combines the centrality of Islam with global energy politics and the importance of world navies, in order to show us a multi-layered, multi-polar world above and beyond the headlines in Iraq and Afghanistan; it is also an idea because it allows us to see the world whole, within a very new and yet very old framework, complete with its own traditions and characteristics, without having to drift into bland nostrums about globalization.

The book begins with a broad strategic overview of the region. Then I move on to individual locations along this great seaboard. Oman is my principal reference point, where I consider the ocean’s medieval history, as well as the legacy of the first Western power, the Portuguese; there, too, I ponder the perennial relationship between the sea and the desert, and how each leads to different political paths. Then I focus on massive Chinese harbor projects smack in the heart of zones of regional separatism in the case of Pakistan, and of ethnic rivalry in the case of Sri Lanka. In Bangladesh, I write about the interrelationship of climate change, extreme poverty, and Islamic radicalism. In India, I focus on Hindu extremism, which is being overcome by economic and social dynamism. In Burma, I report on the collision between India and China over a devastated and resource-rich landscape, and the challenges it presents for Western powers like the United States. In Indonesia, I explore the relationship between democracy and a vibrant, syncretic Islam, so different from that in Pakistan and Bangladesh: for Islam, as I learned in many of these places, is more intelligently considered against the backdrop of a specific landscape and history. Finally, I consider Chinese naval expansion originating in the eastern end of the Greater Indian Ocean, and at the western end take a peek at African renewal through the prism of Zanzibar. Everywhere I attempt to describe the ceaseless currents of historical change as they shape the contours of the new century. It is the intermingling of challenges in each place—religious, economic, political, environmental—rather than each challenge in isolation, that creates such drama.

The “monsoon” of which I speak is more than just a storm system (which it sometimes comes across as in the English-language lexicon); it is, too, a life-affirming and beneficial climatic phenomenon, so necessary over the centuries for trade, globalization, unity, and progress. The monsoon is nature writ large, a spectacle of turbulence that suggests the effect of the environment on humankind living in increasingly crowded and fragile conditions in places like Bangladesh and Indonesia. In a densely interconnected world, America’s ability to grasp what, in a larger sense, the monsoon represents and to recognize its manifold implications will help determine America’s own destiny and that of the West as a whole. Thus, the Indian Ocean may be the essential place to contemplate the future of U.S. power.

BOOK: Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power
4.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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